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Lesson Learned! Joanna Vargas’ Facial Faux Pas

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As told by Joanna Vargas, celebrity facialist and founder of Joanna Vargas Salon and Skincare Collection.

About 20 years ago, I took my first job as an aesthetician at a day spa in Manhattan. The rest of the staff working alongside me were old-school aestheticians who did facials in a really old-fashioned way, with glycolics and steam masks. They all told me about the wonders of glycolic peels and how perfect they make the skin by cleansing and stimulating collagen production. I jumped at the chance to have a peel myself when one of the girls offered.

Yet, almost immediately after she started the process, something didn’t seem right. The peel was on for only five minutes before I started to feel intense pain, like what you might feel after a chemical burn. Trying to be grateful, I endured the sensations and figured it was just part of the process. But when she took it off, huge cysts appeared all over my face—and I had a whole day of clients ahead of me.

While I’d never had a pimple before, my coworkers all assured me that those cysts were trapped under my skin and simply needed to “come out.” I politely agreed, but knew that I’d had a horrible allergic reaction to the peel.

I immediately went to my dermatologist, who gave me a prescription to clear it up—and it took weeks to fully heal. After speaking to clients who’ve had the same reaction, I realized just how common allergic reactions to glycolics really are.

After this experience, I realized a few things: In skin care, there is nothing that works for everyone. Never try something like a peel on someone’s face for the first time without patch testing first. Finally, NEVER excuse a terrible error in a treatment with “Oh, that’s just your skin.”