Extraction wars: Aestheticians face off over pore pressure

women boxing outside

For many facialists, extractions play a starring role in a skin-care treatment, with steaming, cleansing, and exfoliating all playing beauty-boosting backup. For others, extractions are cruel and unusual, banned by the Geneva Convention of Aesthetics.

Nothing makes a New York City facialist get on her soapbox quicker than mention of performing extractions, the act of enticing a pore or pimple to give up its impurities (a plug of dead skin and oil). It’s a topic with two opposing camps—and no middle ground. One person’s pinnacle of cleanliness is another’s trauma to the skin. We uncover the heated debate that’s popping up in the city’s treatment rooms…


Jillian Wright facials with extractions

Jillian Wright: “Extractions are a main reason New Yorkers want facials.”

In one corner, are facialists who believe extractions are essential to getting skin clean. “I would never ever do a facial without extractions,” says Jillian Wright, owner of Jillian Wright Clinical Skin Care, who’s been a facialist for 11 years. “It would be ridiculous. I’d feel like I was taking clients’ money and just pretending that their skin was healthy.”

Wright and her camp believe pores, blackheads, and a variety of small pimples impede the health of the skin, as well as radiance and clarity. And so do her clients: most facial treatment bookings are for extractions, confirms Wright.

The brass ring is clear skin. But most of us are dotted with blocked pores and bumps that we can’t fully clean ourselves—or we shouldn’t. “I don’t want my clients doing it themselves,” says Wright. “You need to know what to look for, what not to touch, and apply the right pressure. I’m good at it,” says Wright, who admits she finds the task incredibly satisfying, “like a treasure hunt.”

Congestion can be partly managed by skin-care products at home, and you can exfoliate blackheads so they’re less visible, but the contents of pores just don’t come out on their own, says Wright. “They just fill and fester and stretch pores to the size of saucers.” (Are you picturing that?)

And lest you’re afraid of looking like a blotchy mess after extractions, a good facialist will never send someone out the treatment room that way. Wright preps the skin with steam and enzymatic masks to loosen the pores first, then uses healing and calming methods like LED light and skin-care masks that bring down redness and soothe just-poked pores. “You should leave with glowing skin, and none the wiser that you’ve had extractions. It’s a test of your facialist’s skill,” she says.

About 90 percent of New York spas offer extractions, because demand for them is so great. “If I didn’t do them for some reason—like laziness—my clients would pay for them elsewhere. We’re both invested in the skin’s health,” says Wright. “New Yorkers like massage but they come in for extractions.”


In this camp are skin-care professionals who call extractions a “harsh invasive practice” that can leave the skin looking worse for wear. It’s an idea shared by luxe holistic-leaning spa brands like Sodashi and many French beauty brands. (You’d be hard pressed, ahem, to find a spa in Paris that does extractions.)

Clarins Skin Spa

Ewa Wegrzynowska: “We respect the integrity of the skin.”

“Respecting the skin” is a cornerstone of Clarins, which frowns upon pore pressure to free the dirt and trapped sebum inside them. “We work with the skin, not against it, says Ewa Wegrzynowska, Clarin’s National Skin Spa Training Manager. “Pulling and pressing the pores weakens them and the skin fibers like collagen and elastin.”

Your skin looks good in short term, concedes Elena Chang, an aesthetician at Clarins Madison Avenue Skin Spa. “But in long run, you’ve got damaged skin that’s lacking strength and elasticity.” And maybe an extra broken blood vessel or two, they say.

Instead Clarins would rather use warm compresses to soften pores and lymphatic drainage massage, a technique used by many facialists, including Wright, that promotes circulation, giving skin a luminosity and a lift. “The massage helps drain toxins and impurities. And our powerful plant-based facial oils, helps regulate skin’s own oil production.” The theory being that oil helps facilitate the flow of oil instead of allowing the pore to trap it. Often clarifying masks with clay, which have a drawing out action, are used to decongest the skin, as well. (That’s the case with Sodashi’s popular Revitalising Yellow Clay Mask.)

So while the extraction camp values its dust-busting duty to the pores, the anti-extraction group sees itself as a faciliator of the skin’s own dirt-releasing process. “It’s a beauty from within approach,” says Chang, referring to the dirty job, which someone’s got to do. Right? —Melisse Gelula

Where do you weigh in on the extraction war? Tell us, here!

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16 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. May 11th, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    I personally think it’s all in the skill of the facialist, how that client’s skin condition is, and how often they have extractions. I prefer gentle maintenance of my own skin at home, but very occasionally I’ll have extractions done as part of a ‘deep clean’ facial. The idea is to have a good skincare routine that helps prevents the need to extract a lot. All in moderation…

  2. May 11th, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    I know for sure that extractions work because I have a friend who have tried facials where they do them and don’t. Since she has been getting extractions her skin much clearer and in better condition.

  3. May 12th, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Extractions are the thorny moments in an otherwise blissful facial hour. I hate to use my coveted time in the chair with painful extractions if they really aren’t necessary, but every facialist I’ve been to says apologetically that she must. Your debate got me interested in the pros and cons of extractions, and just found this video on extractions. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftr-o3HYJ7Y&feature=related.

  4. May 12th, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    […] extractions should be included in the treatment? Read more and weigh in on the extraction wars HERE. […]

  5. May 13th, 2010 at 9:43 am

    I have to speak out for the MIDDLE GROUND. As a professional skin therapist when I start a facial I’m always ready to tackle extractions but it depends on the clients skin first and foremost. I will always extract true blackheads (thick, clogged pores with a darkened appearance) and I love removing milea (the hard, pearl like bumps). These blemishes are too far gone for body’s internal systems to heal on its own. Without assistance from an experienced pro like myself these blemishes will certainly turn into ugly inflamed “zits”. On the other hand I do not over extract the open pores of the T zone. I myself have large pores and I could squeeze them every day and yield oil. This would be pain without any gain. Oil in the skin is natural, lubricating and protective. In this case the appearance of large pores should be managed with gentle exfoliation (I love a serum with salicylic acid) and weekly masks.

  6. June 2nd, 2010 at 9:53 am

    I give my clients a choice. The quick way for my American clients is extraction. My European clients love Dr. Vodder Manual lymph drainage, but it requires more time than your average 50 – 60 minute facial. The Vodder method is very gentle, and must be performed so as to not put pressure on the lymph vessels, which would restrict the proper flow of lymph, ie., the cleaning fluid for the skin/body. Most lymph drainage methods are use too much pressure, which will not be effective. Thx, ladies, for your always interesting blog!

  7. June 9th, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    […] I was away from my own blog I spent a whole lot of time reading others.  I loved this post from one of my favorite beauty blogs, Well and Good NYC, about the pro’s and con’s of […]

  8. August 8th, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    I personally Love extractions done on my face. I tend to get melia quite often on my face, and I have had great Facialists at Oasis Day Spa in Manhattan. MY skin is healthy and clean looking, after a good facial. I dont wear makeup on my face, therefore I want healthy skin, the face is the first thing most people see. Unfortunately, I live in DK now and cannot find a good facialist here. And boy does my skin need a good extraction done right now and I miss my facialist at Oasis Day Spa.

  9. May 3rd, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    […] – Under pressure? Aestheticians sound off about the right way to do extractions in a facial. (Well + Good NYC) […]

  10. December 16th, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    I started suffering from really bad acne in the “Hormonal” area (All around my mouth and sides of my chin) Right about when I finished college when I turned 22. I suffered greatly from it.. My confidence went out the window, I was incredibly insecure. I thought I was ugly even though I had just lost 50 pounds and (from a distance) I had never looked better. But up close.. A pile a make up hid my hideous collection of zits. I switched everything to all natural. Food, body care products and my entire way of life. My skin improved substantially but I STILL had breakouts often and even worse before my monthly hormonal shift. Everything changed when I was 26 I started dating an older guy whose father had been a dermatologist so he knew how to do extractions. I had never even heard of this before. How was it possible that I had been suffering for 5 years and no one had told me of this method!! Everyday he would extract deep sludge from my face, chest and back… some he said had probably been there for years. It was the most painful thing I have ever experienced aside from waxing the downstairs! I was not allowed to wear makeup for a couple weeks. Once everything had calmed down I was left with beautiful, Scar free, Blemish free, Redness free skin. It was unbelievable. I was cured. It took me a while to learn how to do it to myself properly but now I am a pro at it. I do it roughly once a week or whenever I notice an uneven texture starting to develop, I do it at night before bed so that by the time I wake up it looks like flawless baby skin. It only takes me about 5-10 minutes. I never cause a scab or break skin. I still use only all natural products most of which I make from scratch myself. I RARELY miss one and get a zit. My skin is smooth and clear and people always comment and cannot believe that it used to be covered in acne. I am in agreement with the middle ground. Some people need it, some don’t. I am a prime example of how extractions really do work and can save a persons life.

  11. August 22nd, 2015 at 6:28 am

    This may be middle of the road and maybe my experience is not there yet, but I just started suffering from acne about 2 years ago at age 29. Finally this year I started getting facials after trying every product recommended to me what I do know is that each time I have one done now there is less and less.

  12. September 22nd, 2015 at 11:06 pm

    I am an aesthetician and I love extractions!!! As stated in the article it is ALL in the skill of the professional working on your face. I have many clients that actually sleep through extractions. It’s all about knowing how to properly loosen up that sebum so that it wants to come out and barely applying pressure to assist it. If I have a client with stubborn sebum that is not willing to come out then I do what the anti-extraction people suggest, using oils and clay masques. It’s really all in finding a great, knowledgable aesthetician that knows how to properly extract as well as the science behind the products their using. Standard extractions of blackheads should NEVER hurt, broken capillaries are no joke!!!

  13. October 26th, 2015 at 12:12 am

    I have facials every few months. I live in Colorado where your skin can make drastic changes seasonly. I was in Mexico last week for a destination wedding and had a facial. Typically I am used to it being calming, and exfoliating. Suddenly I felt pinches on the side of my face and I immediately mentally went back to junior high. I had no idea what they were doing except that it was uncomfortable and felt like they were popping a non existent pimple.I went on to my brothers wedding. Once I arrived back to Colorado a few days later I had 3 huge, red bumps on my face. I wouldn’t even call them pimples. It was damage that I’ve never seen on my face. I’m hoping these bumps do not scar. But, “extracting” to me seems to be just as a teenager with acne popping pimples and scaring forever.

  14. November 27th, 2015 at 10:11 pm

    In early 2012, I got extractions done on my forehead and cheeks which worked great. A year later, thru April 2013, amidst a very stressful period of my life, I got the same extractions done, this time just on my cheeks. The scars from those extractions never healed.

  15. December 9th, 2015 at 3:13 am

    Had a facial today. My face is now full of red dots and its irritated from all the extractions. It looks like I have measles all over my face. My aesthetician says it will not scar and that the bumps will fade in a couple of days. Can anyone confirm this? It was my first facial so I don’t know what to expect. Freaking out here.

  16. February 5th, 2016 at 1:52 pm

    I just had my first facial as well and I also am covered in red dots. She said it should go away in a couple of days. It’s the next day. It’s not as red but still looks awful I’m debating on whether or not the anti extraction facial would be better.I’m terrified of scars. It would be horrible if this doesn’t go away

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