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Woman warns others after facial leaves her face red, raw and 'on fire'

She ended up looking like she was “attacked by a wild cat” after the appointment.
Heather Muir said she felt pain, stinging and a "pulsing heartbeat sensation" on her skin during the appointment.
Heather Muir said she felt pain, stinging and a "pulsing heartbeat sensation" on her skin during the appointment.Heather Muir
/ Source: TODAY

It was billed as a “red carpet facial,” but the beauty appointment turned into a painful ordeal for a New York woman who said her face was left red and raw for weeks afterwards.

Heather Muir, beauty director at Real Simple and Health magazines, is now warning others to speak up and leave when something doesn’t feel right.

“Numerous times throughout this facial, I felt uncomfortable, which I verbally expressed as burning, stinging, and on fire. I was told I must be sensitive and even asked if I had a pacemaker (I do not),” Muir wrote in a post on Instagram last week. She included several photos of her red and scratched face and neck.

"What I regret doing is not leaving the facial," Muir, 34, told TODAY. "I just wish I would have said to her, 'Thank you so much for your time, but I just want to leave at this moment' and gotten dressed and left. Because I just knew — something in my gut was telling me this doesn't feel right."

Muir said a publicist invited her to get the free facial from a “board certified master esthetician.” She frequently receives such offers as part of her job, so she accepted and specifically made sure there wouldn’t be any redness or down time to interfere with her appearing on camera for an upcoming assignment. She checked out the esthetician's credentials and went in for the facial on Feb. 4.

Muir said the woman performed microdermabrasion — a procedure where a "minimally abrasive instrument" gently sands the skin, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. The esthetician also used a product that contained acids, "so kind of like a peel," Muir recalled, and a microcurrent, which some believe stimulates the muscles of the face and the neck.

"I knew that there would be those different technologies used," she noted. "(But) I kind of knew from the beginning that things weren't feeling quite right — it was aggressive, my face was stinging and even though I spoke up numerous times throughout asking her questions about, 'What is this? Is it normal to feel like this?' she kept brushing those aside and saying, 'You must be really sensitive.'"

Muir said her cheeks felt as though they had a pulsing heartbeat sensation, which frightened her. She ended up looking like she was “attacked by a wild cat” after the hour-long appointment, but when Muir expressed her concern to the esthetician, she was only told to drink lots of water and moisturize with oil capsules she had been given.

Muir then went to see her dermatologist, who thought she may have suffered chemical burns. Muir herself isn't sure what went wrong and the esthetician hasn't provided any answers, she said. She isn't naming the esthetician, but said she has apologized.

Three weeks later, her skin is looking and feeling almost normal.

What to know about facials:

Facials can be incredibly helpful depending on a person’s skin type, but it’s very important to pay attention to the techniques estheticians are using, said Dr. Debra Wattenberg, a New York dermatologist and founder of NY Skin RX. Wattenberg was not involved in Muir’s case, but commented in general.

“In this day and age, there’s so much technology involved with facials — there are laser facials, traditional facials and possibly chemical peels that are being used,” Wattenberg told TODAY. “You need to be very precise about the types of questions you’re asking when you’re having any kind of facial procedures.”

A standard facial usually includes massaging the face, cleansing, toning, steaming, exfoliating and moisturizing, according to the International Spa Association.

You may think you’re going in for a standard appointment, but in some places, a facial may mean much more so people should be clear about what procedures they’re having done, Wattenberg said.

“The facial that you have should address the issues that you have,” whether that’s clogged pores or dry skin, she noted.

Over-aggressive facials, particularly if the skin integrity is compromised, can result in permanent scarring or disfigurement, said Dr. Julie Karen, a board certified dermatologist in New York. This can result from overzealous chemical or mechanical treatments and is particularly likely to affect people with darker skin, she added.

Other dermatologists were skeptical about facials in general, with some saying there's no benefit for people with normal skin, and warning they can do more harm than good, according to a paper published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

When booking a facial appointment:

Wattenberg and Karen offered these tips:

  • Look around the spa and make sure you’re in a clean environment.
  • Do your research: Choose an esthetician who is well trained.
  • If an esthetician does something that doesn’t seem appropriate to you, and he or she doesn’t educate you about what the expectations are, ask a lot of questions, stop the procedure and feel comfortable leaving.
  • The procedure shouldn't be painful and it shouldn't burn.
  • Never put yourself into a situation where you feel uncomfortable.
  • If you're concerned, seek medical attention and protect your skin from sun exposure until completely healed.