The worst facial result, ever.

I had a facial this week. It was delightful: a relaxing and nourishing Kerstin Florian facial at Aurora spa in Melbourne. My skin looked glowy for the second round of Amazing Face app how-to videos I shot yesterday and I’m very happy.

A makeup blogger from Singapore, Juli (AKA Bun Bun) however, didn’t fare so well after her facial this week. In fact, she fared about as well as a kilo of electric spinach at Denpasar.

She had what was a fairly innocuous facial at a regular salon, no needles, no peels, no fancy machines. But over the next few days, rather than plump, radiant skin, she has been through a nightmare of epic skin proportions.

She went from this…



To this…



To this…




It looks like severe cystic acne, but in fact is an allergic reaction to one of the ingredients used in the facial, most likely a plant extract. Yes, it can happen, and no, it’s not easy to know if you’re allergic until, well, you’re allergic.

The second doctor she saw (the first was, rather the like the clinic who gave her the facial and then erroneously popped all of the pus bumps as a cure, therefore making it far worse and making her liable to scarring – top work guys, take five!) advised that this can sometimes happen and although it will settle, she will have hyperpigmentation for many months.

And a morbid and nightmarish fear of facials forevermore, I expect.

Poor poor girl. Read the full post on her terrible and rapid reaction here (but maybe skip it if you are the queasy type).

I feel for her because her face is her trade, but also because this kind of enormous, swift and unsightly descent into angry all-over pustules would be a fucking huge blow, not to mention incredibly scary, except for the bit where I did mention it, because that’s exactly what it would have been.

I had my own allergic reaction in a skinclinic back in 2010 which I’ve never written about MOSTLY DUE TO EXTREME ANGER AND AN INABILITY TO WRITE ABOUT IT WITHOUT SWEARING and not wanting to take down said skin clinic in flames, even though they deserve it. Can’t say something nice, rah rah rah.

In a nutshell (probably a highly allergic one, like a peanut) my face blew up to Will Smith in Hitch proportions within about three minutes after some anaesthesia was applied. The nurse took one look at me, a bad, scary look, and then left the room. She returned with the Doctor a few minutes later (I’m in full panic mode by now) and without a word, he quickly administered Phenergan (and anti-histamine) intravenously, then made me take two 25mg Phenergan orally. “Are you allergic to anything?” he asked.

“I didn’t think I was…” I said, touching my face which was easy since it was about a km further out that it normally was. (They refused to give me a mirror.) (Really.)

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever had Phenergan, but one 10mg tablet sends me straight to sleep. So you can imagine how cool and together and alert I was at that stage, having never had it before, and with no concept of its T-Rex tranquiliser effect on my body.

After 15 minutes, they let me DRIVE HOME, (!!!!) looking like a child’s inflatable toy, terrified, and sleepy as a bear. They gave me no phone number for after hour care and told me it would be fine.

Next day, worse. I waited til 9am then called in a panic and was told to take more Phenergan and it would go down. Also, ice it.

No apologies, no call us if you’re worried, sweet fuck all.

Five days I had that swollen face. Couldn’t go outside, felt like a monster, couldn’t write my book I was on deadline for because I was so doped up. Skipped several events and spoke to my solicitor who advised unless I was seeking damages (i.e.: loss of income, so, say, if I’d been booked to host an event and couldn’t do it because of my face) the costs of legal chasing would cost more than we could hope to earn. I was so stinkin’ angry. The aftercare was a farce, and the fact they let me drive home high as a kite was disgusting; I could’ve had 10 car accidents and to this day am thrilled, shocked and grateful I didn’t. I was also embarrassed. I’d tried to make a good, young face “better” and this was my result.

I don’t know exactly what my point is, except that I guess I thought if a beauty editor with the power of the media behind her can’t get decent treatment and is sent away when her face looks like a beach ball, then what hope do the general public have for good care and intelligent proceedings when a freakish allergic outcome occurs? Poor Bun Bun suffered a deluge of terrible advice and knee-jerk reactions with hers, and it absolutely made everything worse.

One of the comments under Bun Bun’s post was “don’t fix what is broke,” which is a hard pill to swallow when your job is to review facials and have good skin, but it was the exact same thing my then boyfriend/now husband said to me after my mess, and the reason I won’t touch lasers and so on now.

(On the plus side, I learned what Phenergan was that day, and now try to procure them to take on 14 hour flights.)

Have you had a horrible, terrifying facial experience? I feel like today might be the day we all share them…


Responses to this drivel: 40 Comments
Responses to this drivel ( 40 )
  • Claire

    This is me today – I’ve had a terrible reaction to a new cleanser (one that claims to be for sensitive skin). I’m sitting at home with a swollen, bumpy face and taking phenergen and STEROID tablets (!!) to try to get it to settle down. I’m on day 2 and hoping it calms down soon as I’m stuck indoors. Not a nice experience when it’s your face!

    • Elise

      Hi Claire, I had the same reaction to lush products, and it was to an ingredient that is in many sensitive skin products too, Sodium Laureth Sulfate. Now I use MooGoo, available from health food stores, and National Pharmacies, and the ingredients are all natural: http://moogoo.com.au/

  • Hannah

    Well I haven’t had a bad facial but last week I had the WORST Brazilian OF MY LIFE!!!!!!
    I should have trust my gut (or lady parts in this case) and just made the effort to see my usual but I was tired overgrown and too busy. I had had a flyer in the mail a week before so did some research and made an appointment.
    It was with the lady who works from home and when I rocked up it was a nice house in a good suburb and she seemed nice and friendly.
    My first warning came when I got on the table and the first thing she tells me is that she cant wait for her baby to be born (I need to mention here that she isn’t by any means visibly pregnant). I then say oh how far along are you and she says “oh no we have a surrogate in Thailand who is carrying our baby” She then goes on to tell me all about how she has had three different types of cancer which means she no longer can have children. I might mention here that at this time she is wiping me with some oil and mentioning that I may be a bit long (hmm four a bit weeks growth and its too long first times I have heard that… ANOTHER WARNING).
    So she begins waxing and asking all the right questions is the wax too warm is the room too cold I think we may have to trim.. HANG ON trim really?? And out come the clippers……….. BIG BIG WARNING
    She starts clipping away and I can immediately tell that its too short. She then tells me that I am “too warm” and the wax isn’t cooling down….. Yup that means she is ripping wax off which hasn’t cooled down enough. (if anyone has experienced this then I am sure you can agree that having a swarm of bees sting your body would be less painful than uncooled wax being ripped from your lady parts)
    By this time about an hour and a half has passed and Im getting to the point where I want to run. Screw my clothes I just want to get home to some comfy sweats and an ice pack.
    I think she could sense this so she says very embarrassed that maybe I should come back the next day when I am a bit more “RELAXED” and she will finish me off or she can IPL the rest without an extra charge.
    I go STUPIDLY with the IPL which she does very quickly and sees me on my way asking me to report if anything happens over night or I get a reaction ect.
    I cannot believe that I have just paid to have HALF of my lady parts waxed and a dodgy job of IPL…….
    It is now a week or so later and well lets just say I look like a beauty experiment gone wrong downstairs. I have half a bald eagle and well the other side is growing……………….
    She text me the next day asking me how I was and when I would like to go back so she can “finish me off” I politely declined and said that I was going to be away for work “unexpectedly” and will get an appointment while I am out of town.
    What a nightmare. Luckily my botched job can be covered unlike the poor girl who now has horrific poxy skin….
    Please tell me I am not alone with this horror story

  • Louisa

    The first time i took phenergan I was then sent off to drive home too. I went the wrong way down Burke Road, Camberwell! A poor couple pulled over and waved and screamed at me to drive on the other side of the road. I was on another planet.
    Phenergan is pretty damn crazy. And no you shouldn’t drive after it. This was after 10 mg! I don’t know how you took 50. Yowsers.

  • fruity

    Oh, Hannah…. what a mess!

  • fruity

    Not at all. Sucks HARD, in fact.
    Ditto that it was a sensitive one and it inflamed you so.

  • Sharnee

    Thanks for sharing Zoe!
    I have fairly normal, 25-yr old skin that leans towards combination.
    Used a ‘clearing skin wash’ on holiday with 0.5% salicylic acid; but stopped after 5 uses because it made my skin sting (post-shower & when other prods were applied).
    A week later, half my face still feels like it has been attacked with sand paper, and I have incredible dryness, particularly around my eyes & cheek area. It looks patchy, feel rough and fine lines have sprung up.
    Can anyone recommend a solution?
    I’ve just been going at it with a super rich Sodashi moisturiser.

    • Zach

      when starting a cleanser like that you should use it every three days for 2 weeks then you should be ready to use it daily. salysilic acid can make you shed. It sounds like your lipid barrier protection is lacking moisture. A good b serum should help and a good moisturiser. try ultraceuticles vit b serum I love it, and there ultra hydrating lotion. you need to rebuild the barrier up underneath the skin. Its a protection barrier that supplies your skin with moisture.

  • Nicole

    I had a really bad reaction to the L’Oreal Youth Code serum. Seriously, I used 1 pea sized drop for my face, neck and chest and ended up with the worst case of dermatitis I’ve ever had, similar to Bunbun’s but not nearly as bad as hers, poor thing. It took 10 days to calm down, and I went from having normal skin to dry and sensitive skin.
    Now, I just stick with what I know and don’t try anything new at all. Sigh.

  • Dana

    No no, use either rose hip oil or sorbolene!

  • Rose

    I once had a terrible reaction to an anti-lice shampoo. Not as glamorous as a facial (but then, allergic reactions are never glamorous anyway). The shampoo dripped over my face and left me with CHEMICAL BURNS. I was stuck inside for weeks, slathering my face in burn cream, crusting up nicely, and praying that I wasn’t going to be permanently disfigured. Luckily once it healed there was no lasting damage. Bloody scary though!

  • Andrea

    The day before my hens and my birthday I had a massive reaction to a gentle peel which I had had before. No one told me not to use topical pimple cream before. My skin literally burnt off where I had used the cream (over much of my face!) and was red and peeling and burnt. Terrible. Wedding skin care routine put back months and my skin has barely recovered 3 years later.

    • Edwina

      Andrea I think you may have just saved me! I am undergoing a series of gentle peels and also have a topical pimple cream – can’t believe that my cavalier attitude might have cost me my skin! THANK YOU for the warning. And great post, Zoe!

  • ponikuta

    Yeap, I once had a facialist who gave me extractions (of which I did not agree to) who gave me a horrendous scarring that lasted for close to a year. ONE YEAR walking around with a scar and daily need of concealer application.

  • Ozlicious

    In my first few months as a beauty therapist I had a client have an allergic reaction to collagen. I’d done a few microdermabrasions on her but this was the first time I’d performed her facial. We’d just done a traditional hydrating/nourishing facial and upgraded to a hydrolized collagen mask, which is a hugely effective hydrator.
    My client looked great when she left and seemed very happy, but the next day she called and told me she’d broken out into big welts. I advised her to see a doctor and of course we’d take care of any bills.
    She came in to see me straight after the doctor and told me that the doctor had no idea what the issue was, but she’d been prescribed a simple hydrocortisone cream. It was just an issue of “wait and see”.
    The next day she called and said it had become so much worse, she was unable to go to work and her whole face was swelling up. Again to the doctor where she was told to take the magic phenergan. It started clearing up from that point. I called her about twice a week to see how it was travelling.
    It was only through my own curiosity that we narrowed it down to a possible collagen allergy – we did some patch tests in her elbow and the collagen flared up the next day. It was nothing that she had any idea about and nothing that the doctor could diagnose. We couldn’t have predicted it, and unfortunately, that’s the case with many allergies when it comes to skincare. That’s why any reputable salon will have you sign quite a lengthy consultation form before any facial.
    We gave her her money back and gave her a voucher for a series of soothing/calming facials which she could use once her skin had healed. Thankfully she did come back in, and I’m happy to say that she is still a regular client and is even having some courses of IPL with us. Not all facial disasters have to end badly. 🙂

  • Sinéad Elizabeth

    I had a terrible reaction to benzyl peroxide several years ago. YEP, that stuff they use in all the heavy-duty topical acne treatment.
    I was seeing a dermatologist for help with severe cystic acne, and she prescribed Benzac (containing benzyl peroxide). It was all fine for a few days, but one day I woke up with thick, angry, red skin, covered in hundreds tiny little bumps. My skin was so swollen – it made me look like I was wearing an orc mask so I could be an extra in the Lord of the Rings or something.
    So not only did I have crazy-bad cystic acne, but I now had a terrible bright red, thick, and bumpy rash, liable to frighten young children.
    The worst part? I was fifteen, and had to go to high school looking like a monster.
    But every cloud has its silver lining – the teachers didn’t get mad at me for punching a bully when they teased me about it. Hah.

  • KT

    I’ve sadly discovered that I’m allergic to tea-tree oil, which is an ingredient in many products used after waxing, etc. I started going to a new salon last year, told them about my allergy, and watched the girl type it into their system. At my next visit I was a bit rushed and distracted, and forgot to remind them about the allergy (which should’ve been printed on my client summary), and I came out in massive red welts around my eyes within a few minutes of leaving the salon. I needed antihistamines and steroids for about a week. I looked hideous, and my skin was really dry for about a month after the swelling subsided. Fun! (I’ve also had a similar reaction in my nether regions after a Brazilian wax – in fact I think that’s when I first discovered my allergy, after years of tolerating topical tea-tree oil.)

  • Lou

    Wow that is heavy. Poor Bun Bun. And your medical treatment was appalling! Note to self, only do home facials. X

  • katie

    poor bun bun!! ive had a similar reactions various times, not from a facial but from over the counter products, all three horrible times were during high school which was WORSE since mum didn’t see it as a good enough reason to stay home (thanks mum!)
    first time was from a facial cleansing wipe, it all felt fine, but the next day i woke up and could feel something wrong, i could feel little bumps under my skin which escalated to the same degree as bun buns just without the pus, it was HORRIBLE and so bloody ITCHY and the doctor prescribed a cortisone cream which i also had a reaction too, making the bumps larger, my skin swell more and look even angrier and feel more itchy 🙁 had to wait that one out, spraying avene thermal spring water to relieve the itching (so pretty much had a constant stream spraying onto my face)
    the other two times were from a pimple treatment and a moisturiser. i haven’t had a reaction to this degree in nearly 10 years, i stick to what i know or if something burns my skin in a certain way when i use it i wash it off IMMEDIATELY.
    some products i can use on the lower half of my body without a reaction but if used on my chest or face i react to it, so some bottles in my bathroom have LEGS ONLY scrawled over them so i don’t forget. when i had my reactions my dermatologist had some interesting advice for me … some products will cause a reaction if used in certain proximity to my heart, hence the reason i can use some products on my lower extremities without a reaction but on my face i would swell up like the elephant man, interesting!

  • Ali

    This isn’t even something I put all over my face. Once I wore a Max Factor Lipstick for Max 1hour. Took it off and looked like howard from the Big Bang Theory after his peanut allergy. My dad now gets nervous whenever I try any beauty product which is ALOT. Luckily it went down after a couple days but jeez it’s scary 😮

  • Tine @ Beautyholics Anonymous

    I really feel for Bun Bun. My skin cried for hers when I saw that post she wrote.
    A couple of days ago, it was my birthday and I had a massage and facial booked for that day just as a treat for myself. The massage was good but the facial was the worst I’ve had. My skin didn’t have any adverse reactions like Bun Bun’s but it wasn’t good either. Halfway during the facial, the beauty therapist applied a very thick mask on my face. What was strange was that she brushed the thick goo over my eyes and mouth too, something that I’ve never had. In fact, I’ve never had any beauty products that cover the eyes!
    After she’s done applying the thick mask on my face, she left the room leaving me to “relax”. The mask then hardened and literally glued my eyes and mouth shut. I couldn’t open my eyes and mouth at all. I couldn’t call for help. I almost had a panic attack in the table. The feeling of having the eyes and mouth glued shut was so distressing, my heart beat a million miles an hour and I wanted to leave so bad. I had to calm myself down with deep breaths. When the beauty therapist returned and removed the mask, I breathed such a sigh of relief. I asked her if this was supposed to be done that way. She said yes. I asked her what if there was an emergency? I was almost naked, couldn’t see, couldn’t talk. She couldn’t answer me. Needless to say, it almost ruined my birthday and I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

    • Zach

      you had a rubber mask. Its meant to cover your eyes and mouth. there rich in antioxidents and results are usualy very good. highly nervous clients or clients with claustrophobia shouldn’t have these done. there great for reducing puffiness around the eyes and nourishing the lips, I love having these done. next time when you fill your consult form out, let them know you have claustrophobia.

  • Alice Shaw

    OH my god that’s terrifying! I felt panicked just reading it!

  • Alice Shaw

    my comment disappeared..sigh.. in a nutshell, am allergic to tea tree so guess which oil therapist used despite knowing better? Also am allergic to sunscreen and was convinced one week before wedding that a particular, expensive brand was fine for skin like mine. Result, was exactly like the one in the pictures above. Was awful. After a week of no product on my face at all and wearing a hat, it finally cleared enough for heavy wedding make up to cover it. Have never touched that brand again!

  • Radka

    I had my very first facial years ago and got a similar reaction like poor Bun Bun. Unfortunately, I had to get on a plane two days later and fly to Europe to see my family which I have not seen for three years. I’ve never been more embarrassed in my life!

  • Pip

    I had surgery which left me with a large scar behind my ear and on my upper arm, so I decided to apply Vitamin E oil to try and make them fade. Before I knew it I’d woken up with an insanely itchy ear, then arm, chest and neck. This itchyness stayed with me for over a week and accompanying red rash stayed with me for a couple of months, which is just what you want when you’re 15 and it’s summer (wearing long sleeves to cover the rash made me incredibly hot and caused the rash to become even more itchy).

  • Sarah

    I havent had an allergy but I definitely agree with your last line about what hope do the general public have.
    I got quite badly burnt during an eyebrow wax. In the ensuing back and forth with the salon, they tried to blame a facial treatment I’;d had previously. I pointed out that the treatment didnt include the area between my eye and eyebrow so that was a load of rubbish.
    In the end they gave me my money back and tried to get my to keep going to them but they had make the whole experience so unpleasant that there was no way I’d go back.

  • Bec

    This is the reason I’m so paranoid about what I put on my face. I’m too scared to have a facial anymore after going through so many allergic reactions (though admittedly not of Bun Bun’s proportions!). I’m allergic to a lot of plant extracts and marine extracts which rules out a lot of the major skincare brands.
    I’m particularly allergic to rose which is in just about everything (rosehip is fine, but rose water is BAD – weird huh?!). I’ll never forget the day I was walking through the cosmetics department at a department store and a lady from a well-known Australian botanical brand that shall remain nameless sprayed some rosewater mist on my face without asking me first. Within seconds I’d come up in an awful red rash. The poor girl was so flustered, all I could do was bolt to the ladies and wash my face. For the record it didn’t really help so I ended up with a blotchy red face for a few days.

  • Maria

    My skin is incredibly sensitive so I tend to steer clear of facials or tying new products. However last year I thought I would try a cleansing-toning-moisturing combo from Dermalogica (has derma in the title, it can’t be bad right?). After the first go I ended up with a huge angry rash all over my neck and chest that took weeks to settle down. I couldn’t even wear a scarf to hide it because it irritated it even more. I took the products back and luckily the lady behind the counter was nice enough to give me a refund. Never again.

  • Sophie

    The doctor prescribed me 50mg of Phernergan for allergies to dust mites. When I went to the chemist to collect it the pharmacist said to me that there is no way she would take that much and recommended I only took half a 25mg tablet, and even that totally zonked me out! 50mg would be insane. And actually the allergist I see said Phenergan is no more effective than other antihistamines like Zyrtec, Telfast etc, it is just prescribed by doctors in hospitals more because it also sedates the patients!

  • Kates

    I made the mistake of getting my upper lip waxed and the next morning I had broken out with over 30 zits all over my lip in the corner of my mouth. DEVASTATING! I cried and wouldn’t leave the house for 2 days.

  • Amy

    This is so topical for me at the moment! I had my eyebrows waxed at my usual place last week and developed an allergic reaction – red, inflamed and itchy bumps all around my eyebrows. It’s prettttty unpleasant but can thankfully be covered with some foundation and concealer. They do such a great job and the service is fantastic so I’m very annoyed at having to find a new eyebrow genie!
    On that note – can anyone recommend somewhere that does eyebrow threading in the Sydney CBD or Eastern Suburbs? Too scared to try waxing again!

    • Kates

      For threading I go to Catwalk hair and beauty in Bondi junction. Shop 2055 Level 2 (near Boost Juice and Westpac)

  • Rachel

    I had a similar result to Bun Bun with tea tree (glad to see I’m not the only one ladies!).
    Bad year 12 acne (nightmare of a 17 year old girl), so mum and I trotted down to the Body shop for something ‘natural’. Resulting in chin, jaw bone and neck covered in skin like Bun Bun. Dermatologist referral from the doctor, which lead to antibiotics to get rid of the infection that developed in my damaged skin and acne medication.
    I’ve not touched anything but the dermatologist-recommended neutral PH Neutrogena or Dove since!

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  • Penny

    I’ve been following this girl’s facial experience and blog since reading about it and I feel so, SO sorry for her… it’s still not over yet, now she’s battling with legal issues of all things.

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