"Basic" may have adapted a negative connotation in recent years, but there's no shame in seeking advice on theoretically simple sartorial conundrums. In our latest column, "Back to Basics," we're here to guide you through life's most common (and important) fashion and beauty concerns.
Beauty may only be skin deep, but then again, with skin-care being a multi-billion-dollar industry, it's clear that people care — a lot — about keeping their skin looking its best. And while we've written about the importance of regular exfoliation and having a great skin-care routine, some people swear by the transformative powers of a good facial above everything else. But are the benefits worth the investment? We spoke to veteran facialist Tracie Martyn (who counts Diane von Furstenberg, Nicolas Ghesquière and Riccardo Tisci as clients) and Caudalie's lead esthetician, Régine Berthelot, to get the scoop.
What goes into determining the cost of a facial?
When you book a facial, you're not just paying for an hour-long series of cleansers, masks and serums being applied to your face. The price tag is a reflection of the products, techniques and technology being used, plus the level of expertise of the esthetician performing your treatment (more on that later). "I would always recommend going with a reputable brand," says Caudalie's Berthelot. "It's going to be a bit more money, but it will pay off in the long-term because you know you're using a skin-care brand that you trust, and also bigger brands have better training because they will have a standard for conducting the treatment and interviewing and training the esthetician."
And while it makes sense that a facial from a luxury skin-care brand or spa will take into account the sticker prices of products being used, the same rule holds true for any high-tech additions or devices used during your treatment. For example, at a recent visit to the Tracie Martyn spa, my facialist used a special lamp that blasts red and blue LED light to speed cell turnover and kill bacteria as part of the brand's Purple Ray facial, which marries cutting-edge technology with the brand's natural yet effective formulas. (And they're advocates of all things high-tech; Martyn's signature treatment, the Red Carpet Facial, uses a patented "Resculpting" machine that emits a mild electrical current to lift, firm and contour skin.)
The location is also a component in pricing treatments. For example, Caudalie's one-hour facials start at $120 ($65 for an express) at their boutique locations, but if you're making the trip to their full-service Vinotherapie Spa nestled in the Plaza Hotel, prices begin at $205. Meanwhile, at Tracie Martyn, hour-long facials with her staff begin at $210, but for a service with Martyn herself, rates climb to $450. And if the convenience and proximity top your list of priorities, you can't beat the value of a Bluemercury facial, with several services to choose from and over 100 locations nationwide. (In the interest of full disclosure, both services reviewed in this article were complementary.)
Who should be getting facials, and how often?
Whether you're a teenager or well, not, there's likely a facial that's just right for you. "At 25, your collagen and elastin fibers are starting to slow down, so really you might as well start as young as you can," advises Berthelot, who treats everyone from acne-ridden youth to clients over 60. "I came to the states 30 years ago from France, and there, everybody — including myself — would get facials as a teenager." And while it's easy to understand why actors and models seek out regular facials — paparazzi, HD video, you know how it is — we'd take the opinion that taking care of your skin is all about investing whatever makes you feel your best. (Editor's Note: As I waited to interview Martyn for this story, Kate Winslet was finishing her treatment and Andreea Diaconu was in the reception area. Just a regular day at the spa!)
A good facial will have...
The first step of a facial will usually involve a chat with your esthetician about your skin type and your concerns. (Basically, he or she just wants to get to know your skin so treatment can be tailored to your needs!) After that, the esthetician will begin your facial with a thorough cleanse of your skin with a gel or foaming cleanser (sometimes preceded by a double-cleanse using an cleansing oil or water) followed by exfoliation via microdermabrasion or a peel. If your pores are especially congested, your esthetician might perform some extractions — basically a technical term for squeezing the impurities out of your pores using precise applications of pressure. (Note: This is a task best left to the pros, who will know how and where to do this without causing future breakouts or other damage to the skin.) The room will usually be equipped with a machine that blasts warm steam onto the face to help soften skin and open up the pores, and your esthetician might also place a heated towel on your skin pre-extraction. "Once the steam is off, there's a natural reaction for the skin to tighten up again, so if your pores are tight, it makes it a lot harder to do extractions," explains Berthelot. (Another reason to not try this at home.)
After getting your pores squeaky-clean, your facialist will likely proceed with a series of masks or treatments tailored to your skin type and concern. This can include letting a mask or exfoliator (Tracie Martyn's Enzyme Exfoliant is frequently used in services, and has earned the nickname "facial in a jar") work its magic for 10 to 15 minutes. Afterwards, your esthetician will finish things off by layering serums and moisturizers tailored to your skin type to lock in hydration and maximize the benefits of the treatment.
What results should you expect?
If you received extractions or experienced intense exfoliation, it's normal to see a bit of redness immediately after. (This shouldn't be permanent, but if it lingers for more than a few days, consult your derm.) Overall, you should notice a brighter complexion with a smoother, more even texture. (Right after my Polyphenol C15 facial at Caudalie, my skin looked visibly clearer than when I arrived and felt baby-soft.) In the days following your treatment, make sure to continue to take care of your skin by cleansing and moisturizing regularly; a good facial — much like choosing quality skin-care products — is a major investment, so don't neglect your skin by forgetting to remove your makeup and indulging in greasy food and that third martini. "In other words, we pay more — or aspire to pay more — to eat organic food, to go to SoulCycle, yoga or Pilates or for an Equinox gym membership," says Martyn. "We invest in ourselves because most of us understand that beauty starts with wellness and health."
Homepage photo: Courtesy of Caudalie