I’m not sure where my fear of facials stems from, exactly. I think it has something to do with the first—and only—time I’ve ever gotten my eyebrows waxed.
I went along with some friends who were getting it done when I was in seventh grade, and while all of them walked away looking relatively presentable, I ended up with a forehead that was fire-engine red and inflamed for hours. (Pre-bangs and with a middle schooler’s capacity for mortification, this was a traumatizing experience.) I assumed a facial would have approximately result—except, you know, over my whole entire face.
I’ve also been fortunate to have pretty unfussy skin my whole life—no major breakouts, just the odd pimple, dry patch, or instance of random red blotchiness—and for a long time, I harbored a somewhat delusional idea that the best way to make sure nothing bad happened was to do nothing at all, partially out of laziness, partially out of a penchant for conspiracy theory. What if the people at Clean & Clear actually want to *give* me acne so I have to keep buying their stuff forever? So, for a long time, it was makeup removing wipes, some moisturizer when I really needed it, but that’s it.
What finally lured me over (cautiously) into the land of skin care aficionados was taking my first real magazine job. It seemed silly to keep doing the bare minimum when I was surrounded by miracle-promising products that other editors actually wanted me to try—for free! This was also around the time everyone became obsessed with 12-step Korean skin care routines, so I figured the least I could do was muster the energy for three or four.
Which brings me to the facial: being in my mid-twenties in an industry in which experimental beauty treatments like microneedling are often literally part of the job, I figured it was high time I finally got over myself and let someone poke and prod at my face in the interest of brighter, fresher, ideally impossibly glowy skin.
Our beauty editor pointed me in the direction of star facialist Joanna Vargas, whose midtown New York spa is a haven for multimillion-dollar faces like those of Karlie Kloss and Julianne Moore. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the office, but it was pleasant right off the bat–less clinical than a doctor’s office but certainly not an incense-and-yoga-music type place. In the waiting room, I was greeted by a friendly, fresh-faced receptionist and handed a form to fill out before the appointment, asking about everything from how often I use SPF to whether I have a history of epilepsy, contact dermatitis, cold sores, or pregnancy.
This, it turns out, is the most important first step: communication. Just like you shouldn’t lie to a doctor (even about that once-in-a-while cigarette, riiiight?), you should feel comfortable opening up to your esthetician—starting with the fact that you’re a first-timer. As my lovely facialist Anastasia explained to me, the more they know about your diet, lifestyle, and medical history, the better they can understand your skin and determine any underlying causes for your individual concerns, which in turn can guide which treatment they recommend to you. Plus, certain products may react differently depending on sensitivity, hormones, or medication, so it’s in your best interest to be totally honest.
Of course, this conversation doesn’t happen in the waiting room; at Vargas’ salon, facials take place in smaller, sunny rooms lined with complicated-looking machines and carts of lotions and creams. I was given a towel to wear from the waist up and instructed to lay down on the bed “wrapped up like a cocoon.” From there, Anastasia examined my face, asked me what I wanted to address with the treatment, and pointed out potential areas of concern. Turns out I have very sensitive skin around my eyebrows, which I guess explains that waxing ordeal, and the clogged pores on either side of my nose are probably the result of never wiping down my glasses with alcohol swabs (who knew?!) Then, she presented two options: a hydrating facial, which would remove impurities and refresh the skin, and Vargas’ signature Triple Crown facial, which would promote lymphatic drainage through exfoliation, oxygen, and microcurrents, with the final result of depuffed, red-carpet-ready skin.
With an exciting night of sitting on my couch ahead of me, naturally I went for the red carpet option, but depending on your particular skin complaints, you might want to opt for something that focuses more on reducing inflammation or removing impurities through extractions (read: manually squeezing out any buildup in your pores). The process was more relaxing than I expected, and Anastasia walked me through each step—using gentle exfoliators to slough off dead skin and allow other products to actually do their jobs, massaging my skin to open up the pores and help maintain elasticity, and applying serums for hydration and redness reduction. The only steps involving machines were the microcurrent, a two-prong device that sends tiny currents of electricity into the skin to stimulate the muscles, and the blast of oxygen delivered by a small tube not unlike the one they give you at the dentist, except a million times more pleasant.
At the end, my skin felt brighter, refreshed, and, yes, a little more chiseled. And—miracle of all miracles—it wasn’t actually all that red, just a little pinker than usual for a few hours.
So, is everyone a good candidate for a facial? Vargas thinks so. “A deep exfoliation helps your products penetrate better, and some of the newer technologies like LED light, microcurrent and radio frequency are great at maintaining firmness in the skin,” she says. “Regular facials and good home maintenance can turn back the hands of time better than you think.”
I, for one, finally started exfoliating regularly at home—big step, I know!—and have been extra vigilant about sunscreen since my visit. Will I go back? Well, I don’t know if I’m quite ready to commit to the monthly schedule she recommends, especially since the treatment costs $250 (don’t fret: less exclusive facials—especially those outside of Los Angeles and New York—will run you closer to $100 or less), but I’d absolutely spring for it as a special treat to myself before a big event.
In fact, if there was one takeaway for me, it’s that skin care can be treat, not just a chore. Consider me a convert.