Amidst the frenetic meanderings of mind and body, there is occasionally opportunity for the elusive 'down time' - during which I schedule all the beauty appointments that I've failed to stick to over the course of the previous few months. So, this May I have managed three facials - which I would not recommend for anyone with a sensitive disposition or complexion - but which allowed me to put to task the therapists and brands who claim to work minor miracles in the space of one's lunch break.
So, to begin, I visited Vanda Serrador at Urban Skin, Neville's, in Knightsbridge. She's a lovely ball-of-sunshine woman, very warm and nurturing, who also proved that she has great instincts when it comes to treating skin. She used mostly Yon-Ka products, of which I have always been a fan, and did a seriously thorough, if slightly painful, extraction. I yelped a bit as she worked and she apologised (I have to say that Sarah Chapman's extractions are a lot more comfortable, as she spends a good 15 minutes warming, steaming & massaging skin with oils before she gets down to business). Vanda read my skin well - seeing that it needed calming, soothing & serious hydration. She began with a thorough cleanse, then an exfoliation with a grainy scrub that smelt like marzipan, a peel, then several massages with several nourishing oils - one of which was very rich in vitamin C and left my skin looking decidedly tanned - and several hydrating masks, including Yon-Ka Masque 103. My skin did feel impossibly plump and pillowy by the time she was done and she had improved the state of several bumps on my forehead, BUT my skin also looked flushed and a bit discoloured too - certainly not ready for a night out. As for brows, well, I feel that she did thread mine a little bit too thin - I have very large eyes and a roundish face, so would have benefited from a fuller final shape, but they were perfectly symmetrical for the first time in my life, which is no mean feat. All in all, I'd give her a 7 out of 10. Not bad at all.
The following week I booked in for a CACI Ultimate Facial. This was at the C2 Clinic in Hampstead. The main focus of this facial is microdermabrasion, followed by a soothing moisturising mask that is rich in Hyalauronic Acid. I have to say, first impressions weren't good. The staff were all very young and several looked scarily orange - one sporting a tan that was bright as a bottle of Orangina - and the atmosphere was a little bit curt - no smile on arrival, which I found rather offputting. Then to the treatment... it was very 'facial by numbers' and my therapist barely said a word to me throughout, which was a bit scary given that I did not always know what she was doing. I asked several questions all of which she answered brusquely, a little evasively, and when I told her that I did not think the microdermabrasion part of the facial need be as thorough as perhaps it might be for other clients (given that I had had a peel & exfoliation with Vanda a few days earlier), she simply responded that that didn't matter and that all facials involved microdermabrasion. She used two hand-held CACI devices - a blue-and-red-light pulsing probe, which acted on my skin to kill bacteria (blue) and encourage collagen production (red), while the microdermabrasion took place. Next, an odd sucking and vibrating device, which she called the 'microcurrent facial toning' system. Then, she placed a heavy gel mask (one of those ones with eye and mouth slots cut out) onto my skin and went over it with an electrical device to help penetrate the HA into my skin (but which set my teeth on edge once or twice & gave me a couple of little electric shocks). She then patted a nondescript sun factor cream over my skin which left it feeling a bit sticky, and that was it, all done. Looking in the mirror was a bit of a fright - my skin was a bit red and blotchy and a little patch of eczema under my left eye had been exacerbated. It was, however, smooth and soft. That night my skin did look calmer and I was able to go out to a party after a bit of cover-up and foundation evened things out. Oddly, my t-zone was shinier than normal and my forehead and eyes were drier than normal, and I came home to a face that looked a lot worse for wear. I have also had several spots since the treatment (so much for the blue light) and would not be keen on repeating the experience. All in all, 4 out of 10.
SO, we save the best for last. I am not sure how I have managed to go the best part of a decade as a beauty editor without ever using ESPA skincare. I have dabbled and tapped fingers in pots, sniffed and approved, and been offered ESPA facials at least once every few months, but for some reason fate has never delivered me into their hands - until my recent foray to their newest spa in Latvia, which has left me a bit of a convert. My skin, as has been well-documented in this blog, is tempestuous. It can be utterly bright, beautiful and clear OR it can be dull, congested and break-out prone. It is rarely in the middle. I have found that my beloved Sarah Chapman Skinesis line is just too rich for summer skin, so switched back to an old favourite: Dermalogica Active Moist, for a couple of days until I could find a better summer alternative. Unfortunately, my skin is more prone to upsets at present, and it did seem to leave my complexion feeling 'stung' and irritable, even though my skin itself looked fine. My ESPA facial began with a seriously horrendous consultation beneath the Woods lamp - which highlighted extreme dehydration (well, I had just been on an plane), scar tissue from old blemishes and localised oily patches. My therapist's conclusion: your skincare ain't doing squat for you sweetheart. She planned a balancing, plus rehydrating, facial with extra eye work to counteract the dark circles I'd developed after three days sans sleep (don't ask). Now, the main reason that I have always been suspicious of ESPA (and for that matter Elemis & Aromatherapy Associates) facials, is because they tend to take place within dark rooms and do not involve extraction. For me, the mark of a good facial has always been how closely and carefully the skin is analysed, and how gently impurities are removed. The fact that ESPA involved a thorough evaluation BEFORE the facial, however, was a smart move - it meant that the therapist had decided precisely what my skin needed and had it all ready prepared by the time I was ushered into the room, where I promptly fell asleep as she massaged, soothed, rubbed and patted me down. On waking, a fluttering hand reached for the face - soft, spongy and a little bit sticky, but a look in the mirror proved she was the best of the bunch - my skin was already showing signs of improvement and looked calmer and less blotchy. So, how did she do it? She cleansed twice - first with the ESPA Facial Foaming Cleanser, to purify - this crackled and felt a little bit astringent on my skin - then with the Hydrating Cleanser, blended with a dash of the Refining Skin Polish, which felt lovely and soothing. Then the Essential Mineral Mask - which purifies, but did not sting or leave my skin feeling tight - followed by several treatment oils and serums, including the Balancing Face Treatment Oil & 24 Hour Balancing Skin Cream, plus the new Super Active Cellular Hydration Concentrate - a big fan. The next day, skin was absolutely back on track and I have now used the Balancing Oil + 24 hour Cream morning and night for 3 days and everything is evening out - still very soft & hydrated, but less shiny and eruptive. I've promised the PR I'll stick with the line for at least 4 weeks & shall continue to report back on my ESPAcades.
So, final scores on the doors? 8.5 out of 10 (well, I am a sucker for excellent extractions) - but given that it's for a branded facial (of which I have never been a fan, preferring instead to see specific therapists over skincare affiliates), that's pretty darn impressive. Oh, and my skin seems to think so too.
10 hours ago