In high school, my favorite place to hang out was my esthetician’s office. As bourgeois as it sounds, it was the one place other than my house where I felt loved and cared for. The estheticians at Southlake Clinical Aesthetics in Southlake, Texas, would shower me with compliments and let me tell them about my crush of the month — all while perfecting my skin. Because of my weekly facials, breakouts were manageable. Since graduating from high school, I’ve only gotten one facial… and became a beauty editor.
At 25, I’ve had more breakouts than I did at 15. My cheeks are constantly little zit-filled war zones. Last year, my dermatologist determined it wasn’t hormonal after I got my blood tested. Alas, I stuck to topical treatments and saw measly results. Our digital deputy editor, Sam Escobar, suggested I return to my high school routine and get one facial every week for a month. This may not be the most economically savvy route to clear skin, but I went for it. After a month, my skin had dramatically improved. Not only am I more confident than ever about the state of my skin, but I’ve also renewed my love for skin care.
Before I set off on my skin-care journey, this is what my skin looked like.
I got lip injections a couple of days prior, so pardon the super-cute bruising. As you can see, my left cheek has had better days — and thanks to the four spas I visited around Manhattan during the month of May, it finally has.
The treatment: Fire and Ice at Haven ($205)
The fire part of the facial was a peel that smelled like a Yankee candle that I imagined would be called “Fall Harvest.” The esthetician informed me that it didn’t have anything autumnal like pumpkin in it, though. Instead, the peel was packed with glycolic acid. Because it was a medical-grade peel, my skin burned something fierce. To calm it down, that was followed by the ice part of the facial: a hyaluronic acid mask. As you may know, hyaluronic acid is deeply hydrating and locks in moisture.
Extractions were a major part of the facial, too. The esthetician poked and prodded at my face with her fingers. When I got my first tattoo, someone asked me what it felt like and the first thing I thought of was extractions. I was reminded of why I felt that way during this facial. I could have sworn needles were involved, but it was truly just her fingers pushing and squeezing my skin. Once she was done, she shamed me for picking my skin. I don’t blame her, though, because I know better. She recommended I apply Is Clinical’s Pro Heal Serum, which is formulated with vitamin C, to help reverse the damage my bad habit had caused.
After a couple of days, the breakout on my left cheek started smoothing out and I wasn’t feeling any sort of urge to pick at my skin. In fact, I hardly picked at my skin at all last month. I guess the shaming helped.
The treatment: the 50 Minute Facial at Heyday Tribeca ($95)
My best friend, Brooke, always raves about Heyday, and now I fully understand the hype. It has an approachable, afforable Instagram aesthetic with kick-ass results. Also, they played R&B instead of waterfall noises. (Nature stresses me out, so listening to SZA is much more calming.) As the esthetician, Elizabeth, analyzed my skin, she kept referring to parts of my face as being congested, particularly my T-zone. To help combat this, she slathered my face with a peel infused with cherries, lactic acid, and salicylic acid. Together, they help to kill bacteria, slough away dead skin, and reduce inflammation.
Elizabeth also introduced me to the Image Skincare Ormedic Balancing Antioxidant Serum, which smells like an orange creamsicle pop, to calm inflammation and refine my pores. To help banish any remaining bacteria and fight the final stages of the breakout on my cheek, Elizabeth waved a wand from a high-frequency machine over my skin. It uses electrical currents to literally zap away zits.
The next day my skin was actually glowing — and it wasn’t because of my usual three layers of highlighter. It didn’t have an ounce of dullness and the inflammation on my cheek was starting to dissipate. For the first time in years, I only had to use a bit of concealer to even out my skin tone. That’s a major win in my book.
The treatment: The Anja at Floating Lotus ($85)
By this time, getting a facial every week had started to feel like a chore. Sure I looked forward to laying down for a minimum of 45 minutes without staring at a screen while someone pampered my skin, but making the time to do so proved to be difficult. Alas, I got a quick 30-minute microdermabrasion session. When I walked in for my appointment, the aesthetician noted how clear my skin looked and didn’t even do a single extraction. Instead, she spent most of the time smoothing my skin and fading my post-breakout scarring with a microdermabrasion device. Honestly, it felt like I was getting my skin vacuumed.
A couple of pimples did pop up in the next few days, but I’m writing them off as a part of the purging process. Another skin concern that I haven’t mentioned is that I struggle with extreme oiliness. By noon, my face tends to form little pools of greasiness around my nostrils and on my chin. By week three, it dawned on me that I wasn’t worrying about blotting my skin during lunch break. It was finally starting to find an equilibrium. (Insert all the praise hand emojis here.)
The treatment: the Champagne Couture Facial at Savor Spa ($225)
As someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, the allure — pun intended — of a Champagne Couture Facial was lost on me. But I wanted to go all in at the all-organic spa. The treatment combined two elements from the ones that came before it: a heavy-duty peel and microdermabrasion. Oh, yeah — and champagne. My esthetician, Alexis, used a cleanser spiked with the bubbly stuff as well as a truffle face cream and caviar eye cream. Indulgences aside, my favorite part was the peel. It burned oh, so good, and it gave me an epiphany:
At my final facial I started to realize that I had been neglecting a major part of my skin-care routine: exfoliating. I mistakenly thought you only needed to exfoliate when you had dry patches. I actually needed the peels and microdermabrasion to remove the dead cells that were congesting my skin, just as Elizabeth had said at Heyday.
With June in full swing, my skin-care routine is nothing like it was at the start of May. My glow used to be courtesy of highlighters. Lately, it’s all about brightening serums like Drunk Elephant’s C-Firma Day Serum. I take the time every morning and night to apply them, as well as cleansing, exfoliating, and toning my skin. I’ve even added an at-home peel to the mix: the Renée Rouleau Triple Berry Smoothing Peel. Also, I hardly have to wear any foundation or concealer. Instead, I use a bit of IPKN’s Moist & Firm Beauty Balm because it has SPF 45 in it. One or two facials would have been enough for me to come to this conclusion, but sticking to the routine of going once a week helped me get into better daily skin-care habits.