Here is a silly thing I am about to admit to you: Sometimes, when I am having a hard time falling asleep, I like to imagine my ultimate dream spa experience. I would first get my back tickled. Extensively. I love back tickles. Then I’d have a chiropractor adjust every last joint and vertebrae in my body. Dreamy! Last and most important of all, I’d get a facial and have every inch of my face rigorously cleaned until each pore was clear and breathing easy.
Sigh. This is weird, I know, but the fact is, I have always wanted a professional extraction job. It just seemed so… indulgent! And gross. And amazing! Obviously a professional could do a better job than me. (Remember that one episode in Sex and the City where they’re talking about the things girls do in private that guys would never understand? And Charlotte confesses that her’s involves examining all her pores in a microscopic mirror? Yes, well. That is me.) And in my imagination it would change my skin — literally overnight! Change my whole life! This is a lot of pressure to put on a facial. Get it, pressure? Oh gosh. Bear with me, guys.
Well… I finally booked myself an appointment with a facialist and got those pores dang clean. And you better believe I am going to tell you ALL ABOUT IT. I also learned a few things about at-home extractions in the process, and some tips to make them every bit as effective as in the spa. Believe it! Let’s go!
Now, facials are incredibly common and I neither consider myself an expert nor a high adventurer for having one done and writing about it. And yet I am sure there are people like me in this world who had never been for one and are curious to know how it all goes down. So this one’s for you!
Location, location, location
I wanted to choose a spa location that would give me a basic, all-purpose, nothing-too-fancy facial, one that you could expect to find just about anywhere, so I chose the basic facial at the Bliss Spa on 57th street. When I arrived I was escorted to the locker room to change and drop off my things, and then I waited in the waiting room, which was a lounge-y kind of space with a platter of fresh crudités and a sampling of fudge. You had me at the fudge, Bliss. You had me at the fudge.
My aesthetician Inna scooted me back to one of the many rooms down a long, narrow hallway. It sort of felt like a sleeper train car and it made me giggle to imagine a woman in a robe just like me in each room. It was like a factory of relaxation. Kind of funny, and kind of nice.
Once in the room I was instructed to take off any jewelry and any items of clothing from my waist up. Inna left me to get situated, and once I was ready and burrowed under the sheets on the bed she came back in. And now I’ll pause to say: Those beds are amazing. Can I have one? They have a natural dip in the middle for your rump and it felt so nice on my back.
Inna came back in and we were ready to roll. This being my first facial, I was caught completely off-guard by how intimate and relaxing it was to have someone else touching your face. After a few minutes I sort of felt like a disembodied head? I liked it. Facials over massages, for for me. Dollar for dollar, I am a face girl.
There I was, unable see a single thing, getting a foot rub, when the action suddenly went from my feet to my mouth.
First my face was cleaned. Inna had strong fingers and when she rubbed my face it made the bed bounce just a little bit, but it never once felt rough. Next the bright lights came on so Inna could inspect my skin and determine what was needed. This was my favorite part by far. I don’t know, it’s like, don’t you always wish professionals could just come and tell you exactly what you’re doing wrong? She pulled and poked and prodded at my skin and proclaimed me “under-exfoliated and a little dehydrated.” Well then! Then she asked all about my skin care routine (she was horrified by my use of Dove white soap, but I tell you lady, I’m not switching), and then she recommended a few products to fill in the gaps. I was aware I was being sold to, but she was gracious about suggesting alternatives and not at all pushy.
Next came exfoliation. Inna used a fruit enzyme peel that smelled amazing. At one point there was Saran wrap on my face, but I rolled with it, followed by a warm, steamy towel. This was to prepare my skin for the extractions, Inna said, and while it worked its magic (it tingled and I loved it) she rubbed my neck and shoulders and I had a moment where I realized: THIS is why women get facials! It felt amazing. I started formulating excuses to require a facial once every few months. “My skin neeeeds it!” This isn’t unreasonable, is it? No no no, it’s not. Not at all! Okay then.
And then she popped cucumbers on my eyes and that was it. I was done for. Life affirming moment. I started to feel hungry for a salad. Then I started to think of this scene from one of my son’s favorite movies. I imagined how I looked laying there. I wondered about my grocery list. Relaxing really isn’t my strong suit.
After a few minutes I started to feel a little claustrophobic with all that hot towel on my face, but luckily that was all it took before it was time to take it off. She peeled off the plastic wrap and replaced the cucumbers with a heavy paper folded to the size of my eyes, and then came those bright lights again.
“Now we extract!”
Inna was pushy and a woman of few words. I dug it.
Speaking of digging! The extraction process was surprising — I’m not sure what I expected really, but spa extractions are sort of just exactly like at-home extractions, except that her technique was slightly more purposeful than mine. Some things to note:
- Inna didn’t use an extraction tool, just her gloved fingers wrapped in tissue.
- She never dragged or pulled or pinched. She pushed straight down, and hard. At times I felt like she was going to bruise my bones. It was amazing.
- In New York state, aestheticians are not licensed for lancing or using needles, so any seriously clogged pores had to stay clogged, which she explained once she’d finished. “You are 99% clear!” she said. For major excavations in NYC you’ll need to see a dermatologist.
- The nose is the most uncomfortable. Youch.
- I couldn’t see anything and couldn’t breathe through my nose at times. For the claustrophobic among us, this procedure might be a no-go.
- I found that having someone else clear your pores for you was far odder than having someone else wax your lady parts (more details of this coming in a post next week). Both in terms of discomfort as well as the “I feel so weird about having you do this for me” factor.
In the skin care industry, extractions are controversial. In my research for this piece I came across an article from Well And Good NYC debating the issue. In one camp, there’s the “extractions are brutal” sentiment. Some experts claim the extraction process weakens skin’s elasticity, introduces more bacteria than it removes, and is frankly barbaric. Says the article, “You’d be hard pressed to find a spa in Paris that does extractions,” and if the French won’t do it, well … In the other camp, the “extractions are rad” group (a sentiment I mostly share): 90% of NYC facialists offer extractions and claim it’s the procedure highest in demand from clients. They say blackheads impede the health of your skin and gradually increase your pore size when left alone. One of the aestheticians interviewed even claims to enjoy the experience, saying it’s “like a treasure hunt.” The pro-extraction say you should leave the spa with clear, fresh skin, and no blotches at all as a “test of your facialist’s skill.”
So, was I blotchy? Well, yes. Not too bad, but yes. Following the extractions came more masks and serums to reduce the swelling and redness (complete with even more cucumbers!), and while those worked their magic, Inna set about massaging my feet and legs, which I minded not one bit. A girl could get used to this! At the very end, she applied Chapstick for me. Which actually made me want to laugh — there I was, unable see a single thing, getting a foot rub, when the action suddenly went from my feet to my mouth, making me feel even more like a disembodied head, only with feet too, and absolutely no middle.
I left the spa happy and relaxed with maybe only a few a little red spots. But by the next day, I had three major pimples forming where the bulk of the extractions had gone down, and my plans to find a reason for getting a facial once a quarter had mostly disappeared. It felt amazing at the time, and maybe if I went in again I’d opt for no extractions. I can give myself my own infections from extraction attempts, no appointment or credit card required.
A big thank you to Babble for the experience! Next week: BIKINI WAXES. Because, for such a basic, common, popular procedure, there are a whole lot of us who are like, “What? Wax where??” I’ll address all the important stuff, like avoiding ingrown hairs afterward, as well as, are they as painful as everyone says? (No, not really) (Okay, I’m giving too much away). Stay tuned!
Read more on my blog, Nat the Fat Rat!
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