Lazy, forgetful, pain averse, annoyed. If I had to describe my attitude toward skincare, it would be this. I’m not proud of it.
At the age of 36, I’m in a weird skin-limbo, experiencing the worst of two worlds: I still break out with depressing regularity, yet I’m also starting to notice fine lines around my eyes, like a hormonal high schooler with wrinkles. I don’t want to care about my skin issues. I don’t want to scrutinize my reflection, fret over my ever-deepening frown lines, or wonder how long that sun spot has been on my cheek. I want to embrace and love my face as evidence of a life well lived, knowing that every line tells a bit of my story. But I do care, scrutinize, fret, and wonder. I find myself wishing that I could always be seen in low light.
Unfortunately, my commitment to actually caring for my skin isn’t very strong. I swore off facials 12 years ago when I had one that left my sensitive skin painful, blotchy, and broken out. I buy night cream and “miracle” eye cream but forget to use them. I’ll never trade my morning coffee for green juice. And the thought of altering my face with surgery or Botox terrifies me (see “pain averse,” above).
Moreover, I have a seven-year-old daughter with a physical disability, a husband, a full-time job, volunteer commitments, friends, and a home that hasn’t yet learned to clean itself. On my list of priorities, my skin is absolutely dead last, behind organizing my sock drawer and choosing a favorite Kardashian. Actually, if I’m being totally honest, my skin doesn’t even make the list.
But skincare has come a long way in recent years, and I happen to be approaching the age of 40 at a time when noninvasive skincare treatments are flourishing. Nips and tucks have given way to peels and lasers, as estheticians and spas across the North Shore offer a wealth of nonsurgical and noninvasive antiaging procedures that require no involved downtime and nothing scary for noncommittal wimps like me. So I set out to try a few of them for myself.
Over the course of several weeks, I received four very different treatments from a bevy of beautiful women, each with gorgeous, age-defying skin. At RN Esthetics & Laser Co. in Lynnfield, I received a HydraFacial, which master esthetician Carolyn Murphy explained is a medical-grade facial that uses a tool that deeply cleanses and extracts, while also applying a light chemical peel and infusing skin with antioxidants, peptides, and hyaluronic acid. Carolyn called it a “red carpet facial,” not only because it’s popular with the Hollywood crowd, but also because it doesn’t leave the skin red and irritated-looking. In fact, she said many clients get the HydraFacial on their lunch break.
I settled onto a soft bed with a pillow under my head and knees, but not before asking Carolyn my signature question: “Does it hurt?”
“You’re gonna love it,” she assured me.
I lay back and close my eyes as Carolyn did the 45-minute procedure. It felt a little like a wet-vac for my face (in the best possible way) as the various tips on the HydraFacial tool exfoliated, suctioned, and applied the different serums to my skin. The procedure ended with LED light therapy to stimulate collagen and elastin. Carolyn was right: I did love it.
“Your skin really is glowing,” Carolyn told me, as she held a mirror up to my face. My skin looked dewy, plumped, and refreshed.
A few weeks later, Saundra Grillo, founder and CEO of Skin Rejuvenation Center & Spa in Danvers, told me about her long career as an esthetician, which has included treating George Harrison and being among the first in the country to perform procedures like microdermabrasion and microneedling.
For two hours, Saundra lavished my skin with a variety of treatments that included microdermabrasion, a cooling seaweed mask, and “power washing” my face with a spatula-like tool. But perhaps the most incredible procedure was facial contouring using a machine called the Apollo, which uses a Tri Polar RF, or radio frequency, tool that massages and heats the facial tissue to smooth and tighten the skin. Saundra warned me that my face would look red and feel sunburned afterward, and it did; the tool actually warmed my skin to 41 degrees Celsius (about 106 degrees Fahrenheit). But I was stunned when she held up a mirror halfway through the procedure to show me the difference between one side of my face and the other. The skin around my jawline on the side she had finished looked visibly tighter and more toned. Saundra sent me home with a bag full of cleansers, serums, lotions, and other goodies to use in the days following my procedure.
“In a week, your skin will look amazing,” she promised. And it certainly did.
At The New England Facial and Cosmetic Surgery Center in Danvers, I received an incredibly in-depth consultation from Dr. Anna Petropoulos and her team. Recently named one of the top nine aesthetic physicians in the country, Dr. Petropoulos, a Harvard-trained facial plastic surgeon who specializes in noninvasive treatments, says such consults are a crucial first step.
I stared into an enormous mirror as Dr. Petropoulos analyzed my face, starting at the forehead and working her way down, explaining the various nuances of aging for each area and what we can do to cure or prevent it, depending on our age. She talked with me about different treatment options for things like crow’s feet (which she called “happy wrinkles”) and frown lines, while always keeping in mind the relationship between muscle groups to maintain full facial expressions and also using a gradual plan for the most natural results.
We also talked a bit about something I’d been thinking a lot about over the past few weeks: The importance of taking care of ourselves, not just to look better, but to feel better, too.
“As women, we are givers and we take care of other people around us,” Dr. Petropoulos said. “Unless your tank is full, you can’t give to someone else. You have to take care of yourself inside and out.”
Instead of trying to change ourselves, indulging in skincare can simply make us feel better and “be more spiffy,” she said. I laughed. I liked that thought. A few days later, I received ThermiSmooth, a radio frequency treatment that felt like, as Dr. Petropoulos put it, “a warm, gooey massage.” I sank happily back into the treatment chair as medical esthetician Jeanine Oteri did the procedure on my neck and jawline, which not only tightens the area to which it’s applied (I saw immediate results) but also often causes patients to drift off for a nap.
Right before Christmas, I visited BodiScience Wellness Center & Spa in Beverly, where founder Dawn Tardif and her team incorporate Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine philosophies and techniques into its holistic body, face, and other treatments.
The Ageless Face Treatment began differently than any other facial I?d ever had: Dawn asked me to think about my intentions for the treatment. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. “I want to feel good about myself,” I thought. The answer came as somewhat of a surprise. But I meant “feel good” in every sense of the phrase. I wanted to feel good physically, emotionally, and spiritually, as well as being happy with what I saw in the mirror. We talked about things that were deeply personal, and I started to cry a little. It felt sweet and cleansing.
I lay under blankets in the darkened treatment room with relaxing music playing while Dawn did the procedure silently, massaging my neck, shoulders, scalp, legs, and hands, as well as applying a gentle organic peel and beautifully scented serums to my skin. She also used light therapy.
“This is what you do if you love yourself,” I thought to myself, and once again, I felt surprised by my own inner dialogue.
When I shared this revelation with Dawn over a cup of warm tea after the procedure, she smiled.
“I’m so glad to hear you say that,” she said. My skin looked beautiful, glowing, and refreshed, but the skincare result was almost beside the point. The real point was self-care; if you practice that, outer radiance will naturally follow. Dawn and I talked about how so often, women neglect themselves, caring for everyone else while leaving their own needs unattended.
I finally realized that caring about my skin didn’t have to be about vanity or trying to look like a 20-year-old. Instead, it could be about giving myself the same attention, love, and caring that I give to everything else. It could be about giving myself the gift of a couple of hours with my feet up and my eyes closed, or even simply giving myself a few quiet minutes each night. It could be about valuing my body as the essential vehicle for this wild ride through life.
And that, I’ve learned, is much more important than choosing a favorite Kardashian.
BodiScience Wellness Center & Spa
Holistic medicine, Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, and self-care are at the heart of the treatments at BodiScience Wellness Center & Spa. Services are extensive and include a wide variety of face, body, hand, and foot treatments, Ayurvedic treatments, nutrition services, and others, including makeup, wellness workshops, and more.
The New England Facial and Cosmetic Surgery Center
The New England Facial and Cosmetic Surgery Center offers facial plastic surgery; nonsurgical treatments such as Botox, Kybella, and fillers; light, laser, and radiofrequency treatments; and additional services for skincare, snoring, sleep apnea, and more.
RN Esthetics & Laser Co.
Led by advanced practice nurses and master estheticians, RN Esthetics & Laser Co. offers minimally invasive cosmetic treatments including Botox, Dysport, dermal fillers, Kybella, HydraFacial, laser treatments, Ultherapy, CoolSculpting, Vampire Facelift, and vConfidence Intima.
Skin Rejuvenation Center & Spa
Skin Rejuvenation Center & Spa offers skincare services that include body contouring, microdermabrasion, dermal microneedling, chemical peels, cryo stem cell therapy, fillers and Botox, and much more. Other services include makeup application and permanent makeup, reiki, hot stone facials, body wraps, infrared sauna, and laser spray tanning.