(last updated on April 29, 2014)
Since 2005, I’ve been driving to Danvers, Massachusetts to get my hair cut. It’s an hour drive each way, which is perhaps excessive for a hair cut but it satisfies my need for periodic road trips while providing podcast listening time. As a bonus, I also have several friends in the area, so I sometimes visit them and stay for dinner.
This month’s haircut was a special one as I had also scheduled a facial beforehand. I’d first heard of facials during my first personal hand detail almost six years ago, but recently one of my female BFFs got me thinking about them again when we were talking about how skin tone affects what colors you can wear. I inquired why facials were so awesome, and she immediately launched into a soaring litany about the benefits of exfoliation and getting all those nasty oils out of the pores. Plus, she said with a small smile, it was also nice to pamper one’s self every once in a while.
Pampering! This was an experience foreign to me. I immediately recognized my friend’s small smile as the SECRET SMILE that women use when remembering private joys that are difficult to put into words when in the company of males. Men, by comparison, retreat into the SACRED CAVE OF MEMORY; the tell is a particular defocusing of the eyes as we replay an action montage in the cinema of our minds. Here in New England, for example, a lot of guys get that look when you ask them if they remember when the Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino and then won the FREAKIN’ 2004 World Series; grown men were seen SMILING PUBLICLY throughout New England for DAYS afterward, defocused gaze prominent on their faces…but I digress. I asked Kim, the owner of En Vogue Salon, about scheduling a facial to see what the big deal was. Kim, normally of a pleasant-yet-measured demeanor, became visibly excited because apparently facials are awesome. I was sold on the enthusiasm alone, but I neglected to ask exactly WHAT happened. I figuring that it involved lying back in a chair, cucumbers on my eyelids, while a thick goop was layered onto my face and then scraped off after a few minutes. Sort of like a fancy oil change for my face, right?
Oh, my naivete seems so charming in hindsight. Facials are one of those secrets that women keep to themselves, or maybe it’s that we guys just don’t understand what “pampering” really is and have never thought to look into it, or more likely we think of pampering as a kind of weakness. We’re fine imagining ourselves enduring pain or inclement weather in the service of kicking asses, but enduring a delicate face massage and skin exfoliation? We are not trained to comprehend a world where soft creams and coconut-infused lotions ease the knots in our furrowed brows, epicly wrinkled through years of determined scowling through squinted eye. I’m here to tell you it’s not so bad, guys.
The first clue that this facial was more involved than I thought was the elevated platform, upon which I was told to lay after shedding my clothes and donning a thin towel-like wrap. Summer, the aesthetician who had been assigned to me, perhaps sensed my unease and explained what was about to happen. After a brief moment of alarm, I decided that I would think of this as a very relaxing doctor’s visit and keep an open mind. I stripped to my skivies, wrapped up the elasticized towel around my waist, and situated myself under the blanket. It was warm, and a gentle plume of steam wafted over my face. It was quite pleasant, actually, and I was started to drop off when Summer knocked and re-entered.
I thought facials were about faces, but there is much more to it.
- Facial cleansing with sponges
- Face massage (I didn’t know there were such things as facial muscle knots)
- Gentle steaming and hot towel treatments (ahhhh!)
- Exfoliating Enzyme Treatment (pleasant, though there were no cucumbers)
- Removal of blackheads and whiteheads (no blackheads, but whiteheads were terminated with extreme prejudice)
- More cleansing and final moisturizing (it was like there was no difference between the air and my skin, to borrow a line from Community)
- Neck and shoulder massage
- Heated hand treatment, moisturizing, and massage
- Foot and calf moisturizing and massage
All told, the time on the table took about an hour, and it was exceptionally relaxing. I got to hear about Summer’s philosophy of the ideal facial experience, which was a routine she had perfected over many years. When she was in school, she developed her program with her friends to design the best experience. While some aestheticians leave the room during the various treatments, she explained, she preferred to use that time to apply the various hand, neck, and foot massages. Pleasant music and gentle steam in the low-lit environment helped create a relaxing environment away from the bustle of the real world.
As we chatted, I gained the impression that the facial was not strictly about maintaining a beautiful face or scraping out the nasty oils that accumulate on the skin. It’s also about the luxury of having someone pay this level of attention solely toward one’s self, which elevates the sense sense of well-being. A true pampering in a comfortable and safe environment with a caring and experienced aesthetician is really a treat. If I were a harried mom, used to expending all my energy on unruly kids and a distracted husband with stressses of his own at work, I’d imagine that the occasional facial would be what kept me sane. I wish my Mom was still alive so I could treat her to many well-deserved pamperings. The facial is presented as a simple package, but efficiently meets needs that go deep below the surface. While it feels nice, it also contributes to a feeling of well-being that is completely deserved—or at least justified in the face of modern stress. I can’t quite think of a male equivalent: we tend to get excited about things that are more physical challenges or competitive winnings, easily summarized in feeling by a terse fist-bump or well-timed high-five followed by a large pizza and loads of beer. Unlike facials, though, these celebratory rituals result in greasier, fatter faces. Not very appealing, in the long run.
I don’t think I completely relaxed, but I was more relaxed afterwards. I learned a few things about my face and face care:
- Get some 100% cotton wash cloths and use facial cleaner. I didn’t have anything I was using (there was a clipboard I had to fill out regarding allergies, medical conditions, and the products I was currently using).
- It’s ok to throw out a wash cloth. I have some 20-year old wash cloths in my closet that I don’t like to use because they feel gross, even after boiling. Summer suggested discarding them after about 3 months of use. I might convert them to shop rags.
- There are many, many varieties of facials and other spa treatments.
- The weird bumps on my forehead don’t seem to be warts, so I should see a dermatologist and find out what’s going on there. Summer thought they might be hardened deposits of oil (!) under the skin, but to check with the doctor.
After I emerged from the treatment room, Kim exclaimed that my face was glowing, which made me smile involuntarily. I might have to schedule a pedicure next, on the working theory that well-maintained toes are HAPPY TOES, and that there is a likely-because-I-made-it-up causal relationship between happy toes and greater productivity…
It’ll be our secret.