I don’t know about you, but my face is freaking out. Between Zoom-illuminated under eye circles, maskne that’s triggering teen trauma, and a complexion dulled by quarantine cocktail hour(s), I’m in serious need of some professional assistance.
My poor pores.
Fortunately, the stars have finally aligned. The State of California, Los Angeles County, and the City of Beverly Hills have all declared that it’s now possible for salons to provide post-quarantine skincare services. And since I’ve managed to snag an appointment at one of L.A.’s hottest skin care meccas — Lemaje on Robertson Boulevard — I’m absolutely beaming beneath my mask (can’t you tell?).
I’m stoked and, at the same time, a little apprehensive. I’m sure my skin will get the attention it deserves. But selfishly I wonder: Will I? Is this going to be the same pampering, relaxation-inducing experience I’m used to or will hand sanitizer and PPE prevent me from enjoying myself?
It’s a sunny, unusually humid afternoon in SoCal as I head out sans-makeup in quarantine casual. Not exactly dressed for a day of Beverly Hills boutiquing and brunch at The Ivy, but I’ve put on a bra and sneakers without holes. With the incredible lack of L.A. traffic, I make it there in record time. The first thing I notice when I arrive at Lemaje is the utter abundance of street parking. Like, there are spots — plural — on both sides of the tony, shop-lined street. While I feel for the proprietors of the many shuttered stores, I’m elated about my positive parking karma.
Per protocol, I wait outside in my mask for my appointment to begin — no perusing the pages of the latest gossip mags in the waiting area. An assistant props open the door to welcome me into the salon, as Maria emerges from behind the newly-installed plexiglass protecting the reception station to touchlessly take my temperature and squirt sanitizer into my hands. Owner and master esthetician Marina Lerman, who’s been in business for more than two decades, is also there to greet me. Her mask and face shield are unable to hide her smiling excitement to be receiving clients again at her salon.
Marina leads me down the hallway to Room 3, where the mood lighting and soothing music making my apprehensions melt away. Some things haven’t changed. I slip into the white terry cloth wrap and under the cozy covers to await my prognosis. What will Marina say about my skin? As if quarantine weren’t bad enough, lately it seems like I’ve simultaneously aged ten years and time-traveled back to my breakout years.
Marina breezes back in and cleanses my face with a soothing, repetitive motion of her gloved hands. I’m surprised that the gloves don’t feel as foreign as I’d assumed they would, and Marina tells me that she spent hours sourcing the softest, thinnest gloves available. “Most of the clients say they don’t mind,” she mentions. After removing the cleanser from my face with a warm, damp towel, she flips on the interrogation-grade lighting to examine the state of my complexion. “Mmmhmm,” she murmurs, “some pigmentation here, dryness over here… a bit of blackheads and whiteheads.” She pinches my cheeks a bit forcefully. “You have good tone. Your skin is not too sensitive,” she asserts in her Russian accent. “You have pretty good skin.”
She agrees that my melasma is noticeable but not terrible, and that I may be showing signs of mild rosacea. “Ask your dermatologist,” she advises. “Maybe a peel in the wintertime.” Marina gets the steam ready. “You’ll steam for eight minutes,” she instructs. “It’s very important that the steam be nice and warm, not too cold or too hot.”
She leaves me with the warm mist wafting across my face, and I feel myself melting just a little bit more into memories of carefree, pre-quarantine days. When Marina returns, I’m feeling very relaxed and ready for my facial massage. Turns out, I only thought I was relaxed. As she works her hands over the muscles of my neck and collarbone, Marina declares that I am “very, very tight.” The heels of her hands convene at the top of my sternum and extend outwards below my collarbone as she presses down firmly. “Feel yourself opening up like a book,” she commands.
I’m visualizing — hard — but I can tell this book ain’t budging. Months of hunching over the keyboard combined with zero trips to the gym to strength train and stretch flash before me as a mini-panic wave threatens to crash this facial siesta. Thankfully, Marina is completely unfazed by my unspoken internal chaos as she massages and manipulates my neck, arms, and décolleté until I finally submit. “Much better,” she proclaims. “Now we start on the face.”
Marina massages my cheeks and along my jawline using a combination of pressure from her fingertips and quick, pinching motions that feel like she’s trying to snap my skin into submission. It’s not as painful as it sounds. She tells me that she learned this technique, which stimulates blood flow and improves muscle tone, back in Russia. “It’s like a workout for your face,” she explains. “We go to the gym to strengthen our bodies but our face? No.” She compares taking care of your skin to maintaining a regular exercise routine. “The results of treatment stack up and keep your face lifted the more often you do it,” she explains. “It’s like working out: if you stop then you’ll gain weight, just like if you stop facial treatments, the effect won’t last.”
She checks in to make sure I’m doing okay, but, truthfully, the technique appeals to my Scandanavian sensibility. A little bit of pain means it must be working. When she’s finished, she remarks about my improved color and tone as she sets up for the next act: My first-ever oxygen facial. Soon, I’ll be ready for my close-up.
The Intraceuticals Oxygen Facial has become a part of red carpet lore. Starlets swear by it — legend has it that Madonna kept a machine and an esthetician on standby so she could get glowing before every appearance. Marina checks to make sure I’m not allergic to vitamin C, which she explains is an integral part of the hyaluronic acid-based serum that she’ll infuse into the upper layers of my epidermis. She shows me the nebulizer tool (essentially an airbrush) that’s connected to a compressor that uses oxygen instead of regular old air. The idea is that the pressurized oxygen, along with the aerosolized serum (customized for each client’s complexion) penetrates to deliver skin-stimulating molecules, which impart an immediate, youthful radiance.
Sounds good to me.
Google this treatment, and you’ll find a fair number of naysayers — none of whom can deny the visible benefits well-documented by countless happy clients. If Marina, who at 58 looks more dewy and glowing than some of the Gen-Zers I know, swears by this solution to maintain her own beautiful skin. I’m all in.
Marina moves the tool methodically over each area of my face using slow, sweeping strokes that feel like a super-cool breeze. I don’t usually do cold. Or breezes. But, surprisingly, it’s extremely invigorating. We pause for a picture after she’s completed the entire right side. “You see how plump and beautiful it is, compared to the other side?” she remarks to her assistant as she gets going on my left cheek. I can’t wait to catch a glimpse of the new, post-quarantine me.
Speaking of quarantine, I ask Marina about how the shutdown affected her and her business. “I’m a workaholic, so I was going a tiny bit crazy,” she confesses. “But it would be unfair for me to say I suffered because everyone suffered. No matter what kind of business you have, everyone lost revenue when this pandemic shut down the city.” She says that CARES Act loans and a spike in their online product sales helped Lemaje weather the storm.
When I inquire about all the new regulations, Marina is matter-of-fact. “We’ve pretty much always followed these protocols,” she explains. “We have always had fresh sheets ready on the treatment beds and fresh towels, gowns, and headbands for each client.” She tells me that, in addition to wiping everything down with sanitizer, salon employees now sweep the entire treatment room with a UV sanitizing wand between clients.
As she’s finishing up, Marina asks me how I feel. Like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix awakening after his first training session: I know kung fu. Or Gwyneth Paltrow the morning after bedding the bard in Shakespeare In Love: It is a new world. “Wonderful,” I gush — and I haven’t even seen myself yet.
She leaves me to get changed, and I gaze for a moment in the mirror. Holy smokes. I’m plump and vibrant and glowing like a Rubens cherub. On my way home, I keep snatching glances in the rearview mirror. It’s like I’ve been real-life Facetuned. My daughter asks me how it went and quickly exclaims, “Wow, all your little wrinkles are gone.” Not even that ego-crushing reality check of a compliment can phase me because yeah, she’s right.
It’s true what they say. Looking better makes you feel better. “At the end of the day, people still need to look beautiful,” Marina had told me. But today I’ve realized that there’s more to it than that. People still need pampering, and, thankfully, people like Marina have a passion for providing it.
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