Category Archives: Chemical Peels

Check Your Own Pretty Price: What’s Your Beauty No-Fly Zone?

Retro Beauty Salon

Over on XOJane, Rachel McPadden says she will never get a pedicure because they completely creep her out.

What I don’t want is someone banished beneath me, scrubbing, dremel-ing and cursing my pompous American feet while I iPhone my pals and read up on celebrity babies. Although damn, I love celebrity babies and would die without my phone.

Ah yes. I feel her, because I wrote this story and it sorta changed my life. (See: This here blog.) But I still get pedicures. Um, a lot. Not to mention, I’ve now been on the business end of all sorts of undignified beauty work. And I don’t push for anyone to give up these beauty rituals — I mostly just want you to make more eye contact, be friendly, and tip really super well. Bonus if you’ve also put some thought into why you’re getting said beauty work and feel good about your choices.

Also, maybe don’t sit on your iPhone while they work on you. That is just bad manners. Would you sit on your iPhone at the dentist? That’s what I thought.

But it got me thinking about how there are a few beauty things that I will not do, the way Rachel will not do pedicures. And that’s cool. Here’s my list:

  • Facials. Because after ten months at Beauty U, I just don’t think they work. They are lovely for taking a nap while someone pets your face, but I don’t want to pay for that.
  • Hair dye. Because I did this whole fake blonde thing in college and I’m still not over it. Plus, carcinogens. 

Check Your Own Pretty Price: Are there any spa/salon services that you just won’t do? And if so, why not? Are you worried they’re too exploitative, uncomfortable with the beauty standard, freaked about chemicals or just cheap? We’re not judging. It’s just interesting. So go! 

[Photo: Typical Hungarian 05 by Huldero via Flickr.]

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Filed under Beauty Labor, Check Your Own Pretty Price, Chemical Peels, Facials, Hair, Nails

More Thoughts on Skin (This Time, with Cellulite!)

Thank you, wise readers. You made such good points yesterday. And it’s helping me refine my perspective on pimple popping (because, honestly, if you don’t have an informed and nuanced perspective on that, why do we let you vote?). And skin in general.

So here’s a quick and dirty summation of your very valid points: Sometimes we pop pimples for popping’s sake. This is a hygiene issue; who wants to walk around with a pore full of greasy gunk?And it’s just damn satisfying, like popping (kinda gross) bubble wrap. Or picking your nose. And, if you have a lot of painful acne, extracting that crap makes you feel better. Plus there definitely is a space in which women being comfortable examining the less pristine parts of their bodies (even if it’s with an “ew!” response) is a good thing.

So I am not saying that every time you pick at a spot on your face, you’re hating on yourself.

What I am saying is that it can go there. Because again, skin is the site of so much of our body-related angst. Not necessarily in an anatomically correct sense; if you hate your nose, it’s really the shape of your bones and cartilage that you dislike. But when you think of your nose, you think of the skin-covered version, not the bones. This is because skin is how we see our bodies. And that’s why we spend billions of dollars per year trying to make it tighter, softer, smoother, and in some cases, just go away all together.

And at Beauty U, I see skin hatred in action every single day. We look at scars caused by the kind of obsessive picking that goes well beyond hygiene. We see people take tweezers to their zits. We attack them with lancets, which are basically tiny knives and illegal to use for this purpose in many states including mine. And with the high-frequency machine, which uses a buzzing electric current to kill bacteria. Not to mention microdermabrasion, where we scrape at your skin with tiny rocks, or chemical peels, where we paint you with acid to make pimples dry up and other imperfections melt away.

That’s why I say this isn’t always skin care. A lot of the time, this is skin war.

Now for story time:

Besides pimples, Public Enemy #1 in the skin war is, without a doubt, cellulite. I’ve been in the trenches of this battle for the past few weeks because it’s summer now, which means people are planning to show a lot more skin, which means they’re highly anxious about all of their skin from the neck down.

I’ve written before about how much I like body treatments because I like that I can convey a little bit of body acceptance to clients through my touch. It’s a no I don’t have a problem massaging your stomach, stop sucking it in and just breathe already thing.

But now people are coming in for cellulite detox wraps, which is where we massage you for half an hour with a mysterious blend of essential oils, then wrap you bake potato style in the silver heated blankets until you sweat so much you start to shrink. To prove this shrinkage, we measure your arm, waist, hips and thighs before and after. We could be more exact — sometimes I forget the precise spot I measured in the beginning and worry that skews the results, if I pick a place on your thigh, for example, that is just naturally thinner than where I clocked your before measurement. But even accounting for that margin of error, I have seen people lose an inch or two. (No it’s not permanent. I suppose it’s what people call water weight, though I think that’s kind of a make-y up term. But think the kind of weight wrestlers drop when they work out in those crazy plastic suits right before a match.)

Even though the word cellulite is right there in the treatment’s title, I’m less convinced that our massage or your excessive sweating does anything for erasing or even improving the appearance of your thigh dimples. But that’s what people come in hoping to see, and the placebo effect is a powerful thing.

“I look so much more toned now!” says Client Ten, a tiny blond waitress (who tips me $11, because waitresses get tipping).

“That bloat is gone, thank God!” says Client Eleven, another tiny blond women who spends most of the wrap talking to me about her volunteer work at her church. And tips $9. (Cellulite wraps cost $47 at Beauty U.)

I’ve noticed that tiny people are often the ones who go for the wrap, maybe because losing just an inch doesn’t sound worth it if you’re bigger? And as much as we promote the wrap as relaxing and restorative and all that, it is one of our most hardcore services, so you have to be convinced that losing an inch is worth some suffering. You can’t move much under the heavy blankets. Plastic sticks to you everywhere because we wrap you in a plastic sheet (think big garbage bag) before we put the blankets on.

And you get really, really, really hot. Not ooh I’m in a sauna or a hot tub hot, this feels so good. More like, wow, I’m sitting in a pool of my own sweat while wrapped in garbage bags and it’s starting to smell that way.

Which at first, people crave. 10 minutes in, without fail, every client tells me they’re not sweating enough and maybe we need to turn the heat up because they really, really want this to work so they can lose an inch before their beach vacation/hot date/regular Tuesday activities. I tell them to sit tight, the heat is on all the way. And 15 minutes in, they start to feel it. And proceed to slowly lose their minds.

Some people enter a sort of trance-like state, halfway between awake and sleeping. Others talk to keep themselves going and I hear about medical problems, angry teenage children, unsupportive spouses, mothers who call too much or not enough. They share a lot in the cellulite wrap, and I can’t tell if it’s because lying there in the hot and the dark feels like some kind of confessional or because they’ve gotten so delirious they don’t know what they’re saying.

All I’m saying is, it’s a lot to endure in order to cinch some skin. But cellulite wrap disciples are devoted to it. Client Twelve comes rushing in, asking if we can cut the massage short and get right to the heat because she has to be at a wake by 7 pm. It turns out that her thirteen-year-old daughter’s friend just died in a car accident. Before you judge her (because the implications of keeping your cellulite wrap appointment on the day your daughter has to go see her friend in a funeral home are pretty bleak) let me explain that she just has to get the wrap done because she’s going on a girl’s weekend to the Jersey Shore but she also has to get to the wake because the girls’ weekend means she’s missing the funeral the next day.

Okay now you can judge her.

Actually don’t; she’s a very nice person and I think just caught so blindsided by the tragedy that she’s having trouble processing the idea that life needs to stop for a minute for something so horrible. There are times when we feel so out of control that I guess knowing you can at least take an inch off your hips before you have to get into a bikini is comforting.

Or something.

Meanwhile, Stephanie brings in her airbrush gun so we can practice spray tanning each other. Which I bring up because it is also about skin and cellulite too, since the primary reason for tanning is to make pasty, dimpled flesh look more toned. As estheticians, we’re supposed to be very anti-tanning yet very pro-attractive-skin, so you can see our dilemma and how the invention of the professional spray tan has really helped us out.

Except again, the results are often imagined. Stephanie sprays Meg while we all stand around saying things like, “it’s subtle but you’ve got a really nice glow!” and “it’s good it’s so light because I hate those orange tans.” Then Stephanie starts on me and Miss Stacy realizes we’ve been holding the gun all wrong. Suddenly brown spray shoots out and turns my legs a deep, toasty orange and we realized that Meg hadn’t gotten any color at all, except that which we wanted to see.

Long story short, spray tanning with an airbrush gun is very tricky and I ended up several patchy shades of orange and brown and my original fishbelly white and now look like I have a mild case of vitiligo. Plus it smells gross and you sneeze brown for the next day because you inhale so much crap.

But my cellulite is a lot less noticeable since it’s underneath all that brown paint.

And if you’ll let me conclude by officially beat this whole war metaphor to death: Maybe the biggest problem with Violence Towards Skin is that at least half the time, when we declare victory, nothing has actually changed.

Tip Jar Total: I’ve made a total of $30 in cellulite wrap tips so far, making it definitely one of the most lucrative Beauty U spa offerings, and bringing the grand tip total up for $90.

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Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Body Treatments, Chemical Peels, Facials, In Class, Tanning, Tip Jar

[Tip Jar] Just Saying No to Peels with Client Four

Tip Jar: Where you get the back story on every tip I make at Beauty U.

five dollars photo

Now that there’s only one senior student left in Beauty U’s night program, all bets are officially off on that whole “juniors can’t work on clients until they finish book work” business. Per this helpful commenter, I ask Miss Stacy if the spa will just book less clients until we’re done with Milady’s (about four more weeks, people!) and she rolls her eyes. “You would think, but don’t count on it,” she says.

Cut to tonight: We’re supposed to be reading the chapter on waxing, but Sue is rushed off her feet with facials and waxing appointments. To make it fair, Miss Stacy sets up a rotation of us four juniors (Stephanie, Blanche, me, Meg) so we step out of the classroom in order and nobody ends up feeling like they’re missing the most. Our names are written up on the white board, and whenever we take a client, we’re supposed to erase ourselves from the top of the list and rewrite our names at the bottom.

So. Four* is a middle-aged Indian woman who has been coming to Beauty U for haircuts by the cosmetology students and just got referred over to the spa (way to upsell, Cos Girls). I give her the second facial she’s ever received in her life. I’ll be honest, she’s got some troubled skin. Breakouts and redness on her cheeks, dry patches around her nose, and a few dark spots that she absolutely hates. “What can I do to fix these?” she asks. “Should I try a glycolic peel?”

I pause. I hate glycolic peels. I also hate telling people — especially women of color like Four — that they should try to lighten their brown spots. So, stalling for time, I ask, “What are you using on your skin now?”

“Nothing,” says Four. “Just water and sometimes Vaseline if I feel dry.”

Bullet. Dodged.

“Okay, let’s start with the basics,” I say. “You should be using a cleanser, toner and moisturizer at home every day. Otherwise, no matter what we do here in the spa, your skin won’t sustain the results. I’d rather get you started on a good home care regimen than dive into one of our most intense treatments. You might find you don’t need to do anything that drastic.”

I mean, if Miss Jenny were still with us, I think she might have cried. This is a word-perfect Esthetician Speech. And Four eats it right up. We do the facial, and as we walk out, she asks me to show her the products she should buy for home use. I sell her a cleanser and a toner on the spot, and she would have bought a moisturizer too, except we’re out of stock. As she checks out, she asks, “Are you sure I can’t do glycolic?”

“Very sure,” I say. “But if you want to upgrade your next service, you might consider our anti-aging facial. It brightens and lifts and everyone loves it.”

She does consider. And books the anti-aging facial, which costs twice as much as the standard European facial. And tips me $5 (20% of her $25 fee). And leaves with a huge smile on her face.

On the one hand, I’m severely glad it was me giving Four her facial, because somebody else might well have signed her on up for the Battery Acid Deluxe Treatment. And when you don’t even wash your face at home, that’s kind of like scheduling a gastric bypass without trying the whole “eat less, move more” approach first.

On the other hand, I have no idea if the home care products will work for Four, or if the fancier anti-aging facial will give her any results. I don’t even know if she needs results, or if she should just work on making peace with the fact that her skin has a lot more shades of brown in it than some people.

I don’t feel good about playing into her insecurities. And I notice even though she smiles, she never quite looks me in the eye.

Current Tip Total = $25

*I’ve decided to dispense with changing names for all the clients and am just going to number them. Let me know if you hate it and I’ll go get a baby name book or something.

 

[Photo from over here, thank you random interweb.]

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Chemical Peels, Facials, In Class, Tip Jar, week 19

More Thoughts on Chemical Peels.

My 600-hour adventure in esthetics school. Learn about the project or catch up with weeks 1-9.

Stephanie and I are talking about how she did just fine with Monday’s alpha hydroxy acid peel, while I cried like a little tiny girl. For starters, she’s had more experience with peels because one of her best friends is an esthetician who hooks her up at cost, while I was a peel virgin. “I think you do kind of work up to being able to tolerate them,” she says.

“Also, keep in mind that Stephanie’s skin is much thicker than yours,” says Miss Jenny. What she means is, Stephanie is black. According to Milady’s, page 212:

Black skin is prone to hyperkeratosis [My note: This is esthetics speak for “an excessive build-up of dead skin cells.”] thus needing more exfoliation and deep pore cleansing. Black skin does not age as quickly because of the differences in physiology and the additional sun protection. However hyperpigmentation [Me again: “brown discoloration from melanin production due to sun or irritation”] is a greater problem for darker skin types.

Milady’s follows up that explanation with a photo of a black woman and the helpful caption, “ethnic skin is more fragile than it looks.”It goes on to note that “Asian skin is considered to be one of the more sensitive skin types,” while “Hispanic skin is usually oilier and needs more deep cleansing treatments.” And, “if you want to specialize in ethnic skin care, there are educational resources and advanced classes addressing this area of study.”

“Wow, that’s a lot of generalizations about my skin,” says Stephanie after we read that section out loud in class. Plus, some none-too-subtle reinforcement of racial stereotypes (those oily Hispanics, eh?). Not to sound all “We Are The World,” but color aside, Stephanie and I have noticed that our skin is a lot more similar than it is different; we both break out along our jawlines, get dry around our noses, and get dark circles under our eyes.

But here’s another reason that Stephanie handled the peel better than me: “It reminds me of this Fair & White skin cream I tried once to even out my dark spots,” she says. “Actually that was way worse — I got a little in my eye and thought I was going blind.”

Oh, you mean Fair & White, as in one of the skin lightening creams that the New York Times ran a front page story about last weekend, because they contain steroids and mercury, not to mention hydroquinone, which I told you about when Sammy Sosa went ghost-faced on us last fall? Yep, I bet those do make your basic glycolic peel feel like a walk in the park.

And so maybe Milady’s has a point, because for sure, nobody has ever tried to sell me a skin whitening cream. But does that make “ethnic skin” and “Caucasian skin” so fundamentally different? Or does it just mean the beauty industry has figured out different ways to get our money?

[Photo: Amazon]

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Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Chemical Peels, Facials, Ingredients

(Not) Hooked on a Peeling.

My 600-hour adventure in esthetics school. Learn about the project or catch up with weeks 1-9.

Here’s how Milady’s explains a chemical peel, which is where an esthetician paints your face with glycolic acid (a kind of alpha hydroxy acid derived from sugar cane) to exfoliate away your dead skin cells, from page 384:

These light peels are noninvasive/nonaggressive in nature, and are designed to create an enhancement of the epidermis by working on dead cells, not the dermis, or living tissue. The application of peel skills in your skin care practice will be one of the most exciting and financially rewarding areas of your treatment “bag of tricks.”

And here’s why peels are so beneficial (and exciting and financially rewarding), from page 386:

Peels improve the texture of the skin and increase the CRF [cell renewal factor], hydration, intercellular lipids, barrier function, moisture retention, elastin and collagen production. Peels also reduce fine lines, wrinkles, and pigmentation. After treatment, skin looks and feels smoother and softer. Peels are used to control skin conditions such as acne, hyperpigmentation, clogged pores, eczema, and dry skin.

And here’s how my skin feels as Meg paints on my first-ever chemical peel last night: Like she’s using live electrical wires to coat my skin in battery acid.

Nothing against Meg, you understand. She’s a pro. And keeps saying “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry!” when I yelp. But you know that scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin where Steve Carell gets his chest waxed? Yes, that one? Okay, so imagine me as Steve, only it’s acid and it’s on my face.

“You’re absolutely fine,” says Miss Jenny. “This is not that bad. It’s not like you’re dying.”

“Are you sure?” I say. “Because it really feels like I might be dying.”

“She’s fine,” Miss Jenny tells the room at large as I break the spa’s no swearing rule.”She’s going to love how her skin looks.”

“I don’t get this,” says Meg, rushing to remove my peel with cold towels. “A chemical peel just doesn’t sound like anything you would want on your face no matter how well it works.”

“So call it a sugar peel or a fruit enzyme facial,” Miss Jenny advises. “Some of them are even made out of chocolate now.”

Most of my face turns red, “but you redden so easily,” Miss J sighs. (True that.) The burning does subside after about five minutes, and five minutes after that, I’m back to my normal color. My skin feels baby smooth. Ten minutes after that, it starts to feel tight and dry. Miss Jenny says we will all need to apply extra moisturizer before bed and again in the morning, “but the good news there is you won’t need to wash your face again because the peel works so well.” And I imagine, because any small amount of soap-like product would irritate the heck out of your skin.

You’re only allowed to have one peel per week, and Milady’s notes that “more than eight weekly peels in a row is not recommended,” though “a series of peels every three to four months is the typical recommendation.”

Miss Jenny likes to host peel parties, where a group of girlfriends will get together at somebody’s house and pay her $25 per peel. It’s a big discount over the $75 you’d pay at her spa, plus she brings wine and cheese.

“I worked for about three hours last Thursday night and made $270,” she says. “You girls are going to love peels.”

 

[Photo: Samantha post-chemical peel, via Elle.com’s “Vanity Insanity,” which puts chemical peels in the same category as pinky toe removal (to facilitate more comfortable stiletto wearing). That sounds about right.]

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, Chemical Peels, In Class, Ingredients, week 10