Philly Has Entered the Golden Age of Skin Care
Today, beauty is about becoming the best version of you. Luckily for us, our region’s filled with specialists, spas and boutiques to help us put our best faces forward.
In 2004, as a broke graduate student living in Chicago, I scraped together enough money for an end-of-term treat: a facial at a fancy spa.
My esthetician was a thick-accented Russian woman who looked like someone’s sweet grandmother but acted like a drill sergeant breaking in a plebe. This startled me: The handful of facials I’d enjoyed up until that point had involved gentle women complimenting my young skin, telling me my freckles were adorable. This woman spent the entire appointment tsk-ing over my “sun damage” and saying things like, “All you girls, so careless. You need to pay more attention to your face.”
I lay there, perplexed. What was she talking about? I washed. I moisturized. I sunscreened. I’d just spent my rent money on a facial. Short of scalpels, what more could there possibly be?
Sixteen years later, the answer to that question is inside the medicine cabinet of nearly every woman I know. We’re awash in tonics and creams, in once-obscure Korean ampoules, French mists and German serums. Jerry Seinfeld, of all people, nailed it in one 2015 episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: “Every woman today lives like Cleopatra,” he said. “The emollients and salves and balms and oils. Just swimming in goo.” It’s true, and then some — he doesn’t even know about the microneedling, the peeling, the jade rolling.
Sometimes I think about that old battle-ax in Chicago and how vindicated she must feel now that so many of us — young, old, in-between — are finally paying attention to our faces. Beauçoup attention. So much attention that Americans spent $5.6 billion on upscale skin-care products alone in 2018 — a 13 percent bump from the previous year, according to the marketing research firm NPD Group. (Makeup sales, in comparison, increased by just one percent.) Here in Philly, you might have noticed the dozen or so new skin-care boutiques and spas that have opened over the past couple of years — this one specializing in lunch-break facials, that one offering the latest in radiofrequency resurfacing. Rescue Spa, Philly’s OG facial mecca, is expanding for the second time in seven years, taking over the space — both literally and in terms of the zeitgeist — formerly occupied by Barneys.
In short: Philly has officially entered the Golden Age of Skin Care.
In recent years, much has been written about what, exactly, brought us all to this particular moment in beauty. There are excellent theories about escapism (skin care is soothing and fun at a time the world is neither); about feminist and anti-feminist conceptions of beauty (it’s either a hopeful form of self-love or a patriarchal siphoning of resources better spent elsewhere, your call); about the rise of social media (skin care is the love child of selfie culture and viral marketing).
For me, the appeal is less loaded but far more humbling to admit: I want to look good. Okay, so maybe that is loaded — even Cleopatra could speak to the complicated, burdensome dynamic between women and beauty. But there you have it. Trouble is, whether it’s because I’m getting puritanical in my old age or because of the Kardashians, too many expressions of modern beauty feel so crushingly artificial, I just can’t engage. The eyelash extensions and hospital-grade shapewear and lip kits and contouring and acrylic nails and, God help us, body makeup look less to me like a beauty ideal and more like false advertising. How many masks can you live under until you’re another person entirely?
My skin, though, is all mine. The pared-down, Marie-Kondo’d, nothing-here-but-some-fine-lines-and-sun-damage real deal. If I can take good, loving care of my skin, the resultant glow belongs solely to me, because it is me: not my makeup, not a filter, not any of the other endless, oppressive trappings of beauty today.
And so I do pay attention to my face, with gusto and the benefits of modern science. I apply all the salves and serums and creams I can. At the advice of one facialist I know — a mom, like me — I wear moisturizing masks while my kids are in the tub. I cleanse with oil, I tone with acid, I swim in goo, all in the name of a beauty that feels less like artifice and more like a softer, fresher-faced (still freckled) version of myself.
Read more skin care stories:
These are the services they swear by and the holy-grail products they can’t live without. Keep reading here.
We tried tons of facials (we know, our jobs are hard) to bring you the treatments at Philadelphia spas and skin care shops that are actually worth the hype. Keep reading here.
With well-curated lines and advice-giving experts, these aren’t your average beauty boutiques. Keep reading here.
Not all the great products come out of a lab in Paris. These Philly-based beauty brands are poised to be the next big thing. Keep reading here.
Skin-care pros with the real deal on gua sha and other current skin care questions. Keep reading here.
Published as “Face Time” in the February 2020 issue of Philadelphia magazine.