The Ultimate Guide to Beauty Treatments in Philadelphia

From Botox to microblading to eyelash extensions, the beauty treatments guide we all need after two years staring at ourselves on a screen.

The Philadelphian’s ultimate guide to beauty treatments in the Zoom Age / Photograph by Jonathan Pushnik

After almost two years spent on Zoom (and FaceTime, and Slack, and Hangouts, and Teams), is it any wonder there’s a beautification boom in Philadelphia? Here we take a look at the many ways — and many reasons — vanity is having a moment, and offer practical tips on everything from botox to microblading to lip fillers to something called FaceGym to help you put your best face forward in the Zoom Age.

Welcome to the Zoom Age of Personal Beauty

Over the the past year, beauty treatment providers have reported an uptick in Philadelphians looking to tweak their appearances. How I, too, learned to stop worrying and love cheek burpees. By Jo Piazza

Welcome to your new face / Photograph by Jonathan Pushnik

On a Tuesday morning in late fall, I found myself on the floor of my bedroom, kneading the hard part of my knuckles into the floppy bits beneath my chin while a perky young woman observed me via Zoom.

“Don’t be afraid of applying some pressure,” she said in a chipper British accent. Her own floppy chin parts were non-existent, and her skin was bouncy and dreamy. “It’s okay if you look a bit ridiculous. Really dig in.”

As I glanced at myself on my computer monitor, I verified that yes, I absolutely looked ridiculous. And yet I continued to knead away at my skin for another 45 minutes as part of a face workout from a company called FaceGym, highly recommended by several friends in my general range of early midlife. Keep reading here.

A Newbie’s Guide to Injectables

What they are, when to start, and how to avoid chipmunk cheeks. By Ashley Primis

Photograph via Getty Images

Remember the ’90s? That not-so-distant era when women would say they were going on a cruise and come back with faces that looked 10 years younger? Thankfully, being ashamed of your beauty regimen is a thing of the past — a welcome cultural evolution for those who like to invest in their appearance. “It used to be that you didn’t even tell people you got your hair dyed,” says Scott A. Brenman, a plastic surgeon who administers injectables at Kári Skin in Old City. “Now, it’s just assumed people get Botox and fillers.”

Indeed, injectables have become as mainstream as avocado toast. Today, women and men see them as integral tools in their skin-care arsenals — a way to slow the signs of aging. These treatments can feel like miracle elixirs: zero-downtime pinpricks that smooth, lift and plump.

Injectables mainly fall into two camps: neuromodulators and fillers. The former (think Botox and Dysport) are toxins that paralyze the muscles responsible for wrinkles on the forehead, around the eyes, and in the “elevens” — the folds between your eyebrows. The latter, commonly made from hyaluronic acid, add volume and fullness (think Juvéderm, Restylane). “Hyaluronic acid is the building block of collagen, which we lose over time,” says Brenman, who notes that different brand names have different product consistencies: “Some are better suited for softer areas like lips and others for larger areas like cheeks.”

It’s okay to be totally confused about what you might need. The best place to start? A consultation with a trusted practitioner. Finding one shouldn’t be too hard: Instagram is a go-to resource, with medi-spas, dermatologists and nurse injectors posting before-and-after photos. (Also, ask your friends; see above re “no longer taboo.”) “Your provider should have knowledge of facial anatomy,” says Erica Hammel, an aesthetic registered nurse injector at Body+Beauty Lab near Washington Square. “The industry is constantly evolving, and your injector should be up-to-date.”

So, when’s the right time to take the plunge? There’s no doubt that people are starting earlier and earlier — blame it on celebs — but getting Botox in your 20s has some merit: The more you do as you’re young, the less you need over time. That means many users see it as a safeguard, not unlike prescription retinoids. “Preventative Botox has become the new norm,” says Hammel. But there’s no perfect moment. Financial and time commitments should be considerations. “It’s not inexpensive, but compared to a face-lift, Botox and fillers are a tenth of the cost,” says Brenman. Expect to spend between $300 and $600 for a Botox session and twice that for fillers. (Note: Botox needs to be redone every three to four months; fillers can last up to two years.)

If your biggest hesitation is that you’ll look unrecognizable (hi, Tom Cruise’s new chipmunk cheeks), practice Brenman’s mantra: “Less is more.” A practitioner should never push you past your comfort zone — you can always up your dose next time. “Having an artistic eye for where to strategically place filler and knowledge of how each type works is important,” says Hammel. “The goal is to keep patients looking like themselves — just refreshed and with more self-confidence when they get out of the chair.”

The Price of Beauty

Cosmetic treatments can be pricey, but the real long-term cost comes from maintaining the results. To find the best solutions for you and your budget, here are average local prices for popular beauty treatments — and how long their effects last. — Olivia Muenter

Photograph via Getty Images

Annual Expense: $750-$1,000
Microblading prices depend on which brow artist you choose. At South Philly’s Forever Valentine Beauty, for example, “Junior artists start around $400 and go up to $1,200 with a lead artist,” owner Kelly Haney explains. Though many people describe microblading as eyebrow tattooing, the results are only semi-permanent. Susannah Morton, another brow artist at Forever Valentine, suggests scheduling a touch-up appointment every 12 to 18 months but also notes that some clients can wait up to 24 months, “depending on skin type.” It can take up to three years for brows to completely fade back to their original hue, though, which makes microblading one of the longest-lasting cosmetic treatments on this list.

Photograph via Getty Images

Annual expense: $1,000-$4,000
Botox is priced per unit, and the total cost of a treatment depends on how many units a patient receives. The more facial areas you’re looking to address, the more units you’ll need, and the pricier the treatment will be. The forehead, for example, is treated with an average of 15 to 25 units, and the average price of one Botox unit is between $10 and $20. With the cost of administering the shots, the average price of a Botox injection procedure in Pennsylvania in 2019 was between $245 and $1,060, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. A single Botox appointment may not be as expensive as many people think, but Botox requires fairly frequent maintenance, with most results wearing off after three to four months.

Photograph via Getty Images

Lip Filler
Annual expense: $1,000-$2,000
Like Botox, lip filler is typically priced per syringe. Juvéderm, a popular filler used in lip augmentation, is $620 per syringe on average, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. One syringe per treatment is on the more conservative end of the spectrum. As Kaitlyn Nelson, a board-certified physician and injection specialist at King of Prussia’s Modern Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, says, exact pricing is hard to estimate pre-appointment because “it’s so patient- and anatomy-dependent.” In other words, how much you pay will vary based not only on your desired look, but on your current lip shape and size, among other factors.

Photograph via Getty Images

Lash Extensions
Annual expense: $2,400
While a classic single-length set will likely run you between $175 and $225, a more voluminous or hybrid set, which combines length and volume, can cost $300 or more. Price differences can be based on how much experience the stylist has. Lash “fills”—adding replacement lashes to maintain overall fullness—are recommended every two to three weeks. A fill may vary from $50 to $150, depending on your original set and how long it’s been since your last full set or refill. And how often you’ll need new lashes depends, says Lash Boutique Philly founder Sharon C., “on how well the client takes care of them when they go home, and their lifestyle.” Swimming, stress and the seasons can impact how long lashes last.

High/Low Beauty Alternatives

Looking for something more affordable or less invasive?

Not ready for microblading? Try eyebrow tinting. Photograph via Getty Images

Instead of microblading … Try brow tinting ($25), brow henna ($60), or brow lamination ($100). The most basic definition of microblading is adding tiny semi-permanent tattoos to your brow area that give the effect of a full, shaped brow. The best microblading will look completely natural­ — but it can be pretty pricey. Pro tip: If a salon is known for microblading, it probably has excellent brow-shaping alternatives, too, like tinting, shaping and lamination, a perm-like process that smooths unruly brows and makes them appear fluffier and more defined: This trendy, painless treatment lasts about six weeks.

Instead of lip filler … Try overlining or lip plumper ($25).Lip filler may be one of the most popular cosmetic treatments currently available, but it can also be one of the most intimidating (and expensive). If you’re considering how you might look with fuller, plumper lips but aren’t ready to commit to injectables just yet, experiment with overlining your lips and/or a lip-plumping gloss. Using a pencil that matches your natural lip color just beyond the lip line can create a surprisingly natural-looking extra-full lip shape. Adding a well-reviewed plumping gloss like Buxom’s Plump Shot Collagen-Infused Lip Serum ($25) can help achieve a perfect bee-stung look.

Instead of lash extensions … Try a lash tint ($50) or lift ($125 to $200). Similar to a brow tint, a lash tint coats eyelashes in a semi-permanent dye that darkens them and makes them appear thicker, eliminating the need for mascara and lasting about a month. Lash lifts, which are often combined with lash tinting for best results, are a semi-permanent chemical treatment that curls and lifts your natural lashes. Often described as a lash perm, the process can give you more dramatic lashes that make your eyes pop — no glue required.

Instead of Botox … Try CryoLift facials ($145) or FaceGym online classes ($15/class). To maintain the effects of Botox, you’ll likely need to schedule appointments two to three times a year. If this isn’t an option you’re willing to commit to, there are alternatives to consider (no needles required). One possibility? CryoLift facials — non-invasive, painless treatments that use cold blasts of CO2 to stimulate blood flow and oxygenize facial areas that have fine lines and wrinkles. (We’re partial to the one at Hawthorne’s Skin House Facial Bar on South Street.) For an at-home, DIY solution, offers step-by-step virtual classes that teach you how to massage and plump your face by hand. — O.M.

A Million Ways to Do Botox

Botox’s claim to fame is eliminating wrinkles. But there are many more uses for Botox today, from reshaping your smile to stopping sweat in its tracks. — O.M.

Botox is for more than wrinkles. It can help treat many conditions, including migraines. Photograph via iStock / Getty Images Plus

Changing face shape — If your face has been altered by age or weight loss, injecting Botox into the masseter muscle (located between the ear and mouth) can help lift the jawbone to make a square face more oval, says Sarah Sidiqi, a nurse practitioner and aesthetic injector at Jefferson Health’s Body+Beauty Lab.

Preventing sweat — Can’t stay dry? Botox application to the underarm area is an FDA-approved treatment for excessive perspiration, with studies reporting that the injections can reduce sweating by 82 to 87 percent, according to the International Hyperhidrosis Society.

Creating a brow lift — When Botox is used to treat the frown lines that often appear between the brows, the forehead muscles that tend to pull your brows down relax. This creates a lift effect that helps emphasize the eyes.

Hiding a gummy smile — If you’re looking to change or hide a gummy smile, a Botox-induced “lip flip” could be the solution. Injecting Botox into specific muscles above and around the upper lip naturally relaxes it and makes it more visible, helping to mask visible gums or large teeth. It can also give the appearance of a fuller upper lip without filler.

Ending eyelid spasms — Sick of dealing with frequent eye twitching? Botox is an FDA-approved treatment to stop the spasms.

Stopping migraines — Botox has also been approved by the FDA as a treatment for chronic migraine headaches. If you suffer from 15 or more migraine days a month, an injection of Botox in the forehead, temple, neck or even upper back could provide relief.

3 Tips to Avoid Overdoing it

If one procedure looks good, you can easily start thinking 10 would look amazing — but that way lies trouble. You want your friends wondering if you’re just getting more sleep, not whether you have an injectables addiction. Here’s how to say when.

Photograph via Getty Images

Manage your expectations
“I’m really careful to tell my patients that perfect isn’t possible,” says Bryn Mawr-based plastic surgeon Julie Shtraks. Pick the feature you most want to change, and commit to improving that. Once you’re done, you may be tempted to move on to other things. But make sure you don’t rush into further changes. “Each step of the way, you need to have someone tell you whether the risk of doing more outweighs the benefits,” Shtraks says. Consistency is also key: Visiting the same practitioner, who knows your face and what you’ve already done, will yield more natural results over time.

Avoid the quick fix
“Filler or minimally invasive treatments aren’t always the best answer — even though they seem like easier solutions,” says Shtraks. “Too much of any one thing can lead to unnatural-appearing results. Sometimes surgery is the best option for the most natural-looking results.”

Be wary of trends
Maybe a “fox eye” works for Bella Hadid or Kendall Jenner, but will it work for you? In some cases, it may not be safe to manipulate your facial features too far beyond their natural state. “You want to stick with things that are in natural human anatomy,” Shtraks advises. When you’re spending good money on something, use the same rules you would for buying clothing — invest in classic, quality products you’ll be happy with 10 or 20 years from now. And keep in mind that celebs like the Kardashians have the funds to reverse their plastic-surgery decisions once a particular cosmetic trend goes out of fashion. Do you? — Erica Moody

For more on skincare and facial beautification in Philadelphia, visit this guide on how to get your skin to glow.

Published as “Put Your Best Face Forward” in the February 2022 issue of Philadelphia magazine.