The years I lived in Europe taught me a lot about different cultures and languages. They also afforded me a chance to experience a different attitude toward beauty care.
I found, for example, that women there really do seem to take better care of their skin. They avoid the sun. They wear hats and sunglasses outside. Once a month, most of the women I knew went for deep-cleansing facials. And when their daughters were 12 or 13, they took them for facials to show them how to take care of their skin too.
"We think of it the same way as getting our teeth cleaned," one woman said to me. "Of course it is pleasant also, but the main purpose is to keep the skin healthy."
Several times, I too experienced a true European facial. Unlike in the United States, where skin-care professionals--or "aestheticians"--need only 600 hours of training to become licensed, European-trained professionals undergo a two- or three-year program, often under the guidance of a dermatologist or plastic surgeon.
The goal of European facials isn't to simply smear on numerous sweet-smelling creams and then send the client on her way. They're intended to revitalize the skin by cleansing it of built-up oil, makeup and environmental residues. Clients then receive instructions on better methods to cleanse, moisturize and protect sensitive areas, and are given a list of different products that are best suited for their skin.
When I moved to Los Angeles, I called numerous salons and asked them about their facials. Just about every one claimed to use European techniques, although most couldn't explain to me what that really meant. Prices varied widely, and usually there was little correlation with the expertise of the person giving the facial. Instead, the location of the salon appeared to be a bigger determining factor.
Many of the salons also touted the product lines they used. When I asked them what made them special, the invariable answer was, "It's made in France." Well, so is Camembert cheese, I thought, but that doesn't mean it's good for my skin.
After a diligent search, I found an aesthetician with a serious background in skin care--only to part company once I moved to Ventura County. Not long ago, I realized it was time to begin the search again.
This time, I had a list of questions for each salon I called:
What can you tell me by looking at my skin? ("Oily," "normal" or "dry" are not acceptable answers; skin-care professionals should be able to tell you a lot more, such as whether you drink enough water and get enough Vitamin C.)
What is your background? (If you are only told that the person is licensed, keep looking. Since cosmetology school programs are limited in their scope, most serious skin-care professionals pursue extra courses.)
What treatments do you have available? (Some salons specialize in problems such as acne, while others cater to clients who use Retin-A--a wrinkle-smoothing agent.)
How do you extract dirt and oil from the skin? (To clean clogged pores, some salons use metal instruments, which can leave temporary marks on people with sensitive skin.)
What products do you use, and why? Do you give free samples? (Reputable salons that really care about product compatibility will offer samples to clients before encouraging them to buy anything.)
How much do you charge? (Facials generally run from $35 to $45. Occasionally, additional treatments may be suggested that cost more, but if you consistently are paying $60, it's too much.)
Of the 11 salons I called throughout the county, three impressed me particularly with their answers:
The Rapunzel Salon in Ventura specializes in congested skin and areas of the face that have undergone pigmentation changes. Aesthetician Lydia Manley studied for three years at the Selvert Institute in Barcelona and uses state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment to determine the condition of the skin. She is also trained in lymphatic massage, a technique widely used in Europe but less well known here. A 1 1/2-hour facial costs $45; free samples are available.
Delfina's About Face Salon in Simi Valley has three aestheticians who have been giving facials for nearly 10 years. The salon specializes in sun-damaged skin, acne problems and Retin-A users. One-hour facials are $42.50. Different product lines are used depending on the client's skin type. Free samples are provided on request, and products can be returned if the client is dissatisfied for any reason.
Joshna's Facial Finesse in Camarillo combines products, depending on skin types. "We use different treatments to benefit particular problems, " said owner Joshna Patel, who trained for two years in South Africa.
"I don't like to use instruments because you have to use pressure, and subsequently you are prone to damaging someone's skin." Several product lines are offered, and free samples are available. Prices start at $38.50.
* THE PREMISE
Ventura County is teeming with the fashionable and not-so-fashionable. There are trend-makers and trend-breakers. There are those with style--personal and off the rack--and those making fashion statements better left unsaid. Twice a month, we'll be taking a look at fashion in Ventura County--trends, styles and ideas--and asking you what you think. If you have a fashion problem, sighting or suggestion; if you know a fashion success or a fashion victim, let us know. We want to hear from you.