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The Emperor's New Face

Turning 30 can make you do strange things, like sandblast your face for a cool $150. But, hey, it's the beautiful results that count, right? If only you could see some of them.


When I am stressed out, I like to buy a little something to make myself feel better. I can always return it. But recently, I purchased something pricey but definitely nonreturnable. Something that ordinarily, a cheapskate like me would never be caught dead buying.

But I don't blame myself. I blame my friend Kristy, who thought of it. I blame Father Time for the insult of a 30th birthday. I blame my ex-boyfriend for moving to New York. I blame my 87-year-old grandmother, who took one look at my face last Thanksgiving and declared, "You are getting worry lines on your forehead. Don't worry." (I love my grandmother, but that is an obnoxious thing for a woman whose face looks like an aerial shot of the Amazing Maize Maze to say.) Blame-wise, I can also throw in the media and my mother.

Kristy called me a few weeks ago to tell me about "the latest thing," which turns out to be microdermabrasion, a.k.a. "sandblasting your face."

"All the young actors and models are doing it," Kristy said.

A small vacuum-like machine blows tiny grains of sand on your face, grinds it in, then sucks it off. This is supposed to take off the dull crepey outer layer of skin that all 30-year-olds have. Microdermabrasion is not to be confused with dermabrasion, a treatment for acne scars performed by a physician. Dermabrasion is a surgical scraping of the skin using a rotating wire brush and requires anesthesia. Microdermabrasion can be done by a nurse or a licensed aesthetician.

Kristy, a Web page designer, found out about it on the Internet. She also found a woman who would do it "the cheapest" via the Web. The woman, to whom I shall refer as Prudence, works out of an otherwise empty mini-mall in Upland.

Upland is the perfect place for the modern-day medicine man purveying snake oil. It is ugly and makes you feel bad.

As we pulled into the mini-mall, Kristy, who had already had one sandblasting, warned me: "Prudence looks like a mannequin. She'll want to make you look like a mannequin too. She's into 'permanent makeup.' But you can say no."

We walked down a hallway of blank doors until we came to a sign advertising image enhancement. We were greeted by Prudence, a tiny woman who indeed looked like a mannequin. She had permanent eyeliner, eyebrows and lipstick. Maybe blush, too, but I couldn't be sure. Her forehead was eerily smooth. "I just got Botox injections in my forehead," she said. "Watch." She raised her eyebrows and her forehead remained immobile. "See?" she said. "No wrinkles."

No facial expression, either. Creepy.

She handed us consent forms warning us of the possibility of "swelling, scabs, sores and blisters" but assuring us that "there should be no bleeding."

Prudence shuffled us into a room. She turned out the lights, handed us a mirror and shone an ultraviolet light on our faces. "This shows you how you will age in the future, if you don't take care of your skin," she said.

This would make a good spooky slumber party trick. And, like your typical slumber party trick, it doesn't really work. I looked at my face in the mirror and saw . . . my face tinted light-purple. "Hmmm, you have a little dark spot here . . . " Prudence said, pointing to my left temple. "You should watch that," she said. "Why? Could it turn into cancer?" I asked. "It could, maybe," she said.

Prudence offered to sandblast Kristy first so that I could see that nothing terrible would happen. She wheeled in a contraption the size of a boom box, with a vacuum line about the radius of a garden hose attached. She handed Kristy a surgical cap, lowered her chair and got to work. When she was done, she chose a bottle among her assortment on the cart and spilled some liquid on a makeup pad. This was a "light chemical peel," chosen specifically for Kristy. This is how she chose it: "What ethnicity are you?" Kristy, a blue-eyed blond, said, "Polish." I, a blue-eyed blondish, had to think for a minute, then decided "British."

"Your skin is more delicate," she told me. "I'll use a lighter peel." I hoped I hadn't screwed things up by failing to mentioned I'm a quarter German and maybe a little Sioux.

Prudence prudently decided against pushing the permanent makeup but took another stab at the Botox. "You would love Botox. You'll be addicted. It will erase that little line between your eyebrows," she told Kristy.

"Is it natural?" Kristy asked.

"Yes, it is a natural toxin," Prudence said.

"It is the deadliest toxin in the world. It paralyzes your facial muscles," I offered helpfully.

Now it was my turn. I was a little nervous because I imagined Prudence might be peeved at me for sharing my encyclopedic knowledge of beauty treatments.

"Now, I won't say this is painless," she said, "but it's not too bad. It feels like a cat licking your face." She started vacuuming. It did feel like a cat. A cat who is starving and enraged because you didn't get up at 4 a.m. to feed him Tender Vittles and is trying to lick you to death.

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