I Couldn't Believe What Happened When I Started Seeing an Esthetician Regularly
And it wasn't just about the treatments themselves — she helped me totally overhaul my skin-care routine.
"You have flawless skin!" or "What's your skin-care routine?" are two phrases I never thought someone would ever say to me. But finally, after years of stubborn acne, my skin and I are at peace and people are noticing. I can't take full credit, though; it's all thanks to my esthetician. And I'll have to stick with "thank you" because kissing her feet doesn't really comply with COVID restrictions.
I first decided to see an esthetician because I'm getting married soon and wanted to save the description "cakey" for the dessert, not my makeup. But no matter what face wash or serum or moisturizer I tried, I couldn't shake the breakouts. My chin and forehead were always a pimple factory, and long after the pandemic mask mandates were lifted, I was still struggling with maskne. So, I handled finding my esthetician like I handle most other things: an extensive Google search and choosing the most affordable option, which led me to Glowbar.
"Everyone that comes in typically chooses Glowbar because we give a professional custom treatment, but also we took out the fluff in the facial so it's extremely effective," says Rachel Liverman, licensed esthetician and founder and CEO of Glowbar in New York City. Liverman created Glowbar's model to be super simple; you book monthly 30-minute appointments for $55, with no extra add-ons or surprise costs, while still being completely customizable to your skin's needs. (If you've ever gone to get a facial and been low-key skin-shamed into spending hundreds of dollars on add-on treatments, you know how much of a game-changer this is.) For context, facial prices elsewhere typically range from $40-$50 for a 30-minute "express" facial up to $200-$250 (or more) for a 90-minute treatment using fancier technology and products, according to data from Thumbtack, a platform that allows you to hire professionals for anything from house cleaning to massages.
FYI, an esthetician isn't exactly comparable to seeing a dermatologist — there's a place for both in your routine, but they can serve different purposes. Visiting a dermatologist is always a great idea to get an annual skin check, troubleshoot any new skin symptoms or reactions, or handle any "bigger issues with your skin such as funky looking moles or real skin conditions that can only be treated with prescription medication or a certain type of treatment," says Liverman. Estheticians, on the other hand, can help you tackle more run-of-the-mill skin things including acne, hyperpigmentation, sensitivity, and aging, and provide more consistent feedback on how to take care of your skin. (It's not exactly easy to get a standing monthly appointment with your derm to chat about skin-care products.)
In this case, I decided to see an esthetician vs. a dermatologist because my acne struggles were very surface-level. I'd seen dermatologists in the past for acne, and they recommended wearing less makeup instead of prescribing me a strong medication, but I felt like there was something else at play. After trying to figure it out on my own, it was time to get some advice from another skin-care professional. Liverman said a lot of customers feel that way before adding an esthetician to their self-care team.
During my first visit to Glowbar, I told my esthetician, "I have very sensitive skin, and I break out all the time, so I make sure to exfoliate every day." I remember feeling extremely proud of myself for this tidbit, almost as if to say, "see, I've done my homework — give me a gold star, please!" Cue a look of horror on her face. She took a deep breath and then explained that it was likely my over-exfoliation that was causing the breakouts. That, and my bagillion-step skin-care routine. She asked me for a list of the skin-care products I used, and then went through item by item and explained which products I should get rid of, which I could continue using daily, and which to use every few days. For example, she told me to give my vitamin C serum a break because all the exfoliating combined with the acid in the serum was irritating my skin. (See: Signs You're Using Too Many Beauty Products)
If it was any consolation to my bad habit, I learned I wasn't alone in my mistake. "Upward of 75 to 80 percent of clients that come through the door for a first-time treatment are over-exfoliating at home," says Liverman. Because of this, a lot of people think they have "sensitive" skin, when, in fact, they are causing said sensitivity. Another common mistake? Buying the trendiest or prettiest bottle on the shelf without knowing whether those products are actually right for your skin, or if they might react with other products in your routine, says Liverman. (On that note, do you really need a skin-care fridge?)
I'm not going to lie, after learning all of these tips, I felt embarrassed — but also relieved that I was in good hands. I had no idea how much I'd been, dare I say, tricked into buying products due to savvy advertising and trendy marketing. Also, it's rare that you use a service where you leave being told to buy fewer products instead of more. (A breath of fresh air, am I right?)
Depending on the esthetician you go to, you can expect a variety of treatments and services that can be as simple or as complex as you'd like. To maintain Glowbar's 30-minute model, they don't offer any services with needles or lasers as other studios, spas, and salons do. Liverman likens Glowbar appointments to a workout because the esthetician will start with a short "warm-up," by assessing your skin's needs that day. Then comes the hardworking part of the appointment. That can either be an exfoliating technique, extractions, or a calming mask. Extractions have been the most helpful part of my trips to Glowbar because I have a hard time not picking at my zits. However, when you pop your own pimples it can create acne scarring or even worsen the breakout. An esthetician has been trained to properly extract the sebum from the pimple, avoiding infection and scars. (If you need more convincing, this woman's horrifying story about DIY popping pimples will make you never want to touch your face again.) Near the end of the appointment, Glowbar uses LED light treatments, which have been shown to help with collagen production and acne. They either put you under a red LED mask for anti-aging treatment or a blue LED mask for acne. Then there's the "cool-down" portion of the session when you discuss what your at-home skin-care routine should be.
When I first started going to Glowbar, the esthetician would treat my over-exfoliated skin with moisturizing masks and use a blue LED mask on my face for acne treatment. After my first appointment, I felt an immediate difference in my skin, thanks to both the treatments and my simplified at-home routine — and each time I go back it gets even better. Now, seven months into my passionate relationship with Glowbar, I get regular extractions, light chemical peels, and I've graduated to the red LED mask. During my most recent appointment, I skipped the extractions and tried dermaplaning, which is a treatment that removes dead skin buildup and fine facial hair with a razor. (Dermaplaning is actually how some celebs, such as Gabrielle Union, get a flawless complexion.) Liverman's favorite thing to get when she goes to Glowbar is a chemical peel. "We have a variety of [peels], one of them is for hyper-pigmentation, and I leave looking like I swallowed a light bulb," she says. "It makes your skin so bright and glowy and I love an even skin tone more than anything."
If you've never considered seeing an esthetician or aren't convinced it's worth it, Liverman likens it to the idea of giving yourself a teeth cleaning. "You wouldn't clean your own teeth at home, so even if you can only afford to see an esthetician twice a year [as you would a dentist], do that. And in the meantime, wash your face, hydrate your face, and use an SPF every single day of the year — 365 days," she says. She's working to expand Glowbar nationwide, but if you don't have one near you, talk to any reputable, local esthetician about your skin-care needs and expectations.
After only a few months, I not only learned about so many misconceptions about my skin, but I've already seen major results. In fact, I'm even wearing less makeup (mascara included, thanks to a recent eyelash tint). And if you aren't able to see an esthetician at all — the biggest takeaway I learned is: When in doubt, keep your routine simple, and don't buy a product just because it's cute.