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Facials don’t leave me feeling comfortable in my own skin

CELIA KRAMPIEN FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

The cozy, cocoon-like bed and waterfall music are almost enough to lull me into believing this facial will be different. It's not the result that concerns me – I know I will leave with glowing skin. But my aging ego and dwindling bank account take longer to recuperate.

I don't often darken spa doors. Only occasionally, perhaps before a reunion, or a wee bit of pampering after a heinous year. On these rare visits I've paid a handsome sum for the latest anti-aging phenomenon rippling through the spa circuit: the vitamin-C facial; the Amazonian-mud facial; the gold facial that uses, no joke, 24 carats of the mineral in its mask.

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Yet, I come away with little but lectures about limiting my sun exposure and the importance of using better eye cream. Instead of leaving rejuvenated, I feel browbeaten into buying expensive products that double the cost of my treatment.

Worse is the assault on my pride. Walking in, I feel rosy-skinned – more Sahara than oasis, but still, wrinkles are preferable to acne. Leaving, I feel guilty. Neglectful. As if my arid pores deserve better guardianship.

Today, I'm steadfastly optimistic that my skin-care regimen is finally working. While not onerous, it still costs money I would prefer to spend on things I care about, such as hard-covered books or a new pair of Adidas. The 10 minutes I spend toning and exfoliating each night cuts into time that could be better spent with Orange is the New Black or flossing. I drink more water than my bladder cares for and get eight hours of sleep. Surely these rituals are producing results?

You can convince yourself of anything in that dark room of serenity. Or you can fall asleep.

The esthetician bounces in, looking like she went to cosmetology school fresh out of kindergarten. My hopes sag like the skin around my eyes. The only thing worse than getting lectured about your mature skin is getting lectured by someone half your age.

She places a cloth over my eyes that does nothing to block the blinding glare of the spotlight she switches on to study her canvas. She audibly gasps, sucking in her breath as if she's just revealed a lizard on her table instead of a human. As far as beginnings go, this is not promising.

"Have you ever heard of sunscreen?" she asks.

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I try not to grit my teeth because her magnifying glass picks up those things. I answer that I use an SPF50 every day. Yes, I reapply, and yes, I use it in the winter and in thunderstorms. In fact, I use it at night in the event of harmful moonrays.

She continues with the same onslaught of questions used by every esthetician who's ever had the misfortune to work on me, trying to get to the bottom of how my skin could possibly be so dry, dull and dehydrated. I co-operate – her face is virtually dewy, after all – and answer truthfully, hoping that maybe this time, together, we will find the magical solution to my flaky woes.

She asks about the products I use (professional, hawked on me after my previous facial a year ago), whether I exfoliate (three times a week, of course), if I use hydration masks (honey, I could write the book), whether I drink coffee (is nothing sacred?), how much water I drink (buckets, on account of my coffee habit), if my diet is healthy (Gwyneth Paltrow has nothing on me), how often I get facials (I enjoy this inquisition so much I should come weekly instead of once a decade) and whether I exercise (I've been known to do the odd marathon).

She is stymied, in fact panicky, until she hits on the exercise. All of that sweat, she says, is very drying to my skin. Perhaps I should think twice about working out, or else carry a toner to spritz my face mid-run. When I ask her where I could stash such a product, she recommends in my bra or wedged into my running belt alongside my bear spray and water bottle.

Picture it. I'm in the middle of a muddy trail, and I tell my running partner to go ahead, I have some skin maintenance to take care of. I realize that the scorn of this fresh-faced cosmetologist is preferable to the disdain of my workout group. My priorities might be different than hers, but I'll take my healthy heart over my withering epidermis.

She steams and vacuums my face with a vengeance, as though it were a well-worn wool Berber instead of my freckled façade, then slathers on a few antioxidant, anti-aging, multivitamin hydration masks.

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When I can finally escape, I proceed to the cash register, and there it is: the toner she's recommended I carry in my running belt. In fact, she beams, why stop at there? Carry it everywhere – use it all the time.

I demur from buying it, and in that moment learn the concept of being comfortable in your own skin, parched though it may be. Score one for my finances. As for my ego, it was neither pampered nor exfoliated beyond recognition. A supple result.

Cosmetology schools could offer courses in diplomacy. Some people have dry skin. It's not a crime against humanity.

Deanna Regan lives in Vancouver.

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