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Face Facts

Putting the best face on any situation may be getting easier. That's because the arena of professional skin care has advanced in step with new products and techniques.

In other words, this isn't your grandma's facial anymore.

Once upon a time, skin care meant Pond's cream and an occasional pampering session at a salon. The pampering hasn't changed-professional skin care still involves a fair amount of feel-good indulgences-but in the never-ending quest for the elusive fountain of youth, science and technology have discovered ways to actually make a visible impact. Nowadays it's possible to keep your skin looking firmer, younger and healthier without resorting to plastic surgery.

A lot of patients come in and have things you can correct with just some advanced skin care," says Dr. Luciano Boemi, a Fort Myers-based plastic surgeon. In fact, for the last seven years, Boemi has kept a full-time aesthetician, Kay Jacobs, on staff at his practice, the Swan Lake Spa.

Dr. Ralph Garramone has had a full-time aesthetician on staff since he began his Fort Myers practice two and a half years ago. "They add an area of expertise in skin care, which is not necessarily my area of expertise," he says. "I think the two go hand in hand."

Many dermatologists and general practitioners are beginning to recognize the measurable benefits conferred by modern skin care methods, and to refer patients to aestheticians.

"Facials themselves do something," says Boemi. "You'll see a difference one month, two months, six months later because the skin gets better hydrated."

Feel-Good Good Looks

Every day, it seems there's a new scientific revelation about this or that new miracle ingredient to keep skin younger-looking. Retin-A. Alpha hydroxy acid. Vitamin C.

Biochemists are constantly taking this information and engineering new products to take advantage of the benefits of these substances. Some product lines feature copper, for example, said to be "the newest wrinkle fighter out there," according to aesthetician Maria Spidaletto of the Felix Andrew Salon, with locations in Bonita Springs and Naples. There are peels with glycolic, salicylic and alpha hydroxy acids, which slough off dead skin cells and can leave skin looking firmer and healthier.

New technology has provided equipment like the Derma Master 8000, a machine that uses intense pulse light therapy to help increase collagen production, reduce age spots, and help diminish skin conditions like rosacea. "Even with one treatment, you'll see a dramatic difference," says Joyce Pasquino, co-owner with daughter Jo Ann of the Total Body Salon & Spa at the Inn on Fifth in Naples.

These new products and techniques do more than just feel good. Most strip away old skin cells, hydrate the skin, increase circulation and clear pores. Some claim to stimulate collagen production, measurably reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, diminish skin discolorations and imperfections, and even help control acne.

"Here is where plastic surgeons and dermatologists are becoming more aware of the importance of the paramedical or clinical aesthetician," says Jacobs. "It's pretty much taking over the market of spa skin care-people are realizing they are paying the same price and can get a better result."

OK, so you're sold. But the average menu at a spa or salon can be as oblique as programming instructions for a VCR. Here's a thumbnail sketch of some of the available options, and the costs and benefits you can expect from each.

A Face for Every Taste

If you're a neophyte, you might want to start small and avoid the more aggressive techniques. Even a professional exfoliation and extraction, coupled with a moisturizing mask, can leave your skin feeling velvety smooth for days afterward.

At Total Body Salon, Pasquino adds candles, music, aromatherapy, light massage and even reiki to her basic facial sessions ($85-$135 for 50-minutes). Pasquino tailors her facials to each customer's needs: she may include an eye retention gel to firm up crow's-feet, a vitamin K solution for broken capillaries, and various types of mask.

But each customer will get her basic pampering treatment: lymphatic drainage; massage of face, shoulders, chest and hands; warmed hand mitts; and light scalp massage. The end result is not only glowing skin, but a sense of boneless relaxation.

If you are looking for something a little more intense, the Felix Andrew Salon offers various peels-think a lighter version of what a plastic surgeon offers.

Their "anti-aging facial" is one of their most popular options, consisting of exfoliating, rebuilding and protecting skin. The glycolic peel used in this procedure ($70 for a one-hour session) "melts away and dissolves all the dead skin cells that lie on top of the skin," according to Spidaletto. Then the skin is nourished with a copper mask and protected with SPF 30.

Most salons also offer a series of glycolic peels ($35-$135/30-minute session). "That's when you see the maximum results," says Spidaletto. These are often called "lunch-hour facials," as they are performed relatively quickly and leave very little redness or peeling. But over time-usually once a week for a series of six weeks-clients will notice fewer fine lines and wrinkles, increased firmness, and greater smoothness to the skin. Spidaletto touts this procedure for almost any type of skin condition.

For the truly adventuresome and fearless, the Swan Lake Spa offers even more aggressive treatments that can compare to results gained from plastic surgery. Boemi explains that on acne-scarred skin, for example, a surgical laser treatment may help improve the skin's appearance by 60 to 70 percent. Using nonsurgical facial procedures like microdermabrasion and peels, he says, clients can achieve "virtually the same results without surgery."

Staff aesthetician Jacobs can perform a variety of procedures, like the spa's "micropeel" ($80 per one-hour session), in which Jacobs gently wields a scalpel at a 45-degree angle to scrape off the top two layers of skin, followed by a glycolic peel and "cryotherapy," using dry ice to soothe the skin. "There's never any point during the treatment where there's anything invasive," she says.

There's also the "ultrapeel" ($150 to $175), which uses salt crystals to "sandblast" dead skin cells away at various levels. Jacobs follows the treatment with a steam and extraction, then a rehydrating mask.

Or you might opt for the Obaji Blue Peel ($600 to $800 for a one-hour session), a very popular Swan Lake procedure using a stronger acid formulation (TCA). The blue tint gets darker the deeper the peel is penetrating, and results include the reduction of brown spots, fine lines, wrinkles and crepey skin, as well as collagen stimulation.

This peel is recommended only once a year, and recovery time varies from about a week to 10 days. The blue pigment stays in the pores for about two cleansings ("You'll look a little bit like a Smurf," Jacobs says), and then skin begins to slough off and reveal new skin beneath. "You're molting pretty much like a snake," she adds with a laugh.

For all her caveats, Jacobs says this remains a much-requested procedure, with clients asking how soon they can have their next one-the results are that dramatic. "It really helps to tighten and smooth the skin," she says.

Home Health

The clients' part of the bargain is to attend to skin care at home, which helps the effects of procedures like the above last longer. Here again, scientific advances have increased the effectiveness of the products used in the home.

Most salons sell products that contain ingredients at strengths sufficient to be effective-many available only from dermatologists, doctors or aestheticians. These products are generally comparable in price to department-store lines, but with higher concentrations of ingredients like vitamin C, copper or various acid compounds.

Aestheticians also take pains to find out particular needs of each client. It's the client's responsibility to come clean, so to speak, about any allergies, medications, sensitivities or other issues.

The relationship between client and aesthetician can become a partnership. In sun-drenched Southwest Florida, particularly, residents have to take extra diligence and caution with skin care.

"Once you begin truly taking care of your skin, I think you will see a major difference," says Jinx Liggett, owner of the Danielle Spa in Bonita Springs.

Jacobs agrees: "You end up with that youthful glow everyone is looking for."

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