When a representative from the Four Seasons emailed to suggest I try the spa’s Instant Glow Facial for Darker Skin Tones, I was mildly interested.
So I kept reading.
Yes, that Angela Bassett!
Ummm, if the 61-year-old red-carpet diva who defines #aginggoals uses it (she does), please sign me up.
That’s how I ended up wrapped in a fluffy bathrobe one recent fall afternoon on the 57th floor of the city’s newest luxury hotel, gazing at the magnificent view of the Philly skyline through floor-to-ceiling windows. As I was breathing in eucalyptus and breathing out the anxiety of running late, aesthetician Sharon Wells came to fetch me. I followed her to the facial room, where she explained the walls were embedded with kyanite, a crystal that Eastern spiritualists say speaks to our intuition. Perhaps this experience was to be as eye-opening as it would be beautifying.
While Wells applied the first cleanser, she started to fill me in. Sturm is a German scientist whose line of molecular cosmetics is lauded in spas worldwide because it supposedly addresses the inflammation that makes us look older. Her celebrity clients include model Gigi Hadid and actresses Emma Roberts and Jada Pinkett Smith. In 2013, Sturm found herself in the center of an Instagram-fueled beauty spotlight after Kim Kardashian posted a picture of herself getting a Vampire Facial. The facial — which includes a deep microdermabrasian followed by a mask made from platelet-rich plasma drawn from one’s own blood — was invented (but not named) by the doctor.
Sturm’s work with Bassett hasn’t been nearly as scary. One day Bassett, who is a patient of Sturm’s, struck up a conversation about the skincare needs of black women. For the most part, our skin, regardless of how much melanin it contains, is the same as anybody’s else skin. However, black women sometimes have drier skin that can make us look, well, ashier. There is also the issue of hyperpigmentation that results in darker circles under the eyes and discoloration. And black women also tend to have larger pores that trap more gunk.
In 2016, Sturm and Bassett launched the product line Dr. Barbara Sturm Darker Skin Tones. And this year, in honor of the Four Seasons opening in Philadelphia, Sturm worked with spa director Verena Lasvigne-Fox to develop the Four Seasons’ very own Glow Facial for Darker Skin Tones. The price tag: $255 during the week and $285 on weekends.
Not only are luxe products that address issues specific to the beauty needs of women of color having a moment — see Tracee Ellis Ross’ Pattern for curly hair products — so, too, are facials. As we go about our sunny days, slogging through pollution-filled cities, the wear and tear on our skin is getting real. A good foundation just isn’t enough.
Local chemist Marquita Robinson-Garcia and aesthetician Bridgette Word teamed up to launch a weekly Wednesday night event at 1500 Locust St. where women can come for customized facials. And just last week, University of Pennsylvania graduates-turned-New York-entrepreneurs Adam Ross and Michael Pollack opened Heyday in Center City, a facial bar that takes walk-ins for services like peels and LED-light therapy. “Facials have moved into the wellness sphere," said Ross. “Whether it’s diet, nutrition, sleep, mental health, exercise, skincare is another part of that wheelhouse that we are unlocking.”
Because I’m prone to eczema on my chin, I opted out of the microdermabrasion. Thanks to all the serious sweating this summer, Wells said my skin was dry, and like most city-dwellers, I had clogged pores. Would the Glow Facial help brighten the dark circles under my eyes?
After two cleansers — the second one was an enzyme cleanser designed to add moisture — Wells got down to the painful business of extractions. She followed that up with a hyaluronic acid to add an extra punch of moisture. Then came the magic, a mask made with sweet almond oil, vitamin E, chamomile, and purslane, a plant that grows in Germany and is supposed to help decrease inflammation.
Wells then massaged in a moisture-rich face cream (whoa, I must’ve been dry!), and a series of serums: sun oil with SPF to protect the skin from the sun, a lipid barrier that’s supposed to blocks pollutants, and “Glow Drops” that Wells promised would leave my skin, well, glowing. And she was right: The moment I returned to the office, a coworker, unprompted, said I was glowing. For the last three weeks, my eczema has been kept at bay. The circles under my eyes were brighter for a while, but they are due for another zap. All in all, I left feeling as relaxed as a noodle. Beauty mission accomplished.