Photo: Courtesy of Melanie Simon.
I'm in the plush Cornelia Spa lying naked under a sheet, and Melanie Simon's face is hovering five inches — six, tops — above my own. From this vantage point, I have a close-up view of her pores...or rather, the apparent lack of them. Her skin is milky, smooth, and supple. Clean.* It's not surprising, as Simon is an in-demand aesthetician to a seriously A-list clientele. (Her skin-care line, Circ-Cell, is partially backed by Justin Timberlake's mom.) For her part, she's giving my pores the ol' looky-loo, too.
"Hmm," she says, gently tilting my nose toward a lamp. "You have a bit of congestion." Understatement of the decade.
I'm at the Cornelia to experience Simon's legendary Chemistry Facial. It's famous in part because of its price — $770 with Simon when she's in New York, $595 with Cornelia's trained aestheticians — but also because it's rumored to take years off one's face in just one treatment. (Though, of course, with more frequency, you could theoretically get a Benjamin Button thing going.) I'm just old enough to remember the Iran-Contra hearings, so I'm not aiming to look younger as much as...fresher. I haven't been sleeping well, my everyday stress levels are at DEFCON 3, and it's all showing up in my face: puffy eyes, a slight dullness to my complexion, and the junked-up pores that Simon is examining.
My complexion rehabilitation plan: Simon will poke microscopic holes in the top layer of my skin, apply liquid stem cells, and zap my face with an electric nanocurrent treatment. To this skin-care junkie, the facial sounds equally thrilling and nerve-wracking...and possibly painful. "Well, il faut souffrir pour être belle," I think, as Simon cleans my face. Then we begin.
Simon pulls out a brand-new Dermaroller, which looks like the tool Farmer Barbie might use to aerate her soil. I haven't been 'rolled in years, but I remember the experience feeling much like a makeout session with Pinhead from Hellraiser. But, under Simon's gentle pressure, the microscopic needles feel stimulating and warming rather than painful. She rolls across my forehead, my temples, my cheeks, my chin; as my circulation flows, I feel my tension drift away. The Dermaroller's purpose, by the way, is to prepare the skin for the stem cells in the short term; the needles also stimulate collagen production.
After one last pass with the Dermaroller, Simon brings out a bottle of organic, plant-based liquid stem cells. Scientists have mixed opinions on whether such topical treatments can or cannot work wonders on human skin, but like Fox Mulder, I want to believe. As Simon saturates my skin with the stem cells, my face cools down, and then the Perfector rolls up.
The Perfector is an advanced-looking machine, and it's the highlight of the whole Chemistry Facial. The idea is that infinitesimal little jolts of energy — a.k.a. nanocurrent — will lift and regenerate my face, driving the stem cells deeper into the Dermaroller-ed skin. "Will it hurt?" I ask Simon, who reassures me that it won't. As she moves two charged plates around my face, I anticipate little zaps, but I feel nothing but the coolness of the metal. So far, so good.
After that, Simon picks up two of the Perfector's metal wands. "A lot of people fall asleep during this part," she explains. That's because the frequency of the wands matches that of our sleepy-time brain waves, effectively delivering many hours' worth of "sleep" — and all the benefits that come with it — in less than an hour. The wands are cool as they glide over my skin, and suddenly, I'm feeling sleepy. Very sleepy. The next thing I know, I'm waking up from what feels like a full night's ZZZs. I think five minutes have passed, but it's been almost an hour.
By this point, I've developed — well, not a crush exactly, but warm feelings toward Simon. Her warm demeanor and grace makes you feel cared for, which is why I promise to leave my face alone (no washing, no products, no touching) for the next 12 hours. I leave Cornelia Spa feeling so floaty that I nearly wander into Park Avenue traffic.
But, for as good as everything feels, does the facial actually deliver? Again, my skin isn't sagging or wrinkled just yet, so I wouldn't be able to see lifting miracles even if they had happened. That night, though, I sleep incredibly well. The next morning, my skin looks plumper and definitely more glowing. I look, for lack of a fancier word, healthy — as though I'm one of those clean-livin', laid-back women who breathes fresh mountain air on the regular. (As opposed to a stress ball who sucks up NYC fumes daily.)
I can see why her services book up quickly among those who can afford it: The treatment makes you feel dreamy, then you look great, and suddenly a run-of-the-mill facial seems low tech in comparison. Call it better living through Chemistry Facials, perhaps — as long as the math of your bank account adds up.
* She's not wearing makeup in this photograph.