"I kind of like slapping," warns New York facialist Joanna Czech as she preps my skin for what is probably the most unique face treatment I'll ever have. "My very first beauty instructor back in Poland told me to treat the skin like a sponge and the muscles like a dough." True to the latter, my face goes through a full hour of massaging and pummelling but I emerge with skin that looks and feels brand-new.
Back in the US, Joanna's little black book is overflowing with celebrity names. Previous clients include model Bella Hadid, Hailey Bieber and Kim Kardashian, and they all head to her for one thing: their best skin ever. Her signature is intense facial massage to impart a gorgeous glow, as well as going right back to basics. In Joanna's opinion, you need only a handful of ingredients and techniques to achieve great skin — and they aren't as complicated as you might imagine.
After spending an hour in Joanna's company on her first visit to London in years, here are all the tips and tricks I took away with me.
Toner isn't useless after all
If you don't include a toner in your skincare routine, you're probably not the only one. But according to Joanna, incorporating a face spritz into your AM and PM skincare routine immediately after cleansing and before applying your skincare is necessary. "Toner is the most important step and I can't apply any product without using one," she tells me. Her assistant Raquel agrees. "As soon as water touches your face when washing, you dilute the pH of your skin and it could get a little too close to alkaline level. As a result, bacteria grows beautifully. You want to replenish your skin with a certain level of acidity. Simply mist and press into the skin."
Joanna also mentions that applying a toner increases the efficacy of any product you apply on top — and who doesn't want their skincare to work harder? Joanna's Skincare Kit (referred to by her chemist as the Rolls-Royce of skin products) features a very fine mist toner that blankets skin evenly. R29 also rates Biossance's Squalane & Hyaluronic Toning Mist, $49.50, and TikTok favourite Heritage Store Rosewater & Glycerin, $18.50.
Skincare doesn't stop at your jawline
"Your face starts with the nipples and stops with the hairline," says Joanna. "Don't forget about décolletage and your hands, either. Because there are fewer oil glands in these places, the ageing process shows a little more here." She advises pulling your serum and moisturiser down to your neck and chest but a dedicated body product is just as effective at keeping skin moisturised and supple. Try Nécessaire The Body Serum, £45, or if you're on a budget, Vaseline Expert Care Visibly Firmer Body Lotion, $15, is just as brilliant.
Lips are also important and Joanna loves micro-exfoliation to get rid of dry, chapped skin. "You can do this with a washcloth or a toothbrush combined with a gentle scrub but I like applying a small amount of the exfoliating Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 Exfoliating Toner, $68.50, on a cotton bud and rolling it over lips, followed by a nourishing ointment or lip balm." That said, any liquid exfoliator you have to hand may also work. As for lip balm, try ESHO. COAT, £21.99, or Weleda Skin Food Lip Balm, $12.95, both of which soften even the driest skin.
Double cleansing is a myth
"I always say don't bring the streets to your sheets. In other words, make sure you go to bed clean," says Joanna. Your skin is more primed to absorb products this way, she adds, otherwise your skincare products will sit on top and not penetrate the skin properly. "Thoroughly removing makeup at night can help keep skin clear, too," says Joanna.
Interestingly, she doesn't believe in this popular cleansing hack. "Double cleansing? I don't even understand what double cleansing is. I simply cleanse my skin until the skin is clean. If I wear makeup, I will use a more oily or balm-type cleanser. If I'm not wearing it, I use a gentle gel or a little milky cleanser." And what about the morning? "I recommend removing residue of any product that you applied the night before," Joanna says. "That can be splashing your face with lukewarm water and using a washcloth, for example. That's plenty." Joanna's rosemary-infused wipes are also great for the morning. "You don't need fussy cleansers at this time," she says.
How to get clear skin
Joanna isn't a fan of DIY pore extraction or popping your spots but she understands that it can be difficult to resist. If you're going to attempt it, make sure you're using your fingertips. "I would recommend this over tissue paper because you have better control and you're less likely to scrape the skin." When it comes to achieving clear skin, cleansing is key, especially in the evening to remove makeup, daily dirt and excess oil. But Joanna likes to go one step further.
"I like to use a pre-cleanse oil twice a week after washing the face," she says. R29 rates Dermalogica's Precleanse, $71.76, and Environ's Pre-Cleansing Oil, $52. "This softens the skin and works as a decongestant because it softens oil." After rinsing, Joanna suggests applying a hydrating clay mask. "This detaches everything that oil softens and it'll give you a really deep pore cleanse." Try The Inkey List's Kaolin Clay Mask, $9.88, or the TikTok viral Caudalie Instant Detox Mask, $47.52.
Every skincare routine should look like this
"I see so many people over-treating their skin," says Joanna, particularly when it comes to exfoliation. The ultimate skincare routine is obviously tailored to your individual skin type but it should be relatively simple, as follows: "After toner, you next product should address any concern you may have. That would be your choice of serum and then followed by a moisturiser." She says that skin conditions can present as a multitude of things such as breakouts (you might want to use a salicylic acid serum to unclog pores), hyperpigmentation (azelaic acid serums are highly recommended by dermatologists) and dehydrated skin (a serum containing hyaluronic acid is your best bet). Your skin concern will be unique to you so do your research or consult a skin specialist if you're unsure.
If you're confused about where to start, Joanna extols the virtues of vitamin C in the morning (her C+ Serum is coming to Net-A-Porter soon but is available in the kit right now) and vitamin A in the evening to encourage brighter, healthier skin cells. Vitamin A is what retinol is derived from but when it comes to retinol serums, Joanna suggests checking the ingredients list for one gentle yet incredibly effective form in particular: retinyl palmitate. She says both products are great for treating hyperpigmentation (red or brown spots), increasing elasticity in the skin and providing a glow.
There is one skincare product she isn't sold on: hyaluronic acid. "I'm not a huge believer in targeted hyaluronic acid serums because this ingredient is in most skincare products. Hyaluronic acid on its own will just evaporate from your skin — it's nothing." If you're after hydration try Joanna's Soothing Serum, which quells skin redness, or R29-approved The Ordinary "Buffet" Multi-Technology Peptide Serum, $28.31, which hydrates, plumps and smooths skin over time.
Why you should avoid Botox
Joanna admits to having had Botox in the past but warns her clients off the procedure, especially if they're after youthful-looking skin. "If you keep paralysing your muscles — especially the frontalis (the muscle which lifts the eyebrows) — it won't work the same over time. Preventative muscle paralysis doesn't work in my language. I don't advise doing it every three months. You need some movement." Instead, Joanna suggests treating slack skin with facial massage. "This is so important," she says. It's a signature step during all of her facials. "Really sculpt your face with your fingers as you apply your skincare," she says. "Moving your blood all around is a good thing as it carries minerals and nutrients, while haemoglobin carries oxygen." She claims this can also help heal breakouts quicker.
So when is the right time? Well, there isn't a wrong one but Joanna suggests trying facial massage during your nighttime routine when applying moisturiser. As for tools, she recommends her Facial Massager, $290.86, which is so good, it's often sold out. Other massage tools work a treat, too, but you might be using them wrong. "On Instagram I notice many people keep flattening their muscles with things like jade rollers — but my tool really grasps the skin. Instead of pulling your muscles down when massaging, try rolling the tool over your skin at a 45-degree angle and always upwards."
You don't really need to use eye cream
Save your money where eye cream is concerned, says Joanna. "I happen not to use eye cream," she says. "If a product like your serum or moisturiser has gone through ocular testing, you can take it up to your eye area and it'll do the same job. I often apply my vitamin A and vitamin C serums (plus everything else) up to my eyes and on my eyelids. This way, you don't need another eye cream."
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