By Anya Strzemien
There is no greater skeptic than me when it comes to a spa treatment; I’m a really tough sell. While I find it all very indulgent and luxurious, I generally tend to be a soap-and-water kind of girl. And my routine has always worked: When I was about 10, my grandmother, my mother, and I, three generations of skin – went to Georgette Klinger on Madison Avenue for a consultation. After microscopically inspecting each of our faces, the beautician declared, Beautiful! What’s your beauty routine? to which each of us replied, Ivory soap, water, and Vaseline Intensive Care lotion. Since the Klinger beautician declared my skin perfect, I’ve gone through puberty, aged 14 years, and spent 6 years living in New York City, so I’m not exactly as confident that she would deliver the same verdict today. Yet I decided there was no harm in trying it again, and headed off to the Janet Sartin Institute.
When I first arrived there, I met with manager Becky Tsui. She told me Janet Sartin founded the Institute in 1945 and retired one year ago, handing the business over to her son Cary. In addition to the Park Avenue location, there is also an Institute in Chicago. Becky called the Institute, a very serious, skin care salon customers say they’ve gone to many salons and that nobody cleans skin like Janet Sartin. A successful line of skin care products that range from their 50-year-old product staples to more recent innovations has also been developed. These items are sold at the Institute store or by calling their 800 number. They are also available at department stores like Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom. I believe that healthy skin is the most important ingredient to beauty, so I was already beginning to like the philosophy of Janet Sartin.
Becky proceeded to tell me about the service I would be receiving: The New York Facial with Oxygen Treatment. The New York Facial aims to clean the New York Face. I know all about the phenomenon of the New York Face having just survived another summer as a New York Resident. Bus fumes, foul subway stations, and construction dust would all accompany me and my face home, where at day’s end I wash it all off on one filth-covered cotton pad of astringent. Every Big City girl knows exactly what I’m talking about.
I was introduced to my beautician, a lovely and seemingly no-nonsense Ukrainian woman named Ida. She was a woman of few words, but many effective and professional touches. I definitely left her treatment with a certain glow, but wait! maybe that was just the Vitamin A and E oils that had been slathered on my face. Oh, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s get back to the story at hand for now.
After I lay down, Ida made me place my cards right on the table. She asked me when my last facial was. I nervously confessed that it had been a year. After a disapproving silence, I asked her how often I should get one. She said once every four months. Ida then studied my skin and announced: Good skin to start with. She removed my make-up and rained a miniature shower on me, which sprayed me with sage-scented steam. It was a powerful steam, and I felt my pores virtually blossom within one minute.
While the steam poured over me, Ida massaged my hands with vanilla-scented lotion and placed them in warm mitts, where they would remain for the duration of my treatment. This was a nice detail as my hands have started to become awfully dry with the sudden onset of frigid weather. As a writer, it was difficult to not have my hands available, but luckily most customers won’t need to worry about taking notes during their facials.
After my pores had sufficiently opened under the steam, Ida went to work on my blackheads. This, my friends, is the best thing about any facial – and I’m not happy unless it’s done well. After my last facial, I found myself in a friend’s bathroom mirror feeling cheated as I angrily extracted the many blackheads that the beautician didn’t. Though you can administer many beauty treatments by yourself at home, the blackhead removal process is better left to a bright light and a woman named Ida who shows them no mercy. She asked if she was hurting me, and I said no, because that was my favorite part of a facial. Because this process is sort of embarrassing, I consider a facialist almost as intimate to me as a therapist. She uncovers all my secrets, and I can’t hide anything from her.
Ida then gave me the high frequency treatment, which involved a lighted purple, cane-shaped stick that emitted electro-vibes. She ran the stick over my face to kill bacteria and penetrate my skin to even out the texture and color. Dead bacteria smells just as bad as it sounds, and the treatment was stinging and uncomfortable. But I see the pain as a small (and brief) price to pay for years of slack beauty care. After the high frequency, Ida swathed my skin in the Janet Sartin Clarifying Lotion, which contains salicylic and tannic acid. The smell was unbelievably pungent, like rubbing alcohol, and in using it each night since my treatment, I’ve realized it’s incredibly potent. I caution users to apply the lotion only to their problem areas as it will quickly dry out any area that doesn’t produce a lot of oil. This lotion is recommended for acne.
Next came the relaxing part of the treatment as Ida rewarded my suffering face by applying the Janet Sartin White Astringent. This liquid is also called Pore Refining Lotion, and it was used to diminish the redness that had resulted from the harsher treatments. This product is much gentler than the Clarifying Lotion, but when using it yourself it’s crucial that you wipe your face with a tissue afterwards because it can leave your face with an unbecoming chalky white pallor. If you apply it before bedtime, it will prevent you from waking up with a face that gives The Shining a new meaning.
Ida then smoothed a green tea mask on my face to close my pores and to work as an antioxidant to protect my skin cells from free radical damage (i.e. New York). While we waited for the mask to dry and do its job, Ida gave me such a wonderful shoulder and head massage that I forgave her all the pain. She then had to forgive me for interrupting everything to run to the bathroom. (I’d had a little too much fun the night prior and drank about a gallon of water on my way to the appointment!) In the bathroom, I studied my face in the mirror and was very pleased with the results so far, most noticeably the absence of blackheads.
After removing the mask, Ida massaged a collagen cream to my face, neck, chest and shoulders to give nutrients to the wrinkled areas and to replenish my skin’s own supply of collagen. With the cream absorbing, Ida laid a cloth over the areas and ran a small warm iron over it. Getting ironed concluded the New York Facial segment of the treatment. Next up was the oxygen! Now, I loved the facial and saw very definite results from it, but the Oxygen Treatment brings out that old skeptic in me that I referred to earlier. The idea of it makes me smirk a little. Remember Evian Spray, ladies? Amazingly, it’s still around, but back in the early ’90s when I first used it, I looked at the bottle, sprayed it on my face, and kicked myself. Those people at Evian were brilliant! They packaged some mineral water in a spray bottle just as the designer water craze was really catching on, and marketed it as hydrating for the face. It’s water, and I can’t imagine it’s any better for your face than a shower. This is the attitude I brought with me to the Oxygen Treatment, but it didn’t last long.
To prepare my face to receive the oxygen, Ida first exfoliated it with creams then rubbed in Vitamin E, (carrot-smelling) Vitamin A, and Jojoba oils. She proceeded to take a small instrument – which resembled the machine your dentist uses to vacuum saliva from your mouth – and sprayed condensed oxygen with vitamins on my face for several minutes. The air, or condensed oxygen, felt a little cold and more akin to country air than New York’s. For this reason, I recommend the Oxygen Treatment: it may not be a visibly effective new treatment in skin care, but it’s literally a breath of fresh air!!!
Ida topped off the treatment by applying the famous Lip Sartinizer lip balm to my lips, freeing my well-moisturized hands, and advising me to leave the oils on for as long as I was comfortable for maximum absorption.
The first half of the facial reminded me of a Turkish bath I once went to in Istanbul. The bather slapped me around a little bit, made strong commands in Turkish, and gave me a brutal massage, but I left as one clean woman. Ida was much gentler than this woman, but she was just as direct in getting to the root causes of my skin’s ailments and used excellent products in treating them. What makes Janet Sartin different to the skeptic in me is the focus on skin care, not on what treatments are hot now. So I think that’s why The Institute stands among the few time-tested New York beauty institutions – and for good reason.
875 Third Avenue (53rd St.), Mezzanine Level
New York, NY 10022