Shop Girl: Facial Bar’s express treatments feel rich even when you don’t

When the air gets dry and the wind gets cold, my skin responds by turning parched and — it must be said — a little crusty. By Groundhog Day, I’m a flaky, ashen mess, and no amount of liberally slathered drugstore moisturizer can save me. I must seek more drastic measures.

Nothing turns my cold-weather complexion around faster than a facial. From start to finish, the experience is pure escapism. There’s the warm, dimly lighted room. Then comes the aesthetician, who, after I warn her what she’s dealing with, kindly says, “Your skin doesn’t look that bad — really.” Therapeutic essential oils hang on the moisture-rich air like ice crystals in a dense cloud of fog.

My favorite part is what they euphemistically call “extractions,” in which a metal instrument is used to remove the gunk (not a technical term) from my freshly steamed and gaping pores. Without fail, this experience leaves me feeling lighter. When I glance at my face in my rearview mirror before driving home, I smile instead of cringe. This is me taking on winter and winning — for a day, anyway.

But here’s the deal with spa days: That feeling isn’t cheap. 

A good facial is electric-bill expensive. Week’s-worth-of-groceries expensive. Decent-pair-of-boots expensive. The average cost hovers between $90 and $150, making the professional repair of my seasonal-affective-disorder skin an occasional indulgence at best.

That’s why I was eager to visit the Facial Bar, an express facial salon that opened in Columbus Park last year.

But wait — “express”? Isn’t hiding out in the dark for an hour to 90 minutes a vital part of the experience — and, by definition, the exact opposite of anything that could be considered even remotely express?

Right: The Facial Bar’s treatments are only 30 minutes long. But they’re also half the cost, starting at $40 for a basic facial. Enticed by the price, I popped in one afternoon on my lunch break.

I must confess to a certain initial wariness. Instead of private rooms where you can strip down as much (or as little) as you choose, the Facial Bar has stretched out a row of chairs like sinks in a salon. Would the lack of privacy hinder my enjoyment? More specifically, would my awareness of someone else having her pore gunk extracted only feet away be a major distraction?

When I arrived, I was pleased to find that I wouldn’t have to worry about it — I was the only customer booked at that time, meaning I had the modern, sparsely decorated room to myself. With wood floors, funky chandeliers and exposed-brick walls instead of couches and cucumber water, the affect was more “cool loft space” than spa. Outside the large front window facing Fifth Street, several construction workers pounded and drilled on the building across from us. I vowed to ignore them.

This ended up being easier than I thought. Once I leaned back, closed my eyes and became inundated by warm steam, I was surprised how quickly the rest of the room didn’t matter. The Facial Bar uses Rhonda Allison products, a line known for fresh, natural ingredients such as papaya, grape seed and pumpkin. Many of these scrubs, peels and masks smell good enough to eat — and they feel just as tingly and refreshing when they’re slathered on your ready and willing face. 

My friendly, chatty aesthetician explained every step of the process. She said she’d worked there for a few months and enjoyed the unique environment. When I told her I liked the Lumineers-like song emanating softly from the speakers, she told me it was some kind of “coffee shop” radio station that they usually played all day.

“It’s how we create the vibe,” she said. “This isn’t like your typical spa.”

She was right, of course. The Facial Bar’s goal is not necessarily deep relaxation; instead, the idea is to offer high-quality skin care to those strapped for time or cash. By the end of my 30 minutes, my face was feeling invigorated and refreshed — and before I drove home, a quick glance in my rearview confirmed that my skin had the same pleasant, dewy glow I’ve seen after a full-length facial.

It’s true that if you’re heading to the Facial Bar looking for an afternoon retreat or a super-intensive, multistep treatment you’ll probably be disappointed. However, if you’re hoping for a quick, affordable, no-nonsense pick-me-up, it’s worth making an appointment. Your skin — and your wallet — will thank you. 

Categories: A&E