Put Your Best Face Forward

Posted by Francesca Amber Sawyer on Thursday, January 2, 2014

Patients who make an appointment to see Dr. Wendy Levinbook at her West Hartford dermatology practice know there is no magic weapon. They aren’t seeking the fountain of youth but tactical strategies for a long campaign.

“The most common complaints are wrinkles, dark spots and redness and dullness to their skin,” says Levinbook. She counts vitamin C serum and retinol among her tried and trusted tools.

“Retinol has been around forever,” says Levinbook. She points out that retinol stimulates collagen and helps with fine lines and wrinkles. “It has exfoliating properties, which brighten the skin.”

For patients who can’t tolerate retinol, Levinbook prescribes alphahydroxy creams, which have similar benefits. Her biggest frustration: patients who come to her with bags of potions that promise to replicate the results that prescription-strength treatments actually deliver.

One patient brought in a $300 moisturizer for Levinbook to review. “I didn’t see it having any ingredients of medical value.”

At her practice, Levinbook sells products from SkinCeuticals, SkinMedica and Obagi, which she says offer some of the best results she’s seen.

The most important thing to keep skin looking fresh? “Sunscreen,” Levinbook replies, without hesitation. “It helps prevent sunspots, wrinkles, aging and skin cancer, which is, ultimately, the most important.”

Levinbook’s views echo those of New York style expert Sarah Shirley, who says the beauty industry looks to Fashion Week as the indicator of the year ahead in beauty. Outlandish hairstyles and kabuki makeup aside, the tried and true all-American face — soft and clean, no matter what shade or size — always dazzles.

“There is a return to a more natural look,” Shirley says. “Any time you talk about beauty you talk about skin. Makeup serves to accentuate a woman’s beauty, not to create beauty.”

She cites celebrities like Kate Middleton and Katie Holmes as the new faces of the natural approach to beauty but adds that Jennifer Aniston still reigns as the all-American ideal. “Jennifer Aniston is an icon,” Shirley says. “I love that she cut off her hair and instantly reinvented herself.”

That the actress chopped her famous locks because of damage following a botched straightening treatment is inconsequential. Women are swarming

to salons for chin-length bobs in numbers not seen since Louise Brooks and the roaring 1920s.

Shirley isn’t keen on cutting hair too short, though. “Really short is too extreme for older women,” she says.

Shari Phillips, owner of the Per Se Aveda salon in West Hartford, agrees. While the trend now is to go blond, she says her clients are more concerned about the condition of their hair, as well as how natural the products used to color it are.

“Women want to use a product that heals while it processes,” she says. As for maintaining condition and preventing an Anistonian disaster, Phillips recommends Aveda’s Dry Remedy Moisturizing Oil. The product employs buriti fruit oil — an alternative to Moroccan argon oil — to soften hair and bring out shine.

“You can use it every day,” Phillips says. “It’s wonderfully moisturizing.”

Once the long hair is gone and the cheekbones are revealed, Shirley recommends a good facial. “Get a facial that stimulates collagen,” she suggests. “Sometimes movement from a facial tightens the skin and achieves a rosy glow that women are trying to get from their cosmetics.”

Shirley says the next best thing a woman can do is invest in a good cream blush. “Any powder-based product is going to accentuate wrinkles and dryness,” she says.

She recommends O-Glow from Smashbox. Shirley also thinks that women tend to have too many eyeshadows in their kits.

“I don’t think getting the whole palette is worth the investment,” she says, suggesting that women focus instead on fool-proof neutral colors. She recommends bronze, beige and dark brown.

As with cheeks, Shirley prefers cream-based eye-shadow during the dry winter months. She likes Clinique’s Lid Smoothie. For lips, eschew dark colors, which “age the face immediately.”

Pretty pinks and neutral shades enhance the natural tone of a youthful pout.

“A pale nude lip is good to have in your arsenal,” Shirley says. For staying power, she recommends under-eye concealer on the lips before lipstick. Her go-to, pick-me-up lipstick? St. Laurent’s No. 49, especially stunning in the summer. “Bright lipsticks are fabulous,” Shirley says.

When celebrity stylist Derek Warburton declares that “it’s all about skin,” he invokes the mantra of skin care and beauty professionals. As far as he’s concerned, all a woman needs in her makeup bag are cream blush, bronzer, lip gloss and a little eye-shadow.

“It’s not about having makeup,” he says. “It’s about pretty skin.”

As for that glowing skin, Warburton says, laser treatments achieve long-lasting results. He’s especially fond of the Laser Genesis facial, which he says shrinks pores, takes away redness and helps regenerate collagen.

“You may not get much benefit from a facial,” Warburton says, “but you are going to get the skin you want from a laser.”

But Helen Brown, spa director at the Mayflower Inn & Spa in Washington, says the renowned Litchfield County spa’s clients — including busy couples who want to reconnect — come to be pampered, and many choose an organic facial.

It’s not just glowing skin that clients seek, but emotional wellbeing, too.

“They are looking for ways to be together,” Brown says. This can include couple’s massage or enjoying a simultaneous treatment.

Brown describes treatments such as the spa’s Red Flower hamman ritual — a combination of full-body exfoliation and hydration — and the newest addition, the Hot Toddy for the Body — organic cinnamon, orange peel, cloves and whole grains from Rhode Island’s Farmaesthetics product line that combine to stimulate circulation.

These treatments are at the forefront of a movement away from chemical artifice and toward a more homeopathic approach to beauty.

“We’re dealing with a far savvier guest than ever,” says Brown.

Visitors to Green Lotus Salon and Wellness in Cromwell flock to aesthetician Vanessa Magnotta, who uses Eminence products in her spa treatments.

Based in Hungary and established a half-century ago, the natural Eminence product line has seen a steady increase in popularity among spa professionals and those in-the-know about the latest organic products.

Magnotta customizes treatments to each individual — and many who visit Green Lotus choose a custom-tailored facial.

Magnotta began one facial with a gentle cleaning, after which she applied an alpha-hydroxy fruit pulp treatment, then layered on Hungarian paprika and herbs.

These ingredients work in tandem, she explains, to exfoliate dead skin cells and increase blood circulation, resulting in a tightened and toned complexion.

“When it comes to age prevention and correction, hydration and exfoliation are your best friends,” Magnotta says.

A luxurious chocolate mousse mask then hydrates the skin, after which a bamboo firming serum is applied to boost collagen production. Throughout the treatment Magnotta uses techniques to relieve stress and improve the absorption of the products into the skin.

Woodstock-based Crabtree & Evelyn’s strength derives not only from the sublime scents of its moisturizers but also from their rich formulation, says spokeswoman Kate Bucklin, which results in superb moisture retention.

Crabtree & Evelyn is launching a new array of products infused with honey and peach blossoms in February. Bucklin adds that honey-infused products are especially popular. The company also is expanding its West Indian Lime grooming line for men.

Men — particularly younger men —”are taking the time to purchase their own skin care [products] and are looking for ways to feel more luxurious,” Bucklin says.

At Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa in the Mystic Marriott, aestheticians specialize in Elizabeth Arden’s new Red Door Spa Professional product range.

Chief creative officer Cornelia Zicu says that “many factors influence our skin health, from internal influences, such as stress, hormones, and diet, to environmental aggressors, including sun exposure, pollutants, and fluctuating temperature and air quality.”

Asked about the trend favoring naturally derived products vs. those formulated in a lab, Zicu says, “We respect nature but admire science.”

She mentions the spa’s microdermabrasion technique as a marriage of the two. A traditional microdermabrasion uses salt crystals to slough dead skin cells. For Red Door Spa, the salt has been replaced with crushed flower petals and essential oils, resulting in a luxuriant treatment.

Aestheticians can customize the treatment to each client, choosing from lavender, rose or tea tree oil. “Every time we create a new technique, we want to satisfy instant gratification with a natural approach,” says Zicu.

Still, there comes a time when all the feel-good lotions, potions, serums and massages simply aren’t enough to forestall the clock. That’s when Dr. Neil Gordon swings into action.

With offices in New Haven and Greenwich, Gordon co-owns The Retreat at Split Rock in Wilton. Located on the grounds of an 18th century estate, The Retreat offers reconstructive and cosmetic surgery with the comforts of an inn and spa.

The practice also offers an array of non-invasive options through its Aesthetic Institute, such as laser treatments, eyelash extensions, fillers, facials and peels. Yet it’s the expertise of the medical team that has discreet clients looking for a fresher face streaming to the exclusive facility.

“The majority of my practice is facial rejuvenation,” Gordon says. “Different age groups come in with different goals.”

For younger people who don’t have any visible issues but are starting to feel and look tired, injections and laser treatments that are easy and temporary are the best approach, he says. “You don’t have to wait to look bad, to look good.”

For older patients, Gordon advocates the wel-established deep plane facelift, which offers the most successful results to combat the signs of aging. “The goal of patients is that we do more to make it look like you’ve had less [work done],” he says.

Procedures are now done beneath layers of fascia — the layers of muscle and subcutaneous tissue — resulting in those muscles being tightened.

“Aging is gravity’s effect on the face,” says Gordon. “Facial rejuvenation is not about people trying not to age, but about people who don’t look the way they feel.”

Gordon says his patients fall into two categories: 50-year-old executives who fear their aging faces distract from their participation in the workforce, and 70-somethings who want to look as good as they feel.

“They want their outside appearance to reflect how they feel,” says Gordon. “Healthy 70-year-olds aren’t trying to reclaim the fountain of youth. They want to look in the mirror and see what they are and how they feel, reflected.”