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#SkinSchool: The comeback of ‘hands-only’ facials

facial massage
The comeback of ‘hands-only’ facialsDonna Bartoli

High-octane, machine-driven facials may have transformed the skincare scene in recent years, but a discerning breed of consumer (including many a famous face) are still opting for expert manual facials – treatments rooted in delivering sustainable long-term benefits to the skin alongside immediate aesthetic results. Hands-on and massage-heavy, the traditional facial is experiencing a renaissance.

Alongside an embrace of expertise, at the heart of it is the enduring appeal of facial massage­ – something that’s seen upwards of a 400 per cent increase in worldwide Google searches year-on-year. It signals a re-routing to protocols anchored in education and the science of anatomy, Coraline Millena, co-founder of the specialist luxury marketing agency, Millena tells Bazaar. "Post-pandemic, skincare interest has soared globally, up 90 per cent since 2019. With new brands and a wave of skincare tech flooding the market, some consumers are now seeking simpler routines. Over the last two years, searches for ‘facial massages’ have increased 81 times in the US and 64 times in the UK alone, while worldwide interest in a ‘simple skincare routine’ peaked at the end of 2023. There is no denying that many skincare fanatics love their ‘six-step’ routine – me included – and gadgets, but understanding the meteoric rise of the low-fi trend is crucial for understanding the consumer habits of tomorrow."

Indeed, though it seems so distant now, the global pandemic has played a part in the back-to-basics approach to skin that many favour. The term ‘skin hunger’ gained prominence earlier on this decade as researchers and mental health professionals began to explore the psychological and physiological effects of touch deprivation. Expert facial therapists are innately intuitive, and can not only tune into a client’s skin needs, but their energetic needs too (something no machine can manage).

We’re also living in times of socioeconomic turbulence, which can often align with a return to time-honoured practices, uncertain of how innovation may impact us long-term. Plus, we’ve been burnt by overzealous resurfacing products and practices wreaking havoc with our skin barriers and the advice of overnight experts – with the divide online between skincare pros who have studied at academic institutions and practiced for years, and those who are inexperienced and uncertified, ever widening. We might want inspiration via TikTok for at-home face massage (which the 301.7 million views of videos tagged as such would confirm), but we also know that there’s no comparison for paying a premium for it with a master of the art.

The art of the expert facial

A superior facialist will be an expert in many things: skin analysis, skin condition management and education, ingredient and product use, and treatment technique – including aspects such as extraction, exfoliation and specialised massage.

When it comes to facial massage specifically, pro techniques often incorporate lymphatic drainage massage, which requires a deep understanding of the lymph nodes and the precision pressure required to stimulate them; deep fascia release aimed at releasing tension and tightness in the deep fascia layer of the face; and buccal massage which targets the muscles of the cheeks, jawline and mouth area, often involving both external and internal manipulation of the cheeks (using gloved fingers). These techniques can all sculpt the facial contours and grant a glow thanks to increased blood flow as well as significantly reducing stress and easing tension, and – in the case of buccal massage – provide relief from temporomandibular joint (TMJ) issues and those related to it such as tension headaches, neck pain, teeth clenching and grinding.

Expert facialists also presents a deep holistic wellness offering, promoting a sense of wellbeing beyond surface level beauty. Many therapists offer hyper-personalised, bespoke treatments which intuitively respond to your needs – whether that’s for less stress, more energy or toxin release – and may incorporate additional disciplines accordingly. Take one of the UK’s OG ‘hands-on’ facialists, Amanda Lacey, whose unique – and lauded –treatment approach might incorporate intuitive moves that lean into the worlds of cranial therapy and passing of energy. Or healer Sarah Bradden, whose part ‘spiritual reset’, part ‘facelift’, treatment combines traditional Chinese practices such as acupuncture, reiki and reflexology. And Beata Aleksandrowicz – an international expert on massage and women’s wellbeing – who combines healing meditation and spiritual guidance with massage that lift the face as much as the spirits. They deliver far from that generic ‘cleanse, tone and moisturise’ experience soundtracked to dolphin music that many might have experienced with a so-called traditional facial in the past.

While finding someone with the 'wow' factor might boil down to word-of-mouth, "you've got to look at people's qualifications", Lacey tells us of identifying a proper facialist. But also their experience. "Now, you can be considered a fully qualified facialist in about a week! I've had years of classical training with my hands, and understanding the anatomy takes years to learn," she shares. You might think a traditional facial or face massage treatment is low-risk, but Lacey cautions otherwise. "The lymph is very sensitive; you should be very careful or you could cause easy cause damage", she tells us, while also noting that conditions like rosacea, psoriasis and eczema are a contraindication to the treatment of massage. Only an experience therapist will know what's best for you. And, only an elite one will have an ability to 'read' you through touch.

Below, we spotlight some of the very best facial therapists in and around London for metamorphic facial massage and much more.

The best expert facialists for facial massage and more

Amanda Lacey

Building on her background in nursing and shadowing of cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists, Amanda Lacey's 30-plus years experience as a classically trained facialist has enabled her to continually deepen an understanding of facial anatomy and skincare. The Amanda Lacey Method – which brings skin to "perfect visible fruition" – blends immaculate facial practices and massage working all the facial muscle groups with intuitive techniques that lean into the worlds of cranial therapy and passing of energy. "I can read people through their skin," she tells us of her inimitable magic touch, which all happens from her cocooning atelier in Chiswick.

A visionary in product development, too, Lacey's own skincare collection features a tight edit of seven exquisite formulations, many of which are employed in her facial treatment, enhancing the unique sensorial experience.

The Amanda Lacey Method, email info@amandalacey.com for enquiries

amanda lacey expert facialist
Amanda Lacey

Yvonne Martin

A leading classical facialist, Yvonne Martin has over 30 years’ experience working in various spas and clinics (including her own, for 18 years) as a facial therapist, building on her traditional training and increasingly in-depth understanding of anatomy and physiology. Her bespoke facials centre on thorough cleanse followed by a peel, steam, extraction, mask and massage with a unique blend of organic aromatherapy oils. Martin’s massage principles harness methods of effleurage, knuckling, acupressure, drainage and vibrational movements for a lift that’s unmatched. "I believe in products and treatments that deliver sustainable results for the client without long-term damage,” she says. “Whilst there should always be constant exploration in finding new ways to bring about better products and treatments; the art and wisdom of our past pioneers must not be forgotten and should be used in conjunction with modern science." Martin’s treatment is also educational, peppered with product and home care advice to prolong the striking results seen immediately.

The YM Power Lift Facial, email yvonne@yvonnemartin.co.uk for appointments at The Skin Culturist in Little Venice, W9 1BZ

facial massage
Yvonne Martin

Beata Aleksandrowicz

Globally renowned, Beata Aleksandrowicz is an authority in massage, healing and women’s wellbeing. Truly intuitive, her therapeutic treatment is entirely bespoke, incorporating spiritual guidance and mindfulness with massage techniques designed to lift and tone the skin while imparting radiance and fostering self-love.

With a waiting list of six months at her private studio in West London, she offers one-hour pre-recorded masterclasses in facial massage as an accessible option for those unable to experience her touch. The antithesis of a TikTok tutorial, the in-dept guided sessions include breathwork and meditation in addition to techniques teaching lymphatic drainage and sculpting for the cheeks, jawline, neck, lips, forehead and eyes (all of which feature in her hands-only facials).

For treatments at masterclasses with Beata Aleksandrowicz, visit beata.website

beata aleksandrowicz
Beata Aleksandrowicz

Nichola Joss

Nichola Joss' bespoke inner facial is legendary in beauty (and celebrity) circles. A pioneer in buccal massage, her distinctive technique increases circulation and promotes lymphatic drainage while lifting and sculpting the facial muscles from the inside-out.

Her massage experience is unrivalled; anchored by academic studies in biology and physiology, she trained in holistic massage in Malaysia before specialising in lymphatic drainage massage – together feeding into her unique inner mouth massage treatment at the centre of the meticulous facials she's loved for.

Bespoke Inner Sculpting Facial, £350 for 60 minutes, The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, London, visit nicholajoss.com

nichola joss
Nichola Joss

Guendalina Gennari

Originally hailing from Reggio Emilia in Italy, Guendalina Gennari – ‘The Skin Sculpter’ – has brought passion and expertise to her debut clinic in Notting Hill which is dedicated to the artistry of facials and massage.

Her transformative techniques attract beauty editors and stars, who beam of her exceptional ‘Sculptural Face Lift’. Here, Gennari’s signature face massage is enriched with intra-oral techniques, the buccal massage instantly lifting the cheeks from the inside to remodel the facial contours on the outside.

Using high-performance products alongside her hands-on approach, you’ll leave an appointment with Gennari glowing, with a spring in your skin and your step.

The Skin Sculpter Advanced Facial Bespoke at 112 Talbot Road, W11 1JR, visit guendalinatheskinsculpter.com

guendalina gennari the skin sculpter facial
Guendalina Gennari

Charlotte Mernier

Oh-so skilful Charlotte Mernier is not actually a facialist ­– but a globally renowned osteopath who developed an advanced therapeutic technique for the face, merging osteopathic methods with sculptural face lifting, lymphatic drainage and intra-oral massage to transform the lower face, jaw and neck.

My Osteo Buccal Massage – her unique treatment – is the result of Mernier’s experience in relieving tension and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) issues, which in turn she saw delivering real aesthetic benefits. If you want to forgo traditional facial techniques in favour of pure muscular manipulation with massage, this is the treatment for you. Expect tension relief at its source and to look infinitely fresher faced after an hour in her hands-on care.

My Osteo Buccal Massage, visit myosteolondon.com

charlotte my osteo buccal massage facial
My Osteo London

Su-Man Hsu

A treatment with Su-Man Hsu goes way beyond cleansing, extraction and exfoliation. The facial master's unique technique is Shiatsu based, and her background as a dancer inspires her carefully choreographed facial massage. The result is not only toned muscles (revealing sharper contours) and softer, smoothed skin, but restored balance between the face and body.

It's no wonder Anne Hathaway – just one of the famous faces who has visited Hsu – describes her facial as a “life-changing experience”.

Skin Reborn Sculpting Facial with Su-Man at the Sofitel St James

facial massage
Su-Man Hsu

Ada Ooi

Seamlessly fusing eastern and western techniques, Ada Ooi combines aesthetic therapy and acupuncture into her bespoke facial treatments that are the ultimate in holistic healing. A ‘facialist-acupuncturist’ to many in the public eye, including royals, she tailors her treatments according to skin ageing as well as plus hormonal, stress and sleep issues.

Starting with a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Symptom Diagnosis, where your tongue, pulse, temperature and limbs are examined while your lifestyle and emotional factors are explored, you then might expect facial acupuncture, followed by lymphatic drainage, manipulation of the facial fascia and sacral cranial fluid release. As well as her hands, Ooi uses a gua sha (one of her own microSculptor Gua Sha tools) with the expertise unique to someone highly trained in TCM. Immediate improvements in your spirit and skin are there to see: sagging is lifted, contours are redefined and brightness radiates from within.

Ada Ooi at Harley Street, visit 001skincare.com

ada ooi
Ada Ooi

Sarah Bradden

Few facial experiences are as unique as Sarah Bradden's, where the holistic therapist performs a combination of treatments which leave you feeling not just relaxed, plumped and refreshed, but oftentimes even emotional.

Her signature cosmetic acupuncture treatment – often touted as an alternative to Botox – begins with a full consultation, including a tongue diagnosis where Bradden identifies any issues you may be dealing with. She then works the treatment around these observations, tailoring it to your particular needs.

Most experience a combination of the following; a healing cleansing ritual, followed by acupuncture on the face and body, an oxygen treatment, LED light therapy, reiki and reflexology. You will then have a full facial massage including cupping and gua sha, and finally, the application of ear seeds which continue to stimulate acupressure points while worn post-treatment. The entire ritual is fully enveloping with real physical and mental benefits.

The Bradden Method at Nejati Clinic, 25a Lowndes Street, visit sarahbradden.com

sarah bradden
Sarah Bradden

The Sculptress

Helen Marie, aka 'The Sculptress', only started her journey in fascia release and facial sculpting during the 2020 pandemic, but the commitment to her newfound craft is extraordinary. As is her technique.

Having trained with some of the best facial masseuses in the business based in London, Paris and Poland her own honed routine is one that's intuitive to each clients' needs.

Her signature treatment, the Luxury Lymphatic Facial, incorporates both light and deep tissue massage (including buccal massage) over 90 minutes to manipulate muscles northwards and induce a post-sculpt glow.

The Sculptress Luxury Lymphatic Facial, 6 Dorset Street, W1U 6QL, visit thesculptress.as.me

helen marie the sculptress
The Sculptress London

Donna Bartoli

An influential voice in holistic beauty and the powers of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle, skin therapist Donna Bartoli has a multifaceted approach to skincare. It's present in her signature treatment as much as her informative Instagram content – The Donna Method, being "a holistic journey towards facial wellness".

Expect guided breathwork techniques alongside cleansing, exfoliation, hydrating and sculpting facial massage (focusing on key sites of lymphatic release to alleviate tension and rejuvenate the skin), as well as scalp massage utilising a gua sha comb to promote circulation and stress held in the head.

The inner calm and outer glow doesn't stop with the treatment, her invaluable advice on inner wellness ensures a comprehensive approach to the health of your skin when you leave.

The Donna Method at the Light Technique, Gloucester Road Brighton – coming soon to London, visit bio.site/donnabartoli

donna bartoli
Donna Bartoli

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