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This ain't your mother's facial

By Dara Colwell

Going to Lisa Bradbury's skin salon is like walking into the home of a rich friend with fabulous taste in furniture, an eye for exquisite art and tons of makeup from a recent shopping spree. Photographs dot the walls. Silver picture frames, scented candles, soaps, crystal perfume decanters and glittery eye shadows spill over the shelves. On this particular morning, Lisa's 4-year-old, Sam, gleefully pounds on his mommy's mouse pad. Like home, the salon is open seven days a week, but Bradbury insists she tries not to work Sundays. It's 9am on God's day of rest, and there's no better time to sacrifice sleep for beauty.

Specializing in skin care and tailor-made, custom-detailed facials, Bradbury, an aesthetician for 15 years, experiments with new product lines--and throws them out if they don't make the grade. Bradbury likes to "problem solve" with skin, piggy-backing various lines to create an optimum treatment. She carries the Remede line (popular with beauties in New York), Celex-C and Pevonia, Optaderm (a line hand-blended in Canada) and Epicuren (an arcane and mysteriously guarded concoction of protein enzymes and botanicals, guaranteed to jump-start dull skin). I opt for the Epicuren facial and am whisked off to another sumptuous room, not prepared for what will come next.

Bradbury says she has a hard time describing to clients what, exactly, an Epicuren facial feels like or what it does. Because its formula is so jealously guarded, no one is quite sure which ingredients do what. What is known is that the line was developed around the notion of cell renewal for burn victims. This is not a steam-and-pick-those-blackheads facial, but rather an organic cocktail that speeds up the skin's metabolism from the outside in.

Bradbury explains that the first mask will sting and redden and the second will tighten the skin, making it pulsate. "Sting, redden, tighten, pulsate," I think. "Uh-huh, I'm woman enough." However, I learn that Bradbury is right, there really is no way to describe this sensation except to say the first mask feels like being wrapped in a huge piece of cinnamon gum spiked with habañero sauce. Thoughts of insurance, heart palpitations and spontaneous combustion flit through my mind. The second mask, which smells like peanut butter, tightens to the point that you feel encased, then bubbles and cracks like a reptile's skin as the mask underneath pulsates, struggling to break free. It's not a comfortable sensation. When Bradbury leaves the room momentarily to chase after Sam, who is now banging keys against the reception desk, I feel the urge to rip my face off--or, rather, the mask. "I know this is good for me," I repeat like a mantra.

Bradbury coats me a few more times. I'm getting used to this. When the mask finally comes off, Bradbury hands me a mirror. It's as if my skin has been irrigated like a plush garden, leaving it rosy and flushed. I look in the mirror and it's like Peggy Sue Got Married, like I've suddenly woke up back in high school, 10 years younger. It feels magnificent .

Lisa Bradbury Skincare Salon is located at 1756 Fillmore at Sutter. (415.441.7470). Facials range from $65 to $125.

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From the February 21, 2000 issue of the Metropolitan.

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