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Aura Skin Spa

Beauty Made Simple

As much as I love the science of beauty, frequenting the typical med spa isn’t really my idea of a good time. The vision that springs to mind when I think of med spas usually involves antiseptic, staid environments; poker-faced doctors in lab coats, plying patients with machines that look like they were built specifically to inflict pain; and plasticky debutantes itching for their next Botox fix. Sure, this isn’t a picture that’s altogether accurate or unbiased, but that’s exactly why places like Aura Skin Spa exist -- to school the ignorant (including me) out of their beauty prejudices.

Aura, tucked away on the outskirts of North Beach, gives the typical stuffy med spa a much-needed overhaul, opting for über-cool loft-like surroundings, washes of monochromatic color, polished hardwood floors, cozy brick walls, and spare elegance. As I sink comfortably into a plush sofa in the waiting room with a cup of herbal tea, I already start to feel my unfavorable preconceptions melting into the ether.

The spa was launched by Claudia Cardinalle and Larry Goppert, who both managed Aneu Professional Skin and Laser Center when it opened on Fillmore Street six years ago. “Aneu was one of the first medical spas in the city, so in many ways we were pioneers in the industry,” says Larry. However, given the ever-increasing market for professional skincare and the growing desire for med spas that offer the sort of relaxation you can find at a day spa, Claudia and Larry decided to open their own establishment.

The convenient downtown location offers harried working folks plenty of pampering options, as well as the customary, not-so-relaxing med spa offerings, such as laser hair removal, photorejuvenation for sun damage and age spots, cosmetic dermal injectables like Botox and Restalyne, and medical needling for acne scarring. Although the spa is airy and spacious and has six commodious treatment rooms, the staff itself is modest yet focused. Aside from Claudia and Larry, there are three others on staff -- a licensed physician, an aesthetician, and a nurse practitioner -- which makes for a great deal of personal attention and superior customer service.

“All of our products and lasers are top of the line, and our skincare lines are medical grade, which means that you need to have a physician on staff in order to even use the products,” says Larry. The product lines include highly regarded cosmeceuticals like Skinceuticals and Obagi. However, perhaps the star skincare line at Aura is Environ, based in South Africa. Environ’s skincare philosophy is based on Retinoids, a class of chemical compounds related to vitamin A, and used in the treatment of various dermatological conditions.

Environ’s products also make liberal use of vitamins A and C, in order to normalize the skin and promote the production of healthy collagen. The line, which ranges from lower doses of active ingredients to products that are prescription-strength, contains no preservatives or perfumes. Moreover, while vitamin A is known to be abrasive, the form that Environ uses is gentle while still delivering all the same benefits to the skin.


I’m at Aura to experience the Environ Medical Facial, a leisurely two-hour long treatment that offers me repose and results in one tantalizing session. While my aesthetician Rocio lavishes the typical facial goodies on me (a restful hand and back massage, a fluffy comforter, and an eye pillow, to name a few), the medical setting can’t be escaped. In sending the rejuvenating Retinoids deep into my skin, Rocio uses Iontophoresis (a pulsed galvanic current) and Sonophoresis (low-intensity sound waves) to temporarily slacken the skin barrier and allow the products to penetrate beyond the superficial dermal layer. This way, my skin gets squeaky-clean and collagen and elastin production are increased, to boot.

Aside from a disconcerting whirring sound and a minor sting as the products suffuse my pores, the procedures are entirely painless. After thoroughly administering my skin with her able hands, Rocio pours a cooling Alginate mask (which restores the pH to normal levels and hydrates the skin) over my face, covering my eyes and mouth and leaving me feeling almost ethereally comfy. While the facial is recommended as a treatment course (once or twice a week for six to twelve sessions), even one session is great for clients with acne, wrinkles or fine lines, uneven skin texture, hyperpigmentation and dark spots, or irritated skin.

After taking a look at my dewy visage, I’m tempted to drop some serious cash on Environ products right then and there. However, as Claudia tells me, “What a lot of people don’t realize is that you don’t necessarily have to change your entire skincare line to get results. It’s usually a matter of having just one active ingredient.” In this case, vitamin A.

Unsurprisingly, Aura prides itself on client education. Aside from a lengthy consultation with first-time clients, Aura will also be offering skincare lectures and demonstrations to the general public. “Many people have no idea what their skincare options are, what’s best for their skin, or even what the procedures entail,” explains Claudia. “We want our clients to feel educated, and that they have choices—and if there are certain procedures they’d benefit from which we don’t currently offer, we give them options and referrals.”

Despite the emphasis on strong customer service, as well as the deviation from med spa staidness, don’t expect any fluffy, feel-good treatments here. “Our focus on customer service is important to us, but we also aren’t a typical destination spa,” says Larry. “Of course, we want to offer tranquility and relaxation, but first and foremost, we offer results-oriented procedures in a medical setting.”

Now that I’ve experienced it firsthand, sounds good to me. Overall, Aura’s down-to-earth approach (not to mention that killer facial) has assured me that the path to beauty need not be studded with pain, and that even normal, destination spa-loving clients can find something to suit their pampering needs while still making sure they get tangible results.