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Apotheca Skin Body Wellness

Customized, Natural Beauty

A week before the biggest event of my life, my wedding, I am exhausted. It’s supposed to be a time of jubilation, when the butterflies in a bride’s stomach are more symbolic of healthy anticipation than things being seriously awry. But all I want to do is collapse on my bed and fall asleep for 72 hours or so. Of course, I can’t complain too much -- this evening, I have an appointment to keep, but it doesn’t have anything to do with a last-minute fitting or bothersome rehearsal dinner. It’s a facial with Kirsten Quint Fairbanks, who runs Apotheca Skin Body Wellness.

I’ve already heard about Kirsten’s magical touch from other spa aficionados who swear by her personal, unostentatious approach and commitment to holistic beauty. Unsurprisingly, as I set foot into her modest yet cozy little sanctuary at 7pm, right after a long day at work, I’m immediately lulled by the warm atmosphere and the chance to kick back and relax with a cup of steaming herbal tea, post-commute.

Kirsten’s love for holistic health began in the 90s, when she began to study massage therapy while still juggling her job in the corporate world. But as time went on, she realized she “wanted to devote myself full-time to living a healthier, more joyful life, and helping others do the same.” Apotheca’s first incarnation was West Wind Massage and Wellness, a private practice Kirsten started in the Haight. After collecting a stable of die-hard clients, Kirsten also picked up a couple new colleagues, massage therapists Eri Cela and Sari Gelzer, as well as her own aesthetician’s license. In summer of 2006, she added custom skincare services to the treatment menu, while de-emphasizing aggressive, corrosive chemical peels and focusing on a gentler, less invasive approach to skin. Finally, Kirsten changed the name of the practice to Apotheca Skin Body Wellness to highlight the new focus on skincare.

Kirsten is quick to explain that Apotheca isn’t a spa -- it’s a skincare and massage studio that provides the highest quality spa services in a no-fuss, no-frills environment. And as the Apotheca blog so aptly describes, Apotheca itself strives to be “the antidote to the assembly-line spa, the opposite of the mass-market skincare kiosk. We don’t offer a mass-produced, synthetic, or impersonal fix. We provide one-on-one handcrafted and personalized custom therapies and products made to…improve the skin’s condition, and give our clients what they need to relax and unwind.” The smallness and intimacy of the establishment mean that clients don’t need to go through a receptionist to get to the therapist, nor do they have to “deal with other clients milling around in robes,” says Kirsten.

Aside from custom facials, Kirsten, Eri and Sari offer foot reflexology sessions, aromatherapy, Reiki and polarity therapies, and a variety of massage: Swedish, deep tissue,
myofascial release, Lomi Lomi, Shiatsu, and sports. I’m not surprised when I discover that Apotheca’s most popular treatments are their custom facials, which vary depending on what each client needs. “A treatment may include an enzyme peel and many extractions one week and then an oil-based cleanse and manual exfoliation, using jojoba beads or a cleansing brush, the next,” Kirsten tells me. “Each treatment is different because the skin changes from week to week, depending on our lifestyle, diet and stress levels at any given time.”

While the facials at Apotheca are customized to each client’s special needs, Kirsten doesn’t feel that any one product line necessarily has the answer to everyone’s skincare problems, so she uses several. “I am careful to work with companies whose business practices mesh with mine, and in the interest of green living and sustainability, I endeavor to use mostly west coast local lines.” These include synthetic-free Tu’El, which hails from Oakland, Colorado-based lines Sanitas and Astara, and the non-acidic, avocatin-based 302 Skincare. Kirsten also makes her own essential oil products, which range from massage oils to healing balms to bath salts.

I opt for the 60-minute Custom Facial Treatment, along with a Back Skin Treatment, which both leave me feeling indescribably nurtured. Kirsten uses a series of yummy-smelling products on me, including an organic lavender and chamomile cleanser on my back, topped by a leave-on hydrating mask and a calming skin spritz. After a lot of leisurely, knot-loosening massage (Kirsten believes in giving her “clients’ muscles some attention while their hydrating mask is settling”), she chooses a hydrophilic oil-based facial treatment. While beauty buffs with oily skin may tend to shy away from oily cleansers or facial treatments, Kirsten explains that “hydrophilic oil dissolves and bonds with the debris on the skin surface, increasing circulation and leaving the skin nourished, conditioned and marvelously supple.”

After this, Kirsten adds a gentle pineapple/papaya enzyme exfoliating treatment to even out skin tone. Following extractions, my skin is slathered with a healing clay mask and Kirsten’s own St. Johns Wort and organic olive oil healing oil, which soothe the skin and eliminate redness and irritation. Plenty of cool water breaks down the emulsion and boosts circulation, allowing oxygen and nutrients to rise to the surface of the skin -- on top of this, Kirsten adds her heavenly facial and scalp massage, which effectively help to alleviate my stress while, might I add, stimulating collagen production.

The entire experience is amazingly luxurious and gentle, perhaps due to the combination of Kirsten’s nimble hands massaging my skin and the wonderful smelling potions she uses. But it’s also amazing because of the sheer simplicity of the treatment. For the first time in a long time, I get to enjoy a treatment sans all the crazy whirring machines and weird chemicals being piled onto my face. “The barefoot skincare therapist (me) will never make clients feel criticized or try to scare them into a series of expensive and potentially damaging services their skin doesn’t need,” Kirsten says. “I approach skincare from a perspective of health before beauty, though healthy skin is beautiful skin. I firmly believe that my clients are already gorgeous and it is my job to help them bring out and maintain the glow they have inside.”

Of course, Kirsten is chockfull of advice, given my own prenuptial skincare needs. First and foremost, it’s good to keep it simple. “Find a simple system and stick with it. Also know that skin changes and you will need to make periodic modifications to your routine.” In addition, cleansing your system with lots of water and doing away with harsh acids that prematurely age the skin and even cause breakouts are both imperative. And finally, most important, “Stop stressing out,” Kirsten says. “Stress causes breakouts, frown lines and muscle aches. Take up yoga, knitting, dancing -- anything to bring your stress level down. Regular massage works wonders for stress, too.”

It’s hard not to stress out, considering that the biggest day of my life is breathing down my neck, but at least Kirsten’s able hands and sound beauty philosophy prepare me for a night of sound, dreamless sleep and ensure that I stay glowing all the way to the aisle.