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Educating Your Way to Beautiful Skin

I'll admit that I'm wary of medical spas. Aside from the host of what I've always taken to be questionable, excessive and overly pricey treatments, the antiseptic environment doesn't exactly inspire the most therapeutic of thoughts. And I, like most women, would prefer pampering over procedure any day.

When a friend of mine told me that she'd been getting her monthly facials at a place called Dermalounge (formerly Nourish Skin Care Center), which offers a medley of technologically advanced skincare treatments on top of the signature facial, I was intrigued. Her description of Dermalounge sure sounded like a medical spa, but Carrie only had positive things to say about the aestheticians and caliber of customer service -- and her dewy, non-porous complexion made me rethink my prejudice forthwith.

As I would later find out, my beef with medical spas isn't completely bogus, since Dermalounge isn't exactly a medical spa. According to CEO Nicole Alvino, who partnered with the former owners of Nourish to expand the center's treatments, Dermalounge combines the rigorous skincare education approach of medical spas with the tranquil environment of the day spa. The result: a modest Noe Valley fixture with a passel of loyal clients and an unbeatable reputation for making visages glow.

"Skin health is an ongoing process -- it's like going to the gym -- so it can take months before you see the results," says Alvino. "In giving our clients a personalized approach rather than an in-and-out pampering treatment, we're seeing real results."

Alvino, a well-traveled spa aficionado who used to be a regular client at Nourish (where she says she got her best facials), still maintains the old neighborhood spa's standard for great customer service but has also combined that with a broader range of services in skin care and hair removal.

Aside from a bevy of skilled aestheticians, Dermalounge also has a staff of nurses who administer some of the more technologically advanced treatments, such as IPL (intense pulse light), PDT (photo-dynamic therapy), laser hair removal, and fillers like botox and restalyne.

While laser hair removal is among the most popular treatments at Dermalounge, IPL is getting a lot of hype as the new antidote to aging. The treatment comes in a series of five, and according to Alvino, can take five to ten years off the life of your skin. "A light beam targets imperfections in the skin and helps to fix age spots and broken capillaries, and it also stimulates collagen and minimizes pore size, so you have a really velvety skin texture as a result," says Alvino.

PDT is also becoming increasingly popular among clients with problem skin, says Alvino. "It has the effect of Accuctane in that it shuts down overactive sebaceous glands, which are the cause of acne."

Aside from offering such treatments, Dermalounge aims to serve its base of loyal clients by helping people reach their personal skin goals and making sure they have all the information they need. "Education is the first step to beautiful skin," asserts Alvino, who ensures that aestheticians get constant training on the latest skin care lines and technologies. "Only 40 percent of how skin ages is hereditary. People are living longer and are healthier in general, and there's no reason this should be any different for our skin."

Alvino also acknowledges that with the new treatments, misconceptions tend to abound. "Some people won't ever be comfortable with the new technologies, and we respect everyone's right to do what they want," says Alvino. "However, it's also important for us to educate people, give them the facts. For instance, botox isn't a poison and it's not botulism…it's a natural purified protein that relaxes and smoothes muscles, and it's been around for a hundred years."

People also tend to cringe when they hear the term "chemical peels," but Alvino is quick to assure them that it's not the same as "putting acid on your face. While a chemical peel is more aggressive than a facial, it stays in the epidermis—it doesn't go far enough down to burn your skin, and it won't turn you into Samantha from "Sex in the City"!"

The two main lines used by Dermalounge are Skinceuticals and IS Clinical, antioxidant serum-based products that combat the adverse effects of sun damage. While the list of facials at Dermalounge is short, the signature facial (which built the business, according to Alvino) includes add-ons like chemical peels or microdermabrasion, which are both exfoliating treatments that stimulate the production of collagen.

Additionally, all treatments are personalized. "Most of our clients are women in their mid-30s but we have a pretty diverse base in general," says Alvino. "Even men feel comfortable in the space because it's not too girly or frilly -- it's very welcoming."

True to Alvino's description, I experience the same low-key and hospitable environment when I go in for my signature facial. After my aesthetician, Kim, makes a preliminary assessment of my skin, she uses a combination of products from Skinceuticals and IS Clinical to balance my combination skin and target congested areas that are a result of irregular exfoliation. She spends almost an hour and a half cleansing, extracting, and exfoliating, and my skin feels like all the impurities have been blasted away when I emerge from the cozy treatment room. True to my friend's recommendation, after a couple weeks, my skin is still radiant and blemish-free, and completely clean of the tiny red bumps I'm accustomed to being plagued by after a typical facial.

While most spa-goers might not be willing to drop their moolah on exorbitantly priced treatments like IPL or PDT (and don't worry -- the aestheticians are pressure-free), Dermalounge is still definitely tops in my book as far as facials go. And while I may be loath to sample some of the more extreme skincare treatments, it's always nice to know that information from highly educated aestheticians is always available if I change my mind.