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Nomi Day Spa and gunillaELISABETH skin butik

Hidden Gems for the Skincare Buff

There’s something about intimate, out-of-the-way skin boutiques that always catches my interest, way more than the overpriced, overcrowded spas that pepper San Francisco with their fussy, quick fix-loving clientele. A relationship with your aesthetician, after all, is about as significant as your relationship with your hairstylist…so you want to make sure you’re getting the optimal amount of personal attention…and that you’re in for the long haul. And of course, having your every pore and blemish open to someone else’s scrutiny warrants the kind of professional who won’t simply inform your skincare regimen, but the kind who can also remember your name and stay abreast of your life’s minor victories and dramas -- in short, someone who cares. If you’re with me on this, allow me to introduce Naomi Schwartz, of Nomi Day Spa, and Gunilla Elisabeth Eisenberg, of gunillaELISABETH skin butik.

Nomi Day Spa

After getting a recommendation from a friend to pay a visit to Naomi Schwartz -- who runs Nomi Day Spa, a cozy, one-woman establishment, I found myself desperately hunting for her studio on Indiana Street, smack in the middle of Potrero Hill’s industrial no-man’s land. Upon finding Schwartz’s earthy, slightly southwestern-feeling alcove, I can’t help but feel a bit smug. After all, while most people I know are getting buffed, polished, and scrubbed somewhere in the Marina or Pacific Heights, I’m privy to a well-kept beauty secret…at least location-wise.

Despite the "remote" setting, Schwartz’s host of repeat clients proves that she’s at the top of her game. Schwartz -- who says one of her main goals is to make her clients feel as if they’re guests in her home -- proves to be a gracious hostess. Following in the footsteps of her Romanian-Hungarian mother, who was also an aesthetician, Schwartz’s enterprise is a lifestyle rather than a job.

After gaining a loyal bastion of clients while working in spas across the Bay Area, Schwartz decided to open up her own studio last October. “As an aesthetician, I’ve found that I’ve learned a lot more on the job than I did in beauty school; for example, what kind of skin is likely to scar or have pigmentation,” she says.

While Schwartz acknowledges that it’s possible for any aesthetician to design a regimen that doesn’t work, her clientele -- most of whom pay her regular visits -- enable her to be creative in designing skincare solutions. “I might combine oxygen with cucumber to purify and soothe a client’s skin if something didn’t work last time,” says Schwartz. “It’s trial and error, but when you are able to work with someone for a long time and really get to know their skin (which it’s impossible to do in one visit), it’s so rewarding when you figure out the most effective treatments.”

Schwartz uses a medley of different skincare lines, including the highly feted organic Hungarian line Eminence, and Jan Marini, a line for predominantly acneic and aging skin. Her most common tidbits of advice to clients? “Sunscreen is a must-have protective product, while a vitamin C serum is an important preventive product,” she says. “I also tell clients they should exfoliate once a week -- not with a scrub, which tends to aggravate the skin, but with a product that effectively eats away at dead skin cells.”

Schwartz, who recalls feeling “so loved” when getting facials from her own mother, is equally adept at dishing out the nurturing treatment. “I want to relax my clients first and foremost,” she says, and achieves this through a mixture of aromatherapy and deep cleansing. I myself opt for the Deep Pore Cleansing Facial, 60 minutes of pure bliss (and an anti-aging glycolic treatment), supplemented by a leisurely hand, neck and back massage towards the end. Needless to say, it’s over all too soon, but given my glowing visage, I’m sure I’ll be back -- maybe for the Nirvana Treatment, which uses cold stones to massage fatigued eyes, next time around.

gunillaELISABETH skin butik

Unlike Schwartz, Gunilla Elisabeth Eisenberg’s skincare studio inhabits a pocket of Union Street that gets a lot of foot traffic. All the same, there’s no big marquee to announce Eisenberg’s presence, and after walking through a narrow, industrial-looking hallway and emerging into a thicket of trees and white cottage-like edifices, you might well feel as far away as Potrero Hill.

Eisenberg, who’s something of a local celebrity in the skincare industry, has a quote on her website, “Simplicity is the whole secret of well-being,” which seems to encapsulate the very aura of gunillaELISABETH skin butik. I am ushered into an airy, open studio in shades of cream and earth, while Italian chanteuse Carla Bruni softly floats from the speakers.

The gentleness and refuge-like atmosphere of Eisenberg’s studio is also evident in the way she works. Eisenberg, who co-founded Spa Seven (now Sally Adams Day Spa) a few years ago, opened up her own business last June. While Eisenberg still has the same clientele she’s been making beautiful for years, she’s also accumulated a new roster of fans by word of mouth, albeit in the most unassuming manner. “Gunilla has magic hands,” one of her clients raved to me before my visit. “She’s an alchemist of the skin -- she can get to the core of your problems by transforming your situation from the inside out.”

I opt for the Epicuren Skin Rejuvenation Facial, which stimulates oxygen flow and pushes out toxins and get to experience Eisenberg’s “magic hands” for myself. After settling back into the fluffy facial bed and relaxing to a blissed-out Cocteau Twins tune, I am plied with delicious-smelling cleansers that promote cell renewal and collagen production. The cherry on top, however, is a tingly hot cinnamon peel, which I can practically feel gobbling up my dead skin cells. While the treatment is more aggressive than the signature facial, and is excellent for sun-damaged or aging skin, Eisenberg’s delicate touch -- even in the midst of extractions -- leaves my skin feeling radiant and supple rather than bumpy and battered.

The product lines that Eisenberg uses all have one thing in common: none of them strip the skin, which can make it more sensitive to environmental damage. Such lines include Epicuren, clinical skincare products infused with protein enzymes that nourish and hydrate the skin (“It first rose to popularity because it had a following among the women on "Sex and the City",” according to Eisenberg); Jurlique, a pure aromatherapy product line; and 302 Skincare, which uses patented compounds from avocados to treat skin damaged by the sun or acne.

Eisenberg’s general advice to clients runs the gamut from alternating between different skincare lines (“It’s important to surprise your skin so it doesn’t suffer from product fatigue,” she explains) to cleansing your skin for at least 30 seconds before rinsing off.

Aptly enough, Eisenberg’s signature simplicity is at the heart of her enterprise. “Consistency is really the key to a successful skincare regimen. Lots of people think it’s necessary to use lots and lots of products, in fact, things like overcleansing can be bad for you,” says Eisenberg. “A simple plan that works for you and that is implemented regularly tends to be the most effective.”