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An Outpost for All Your Autumn Skincare Needs

With the advent of autumn weather (no extended Indian summers this year, apparently), proper skincare has become a sensitive issue for me. While I suffer from easily inflamed pores, the occasional unsightly eruption, and what I lovingly call the perpetual summer “grease sheen”, I’ve lately discovered that plummeting temperatures and changes in humidity levels have left me with dry, uneven patches. For most beauty buffs, autumn marks a time of uncomfortable in-betweenness: you’re correcting all the summertime damage and simultaneously preparing for the colder (that is, more drying) days that lie inevitably ahead of you. Upping the ante on my own fall skincare regimen just became easier, as I recently discovered a must-visit establishment whose no-nonsense practitioners are all about bringing your best face forward, even if seasonal changes have something else in mind.

Soothe (formerly London Elise Skin Care) is one of those cozy home-away-from-home establishments that make full-scale spas seem bland and passé in comparison. A modest one-room organic skincare and body healing clinic, it also happens to be one of the best-kept beauty secrets in the Upper Haight. London Elise is my bubbly hostess, and as I lean over a pot of herbal tea, she’s also a multi-tasker. She waxes, massages, soothes irritated skin back into tip-top shape with her facials, and she’s also a life coach who specializes in helping small business owners realize their goals.

With a self-professed passion for all things spa, London has been a massage therapist for ten years and an aesthetician for five. “I always loved herbs and aromatherapy, and people’s skin was a source of fascination to me,” she explains. And, perhaps like all mavens of perfect skin, London reveals that she used to have horrible acne as an adolescent (though I see nary a blemish on her porcelain complexion), and was inspired to help others in the same boat. “It was another great way to be with people who were not into massage but need care.”

Soothe’s ambience is small but sumptuous, boasting earthy furnishings, tasteful artwork, and a subtle palette of hues that immediately warm the senses. In comparison to the other establishments I’ve frequented, it feels more accessible, less intentionally Zen and more the kind of place where you can hang your hat and kick up your feet. “It was important to me to have a place that offered spa services and acupuncture without being intimidating or pretentious,” explains London. “The biggest turnoff for me in the spa and healing arts world is when you have people running around calling themselves "masters" and creating a dynamic of power over their clients. I want to create an environment of education and kindness, where we are not above anyone else.”

For London, Soothe is also about offering people well-being, whether that means they need an hour of massage to relax, are working on clearing their skin from a recent flare-up, or want to strengthen their immune systems with Chinese medicine or aromatherapy. Soothe’s menu is fairly modest -- sprinkled with the expected massage and facial treatments -- but given London’s insistence on the importance of a gentle but knowledgeable touch, it’s not surprising that she has a passel of die-hard clients, many of whom have gone to her over a number of years for both simple pampering and serious beauty fixes. London’s non-pricey facial and massage combos are especially popular among clientele, so I’m ecstatic to receive a package deal: the Barboleta treatment, and the signature facial. “Barboleta”, which means “butterfly” in Portuguese, is a back treatment that combines deep tissue massage and a back facial. My back is steamed, gently cleansed, scrubbed, extracted, and kneaded, but it only takes a couple minutes before I find myself melting into London’s restorative touch, which is as rigorous and thorough as it is calming.

London then applies her methodical touch to my face during my signature facial. Using a combination of Dermalogica products and products from the Berkeley-based organic skincare line Solum and Herbe, London refrains from the abrasive chemical peels most aestheticians are quick to use, instead opting for light creams and spritzes. After emerging from a languorous hour and a half in the treatment room, I’m not surprised to find my skin radiant, the autumn-induced dry patches smoothed out, and the perpetual oil slick transformed into dewy, non-porous perfection.

When I ask London what she usually recommends to clients in need of a beauty fix, she explains, “Unless someone has a specific skincare issue they are trying to change or have a problem that they are trying to get under control, less is more. I feel like a lot of people get sold too many products and are treated as though they are lacking something if they aren’t getting the newest services. It’s important to relax and keep it simple. Caring for ourselves should be a positive experience, not an overwhelming one.”

An aesthetician who’s not trying to push her product on me but who knows exactly what she’s doing? That’s enough to convince me that I’ll probably be back at Soothe sometime soon…at least before the rain kicks in.