Coming from a long line of aestheticians (mother, grandmother and great-grandmother), it’s no surprise Angelina Umansky, co-founder of Spa Radiance in San Francisco, is one of the most sought after skin specialists in the country with a clientele that reads like Vanity Fair’s who’s who (we’re talking – the Gettys and Michelle Pfeiffer #needisaymore). I sat down with Angelina to get answers to my burning skin care questions – How do I get rid of my neck bands? What can be done about crepey skin? Is the cult favorite, Biologique Recherche a nontoxic line and if so, which products do you recommend for dealing with pigment? Read on for excerpts from the interview that will have you never again using soap on your neck and figuring out a game plan to get a coveted appointment at Angelina’s spa for a facial and neck microcurrent. I know I am…
“Of course this is a result of aging, but a lot of times crepey skin can also be caused by dehydration. I don’t mean not drinking enough water – because you could be drinking a lot of water and have crepey skin – but a lot of times people overuse and over-strip the skin causing dehydration. They’ll be using a foaming cleanser, a stripping toner, a cream that has glycolic acid in it, and then they follow it up with a weekly clay mask. This type of stripping has sucked every last drop of moisture out of their skin. It’s a situation where they’ve taken a plum and it becomes a prune; they’ve dried it out!
And by the way, sensitive skin is usually most likely dehydrated skin. A lot of times sensitive skin has been stripped of all of its natural oils and has no barrier to protect it so it has become sensitive. Once you bring the hydration up, it’s not sensitive anymore.
But back to crepey skin. To rebound it, you have to be patient. It takes about four months of consistent nourishing before you can look at it and say, okay, this is the best we’re gonna get it with products.
I always recommend someone with crepey, dehydrated skin to use milk cleansers. They cannot use a foaming cleanser ever because we cannot take away any of the natural lipids from the skin. We can’t strip anything! You need to add moisture to repair the situation.
Then I would recommend a toner with exfoliating properties because we’re going to be applying rich serums and moisturizers, so you have to take off the dead skin. I would recommend the Biologique Recherche P50 toner. The P50 toner is fantastic! It contains sulfur, milk acid, onion and vinegar; onion is a great brightening agent for the skin, and vinegar is astringent, and milk acid gently exfoliates.
When people first start using P50, I always recommend they start with P50W because it is the lightest one. (There are many different P50 toners: one for sensitive skin, dry skin, oily skin, pigment.) You have to get the skin used to it first, so start with the W and then you can move on because there will be a slight tingling and subtle burning at first. Some people will get little bumps all over their skin during the first month of using P50. Not acne, but little bumps because the skin is purging and then it goes away and never happens again. This happens to about 20-30% of my clients, but you have to push through this period.
Next, I would recommend they use hydrating serums. The Biologique Recherche Serum Elastine Pure is a great one that contains elastin from animal extract and collagen molecules. Collagen is a big molecule, but you need to create a barrier of hydration on top of the skin. You need that big molecule to create a barrier similar to what a leave on conditioner does for dry hair.
For a moisturizer, I would recommend using something thicker in texture with omegas Coenzyme Q10, plant growth hormones, and hyaluronic acid.
And lastly, mask – every other night with the Creme Mask Vernix from Biologique Recherche.”
“The Creme Vernix Mask is incredible! When you have your baby, there is gong to be a little white film on the baby, that is vernix. Back in the day, they used to wash the baby right away after the baby was born, but studies show now that this powder is so healthy for the skin since it’s what protects the baby when it’s inside the womb that they are leaving it there for longer and not exposing the baby’s skin as fast. In the old villages, they didn’t wash the baby as fast as we do in America. And here in the states they wash the baby with soap which is very drying! Often times babies have sensitive skin and allergies and they’re starting to think that this is because the vernix is taken off so fast post birth.
Biologique Recherche has created a product where the ingredients mimic vernix. They are not scraping it off baby animals. They’ve created a synthetic that mimics what the vernix does for the skin. And right now, this mask is completely sold out; you cant get it anywhere. In LA, it’s the most popular product among my celebrity clients because vernix brings dehydrated skin back to life – like boom! I have clients that go to parties and travel all the time and I tell them “don’t go anywhere without vernix mask EVER!” because if there is a skin issue, I tell them to put vernix on. It’s a 911 mask and will immediately bring hydration back to the skin.
But once you have your baby, you could even put breast milk on your skin! Breast milk is amazing! I tell my clients to freeze some of their breast milk into popsicle trays and then once it freezes, hold the stick and rub the frozen milk all over their faces and neck. The nutrients aren’t as potent as they are when it’s fresh, but you’ll still be applying so much nourishment to the skin!”
“I love oils, but when the skin is crepey, it’s not enough. I cannot get the skin to build up fast enough with oils. I love oils, but oils without serums is not hydrating enough for me. Oils is not enough for someone with crepey skin. Oils are for people who don’t have skin that’s dead. Skin that needs mouth to mouth resuscitation. Because what I have noticed and as fast as I want results, because you have a short attention span here in America, oils do not give me the results fast enough for the client to be happy. And I have tools that will do it faster.”
“Often when it comes to pigmentation people are using all of these lightening ingredients but they have done nothing to nourish and repair the skin. I can get your pigmentation better without using lightening products just from hydrating the skin, feeding the skin nutrients, putting you under LED lights and stimulating the regeneration of healthy cells. You don’t have to whiten/bleach the skin, although that option is always there if you want it. But I would try first to build up a really healthy routine using a milk cleanser, not stripping the skin, the Biologique Recherece Placenta Serum or the placenta cream because placenta is brightening and using the Biologique Recherche oxygen line Vip02 which will nourish the skin with nutrients.
When healthy cells are created, they don’t have pigment. They are new and glowing. This process will take about 3 months. The damaged melanocytes are always there but it can be dormant so you don’t see the pigment. All you will see are brighter, lighter, healthier skin cells.”
“Neck is a big issue – big issue! Again, you need anti-aging serums, omegas, growth hormones, hyaluronic acids – you need to provide a lot of moisture. The neck ages seven years before the face and is where you can see peoples’ age. To combat aging of the neck you need more active ingredients and you need richer products than the face. And when I say neck, I mean you have to treat all the way down to under the breast because I know the neck is showing signs of aging, but the next thing to go are the lines on the chest.
With the neck you never strip. I don’t use soap ever on my neck – ever, ever, ever. Because you don’t want to take away the natural oils. When I do my toner, I apply it from forehead to under the breast and that’s the only stripping I do – everything else is milk cleanser. I never use soap on the neck. I’ll use the exfoliating Korean mitt on the body and I use that on the neck once a week because you want to get rid fo the dead skin, but you don’t want to strip the natural oils.
But if you really want to see results, Biologique Recherche makes a microcurrent machine for the neck that’s amazing. It looks like a neck brace and it has currents that stimulate the muscles in the neck. The neck has a muscle that runs from the mid-jaw to the collarbone, and then it has this outer muscle that runs from the outer jawline to the collarbone. What happens over time is the muscles weaken causing what used to be a tight situation to become a loose one. The muscle becomes weaker and shorter and when it becomes shorter, the skin starts to fall. Microcurrent goes in and lengthens and strengthens the muscles reducing this sagging of the skin. It’s a ten second cycle where the current goes through the muscle and around it and stimulates collagen. It’s very specific how the currents stimulate the muscle. It’s not like you just attach it. You have to understand the anatomy of the muscles and how the currents work. It’s a big learning curve but once you get good at it – it’s phenomenal the results you can achieve.”
“Someone who is young and doesn’t have atrophy in the muscles, like you could come once a month and just keep it going. But somebody who is fifty-two years old would need 6-8 treatments once a week in the beginning to work with the muscle memory and then they can go to once a month.”
“You have to do it for life. It’s like anything though – yoga, pilates – if you want to maintain results. It’s a natural treatment; you’re working with the muscles so you need to do it consistently. But there are at home devices like the NuFace that you can do for upkeep.”
“Biologique Recherche is a French brand and in Europe the regulations surrounding skincare are much stronger than here in America. In Europe, if they say that an ingredient is in the product, they really have to prove that that product contains that specific ingredient, especially since Biologique Recherche is considered a medical line in Europe, so they are watched very closely.
But in America, nobody is watching so they can say a product has caviar, but it may not even have caviar. Or it could be a “natural” product without any synthetic ingredients, but how do you know how the ingredients were derived? All of those natural ingredients could have been derived using chemical solvents or maybe those ingredients were stored in a plastic container that has BPA particles. In America, no one is watching or regulating these aspects, but in Europe there are strict regulations.
For example, the French brand Patyka has an organic certification that is so difficult to get. Not only do the ingredients need to be clean, but the jars they use and the boxes for their packaging can’t have any harmful chemicals. It’s a broader conversation in Europe than here in the states. They regulate the ingredients, the packaging, and the process.
So while Biologique Rechercher is not an organic certified line, I trust that it’s safer than some of the natural brands here in the states because the EU is so strict. Their ingredients are clean, but the only product that contains something toxic is the P50 1970; it has phenol in it. The toner has a drop of it and the ingredient itself is toxic, but sometimes somebody comes in with thick skin and wants a product to improve their skin instead of doing chemical peels or lasers. Phenol eats through the lipid oil matrix, digests through it and breaks it up. It’s an amazing ingredient, but it’s for extreme cases – not for everyone. I would use it for extreme cases of acne where they are considering turning to Accutane and I say, “no!” try this first instead of doing Accutane since Accutane is so bad for the body.”
“I would say respect for the natural ingredients has been passed down. My great-grandmother passed down this oatmeal mask I sometimes do to open up the pores for extractions; it’s a mix of oatmeal, honey and boiled chamomile. I don’t look down on something that’s just honey or just yogurt. While I use very advanced products in my spa, I also utilize and appreciate the natural ingredients. Like chamomile boiled is a great toner, or if you get a sunburn, put sour cream on it to get the heat out. There are so many incredible ingredients for the skin that are natural.
My mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were all aestheticians. I grew up in Moscow and at the time when we were in Russia, it was communism so you couldn’t own a business. But we would boil creams and lotions and sell them on the black market. I remember helping them cook the creams. We did a lot of that because at the time you couldn’t go to the store to buy anything!
I was nine years old when we left and came to San Francisco. My mother was the first one to open up our spa almost forty years ago in Union Square, but I was the one to move it to Cow Hollow District because I wanted it to have more of a neighborhood feel. I have clients who I’ve known since they were twelve who are now in their forties and still come to see me.”
As told to Amy Chang, founder + editor, edited for length; main image shot by Wing Ta for BONDENAVANT.