Is This Woman’s $800 Stem-Cell Facial Worth It?

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Photo: David Stubbs

"So how long is this going to take?" I asked facialist Melanie Simon, while eyeballing my rather swanky spa suite at the Surrey Hotel's Cornelia Spa. It was a Monday evening, and I knew that Simon was only in New York just three times a year; she splits her time between her three salon locations (Los Angeles, Montecito, Jackson Hole) and this was her last day of appointments. But I was here (on a Monday, ugh) because her electric current anti-aging and rejuvenating facials are whispered about in the Hollywood circuit — all her celeb client names are kept under lock and key — and her skincare line, Circ-Cell, is even backed by Justin Timberlake's mom. Dressed in a flowy floor-length cotton dress that speaks to her West Coast sensibilities, she kindly replied, "well, as long as you will allow me to work on your face," then quietly closed to door. Knowing that hunger pangs were going to soon be an issue, I tossed a lavender cookie in my mouth, shucked off my clothes in the adjoining bathroom and laid down on the treatment table. I was about to get plant stem cells slathered all over my face. Then I would be zapped with electrical waves. 

As soon as Simon takes her place by the top of my head, we start chatting about the treatment's course of events. It starts with a quick clean-up using Circ-Cell Geothermal Clay cleanser, an oil- and clay-based facial wash that gently removes dirt and grime without stripping skin of its moisture. She then follows with an alcohol swab that is lightly brushed all over my complexion. It burns, it stings, it sucks. After a very expensive application of a high concentration of cell-renewing pure plant stem cells (hence the treatment's price tag), my face gets rolled over with a derma roller — which is basically a lawn irrigator with tiny needles for the face. The rubbing alcohol kills any bacteria left on my face to prevent it from entering the pores. For my rather youthful skin (I'm a young 30), the smallest needle point was chosen, so the pain factor was incredibly low. But the sensation was still unpleasant and uncomfortable enough to send chills up my arms and a wave of relief when Simon finished with the tool.

After the roll session, she places a pure marine collagen cloth mask from French skincare company Biologique Recherche on my face to cool the warming sensation brought on by the derma roller. It also adds a boost of hydration to my parched skin. We're only twenty or so minutes in before the treatment really gets going. "You're going to fall asleep during this next part," she says matter-of-factly as she fires up her electro-current machine and peels off the collagen mask. "The brainwaves you get when you're at rest is what the machine delivers." Basically, for 50 minutes, she'll run two metal penlike wands over various sections of face. Each burst of electricity (which I can't even feel) from the wands will force the stem cell and collagen goop into my skin and send one trillionth of a joule (it takes one to power a light bulb) into my dermal layer — also sending me into a deep, blissful sleep. "Your cells repair when you're asleep," Simons explains as I start to fight off the Ambien-like sensation already taking over my body. "But with this treatment, the electric current makes your cells think they're in an even deeper sleep, so they'll keep on repairing over the course of the next two days, instead of the usual two hours [of deep sleep] you might get each night." That's the last thing I remember hearing.

The sleep/electro-current machine.

What must've been the appointed 50 minutes later (this can go on for longer if necessary), I wake up to a tingling sensation around my eyes. Simon has now switched to a micro-current device which stimulates the muscles and is used on clients who might be prone to "droopy" eyelids. "This is particularly common for Asians," she says as I nod in agreement; a handful of my own family members have gotten surgery to remove the vision-impairing extra bits of old skin (apologies for the outing, family members). This last bit of current is quick and painless, and soon enough, Simon scoots out of the room and I get back into my clothes. She hasn't wiped off the residual stem cell/collagen mixture so my face is sticky enough to catch loose hairs, as if it were covered in shiny lip gloss. I take a look in the mirror to see if anything's happened: Along with my eyebrow hair looking like this guy, I notice that my ocular region looks slightly "surprised." Not quite Botox-surprised, but certainly more lifted.

Simon reenters the room and gives me post-facial homework. I'm not allowed to wash my face that night — so the stem cells further seep in — but I can gently rinse in the morning, followed by an application of leftover collagen she gives me from the mask. I can't wear makeup. The next morning, my skin looks A-list awesome. It's noticeably more hydrated and radiant. And for the next few days after, I have yet to spot those flaky dry patches by my brows, cheeks, and nose. Now it's been over a week, and my skin's texture is still ultrasmooth and plump. Like I got some serious Snow White–style sleep.

But this whole shebang can cost upwards of $770. So who's her ideal client? "Well, someone of means for starters. Your mom, or women her age who have less collagen production, would be my ideal client; they're going to see the most difference," Simon explains. "Between 50 to 70 years old is my target range and I'll see them every month, or even more. With younger girls, I can see them every two months for this treatment." For someone in my age group, that'll be $4620 worth of super-charged stem cell naps. If you're still intrigued, Simon will be back at the Surrey Hotel's Cornelia Spa this June.