I’m supine and swaddled in terry cloth when my spirit guide first makes contact.
“I’m sorry. I was just — I’m just, like, scanning… Do you mind if I connect with Spirit?” Mashell Tabe, the medical aesthetician who is about to pierce hundreds of tiny holes in my face, is apologizing after drifting off halfway through a technical explanation of what she’s about to do to my skin. I tell her to please, of course, go ahead.
“Okay, yay! Because I was like, ohmygod, I’m just, like, scanning your energy and I didn’t even ask, like, if it was okay. So I had to catch myself! Okay. Alright. Perfect.”
I’m in Mashell’s high-ceilinged and surprisingly cozy SoHo office and I’m there, mostly and if I’m being honest, because of Gwyneth Paltrow. Gwyneth Paltrow and also Instagram.
Mashell, who splits her time between New York, New Mexico and as-needed trips to LA, specializes in medical microneedling, a type of facial in which a pen-like device — wielded, ideally, by a licensed and appropriately trained aesthetician — stamps your skin with ultra-fine needles in order to stimulate elastin and collagen production, reduce fine lines and give you that elusive, lit-from-within glow. (Imagine aerating your lawn.) Tabe also specializes in energetic healing and spiritual guidance.
Gwyneth’s a fan — I first read about both microneedling and Mashell on Goop — and after months of seeing this editor and that editor I follow on Instagram credit their #nofilter captions with the treatment, I decided I wanted in. (While Mashell is the last person to describe herself as a celebrity facialist — she asked firmly and politely if I could leave celebrity names out of this piece altogether — she is at least partially responsible for the million-dollar complexions of professional pretty people like Nia Long, Gwyneth and Naomi Watts. She also counts Condoleeza Rice among her clients, whose patronage, as far as I’m concerned, trumps all of the others combined.)
In, however, does not come cheap. While I did not pay for my appointments, Mashell’s facials run about $695 a session (!), though they include between three and five different treatments, depending on how you count them: microneedling, of course, followed by a galvanic current or microcurrent facial to “allow the nutrients to further penetrate the skin” (a similar treatment at Kate Somerville starts at $180), topped off with 20 minutes of LED light therapy to “kickstart cellular rejuvenation” (which costs about $150-$225 at Joanna Vargas), all of which is interspersed with Mashell’s carefully calibrated mix of cleansers, hyaluronic serums, peptides and antioxidant gels and finished with 10 minutes of a calming and moisturizing sheet mask.
And then there’s the other kind of healing. Tabe is emphatic about the importance of the spiritual side of her services. While I was initially ready to yada-yada whatever came alongside my pursuit of rich lady skin, by the second session I decided she was onto something, and by the third, I was crying silently on her table as she relayed messages to me from the dog I’d recently had to put down while gently administering an electric current to my tear-stained cheeks.
I began to look forward to my appointments — not just for the physical results (more on those shortly), but for the calming, bordering-on-therapeutic effects of Mashell’s readings. Mashell suggested I commit to six months of monthly microneedling to see the full effect; most microneedle-ists I spoke to encouraged a similar frequency if shorter duration.
Do I think my dog was actually speaking to me from beyond the grave? No. But her missives allowed me to process at least some of my grief, if only because crying during the middle of spa treatment in a relative stranger’s office made me realize just how fucking sad I was.
Here’s the thing: microneedling works. It’s been around in some form or another since 1905, though medical microneedling debuted as “percutaneous collagen induction therapy” in the mid-1990s. “Although it’s super simple, it has measurable beneficial effects on the skin,” New York City dermatologist Erin Gilbert, M.D. PhD, tells me. “It stimulates skin cells called keratinocytes and fibroblasts to release growth factors, which ultimately result in collagen and elastin synthesis.” That’s science for thicker, bouncier, tighter skin. “Only about 7% of what you put on your skin goes into your skin,” Dr. Gilbert adds. “When you create those little puncture holes, you’re making it the skin more penetrable and you can increase that absorption to about 20%. So you’re essentially doubling the efficacy of a product.”
Reeling from sticker shock? There is such a thing as at-home microneedling, via a handy little contraption called a dermaroller. But here’s what you should know: the punctures made by at-home devices are less deep — shorter needles — and therefore less effective. A good aesthetician, however, will encourage you to support your treatments with a tailored-to-you home regimen. (I left my first appointment with Mashell with a dermaroller, hyaluronic serum, light retinol, vitamin A serum, and vitamin C oil, plus several paragraphs of instructions.) And if you’re wondering what kind of dermaroller to get, Dr. Gilbert warned, “Don’t try to get a deal on a microneedling device.” In other words: you get what you pay for. Mashell and Dr. Gilbert gave Environ’s line their stamp of approval.
I’ve received more compliments on my skin in the last few months than probably in the last three years combined. I don’t think I have any major issues — just your standard 30-something’s “signs of aging,” plus some recent and localized sun damage from a year spent mostly ignoring my responsibilities in lieu of learning to surf — but my skin looks objectively better.
While it certainly shouldn’t be the primary source of anyone’s sense of well-being, good skin makes you feel good. And whether it was the microneedling, a little TLC from my spirit guides or just spending an hour with my eyes closed while someone slathered unguents and tinctures on my face, seeing Mashell made me feel good.
Even though I still miss my dog.
Photos by Krista Anna Lewis.