Facialist extraordinaire Su-Man brings her unique mix of Chinese massage and natural products to Bliss Spa this month. We put it to the test to see if it really is ‘the best facial we will ever have’
I can honestly say this facial is not like other I’ve had before. Firstly, it doesn’t start like others. It starts with Su-Man, dressed in a funky top and jeans, looking at my skin under a digital microscope, showing me the images of my skin, irritated and blotchy red on the screen. She clucks at the damage, but isn’t surprised.
‘You all have identical skin damage. It’s so similar. It’s so extremely damaged and thin and red underneath,’ she says.
I’m meeting her near the end of her first stay in Doha and she’s surprised how similar all her clients who’ve lived in Qatar for a while look under the microscope.
‘You barely see the line – skin is made up of a net line structure. On healthy skin you should be able to scan to see the structure, but (here) it’s all blood.’
She’s not 100 per cent sure what’s causing it, but a good bet would be the sun and a lackadaisical attitude towards sunscreen.
‘As we get older, skin gets thinner naturally, especially Caucasian skin. It’s just so much more obvious and the skin becomes dull and increasingly sensitive,’ says Su-Man. ‘That’s what I’ve found since coming here.’
She knows what she’s talking about. Her facial techniques, beloved by stars with glorious skin like Juliette Binoche, Anne Hathaway and Frieda Pinto, have been described as an alternative to Botox, plumping, nourishing and lifting the skin. Su-Man herself looks like a teenager. But she’s 50 years old.
‘My parents were poor farmers in Taiwan and I literally grew up in a mud hut working on the farm for a landlord. We had no money for beauty or fancy detox plans to make us look beautiful. Farm girls also want to look good, too so we learnt from nature and used beauty tips passed on from generation to generation. When we were tired, we gave each other massage and from an early age I learnt the power of touch,’ she says.
‘I have Asian traditional values, but I’m also a modern girl with a cosmopolitan view of the world. I think my background on the farm, the body skills I have acquired combined with my love of improving people’s health and beauty are the ingredients that make up my signature facial.’
Her technique has also been influenced by her years as a professional dancer with Belgian dance company Rosas.
She discovered shiatsu massage after a major back injury and has incorporated the massage techniques, as well as traditional holistic practices and her skills as a Pilates instructor, into her facial techniques.
‘For me because of dancing – from what I’ve learned – I think the whole body is connected. Your face shows everything that’s happened to you. Therefore for me a facial cannot just become a superficial thing, I need to connect the body and the chakras,’ she says. ‘When I touch you we both make a connection and your body guides me, telling me where to go. So it’s very intuitive. And by doing that I see great results.’
Once we’ve established that my skin is damaged and dry, the facial starts with an extraction. Su-Man is merciless, getting out the imperfections and chiding me for my lax beauty routine (primarily the fact that I wash my face with whatever bar of soap is handy). ‘Some [people] are too lazy. The trouble is the sun damage only comes out as you get older,’ she tells me. ‘So how much lazy do you want to do to yourself? ‘The best thing is to prevent, to control it.’
After the extraction, she applies a botanical mask to my skin. Like the rest of her products, they have light, natural scents, and there aren’t layers and layers of different products. As she massages my face, she tells me that that’s one of the flaws she sees in many facial techniques: ‘They apply product, wipe off. Apply product, wipe off.’ She doesn’t see that as being as beneficial, although many clients feel they need the bells and whistles to get their money’s worth. Instead, she has a simple recipe for skin success.
‘It’s always about management rather than treating the symptoms. Cleanse twice a day, morning and night. You cleanse, you tone, you put serum on, put your eye cream on, put your moisturiser on. That’s very important. Two or three times a week you should be exfoliating, that depends on your skin type, your age, and sometimes on how well you look after yourself.’
She’s launching her own line of products later this year, but says you can still find good products at the local store, as long as you follow simple rules. She says natural products will create the best results.
‘Avoid parabans, mineral oil and petroleum. For me, if these three things are in a product, I won’t buy,’ she says.
‘A common mistake is using an over rich cream. They see a rich cream and think “oh that’s nice”, but actually it suffocates your skin. What happens when you can’t breathe? Skin’s an organ, it’s alive, it needs to be able to breathe.’ But the key to her remarkable results, she says, is the massage.
‘I mean look at me, I’m 50. I massage myself twice a day and once a week I sit in front of the TV and do 20 minute massage and put a mask on. So I have to apply to show my clients what’s happening. It works.’
After my own face has been massaged, she applies toner and moisturiser and that’s it.
Peeking in the mirror, I’m greeted by clear, baby soft skin that looks airbrushed. I don’t feel greasy or irritated, as is often the case after facials: and as days go by, my skin stays that way.
But what about that identical sun damage we Doha gals are sporting? ‘It’s difficult to fix, but you can maintain,’ she says. Although we can’t reverse the damage, with can halt it’s progress. ‘Most people I suggest put honey. For some people I would recommend honey and apple cider vinegar, a teaspoon, equal amounts. Just put it on your face for half an hour before bed. Wash off and then put your toner and moisturiser.
‘Over a period of time, because it’s natural it’s not magic, but be patient and it will work. It will stop the damage going further and the brown spots won’t come out.’
Su-Man returns to Bliss Spa at the W Doha Hotel and Residences May 25-30. Treatments are QR2,500. Call 4453 5353.