Say "Aah": The Inner Facial

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It’s a sleepy Saturday morning when I roll out of bed to meet Nichola Joss uptown at the London Hotel. She holes up there about once a month in a cozy suite—though starting in February, she’ll hold court at Serge Normant's salon in Chelsea. I say “hold court” not just because I’ve been told by friends and colleagues alike that I am not to miss this facial, but because Joss is credited with kneading the faces of everyone in London you’ve ever wished you could look like: Kate Moss, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet…As one would expect, the wait list for some up-close-and-personal time with Nichola during her residency at London's now-closed Sanctuary Spa was longer than I’d like to know. (Which might explain why, when the only appointment in her packed US schedule was at 8AM on a Saturday, I took it, no questions asked.)

Now, I like pressure. Never has a masseuse asked “Is the pressure too much?” to an affirmative response from me. Do your worst, I think. Bring the pain. Even so, Nichola’s rigor on my face is surprising. Using a hefty dose of her Therapist’s Secret Facial Oil (she let me leave with the bottle because she is a saint), she barrels down on my jaw muscles and the space between my eyebrows where I seem to keep all my tension (“I can tell you clench your jaw, darling.”). I worry that the manipulation of my skin might somehow produce more wrinkles, but she assuages my fear. “A massaged muscle is healthier tissue,” she assures me. “And it’ll look more youthful as well.” Once she’s done, she promises me that the face will have more natural volume, and regular treatments could stop the sagging that belies age.

Then Nichola dons surgical gloves. Maybe it was the rapid draining of lymph, or the warm, wonderfully smelling room, but I’d acquiesced when Nichola asked if she could massage my face from inside my mouth. If Kate/Cate/Kate are cool with it, who I am to say no? And in she went.

It’s a predictably personal experience, having someone’s hands in your mouth like that—I don't know about you, but I certainly feel a close bond with my dentist. Because I can't speak while she's in there, communication is limited to muffled squeaks and grunts. But Nichola gets me and massages on. The pressure ratchets up as she physically sculpts my face from the inside—if the cheeks are properly massaged, they contract, perking the face up on their own, no surgery needed. And indeed, I feel like I’m smiling for the rest of the day. Not many other facialists practice anything similar to Nichola’s Inner Facial (she compares it to “buccaling,” which is popular among other cult facialists like Joëlle Ciocco). It stems from her experience in deep-tissue work by way of a university degree in biology. “I created the technique.” she explains,(“from years of trying to find a facial that was going to give my clients that natural face lift whilst toning and firming muscles and destressing the muscle tissue allowing it to sit in its natural, graceful position, full of vitality and radiance.”

Unsurprisingly, I’m sore the next day. But I'm more concerned with how I can keep myself on a steady diet of Inner Facials with Nichola’s packed roster. Before I leave, she gives me a booklet of massage techniques (which I keep with my vial of Therapitst’s Secret Oil next to my bed), though nothing involving me putting my own hands in my mouth, which is probably a good thing. Some things are best left to the professionals.

—Emily Ferber

Photographed by Tom Newton.