Sofie Pavitt, Aesthetician


“Because they’re both English-speaking countries, everyone thinks the UK and America are so similar. But I’m from South Wales, and when I moved to Ohio when I was 20 to design underwear for Abercrombie & Fitch, it was a baptism of fire. This was 2004—the heyday of Abercrombie—and I really learned what America was like.

In 2009 I got a job doing accessories for the Gap in New York, and then I moved over to Michael Kors, designing handbags. A big part of my job was traveling to Korea four or five times a year for production trips, and every time I went, I’d get less and less excited about the handbag stuff and more excited about the beauty. I just couldn’t believe the different things they had—this was before the real K-beauty thunderstorm that happened over here. At a certain point I knew I wanted to work in beauty, so on top of my Michael Kors job I went to esthetics school at Christine Valmy. I honestly thought I would go into editorial afterwards, because the educational aspect was interesting to me. But while I was in school, I realized I loved doing facials. I was taking care of people, and that felt so satisfying after working with product for 15 years.

After I graduated, I rented part of a tiny studio in the Flatiron district and would do facials for friends on the weekends. They would tell their friends, and their friends would tell their friends, and it got to the point where my weekends were fully booked. My first thought was that I had to find a more chill fashion job—at that point I was working at Tory Burch—so I could travel less and book more facials. At the same time, I got my space on Canal Street, where I could have all my stuff set up and see people whenever I had time. I started seeing people in the evenings, before work… I’d go out to lunch, see a person, and then go back to work. It was nuts. Finally, I decided to open up my books for all of September, just to see how many treatments I could book. If I booked over 35, I was going to quit my job—I booked something like 86.

I was taking care of people, and that felt so satisfying after working with product for 15 years.

At that point I got a little nervous, and thought I should maybe go work at a spa and see how to actually do this professionally. I started training somewhere, and I’m not going to name names, but I was only there a week. The reason was this: the spa offered a few very strong facials, and their philosophy was that you can be 75 or 15, you’re having the exact same facial. And I totally disagreed with that. I understand that they wanted the experiences to be consistent, but different people need different things. And I did end up getting extra training from two other places. When I was on maternity leave last year I started training with this San Francisco-based company called Face Reality. I really wanted to introduce an acne protocol, and theirs is amazing. In addition, I decided I wanted to learn how to do laser treatments. I go to Center Aesthetic Dermatology for Botox, and worked there part-time for almost two years. It was so amazing, because after I cleared up a client’s skin, I could take them to a medical office to work on pigmentation or textural issues with Clear + Brilliant, microneedling, or really deep chemical peels. At a certain point it became too much, and I was busy enough on my own, but having training as a medical aesthetician is really affirming with my acne treatments. I want you to come in for an honest facial, and I’ll recommend the products I think you need but I’m never going to upsell. A standard facial is $140 with an aesthetician or $190 with me, and that’s deep-cleaning with extractions. This is a maintenance facial, and it’s results-driven—I want my clients to have the same kind of relationship with me as they do with their hairdresser. Then you have the opportunity to add on—we also do deep peels, retinol peels, LED, this really amazing oxygen treatment from Korea.

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The fact that my business is so small made pivoting because of COVID easier for me, and I also have a total trick card in my pocket because my husband works for Facebook. He had a lot of great ideas on how to move to virtual early on, and I’ve learned that I can actually do a lot with home care. I do a virtual skincare consultation, where I go through people’s skincare goals, what they want to achieve, and then go through their products. I can make tweaks where they need it, and then I can also recommend and ship out products. The other consults I do are with my acne program. People who started four months ago, in March, are now seeing incredible results, and it’s really encouraging. Then I made a silk mask, which is where my handbag history came in. I reached out to a girl who I used to work with at Tory Burch who sources products in Taiwan and China, and I managed to get a production run from her. They did crazy well—we sold 600 in like two weeks, and I just put in another order. And now, my new thing is professional treatments over Zoom. I teamed up with Is Clinical, which has a really great professional treatment called the Fire and Ice Peel. I do a little consult before to make sure there are no contraindications, then I send it out and schedule a 30 minute Facetime call to talk the client through the actual peel. It’s been a weirdly positive experience, in a way, though restrictions are definitely frustrating.

I want you to come in for an honest facial, and I’ll recommend the products I think you need but I’m never going to upsell.

I am back in the studio now doing body treatments—back facials, butt facials, full-body microdermabrasion. I’m in full PPE, with the goggles, my N-95, a face shield, and gloves. I temperature check everyone at the door, and there’s a COVID waiver I get everyone to sign 24-hours before, to confirm they haven’t been out of state within the last two weeks, in touch with anybody that has COVID symptoms, or have COVID symptoms themself. And then I get a test every Friday. Even with that, I don’t plan to move away from virtual at-home things any time soon. You can book a dental appointment in New York, you can go get Botox and fillers, you can go sit in a bathhouse, but you can’t get a facial. It just makes me feel... I don’t know. I could rant on about it forever. But that’s really what has kept the electrictricity on for me.

I don’t wash my face in the morning, and that freaks people out. But I do always use a vitamin C—at the moment I’m using one from Skinbetter, which is a dermatologist brand . It’s a C and E serum carried in a lipid, so it sits on the skin beautifully and feels so protective. When I was pregnant I was using this super strong ZO vitamin C, because I was convinced I was getting melasma. I also really like the Circumference vitamin C because it’s really stable. And then I use sunscreen. That’s either the Is Clinical Extreme Protect, the Tatcha Silk Canvas sunscreen, or my favorite, Japanese Nivea Water Gel, which I buy at oo35mm. I never thought I would say as a professional that Japanese Nivea Sunscreen is the best, but it is. It has a whisper of alcohol in it which sounds bad, but that makes it a great primer because it dries down to nothing. And don’t get me started on the German Nivea. If I could only use one product forever, it would be that one. People get obsessed with what moisturizer they should be using, but moisturizer is to keep the hydration in your skin. There are lots of different ones that have all these active ingredients, but honestly, just use Nivea. To me that and La Mer are one and the same.

At night I have a little bit more fun. I keep my son in his stroller and I wash my face as soon as I get home. If I don’t do it, I’m not going to do it. To me, cleanser is cleanser. The main goal is just to get my face clean, so I don’t use anything with crazy actives in it. I’ll either use Milky Jelly, or the Is Clinical Cleansing Complex, or the Dr. Jart Micro Foam. I’ll wash my face, rinse it off, and wash it with the same thing again. I really like to use baby burp cloths for gentle exfoliation. They’re muslin, they’re layered, they’ve got a little texture to them… I’ll use one of those instead of a washcloth, because I think washcloths are too aggressive. If someone comes to me and has just decimated their acid mantle, I’ll tell them to use burp cloths as daily exfoliation so they don’t feel like they’re doing nothing. A couple times a week I use the Dennis Gross peel pads, and if I had a dollar for every one I recommended before we started stocking them... My dad uses them. My husband uses them. I recommend them to everyone because I truly believe in that brand. Then I’ll mess around with the fun stuff. On days I don’t use the pads I really love Is Clinical’s Active Serum. Salicylic acid isn’t just for oily skin—it’s actually really good for anti-aging because it’s anti-inflammatory. I love the floral Circumference toner. I really like the Alastin eye cream. And the other thing I do is a month on retinol, a month off. Skinbetter has a product called Alpharet, which is retinol mixed with an AHA. The AHA actually stops you from flaking, and it doesn’t give me the irritation I get from most retinols. But I always finish with Supernal. I love that oil—it’s special. Melissa [Medvedich, Supernal founder] really hit the nail on the head. I apply a dime sized amount and pat it all over, and then no moisturizer. Oil keeps everything in—you want to add that hydration in first, then your occlusive. That kind of layering is what people should learn about.

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I started doing Botox when I was 30. I have the driest skin ever, so of course I come to 30 and have a lot of fine lines. The first time I did it I went to a guy, and he put so much in my face that I looked like a wax figure. I wanted to try it again, but with a lady—I thought maybe a woman would be less heavy-handed. I went to Lynne because she had great Yelp reviews, and then I followed her to Center Aesthetic Dermatology. I probably do it every six months now, and a little filler here and there. I haven’t had any filler for a while because I was really swollen after being pregnant, and I still feel swollen. Once that’s gone I’ll start working the fillers a bit more. People in New York are so weird about this stuff. I have people come into my studio all the time and say they haven’t had any Botox or filler, and I know they have. The thing is, it’s really important to tell providers the truth—if you’ve had Botox two days before, and I’m giving you a really intense lymphatic facial massage, I could move that around, you know? Filler especially! You have to be really careful. I always wait two weeks after filler before I have a facial.

I have people come into my studio all the time and say they haven’t had any Botox or filler, and I know they have.

I used to be a total goth, and would do a really fierce wing with no eyebrows. Now, I don’t know! I don’t really use foundation, though I do always use a little Dr. Jart BB Cream for another layer of protection and a little bit of warmth. I use the Nars Orgasm stick, which I’ve used forever, and I’ll use Futuredew as a highlighter over my blush. I literally will use any mascara—at the minute it’s some Maybelline one. I really want to get my brows microbladed. I get them threaded by a little old lady on 23rd Street, and she does a great job, but I want them to be a little bit more zhuzh-y. I have wanted to go to Laurel for my brows for so long, they’re amazing. Jas Imani is really great, too. She does a brow lift, and it’s like they’re lacquered on.

My mom was a hairdresser, and she used to mess with my hair so much when I was little—she gave me a perm when I was nine—that I was always really nervous about hair stylists. My hair was down to my shoulder blades, black, and box-dyed for maybe 15 years. But I went to see Christine McMillen, who I met through an old roommate, when I wanted to lighten my hair. She started lifting the black out and got me to Biolage blonde for my wedding without all my hair falling out. Then, after the wedding, I chopped it all off. I would have it even shorter if my husband would like it. People always think short hair is low maintenance, and in some ways it is, especially now that I have an eight-month-old son who pulls on everything. But it’s a commitment. I go every six or seven weeks for color, and get it cut at the same time to keep it shaped. At home I use most of the Olaplex line, 1 through 6, and then this protein spray from a cool Australian brand Evo. Kristin Ess has a wheat-colored gloss, and I use that sometimes, though I actually like my hair looking a little bit more yellow. If it’s looking like banana yellow I’ll use a purple wash. Clairol, the cheap one, is the best.

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I am a huge fake tanner. I love Soleil Toujours—they have a body cream that I love, and this really fab tanning serum that I put in my moisturizer sometimes. Vita Liberata has a mousse that supposedly lasts three weeks. I don’t think it does, but it’s an amazing fake tan because it doesn’t look orange. For a spray tan, Sugared and Bronzed is really good, but my favorite is kind of a New York secret. It’s Future Tan in Times Square. They have all the machines—there’s this one where you step in, it checks your weight and kind of does a body scan, and then it sprays you in different areas. I like a good, old-fashioned Mystic Tan, too. When I lived in Ohio we’d buy a pack of spray tans for $10 and go every week. I became sort of a pro at it, but my mom went with me once, and she didn’t realize that you’re supposed to stand in a specific spot. She stood really close to the sprayer and it blew her belly button ring out! [Laughs] It’s one of my favorite stories.

I’m really old-fashioned and use bar soap for my body. People buy me all different ones when they travel because they think it’s hilarious. I love a dry brush—I’ll just get a cheap one from Duane Reade. And Amlactin will make you really smooth, even though it smells disgusting and is not cheap at all. I’m on my second tub of Mutha’s body butter—I like the oil, but the body butter is it. Shiffa, which is this brand from Dubai that’s everywhere now, has an incredible pregnancy body oil. They also have a rose body balm that smells like you literally dipped yourself in a pot of rose oil. Throughout my pregnancy I used so much oil that I looked like a dolphin, but I didn’t get any stretch marks—I’m convinced it was the oiling.

Thea from Session gym in Williamsburg worked out with me throughout my pregnancy, and I still see her. And when I worked in the medspa, I did some major mommy makeover stuff that totally changed my body. Coolsculpting took inches off of me. I used Emsculpt, which is a muscle-building machine that totally knit back my diastasis recti, and then I used this new device, Emtone, which is a cellulite device. I hated being pregnant. I’m a let’s go kind of person, and slowing down was really hard for me. I did a whole day of facials the day I went into labor, and it was hot, it was July, and we had a dinner planned at Kiki’s. I was eating grilled meats and it was just so hot, and when I got home I was like, ‘I’m going to explode,’ I was so full. I took a shower, went to bed, and woke up an hour later thinking I’d peed myself. I had the baby the next day. It was crazy.

Throughout my pregnancy I used so much oil that I looked like a dolphin, but I didn’t get any stretch marks.

I can’t put nail polish on. I just don’t like it when I go for a facial and someone has nail polish on—I think it’s really gross. I want to see that your nails are super, super clean, and I don’t want the free edge at all. You know what I did buy for my nails though? A wax bath. I do seven facials a day, and my hands were getting really messed up. Every day when I finish at the studio, I’ll rub tons of hand cream on and dip my hands in a paraffin bath, and that kind of saves them. My favorite hand cream is the almond Santa Maria Novella one. You just need a tiny bit, and it’s really a treat.

I can’t really wear fragrance anymore, either. If someone hates a scent they’re never going to come back to me, which is so sad because I love fragrance. I’m wearing Margiela Beach Walk now, but I also really love heavier perfumes like Dior Addict. I was totally on the Santal thing a few years ago, until my friend said that Santal was the CK One of Williamsburg. It’s so true! The Nue Co. makes a play on Santal, but it’s not Santal, that I still really love. And I gave the Santal to my mom who lives in Wales, where nobody knows what it is and all her friends are obsessed. My mom always used to bring me deodorant from the UK because I was convinced everything American didn’t work for me. I’m sorry, I can’t not use hardcore deodorant. I smell like a bum when I don’t. And there are so many studies that show that it’s not actually bad.

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I do like to burn candles in my studio. I put the Boy Smells candles in my studio a lot, and the Catbird candles are really nice, too. Of course Diptyque—everyone loves Diptyque. But the Henri Bendel candles were the best candles ever. The fig? The vanilla one? Ugh. Amazing. This Seda France Japanese Quince candle that I have now is like a Henri Bendel dupe that I found online. It’s really cheap, like $40 for a huge three-wick candle. Everyone’s embarrassed to say it, but you can put on the record that I had a love affair with Henri Bendel candles. I miss them.”

—as told to ITG

Sofie Pavitt photographed by Alexandra Genova in New York on February 28, 2020.