Does your face need a high-tech four-day skin retreat?
We’ve all seen pictures of female A-listers on the red carpet. Glossy hair, gym-honed bodies and skin so smooth and glowing that you’d swear it was computer-generated.
I’ve never had glossy hair and gave up on achieving a perfect body long ago, but I always had nice skin.
Then menopause struck and my once peaches-and-cream complexion became more strawberry and custard. Today, no matter how much cream I slap on it, my skin is always horribly dehydrated and has also become super-sensitive in recent years.
Can I ever recapture that youthful glow? A new ‘skincare retreat’ thinks so. In March, the Glass House Retreat, in the Essex countryside, launched a four-night stay delivering bespoke skin treatments that they say will leave me with a red-carpet glow.
It’s basically a spa break that focuses on the face — guests stay in the ultra-modern wellness centre and enjoy facilities that include a gym, sauna, pool and countless fitness classes and therapies, and undergo daily skin treatments tailored just for them. So could a stay restore my glow?
Claudia Connell reviews the Glass House Retreat, in the Essex countryside – which is ‘basically a spa break that focuses on the face’
DAY ONE: MY WRINKLES GET SCORED
I ARRIVE to a welcome wheatgrass shot (to flush out toxins) and relax in the plush lounge area before having my consultation.
The Skin Analysis System is a high-tech machine now widely used in the beauty industry to assess skin on a deeper level. Using special imaging, it can detect skin problems within the epidermis (top layer of skin) and dermis (deeper layer).
With all my make-up removed and hair scraped back, I put my face into the scanner. My therapist, Zoe, warns me not to be too alarmed by the results. Great.
She starts with my pores, which score a lowly 36.5 per cent (the lower the score, the poorer the skin). The image that appears on screen makes me look as if I have a bad case of measles. My face is a mass of purple and red dots, the red ones indicating enlarged pores. They may look bad on screen but are invisible to the naked eye, so I’m not going to lose sleep over things nobody can see.
I get similarly poor results on scans that analyse skin texture, pigmentation, bacteria and UV damage. My lowest score of all, 31 per cent, is for my skin hydration levels, which comes as no great surprise.
Only my wrinkle score of 57.3 per cent bumps me up — and as far as I’m concerned, that’s the important one. I’ll take a low wrinkle count over enlarged pores any day.
Overall, I score 40 out of 100 and my skin age is given as 57, which is my actual age. From the images the scan was pumping out, I’d half expected it to age me as 103.
In March, the Glass House Retreat launched a four-night stay delivering bespoke skin treatments that they say will leave customers with a red-carpet glow
Claudia reviewed the experience, which saw her undergo a series of treatments that focus on the face
To finish, the scanner reveals a picture of the haggard old crone I might one day resemble if I don’t do something about my skin, followed by one depicting the impossibly smooth-faced beauty I might become if I do.
Which is where the Glass House Retreat comes in. Based on my scan results, Zoe devised a skin treatment plan.
First I’m sent for a session of whole-body cryotherapy. Favoured by athletes, cryotherapy is an extreme cold treatment said to help with injuries, reduce inflammation and relieve anxiety. When it comes to the skin, the increase in blood flow helps rejuvenate its appearance.
Looking somewhat bizarre in a swimming costume, Crocs and woolly gloves, I enter the first cryo chamber, where the temperature is minus 85c, for one minute. This is positively Mediterranean compared with the second chamber, where it’s minus 110c (about 30 degrees colder than the Antarctic!). I do three minutes, by which time my limbs have gone completely numb.
As a meat-eater, I was dreading the exclusively vegan menu but I needn’t have worried. My Mexican enchiladas are delicious and chef Miguel Gouveia may have even found an authentic-tasting vegan cheese.
I end my first day with a sound bath experience, which apparently can help to achieve a sense of deep relaxation and improve sleep. Lying on a yoga mat, I meditate while bathed in sound waves from a range of gongs, bowls and rattles that are played by therapist Dot. For the first time in decades, I’m in bed by 9pm and sleep for a solid ten hours.
DAY TWO: I’M PUT IN THE FREEZER AGAIN!
On waking, I notice the redness in my cheeks and around my nose has been reduced by the cryotherapy.
Every day at the Glass House Retreat starts with an optional one-hour guided walk in the countryside at 7.45am. So I don my wellies and hit the fields before a vegan breakfast of a green smoothie and avocado on toast with roasted tomatoes.
It’s delicious but I’m horrified to discover there is no caffeine. Alcohol-free I expected, but no coffee?! I usually start my day with two strong flat whites but all that’s on offer is herbal tea, which I hate.
After breakfast I have another cryotherapy session, building up to four minutes. I try a blast of turbo fan for the final minute, reducing the temperature to minus 140c, but I can tolerate it for just ten seconds.
I warm up with a yoga class before heading for a mindfulness session. When our bodies relax, the stress hormone cortisol reduces. High levels of cortisol can, over time, break down collagen in the skin — so mindfulness and meditation can keep us looking younger. Sadly, it doesn’t stop me thinking of coffee.
The retreat also featured things like yoga classes and mindfulness sessions – as when our bodies relax, the stress hormone cortisol reduces
The food consisted of an exclusively vegan menu, which Claudia praised and greatly enjoyed despite being a meat eater
Later it’s time for my first skin treatment — a bespoke facial with the aim of super-hydrating my parched face. In my experience, facials are just a therapist slapping on a cream, then wiping it off again over the course of an hour. But I’m prepared to be converted.
The treatment starts with a double cleanse. First, a plant stem cell deep clean to nourish and soothe; then one with a cleansing oil to help rebuild the skin barrier. A brightening exfoliating powder follows, before a mask containing wrinkle-fighting peptides and plant cells to moisturise is applied for 15 minutes.
After it is removed, a facial oil with a hyaluronic enhancer (for hydration) is massaged in. We finish with an eye cream, a lip oil and yet another layer of cream to lock in the moisture. If that lot doesn’t help my dry skin, nothing will.
My face looks slick with oil but as my only plan for the evening is to eat my vegan courgetti bolognese in a white robe, it doesn’t matter.
DAY THREE: I BRAVE A PEEL
After another sound sleep (if sleep really is anti-ageing, then I should look 14 by the end of this retreat), I wake up and gaze in the mirror.
My face looks glowing and is no longer flaking around the nose and chin. It’s a promising start.
If you don’t have £1,400 to spare . . .
The Glass House Retreat’s spa manager, Bethany Cable, offers her five best tips for glowing skin . . .
- Wearing an SPF every day is vital. The sun’s harmful rays can cause premature ageing, even on overcast days. A broad-spectrum SPF such as Image Skincare’s Prevention+ Daily Hydrating Moisturizer SPF30 (£49.58, amazon.co.uk) is ideal; doubling as your daily moisturiser to hydrate and protect your skin.
- Retinol really does everything; it reduces lines and wrinkles by increasing our cell turnover and stimulates our collagen and elastin production. Ideally, incorporate it once or twice a week in your routine.
- Exfoliate twice a week to remove dead skin cells and leave skin looking dewy. Follow with a serum containing vitamin C to even skin tone and give antioxidant protection.
- Hands off! Touching your face can spread dirt, oils and bacteria, which lead to clogged pores and breakouts.
- Don’t forget the skin on the rest of your body. Avoid drying soaps in the shower and opt for gentle body washes instead. Always nourish the skin afterwards with a dry oil such as Germaine de Capuccini Phytocare Firm & Tonic Oil (£53.55, thebeautiful.co.uk), which sinks in quickly while hydrating and firming the skin — and smells divine.
Post walk and vegan breakfast, I inspect the classes on offer (the retreat runs about seven a day including aerial yoga, box fit and circuits) but they all look rather energetic, so I do some meditation before my second skin treatment.
This time it’s an Image O2 Lift, also referred to as the ‘red carpet’ facial as it’s the one celebrities often turn to before a big event. Jennifer Lopez and Victoria Beckham are said to be fans.
If anything is going to transform me it’s this, as the oxygen should deliver a glow as well as some much-needed tightening. But it includes a peel and I can’t stop thinking about that scene in Sex And The City where Samantha has one which makes her skin start falling off in chunks.
Thankfully this peel, which contains fruit enzymes, is particularly gentle.
Next comes the oxygenated mask to purify, brighten and plump. We finish with a plant stem cell enhanced facial oil. Once again, I look thoroughly greasy but tell myself it’s for the greater good.
I’ve found myself loving the vegan food. This morning’s buckwheat pancakes are delicious and I’ve ordered handmade sushi for lunch.
But I can’t get the thought of coffee out of my mind, so after my facial I take myself off to the nearby Lakeside shopping centre for a flat white. It’s so heavenly, I instantly follow it up with another two. Perhaps I should feel guilty — but I don’t.
At dinner, some of the other guests tell me my skin is looking amazing. One is so convinced I must be wearing foundation, she makes me wipe a napkin over my cheeks to prove her wrong.
DAY FOUR: CRYSTAL CLEAR SKIN?
My final treatment is a Mesoboost facial, which I’m anxious about as I fear it will trigger my sensitive skin. Therapist Beth reassures me that, unlike micro-needling, it’s not invasive, using ‘electroporation transdermal microchip technology’ to deliver skincare deep into the dermis via a little gizmo that looks a bit like a shower head, filled with microcrystals. It sounds impressive but will it make a difference?
Over the course of an hour, a rejuvenating and lifting serum is stamped into my face and neck. It mostly feels like a gentle tapping, apart from on my jawline where it stings a little — but if it helps with the jowls, it’s a pain worth tolerating. When the stamping stops, a soothing cream is massaged in and I’m good to go. I expected my face to be red raw but it just looks flushed, as if I’d run for a bus.
DAY FIVE: BARE-FACED BEAUTY
I awake early next morning and race to look at my face in the bathroom mirror, hoping my skin isn’t hanging off. Instead, it looks dewy, youthful and refreshed. I’m so pleased, I don’t bother putting on any make-up for the journey home.
Five days on and my complexion still feels velvety smooth.
A four-night stay in a standard room, with all treatments included, is £1,410 — it’s not cheap to get your glow back. But, then again, I’ve paid £300 for a moisturiser that did nothing.
The facials I had would cost around £400 in a salon, but at the Glass House I’m also getting a luxury room, three meals a day and wellness centre treats.
The combination of bespoke treatments, good sleep, meditation and nutritious food have left my skin looking the best it has in years. And, should Brad Pitt need a plus one for his next premiere, I am very much red- carpet ready.