A Workout for Your Face

Skin Gym can best be understood by combining the former professions of the three co-founders: esthetician, personal trainer, and massage therapist. It’s part massage, part workout for your face, part affordable luxury. As co-owner Rachel Lang put it, “The best things in your life lead to healthy, glowing skin.”

Skin Gym aims recreate the look and feel behind great sex or a second-trimester pregnancy with product-free services such as the eight dollar, five-minute-long “Skin Juice Booster” (short enough to get on your lunch break). My small black coffee next door cost three dollars, so what am I even doing with my life? Let’s all try everything once, including a face massage.

Here are two important facts about the Skin Gym pop-up shop I visited in Manhattan: You don’t have to change into gym clothes to go, and you will instantly feel at home there. No need for a nod to the front desk people like you work out all the time and know exactly where you’re going. You will feel like you have just walked into a rich person’s living room — but it’s aspirational, not annoying. Should I get pillows like this? you will wonder. Owners Lang and Kate Gyllenhaal (plus Heidi Frederick, who wasn’t there the day I visited) answered this and any other questions about the “face fitness” philosophy they’ve developed since starting the business last year.

My coworker Nic and I had the 15-minute “FitGlow” (although there’s now a “GuyGlow” 4 boyz only.) In the space of four YouTube videos, the traditional use of 15 minutes, we were massaged, pulled, trained, and strengthened until the technicians touched every pore on our faces. To be fair, the only massage that ever truly relaxed me was the one time I gave in to a $10 swindle at a nail place so you know I must have NEEDED IT. (I am an only child, don’t touch me, etc.) Yet this type of touching is immediately acceptable because it feels so right. Like gourmet pizza. 

Each treatment stars out boilerplate with three deep breaths. Then a trained esthetician will pull your hair, almost hard. Then you’re getting a back massage. Then your cheeks are being rubbed from lip to ear. Then it’s time for the face reps: eyebrow lifting and furrowing (surprisingly hard to do on command). The most impressive part of the entire routine is that it’s perfectly choreographed; you and your companion will furrow at the same moment, if that matters to you.

The Glow routines have been crafted to hit pressure points and get the stress out, but the real nerdy face stuff comes at the FaceFit Wall, a “circuit training class for the face.” Resistance bands against your chin help stop aging, more facial reps aid skin elasticity, and the whole shebang ends with a few blessed minutes in front of a light-therapy panel (they’re serious about that glow.) This is where the “Gym” comes in: Gyllenhaal cheers you on, but its clear her motivation has a trainer’s background. 

The ambiance and business model are currently crafted towards private events and drop-ins, but the three mothers are using personal experience to expand towards teens, with their acne and college application stress. I am not a teen, but I felt like one in their care. I have $30. I have 15 minutes. It’s cheaper, faster and more friendly than a real massage. You stay fully clothed and have any answer you want to the question, “Why are you glowing?” When you leave, you feel like you accomplished something. And you’re not even sweating.

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