The moment Sofie Pavitt stepped into the room, the first thing I noticed was her clear, radiant skin that put everyone’s complexion in the dreary New York weather to shame. In an instant Carrie Bradshaw-like thought process, I couldn’t help but wonder: could it be the magic of the “pregnancy glow,” the gleam of someone who really has it all together, or just someone who knows how to take care of their skin on a professional-grade level?
All of the above.
Pavitt is the unicorn of estheticians. Previously working within the world of fashion as part of the handbag design team for Michael Kors, she decided mid-career that she wanted to dive head-first into her love of skincare, full-time.
“I was in Korea about four or five times a year for work, so I’ve been to Seoul countless times,” Pavitt says. “By the end of it I was more excited to go for the skincare and treatments in the hotel than the actual bag production. I truly think that being part of the fashion industry helped lead me to the career that I really wanted to do, which is of course skincare.”
After three years in the making, she has proven herself a skincare sorcerer of sorts. But what truly makes her standout in the world of walking advertisements within the beauty world is her ingenuity. Neither a full devotee to either luxury or drugstore, or medical versus all-natural, Pavitt stays true to her advice and sticks to her guns. She touts sunscreen like a Biblical scripture for crystal-clear complexions—”It’s the best anti-aging preventative,” she warns—and says the nearly-blasphemous statement that could make a La Mer obssessive’s ears bleed: “I truly believe that spending $500 on a face cream is ridiculous.”
Basically, if you want the honest truth about skincare, you must visit Pavitt at her studio, or the Union Square-based med spa that she frequents twice a week, Center Aesthetic & Dermatology. But, if you don’t have the luxury to head to Manhattan on a whim, then don’t fret. Below, we talk to Pavitt on just about everything (seriously, everything) that has to do with modern skincare.
You’re about a “less is more” approach to skincare. What are some of the essentials that you think everyone should use?
“Everyone kind of rolls their eyes at me when I say this, but sunscreen. It’s so important, and I have so many clients that come in and don’t use it or think that using it within a moisturizer or foundation is enough. But that’s not true, you should be using a broad spectrum SPF-based sunscreen every single day, whether it’s beautiful out or if it’s cloudy and raining. If you can see your hand in front of you, you should be using it. It’s the best anti-aging preventative, since UV attacks collagen. It’s not just about preventing skin cancer—yes, skin cancer is scary and really important to keep an eye on, but it’s really about preventing collagen loss. There is a lot of education on these issues, but no one reads it.
A lot of the time, I have acne patients coming in and they’re saying that they have all of these marks and they don’t know how to get rid of them. Many times it’s because they’re not using a sunscreen. Breakouts tend to react very badly with UV, so it’s not actually the breakout that’s causing the mark, but the inflammation from the skin reacting to UV and pigment cells within the skin. The easiest way to prevent pigment marks from breakouts and acne situations is to apply sunscreen, because you’re protecting the skin from that UV. It’s the inflammation that disrupts those pigment cells, and that’s how you end up getting the mark. And they’re a nightmare to get rid of.”
So how do you get rid of those dark spots?
“I would say sunscreen and vitamin C. It can really help lift pigment and brighten a dull complexion. Use a brightening vitamin C, but always use it in the morning. I like to use it in the morning, and then put sunscreen on top of it, since vitamin C is quite active and irritating if you use it in your hefty night routine. If you have a lengthy night routine, vitamin C can disrupt it because it’s so powerful. As long as you’re using a sunscreen after applying vitamin C, it’s going to help you. A lot of my clients will use an exfoliator twice a week, or a salicylic acid if they’re really oily, so you’re using those actives in the evening are actually more beneficial because your skin is at rest and you’re not in pollutants all day. You’re asleep and you’re letting your skin rebuild itself in the evening. Using the vitamin C in the morning is important because if you combine it with the rest of your actives at night, they start to separate and work against each other. They’re like frenemies or coworkers that hate each other—they’re doing the same job, but they can’t be friends.
Splitting up actives is really important, and not many people know how to do it well. Let’s take AHAs, for example: AHAs and retinols, for any kind of exfoliation, are great. But as soon as you start putting too many on, it just starts counteracting itself. A lot of acne lines are tailored to contain all of these actives in a cleanser, toner, moisturizer, and so on, and people will load up on them. Their skin becomes irritated because they’re using all of these actives at once, and their skin becomes flaky and dehydrated. It’s like a vicious circle: a breakout starts because of the oil that’s being stripped down to nothing, and the barrier is gone on the skin. It’s cyclical because of the product overload we tend to put our skin through. It’s really hard to tell people to stop using products, because beauty is such a huge industry. People want to sell products, so it’s hard to tell people to hold back on it. Even different water types will affect your skin. I only use four products.”
I just got a high frequency treatment, it was amazing but I still don’t understand exactly what it is. How does it work?
“High frequency is such an amazing machine. It’s been around forever, since the 60’s I believe. Not many people use it very much. We use it in our Deep Clean Facial, and essentially it’s a tube of gas. When you run an electrical current through it, it creates a negative charge that kills all of the bacteria on your skin. It can help with circulation, blood flow, and it helps tighten pores and give your skin a great glow. But the best thing about it is that it kills all of the bacteria, so if there’s any p. acnes bacteria—the bacteria that causes acne and breakouts—it will be diminished from the high frequency. And when you smell it, it smells like thunderstorms, but in a good way. That’s the negative charge, because it’s the same as thunder.”
How often should people get facial treatments, anyways?
“I’m actually in a really cool position because I own my own spa, and I work very holistically there. If you’ve got a really bad breakout situation going on, I recommend coming in every four to six weeks for a really good, deep clean. We’ll get it to base-level, and then it’s all about working in your own routine while you wait for your next treatment to improve your skin. I also work in a med spa called Center Aesthetic in Union Square as a medical esthetician. It’s owned by Lynn Wojton, she’s amazing and a master injector. She treats people from a more intense, injectable lens, but I work on less intensive treatments like HydroFacials, Clear & Brilliant Laser, Laser Genesis, Chemical Peel, EmSculpt, and CoolSculpting. So if a client ever wants something more intense, I can treat them there also. But for the most part, I think everyone can benefit from getting a facial. I spend more money on treatments rather than products, because I keep my product routine very basic. I think people should switch from being product-focused to investing more on their treatments if they want to have results from their skincare. Going for a facial every few months, even if you have amazing skin, is so beneficial. You’re not going to get the extractions or the deep cleanse you want and need by doing it at home, a studio or spa can provide that for you.
The crazy thing about the beauty industry is that you’re constantly being told that everyone needs a certain product to have perfect skin. It’s not true at all, some people don’t respond well to ingredients like salicylic acid, or even hyaluronic acid. It’s my job as an esthetician to really look at your skin and see what will work best for you as an individual. Some people have extremely dry skin, whereas others are trying to deal with breakouts, it’s just a matter of how we get these issues under control and figure out the best at-home routine for you.”
Using all-natural products has become such a huge trend. Do you prefer holistic treatments, medical, or both?
“The one problem with all-natural beauty is that many of the products are not stable, so I always tell people to be careful with those kinds of products. The shelf life is so different than the rest of the products that you find at your local drugstore. Sometimes those preservatives are there for a reason; they stabilize the product, keep it safe, and it’s been rigorously medically tested to make sure that it’s approved for human use. Natural beauty can be on the other side, it’s a bit touch-and-go. I see a lot of people getting more reactions to natural beauty in comparison to something that they would get at Duane Reade. It doesn’t necessarily mean that one is better than the other, it just means that you have to be really careful with the shelf life. Always keep natural products in the fridge so they can last longer and will be safer for your skin. Even though it feels like it should be better for you, sometimes it’s not. Natural products are very strong, so you have to be careful with them. I remember when I was in a natural beauty class for school, we put a pure pineapple mask on. It was meant to show how pure mashed pineapple can give your skin a great exfoliation treatment through its heavy concentration of bromelain—which is an active chemical—and it chemically burned my skin. My face was so irritated solely from pineapple, and it’s because of its heavy concentration of enzymes. The lesson learned here is that you have to be really careful about whatever you put on your face, regardless if it’s natural or not, and make sure that it’s right for you. But it’s really difficult to do nowadays, because everyone is trying to sell you something now.”
There’s also a huge debate between drugstore and luxury. Does the price really matter?
“While there are definitely a few luxury products that I love, and there are classic things that have stuck around for their amazing benefits, you also have to take a variety of things into consideration: packaging, storytelling, and marketing. I truly believe that spending $500 on a face cream is ridiculous, and at that point you might as well get a Clear & Brilliant facial treatment for that price and then putting on Aquaphor after your session. It depends on what your budget is, and there’s no shame in using drugstore brands and then using something fancy every once in a while. It’s like fashion, you don’t have to have all designer stuff, you can easily pick and choose from a few affordable options and then something a little more pricier to treat yourself. I truly believe that it’s all storytelling, and once that cloud is erased through educating yourself on ingredients you will understand what actually works for your skin regardless of its price tag. People should focus their shopping through ingredients rather than wanting to try the next hot thing on the market. Instead of looking at a brand, look at the ingredients that you think would be right for your skin. Hyaluronic acid is a perfect example, it’s so great and retains ridiculous amounts of water by binding to it and holding it close to your skin. So, this ingredient would be extremely beneficial for someone who has extremely dry or dehydrated skin, or wants some moisture in their skin without feeling oily or greasy. So many products have hyaluronic acid in them, and you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get it. Just do your research, I can’t express that enough.
Also, the texture of a product can be just as effective, no matter its price. La Mer’s famous moisturizer is a cold cream, and that type of cream can benefit dry skin types in so many ways. A little bit of it goes a long way, and of course La Mer is lovely and it’s really good, but if you’re looking for a true cold cream and your budget is a little tight, you can opt for some good ol’ Nivea. It’s the same texture, and it’s going to have a similar effect on your skin for a fraction of the price.”
What is the one lesson you’ve learned about skincare from the beginning of your career to now?
“Everyone is different and one piece of advice for skin can’t apply to everyone. The only advice I would tell everyone to follow is to wear sunscreen. Everything else is different for everyone, which is what makes skincare so amazing yet very challenging. Every single person that comes in has a different situation going on, and that’s really important to me. I talk through all of my facials, so my clients can learn about their skin type and all of the things that affect your skin: where you work, the type of products you’re using, what you’re doing on a regular basis. These are all huge factors in your skin’s behavior. Talking to people while they’re having their facial and getting to know your client is so important, that way you can trace back to what’s causing breakouts, dryness, or other concerns. You can even tell if someone is right or left handed by looking at their skin. A lot of the time, one side of the nose is dirtier than the other and that’s because the dominant hand is washing your face harder on one side in comparison to the other. If you use your cell phone or sleep on one side of your face, that could also cause some blemishes. You don’t really talk about those things in a quiet ceremonial facial, and that’s why I like dialogue.”
There’s a new trend called “skin fasting” where you don’t use anything at all. Do you recommend that, or would you advise people against it?
“Yes and no. I think giving your skin a break from things is great, but I would also be nervous to tell people to stop wearing sunscreen, or moisturizer if they feel really dry. The problem is that once that barrier of your skin is degenerating from dryness, then it’s really strenuous to build it back up on its own. And you always have to protect the skin with sunscreen, there’s just no going around that. But I’ll take a month off of exfoliation here and there, and I only wash my face with a really gentle cleanser in the evening. In practice, skin fasting sounds good, but I wouldn’t go cold turkey. Unless you’re staying indoors for the rest of your life, you should never ditch sunscreen, though.”
Also, congratulations on your pregnancy! Do you have any skin care tips for any other upcoming mothers?
“There are a lot of things you have to avoid when you’re pregnant, which can get very annoying. Retinol is an absolute no, it can change DNA response so you have to be really careful. No Accutane either. You should also avoid salicylic acid, and that’s because that acid actually penetrates the pores. It’s a penetrating ingredient, so you shouldn’t use it while pregnant. You can use AHAs as an exfoliant, and I always tell pregnant women to keep exfoliating to keep their skin smooth. But your skin also becomes much more sensitive during pregnancy, so you have to be careful. Yet again, sunscreen is gigantically important for pregnant people. Melasma and pigment is so hyper-responsive because of hormones during pregnancy, which is why you see so many people with really dark spots around their forehead. It’s called the ‘mask’ of pregnancy, and it’s basically pigmentation. You can also get it around your nipples, just about anywhere. It’s just hormones reacting with pigment.
Moisturizing is also so, so important. I cover myself in moisturizer everyday to help avoid stretch marks. I generously moisturize from my butt to my bump everyday, twice per day. In the morning I’ll use a cream, and at night I’ll use a hydrating oil. I will literally cover myself in oil, I’m like a greasy little dolphin by the time I get into bed. But if stretch marks happen, then they happen, and there are things we can do afterwards to help. Any kind of pigment can be treated with a laser, and microneedling can help with stretch marks since it aids in building up collagen. But other than that, that’s all you really need. Just moisturize and protect yourself from the sun.”
Another issue many people have is body acne. Do you have any tips to help with that?
“There are two tips for bacne that I have: first off, there are ‘bacne facials’ that you can get, which are extractions for the back. Also, there’s one thing that people really do wrong with their back: washing your body in the shower when your shampoo or conditioner is on your head, then rinsing off your hair product and getting out of the shower. That conditioner is so rich, so when you’re rinsing it off it goes down your back and deposits into your skin, which can cause breakouts. So, always wash and condition your hair first, then your body, so you get all the residue off and your back is fully cleansed.
Another tip I have is, if you notice breakouts on your back, to just use a salicylic acne wash. You don’t need a fancy body wash, you can just a regular drugstore facial wash and put it on your back. Instead of buying an additional product, you can just use whatever salicylic acid wash you have, exfoliate, and then use a body lotion with an AHA in it. AmLactin is really good from the drugstore. Using a product with 20% AHA is also great to give the skin on your body a deep exfoliation. It’s a little too strong for your face, but it’s great for clearing breakouts and those small bumps on your upper arms and elbows. If you want to smooth everything out by the summer, that’s great to use.”
What is your skincare routine?
“People laugh at how simple my skincare routine is, because it’s barely anything. Where I invest my time and my money is treatments, and I do a professional-grade peel every six to eight weeks, which is just an AHA buffer peel. Nothing so intense that it will cause shedding or flaking off, but just a really deep exfoliation, which can be done through any facial. Every couple of months I’ll do a microneedling treatment, or a laser treatment. I like to change it up, sometimes I’ll even do a microneedling or a Clear & Brilliant Laser, which is really great for encouraging collagen growth, resurfacing, and brightening skin. Those are the kind of things that I spend my money on, and I’ll do a bit of Botox or filler every now and then, but nothing intense. I work for the best injector in New York, so I’m lucky that I have such great access to someone I trust.
On a day-to-day basis, I don’t wash my face in the morning. I use a really gentle, non-alcoholic, non-drying toner in place of a cleanser in the AM. I love the one from Circumference, it’s a really nice floral toner that balances your skin’s pH levels. Then I follow up with vitamin C; I really like the Mad Hippie Vitamin C and the one from Circumference. I have two sunscreens that I love and I chop and change out of: the Supergoop! Everyday SPF 50, which feels like a moisturizer, and one from Nivea that’s pretty hard to find because it’s imported from Japan. It’s great for people who are oilier, because it has a touch of alcohol in it so it dries out very quickly. It’s a great base for makeup. And in the evening, I’ll wash my face. I love the Dr. Jart+ line, I’m currently using their Dermaclear Micro Foam Cleanser and I love it. It’s extremely gentle, and very nice on skin. But I also use the Neutrogena one, I don’t care to spend too much money on a cleanser. Never spend an excessive amount of money on a cleanser, because you’re just washing it off of your face. You don’t need to spend $70 on an expensive cleanser, because it’s not even staying on your face for long.
But anyways… I use the Dr. Dennis Gross AHA Universal Daily Peel Pad twice per week. It’s super gentle, and I’ve worked my way up to an extra strength one now, but all of them are great for taking off the dead skin on your face. Sometimes I’ll chop it out and use a retinol instead, and I’ll just use good old fashioned retin-A from my dermatologist. I’ll use a pea-sized amount of a 0.01% prescription cream, but very rarely. I do that more in the winter to do some deep exfoliation, but for the summer the AHA pads are great.
As for my creams, I really just use whatever I have on-hand. I get sent a lot of creams and skincare products, so I’ll try whatever I have. If it’s moisturizing, it goes on my skin pretty smoothly because my skin is so dry. I really love this new facial oil by Supernal, it’s really awesome. It’s rich in a way that doesn’t feel greasy on the skin, and as a pregnant person I’ve been using it literally everyday on my skin and I haven’t gotten one breakout from it. It’s so good, I love it. I also really love this brand called Shiffa, it’s from Dubai. I love their Healing Balm, which is really rich, very moisturizing, and smells amazing. They also have a really good pregnancy oil, and their rose-based floral toner is really nice. Their body scrub is one of my favorites, too. It used to be very hard to come by, but now it’s everywhere in the U.S, which is great.”
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