The Rush – A Cautionary Tale about a “Free” Department Store Facial

Who wouldn’t love a free facial at Neiman Marcus with well-regarded Kate Somerville products?  You might want to think twice about it, depending on what you expect.

What I imagined:  In the newly-renovated Neiman’s beauty department at the Beverly Hills location, I thought I’d be in a quiet back room where an aesthetician would apply Kate Somerville products for my skin type on me.  Afterward, there would be a sales pitch on what was used.  I’d either buy something or not, but would experience a few of the latest Kate offerings on my face and neck.  Then I’d assess how they worked on my skin later that day (I believe in skin care marination) and do a write-up for you on the efficacy of the products.

What actually happened:  I headed down the escalator to the beauty department and saw some kind of demo going on, front and center.  I check in for my appointment at the Kate counter and, instead of being led to a serene back room, I was taken to that demo area.  Now I was on display to anyone going down that escalator to the noisy, busy beauty department where a big Neiman’s gift-with-purchase was going on.  So much for a relaxing facial.

I was told that Kate Somerville herself would be at the event, but I never saw her in the hour-plus time I was there.  No biggie for me, but others might have been disappointed.

There were three aestheticians in the cramped demo area, high chairs for those of us getting facials and a center table loaded with Somerville products.  The nice aesthetician who worked on me said I’d be getting a “Red Carpet” facial that Ms. Somerville offers at her Los Angeles spa.

The first few steps of the facial were double-cleansing my skin and removing the products with toner (my neck was never touched).  Underneath the table was an oxygen machine.  The oxygen blasts up a tube, mixes with serum in an airbrush chamber and is sprayed onto the face.  This results in revved-up blood circulation along with many other skin-benefiting claims.

The close nozzle-to-skin oxygen treatment felt like tiny, prickly zaps, which was not pleasant to feel, but was nothing harsh.  Right after the oxygen was infused onto one side of my face, I was given a mirror.  The side-by-side comparison was pretty remarkable – I did look much younger and fresher, especially around my eyes.  But was the oxygen responsible for this magical transformation or was it the serum?  I wondered if any serum would produce the same results with such hardcore beauty machinery.

After the oxygen treatment, product after product was manually layered onto my skin.  The aesthetician gave a quick, scripted highlight of each oil, serum and cream, which I wrote down (I write without looking at the page).  I wasn’t given the mirror to see what was happening in between these steps, which would have helped.  I’m a big fan of how the French and Koreans approach skin care, meaning I like layering products at home, as long as they get the proper time to sink in to the skin before moving on to the next one.  But this facial felt like a pile-on of products which, when I felt it, left a tacky quality to my skin.

What blew my mind was, without being asked, the Somerville CC cream and eye concealer were used on my face.  After all of this product application which should have showcased the Somerville hydrating ability, color was added and the post-treatment skin could not be seen.  I didn’t mind the brightening concealer, which worked well, but the CC cream felt heavy on my face.

I wondered if the CC cream was used because my face might turn blotchy from the facial or if it was just a way to sell yet another product.  Either way, neither of the two CC cream colors used on me were a good match for my skin color.  That didn’t stop the aesthetician from trying to convince me to get both of the tubes – one for winter (I looked funereal in it) and the darker shade for summer.  I don’t use makeup that way and nixed the idea, especially since I really like my Amore Pacific CC Cushion Compact so much.

After the facial, the hard sell began with what products I should purchase.  That’s when the “nice aesthetician” became as high-pressured as her oxygen machine and just as impersonal.  After I rejected buying all of the products used on me (over $1,500 before taxes), bottles were re-arranged in smaller groupings.  I rejected them, too.  She pushed the ExfoliKate product as being “a must”, even though I told her at the beginning that I was very happy with the exfoliator I was presently using.  Knowing I was wow-ed by the oxygen treatment, she told me that the fizzy DermalQuench Liquid Lift that she used on me was the way to prolong my more youthful appearance.  That sounded good to me.

Kate Somerville® 'DermalQuench Liquid Lift™' Advanced Wrinkle ...

When I said I liked the IllumiKate Concealing Eye Cream she used on me, I was physically hustled to the counter where the two products were quickly pulled for me.  Of course, the large size of the DermalQuench was pushed for purchase.  Oddly, what I was really interested in – and said so – was Kate’s sunscreen, but I wasn’t shown what the brand offered.  Then, the aesthetician looked for the Kate counter guy who booked the facial so he would get the sale.

While women were lined up around the counter getting two different GWP’s each from a cluster of Kate reps, I had a second to think.  I saw myself returning the products, which I always do after a pushy sales job when I’m too tired to say, “no” and walk away.  I waited another minute or two, didn’t see the aesthetician or the Kate beauty rep, so I placed the products on the counter and left.

About four-to-five hours later, it took some major cleansing for me to get all of the products off my skin.  After cleansing, I had to use several cosmetic facial pads, a few dousings of thermal water and plenty of toner to get off the residual products.  I had showered just before my appointment and went to the facial without any product on my skin, so it wasn’t that my skin wasn’t clean to begin with.  Perhaps the oxygen lifted out deeply-embedded impurities in my skin or the layers of liquid sucked in more city dirt than usual.  If it was the former, then a warning about this happening should have been disclosed to me.  If it was the latter, this proved that all of these products used together are not for me.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m glad I got to experience the “Red Carpet” Oxygen Treatment given to stars for big events like the Oscars.  The day after the treatment, my marionette lines were less noticeable, but I believe that it was due to the oxygen infusion, not the products.  This is not to say that Kate’s products aren’t good.  Years ago, I used a few of them until they were finished and liked them.  Her EradiKate (for spot treatment of pimples) is always on my shelf for when I have a break-out.

Perhaps I will go back and try the Dermalquench and under eye concealer again to see if they work on my non-oxygenated face.  I always want what’s best for my skin and will purchase it, within financial reason.  But all of us beauty consumers must understand what we’re buying and determine what’s right for us, not what’s right for the sales goals of a beauty counter.

Caveat Emptor:  If you decide to get a free facial at a department store:

1)  Ask the beauty specialist booking the appointment where the facial will take place.

2)  Ask how long the facial will be and what kind of facial you’ll be getting.

3)  Ask what products will be used on you.

4)  Tell the booker what allergies or conditions you have.

5)  Make sure the aesthetician knows what allergies and conditions you have right before your facial.

6)  Be prepared to be sold products.

7)  Be firm about what you want/don’t want to purchase.

8)  Ask if there is anything to expect after the treatment either that night or days later, like possible break-outs.

9)  If you believe as I do that experiencing a few new products is better than getting a dozen of them piled onto your face, tell the aesthetician.

10)  Have a mirror handy after each product is applied to see what’s happening to your skin.

11)  Make sure your hands are clean so you can feel products after they are applied to your face.

12)  Request that the products also be used on your neck.

13)  Wear clothes that you can easily wash, in case some product accidentally lands on them.

14)  Wear sunscreen, but try to keep your face bare before your appointment so the aesthetician can work with a clean canvas.

I’ll be getting a mini-facial tomorrow at Barney’s with Ren products.  You can bet I’ll be better prepared for this skin care session.

JUDGE BEAUTY VERDICT on this facial experience:  2 out of 5 gavels.

2 thoughts on “The Rush – A Cautionary Tale about a “Free” Department Store Facial

  1. Wow, what a poor experience compared to your expectations. I’ve had free facials (Shiseido, Clarins) and they were always in proper spa rooms away from the selling floor. And I can’t believe they slapped on makeup on you immediately after the treatments! I never had the hard sell after these free facials either, which actually prompted me to buy MORE, if anything. Good for you for thinking through before you committed to purchasing the items. Your story is a cautionary tale of how NOT to run a free facial event! tsk tsk Kate Somerville.


    • Thanks for sharing about your much-more positive experiences with free facials. Glad to know they still exist! Yes, applying makeup right after the facial was nuts. They should have rubbed in some hand cream if selling more products was so important to them so the facial wasn’t compromised. Neiman’s just moved their beauty department to a different floor and there’s probably lots of pressure to pay for that remodeling. But they should realize that any beauty brand wins the battle when they get a big, quick sale due to pressure, but loses the war if the customer figures out that sales means more than the customer’s real needs. I appreciate your comments (tsk-tsk indeed!).

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