Skin Wellness

On a recent Saturday morning, I parked along busy and unattractive Water Street, in Santa Cruz, and entered, for the first time, the lovely oasis of beauty and relaxation known as Serene Skin & Body ( I visited the full service day spa in search of some all-natural pampering and the chance to unwind after a hectic work week. What I found, however, was much more significant.  

Enter Angela Peck, the skincare maestro who conducted my 90-minute Organic Rejuvenating Facial ($110). With a background in Chinese medicine and an inspiring commitment to overall health, Peck is not your average esthetician—in her words, she's a "wellness esthetician." Her facials meld massage, hot stones, organic products and light accupressure. But the key to her treatments—and the piece that has all of her clients coming back for more—is called Manual Lymphatic Drainage, or MLD. 

Like a light-touch massage (but somehow even more relaxing than deeper massages), MLD stimulates the lymph system, causing lymphatic fluids to flow. It's important that these fluids are pumping through our systems (they carry out the important task of flushing out our cellular waste), but in our go-go-go world, most people have blockages that prevent a healthy lymphatic flow. MLD gets the system up and running, allowing cells to receive the oxygen and nutrients they need. 

"If your lymphatic system is blocked, as is the case for many people, your skin cannot regenerate itself as it should," Peck writes on her website, "This results in dull, tired-looking skin." 

She reports seeing clinical results for everything from acne and blackheads to eczema through regular MLD treatments. With a functioning lymph system, "your skin can function at its prime level," she writes. "Vital nutrients can more readily reach your skin cells, resulting in a dewier, healthier complexion and effectively producing new, younger-looking skin cells more rapidly." 

Her belief that beautiful skin is a matter of inner wellness rang true to my holistic ears. Like me, she believes that skincare products should aid, not interfere, with total wellness. But Peck is the first to admit that all-natural products aren't always up to the task. Recently, after more than a dozen years as an esthetician, she says she was ready to give up on the notion of natural skin products altogether. She just wasn't seeing the results. But her tedious research proved fruitful, after all, when she came across the Marin, Calif.-based line Sequoia Beauty, which she now swears by.  We've all heard of the "farm-to-table" movement; Sequoia Beauty is "farm-to-face." Local, organic, live, food-grade, non-GMO ingredients. (The Honey Berry Enzyme Mask was particularly divine.) With a free-flowing lymph system, the products she uses can restore much-needed minerals and nutrients to the skin.

My treatment with Peck was a light bulb moment in my eco-beauty journey. I already knew that our outward appearance was intrinsically linked to our health (from what we eat to how much sleep we get, to how much stress we're under). But she connected the dots for me in a powerful way by illuminating the myriad benefits of MLD. For example, I learned that the tension I carry in my neck and shoulders is creating a blockage in my system that is contributing to the dark circles under my eyes. Being more attentive to my body and needs, plus some MLD and the application of some muscle-easing and circulation-improving Chinese herb serums, will fix that problem more quickly than any topical eye cream could alone. 

Peck recommends returning for weekly 30-minute sessions in order to see long-term results from MLD. It's not cheap, and I don't typically make room in my wee budget for things like this—but the treatment felt so good and worked so well, and I was so impressed with Peck's abilities and cutting-edge holistic approach, that I'm sure I'll make it work somehow. I can't wait to go back.