The world tends to be divided into two types of people: facial people and massage people. Until I really start freaking out about ageing, I sit firmly in the latter camp.
This is mainly because – like a lot of people – I have immediate physical grumbles with my back that a massage fixes and soothes almost instantly. With facials, I always feel slightly uncomfortable and bored at the predictability: cleanse, exfoliate, mask and moisturise.
What I’ve come to realise, after having The Best Facial Ever, is that I just haven’t had the right therapist or, if we’re being blunt, anyone who is good enough.
Facialist Su-Man Hsu has been sold to me as ‘the best I’ll ever have’, but as with most things - ex-boyfriends, chocolate, nights out - I expect this to be an over-sell. It isn’t.
I purposely don’t Google her beforehand – I want to be able to judge her on her work, not necessarily on how many famous clients she’s had (incidentally both Juliette Binoche and Freida Pinto rave about her).
Aside from private appointments, Su-Man works out of the W Hotel, and it’s worth braving the puffed-up, mildly aggressive doormen to get up to the sixth floor. The spa itself is tiny and white, and staff are friendly. I like that although it doesn’t have a relaxation area, people are lying on the large sofas in the reception area chatting – it gives an air of friendliness and a flow of movement rather than the usual monastic enclaves spas pretend to be.
Su-Man comes out to meet me, and she’s a little ball of energy. While I sit down in the room, she starts probing my skin with a small device that’s attached to a laptop. This, she says, tells her all she needs to know about my skin.
She picks up on the damage microdermabrasion did to my skin nearly eight years ago, and notices the areas that are really dry.
Then the facial begins. Only it doesn’t begin with the usual cleanse but something utterly wonderful – a head massage and rubbing of my ears. What this does is to completely loosen the energy from my head downwards – and if you’ve had a massage after a long day at work, you’ll know what I mean. It completely prepares me for any work being done on my face, and I wonder why more facialists don’t do this.
We begin with a cleanse aided by a gentle nozzle of steam and exfoliation, but it’s unlike any technique I’ve encountered before. Su-Man’s technique has been described as ‘pilates for the face’ and I can see why. Her hands are both everywhere yet focused, and a particular favourite of mine is when she butterflies her hands under my chin.
As an ex-dancer and Shiatsu practitioner, a lot of her technique is around intuition, she says. “That’s why my technique is so hard to teach.”
While some cynics may scoff, it sums up her technique perfectly – she knows exactly which areas to hit and which to be gentle on. In between cleansing and exfoliation, lavender-scented hot towels are wrapped over my face – the aroma is heavenly.
After the annihilation of some very persistent blackheads, on comes the mask, and I prepare myself to be bored stiff for 10 minutes. But I’m wrong.
While the mask is on (again, I don’t know why more therapists don’t do this), Su-Man attends to my feet, cleaning them with a hot towel. She then spends the next few minutes massaging my feet thoroughly – I feel that same release of energy and more than that: it's just a very pleasant sensation.
Afterwards, she hands me the mirror and says: "Look, skin like a baby!" And she's right. It's ridiculously soft and above all, I feel completely relaxed - it's like she set a new benchmark.
All the products that Su-Man uses on my face can be bought in shops (apart from her massage oil which she (sadly) announces is not for sale. The exfoliant in particular is wonderful, and combined with the cleansing lotion leaves you with very soft skin. All of the ingredients too are ones she has come across on her travels and sound incredibly exotic from dragon's blood (a resin from the Amazon) to Ricesilk (a fine powder from China).
A facial with Su-Man at the Away spa is at the pricier end of the scale £200 - but for a special treat or a very, very special present to gift to someone, you cannot do better than her magic hands.