Meet Sophie Bel of Beyond Beauty Studio, A Damn Fine Facialist
I first encountered the lovely Sophie Bel at a Rodan + Fields partay at the St. Pete home of Wendy Lewis. Rawther meanly, Wendy and her adorable family decamped to London last year, but I still have my memories - and this extensive Q+A - to remind me of her joyful spirit.
Wendy, Lorena, Bridget and so many other beauty-smart mamas at my tot-lette's school were raving about Sophie's facials so much that I had to investigate for myself. And since her pretty little space - Beyond Beauty Studio (see pics below) - is tucked-into Platinum Salon where I get my fake blonde locks touched-up every four weeks, it couldn't have been more convenient.
If you've gotten a lot of facials in your life, and I certainly have because it's literally part of my job description, you know when a facialist is next-level. And trust me when I tell you Sophie is that in spades. A cut above, baby. Really good.
She's also funny, charming and super-interesting. She was in the frigging Royal Navy, for Pete's sake! Yup, before she decided to marry an American, move across Le Pond, and train as an aesthetician, Sophie trotted the globe. Sneaking off for facials "in every port" when she wasn't on duty, she gathered skin secrets from around the world.
But let's let her do the talking, shall we? Off we go...
FBP: Tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up? And how did you find your way to skincare?
BEL: I was born in Birmingham, England. I graduated High School and went straight into Dental Nursing. I graduated Dental Nursing School and stayed in that profession for eight years.
I was so passionate about caring for the patients. I always built up a good relationship with them. During my time at a dental practice where I was introduced to facials, it was love straight away.
From then on, I had facials wherever I went in the world. Some good, some awesome and some really bad. I was a facial junkie. I always scoped-out everything. I embraced every moment.
FBP: Wait - you were a Dental Nurse first? No wonder your teeth are so perfect! Then what happened?
BEL: I married an American! And his job brought us here to St. Pete in 2005.
Up until the move to the U.S., I hadn't really wanted to be "on the other side" of the facial bed. But it was time for me to switch direction. I realized I wanted to work in a little spa. I wanted to give the ultimate facial.
But I had no idea about the process of becoming an aesthetician here in Florida. I thought about it a lot and realized I needed to go back to school.
At the same time, I was looking for a hairstylist and came across a nifty little boutique in St. Pete, and they had skincare. I booked a facial, and it was the best I'd ever had. I ended up getting on with the owner really well, and after a few years as a client, she asked if I was interested in joining her team as a skincare therapist. I said yes! And off I went to school.
My goal was to give the best possible facial. I would take every little bit of good stuff from all the facials I'd had all over the world - even Egypt - and ditch all the bad and create the ultimate experience.
FBP: How were able to travel that extensively? Facials in Egypt?
BEL: I was in the Royal Navy for five years! I had a facial in every port.
FBP. Wow! Okay. Next question: Do you consider yourself a specialist in any particular area of skincare? Yes you're a fantastic facialist, but is there a specific type of facial you've "made your own"?
BEL: I love to fix skin issues, but I also love to - and take pride in - making the treatments an experience. I believe in pressure point therapy and Indian Head Massage. Both of those treatments unleash many blocked channels, increasing blood flow, stimulating cell turnover and giving an overall feeling of well-being. Ayurvedic Indian Head (Champi) Massage combined with a ProSkin facial is for sure a signature treatment.
FBP: What are some of the most popular services at Beyond Beauty?
BEL: The most popular treatment is the Dermaplaning Facial. Close contact with a blade to exfoliate dead skin, whilst stimulating the blood flow. The bonus is the vellus hair - or "peach fuzz" - removal. That allows greater penetration of skincare products and smooth makeup application.
FBP: You see a lot of "St. Pete skin." What do you think our major issues and challenges are here? And how do you address those?
BEL: I do see a lot of St. Pete skin. A major issue and challenge is adult acne. There's such a rise in this, and it's one of the most difficult conditions to treat. Environment, hormones, allergies (which are on the rise), lifestyle changes, poor air quality and much more play a factor.
So it's all about educating the client, tuning into their lifestyle and figuring out the triggers. Your skin changes, and many people don't realize this. Homecare needs to be tweaked, and possibly lifestyle, too. It's more than skin-deep. It's actually much deeper.
FBP: Are most of your clients regulars? How often are they coming in?
BEL: I do have a good number of regular clients, and they usually come every four to six weeks.
FBP: If someone has fairly well-behaved skin - with no major issues - how often would you recommend they get a facial?
BEL: Here's what I typically say to new clients: "In a perfect world, where time, money and life aren't factors, I'd recommend every four to six weeks. But come in when it's good for you!"
I try to be encouraging with clients, to let them know that they're doing a great job, that maintenance is the key, and that I'm always here for them. I often receive pictures and texts asking, "What's this?" And, "What should I do with this?" It always makes me smile when I wake up to a text image of a chin with a pimple and a crying emoji.
FBP: I love that your clients feel so comfy with you that they're texting pics of their breakouts! Next topic: Is there a downside to product-hopping? Should we pick a lane and stay in it?
BEL: There's definitely a downside to product-hopping. If you do it, you'll never know which product you're seeing results from. And if you're having issues with your skin, and it's due to a product, you'll never know which one was causing the problem.
I believe it takes a couple of months for your skin to become acclimated to a product or a change in your skincare regimen. In my opinion, being consistent is usually much more productive.
That said, it's very important in my practice to convey that it's okay to use what you typically use. So many people coming in to see me are shy about telling me that they use Olay or a CVS brand. I reassure them that if it works for them, that's what's most important. I always offer my assistance, and I ask them to bring their products in and I show them how to get the most out of them.
FBP: Project! I need you to come to my house and figure-out my skincare sitch. I use a psychotic amount of skincare, and never the same thing - or routine - twice. Baaaad. On to happier topics. I want to hear more about the Indian Head Massage. It sounds amazing. Is the idea behind it that if you relax your upper body, your face won't be as scrunched-up and growly?
BEL: It's by far our most popular massage. It's like a scalp massage but with oils and pressure point therapy. The head doesn't get touched enough. This is the driving force for the body. With all those pressure points and nerves, giving it the attention it deserves sure does feel amazing. We're able to address migraines, sleep issues, depression and skin issues by releasing all those blocked points.
I offer three Ayurvedic treatments: The Yoga Facial, the Kansa Treatment and the Indian Head Massage. And those are just three of many to come! I'm adding more and more Ayurvedic healing and beauty treatments.
FBP: Do you consider massage an indulgence or a necessity?
BEL: Definitely, definitely a necessity! Since having my massage therapist come on board, I've learned so much. When you come across a gifted, intuitive therapist, you will experience massage as a necessity.
FBP: Tell me about the "Eyebrow Tutorial" you offer.
BEL: It's all about the brow! So many of us want to know how to enhance our brows. I'm able to offer a service that allows clients to bring in the makeup they have, and I'll show them how to use it. I can also give advice on products and sculpt their brows during the treatment.
FBP: Last question: What do you love about St. Pete? What are some of your favorite haunts? Sorry - that's two questions, not one!
BEL: I'm obsessed with that Neighborhood Joe vegan coffee place on MLK. Also Kahwa Coffee. I'm kind of into coffee. Also, I love the Old Northeast. I don't live there, but all my friends do. We're not too far, though, in the Crisp Park area.
In general, I just love St. Pete. I feel more at home here in St. Pete than I ever did in England. I've met so many amazing people from all over. This is my home.
FBP: Thank you for carving the time out of your crazy skedge to chat with us. I'm coming in to the Studio for that head massage!