Musings on Skincare as Self-Care with Esthetician Julia Barna
February 07, 2024
Photos by: Bliss Braoudakis
We’ve said it before—and we’ll say it forever—but skincare is nothing if not a journey. There’s rarely a one-size-fits-all regimen, no skin types are exactly alike (even our own skin changes over time), and great skin has no real definition. It’s an ever-evolving ritual in the grand scheme of our lives—but if there’s anyone who’s learned how to navigate it all, it’s Julia Barna. With her infectious zeal for soothing, gentle, and truly holistic skincare, the Los Angeles esthetician heals more than just your moisture barrier. Read on for our conversation on everything from everyday wellness to the benefits of lymphatic drainage and gua sha facials—and be sure to bookmark for future reference.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did the skincare obsession begin?
When I was a teenager, no one was talking about skincare yet—I would have been better described as skin-careless. I washed my face irregularly, and when little breakouts sprinkled my chin and forehead, I’d scour my face with Stridex pads. The health of my skin didn’t motivate me until I grew a little older. Starting in my mid-20s, I developed persistent recurring cystic acne along my jawline and on my forehead. At the time, I was a model and actress in commercials and having troublesome skin was crushing my confidence. A makeup artist I frequently worked with referred me to an esthetician to manage my breakouts and, at the risk of sounding super dramatic, my first visit changed my life in more ways than one. As I worked with her to heal my skin, I immersed myself in blogs, Reddit communities, and peer-reviewed articles. I eagerly shared with my friends what I was learning about skin conditions and ingredients. It lit me up, so I went back to school.
What are some of the practices we should be doing on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis for good skin health?
My daily drivers are a good cleanser, a good treatment serum, moisturizer and SPF. I exfoliate a couple times a week, but I’ll refrain from using other active ingredients on the days I exfoliate. The skin typically thrives with a less-is-more approach. I’ll mask once or twice a week depending on how my complexion can be supported. Ideally, get a facial each month. Develop a relationship with an esthetician you trust who can help tailor a simple routine for you based on the changing needs of your skin. Your staples might require a bit of regular editing depending on the season or life circumstance.
How can we make our skincare routine a more holistic and intentional part of our everyday?
Taking care of our skin is so much more than applying products to our face. A holistic approach examines how the choices we make are connected to the story our skin tells. An ideal holistic skincare routine would include: good sleep hygiene, eating nutrient dense foods, drinking water, stress management through meditation and acupuncture, using kind words when we speak to ourselves, limiting intake of alcohol and sugar, and avoiding smoking and drugs altogether.
What are some of the benefits of lymphatic drainage massage? Should everyone be doing it?
We could all benefit from a gentle practice of lymphatic stimulation—my belief is that we didn’t evolve to be as sedentary as the general modern lifestyle encourages. Healthy lymphatic function is bolstered by daily movement, active stretching with a focus on fascia, dry brushing and healthy diet. The benefits are vast—clear and healthy skin, release of water weight throughout the body, optimized circulatory function, regulated digestion, and immune system support are some of my favorites. Generally speaking, lymphatic drainage massage is safe for most people, but if you’re managing a specific health concern it’s always best to speak with your doctor prior to receiving bodywork.
What’s one piece of advice you wish you could give to everyone currently struggling with their skin?
As counterintuitive as it may seem, this isn’t the time to attack. It’s time to surrender and self-soothe. Our bodies experience an inflammatory stress response and I see its effect on clients almost every day. Cortisol wreaks havoc on our skin. This stress hormone compromises the moisture barrier, triggering (sometimes cystic) acne breakouts. It’s the cause of flares of various inflammatory skin conditions and depletes our collagen—so many skin struggles can be managed by addressing our response to stressors. Your body won’t be able to find homeostasis and heal until you are out of fight or flight.
Beyond the essentials on our vanity, what are some daily rituals we can adopt to help boost our natural glow?
I love eating hydrating foods that are high in healthy fats and drinking herbal teas. Gut health has a major impact on inflammation throughout the body, so ingesting gut-friendly foods benefits the appearance and health of the skin as well. And I really can’t stress enough the importance of nervous-system support! Explore and engage in whatever healthy stress-relieving activities you are drawn to and create a ritual around them. I promise your skin will thank you.
Any tips for those new to facial massage practice? Is a gua sha tool essential?
I love the practice of facial massage! Not only can we sculpt facial muscles, drain puffiness and give the skin more radiance, but massaging the face is so good for the nervous system. A supported nervous system paired with healthy inner mobility beneath the skin is key to a healthy, glowing complexion. My favorite tools are my hands! However I advise all of my clients that the best tool for you is the one that you find yourself reaching towards—the most important thing is to give yourself is loving care, so whatever gets you there (your hands, a gua sha stone, a microcurrent device) is what’s uniquely right for you. I always start self-massage at the décolleté and gradually move up and out, finishing with scalp massage. Be intuitive and gentle, close your eyes and tap into your inner-knowing. Self-massage is a beautiful opportunity to practice self-soothing and trust. Massage around (not over) active breakouts with light pumping motions, imagine yourself clearing passageways for the swelling and infection to move and heal. If you feel called to use a Gua Sha tool, great!
To me, aging gracefully is the art of making choices that align with my own personal truth, choices that reflect my definition of what it means to be beautiful, healthy and successful.
What does aging gracefully mean to you?
We begin aging the moment we are conceived—getting older is inevitable and the longer we get to do it the more privileged we are. I’m not interested in fighting it. To me, aging gracefully is the art of making choices that align with my own personal truth, choices that reflect my definition of what it means to be beautiful, healthy and successful. I started going gray much younger than a lot of women my age. I dyed my hair for more than a decade out of fear that I would look older than my actual age, that somehow my value would diminish. As the white hair grew in more and more densely, I dreaded the never-ending upkeep, and it started to feel like I was hiding. So I stopped dyeing it a couple of years ago—and the act of acceptance feels graceful.