Covid saw me loosen up on grooming, and what fun. I saved hours, once reserved for frenzied mascara application on buses to work, or hacking through a forest of leg hair pre-Big Night Out. I’ve enjoyed bringing a more relaxed beauty routine into the ‘New Normal’. But the return of actual sunshine (even if it feels momentary) and proper real-life weddings, parties and presentations calls for a little polish now and again.
From hair cuts to nail grooming via a scorchingly hot Russian steam room, I’ve tried and tested beauty treatments promising to catapult me back to sweet freedom feeling fresh. This is absolutely not a prescriptive beauty routine to ‘prep’ you for getting back out there – but sharing the experiences that put a smile on my face before getting back to life as we once knew it.
The gel mani pedi: Oblique Beauty House, South Kensington
Head, shoulders, knees and… toe nails that need serious help. I’ve always found a matching mani pedi does wonders to help give off the vibe of ‘having one’s life together’. Bullet-proof AKA Shellac gel coating (several layers baked on with UV light) can last up to a month if you’re careful.
Oblique, on bougie Bute Street in South Kensington, is my go-to. It’s a beautiful place to hang out: gold fixtures blend seamlessly with the pastel jungle theme, rows of relaxing treatment chairs tucked away in the back. Downstairs, you can book in for everything from a deep-cleaning manual facial to a multi-polar radio body frequency session.
But back to the nails. You can opt to have your feet and hands looked after at the same time, or kick back and read (okay, doomscroll) while the talented technicians set to work on your feet.
There’s not a design request they can’t meet, so be creative with your ideas – you can choose from infinite shapes, styles and colours. After checking Oblique’s instagram for inspiration. I opted for a classic French manicure with a twist, picking out neon and pastel colours for the tips. Perfect for summer parties (and they survived a holiday and two weddings unchipped, hooray!).
Tip: Whimsical cafe The Knot is also on Bute Street. Snap your newly buffed and painted hand holding a candy floss cloud aloft for limitless Insta kudos.
The brow and lash tint: Urban Retreat, Knightsbridge
Not just any old salon, Urban Retreat is a one-stop shop for all things grooming, male and female. Think high ceilings, chatty staff and a raft of treatments to help you feel party-ready. There are enough massages, beauty treatments and wellness therapies to keep you here for a (blissful) week.
I recommend a lash lift, including a brow shape and tint. Great for pre-holiday pampering, this treatment focuses on minimising eye make up upkeep for three to four weeks. Lashes are curled and set after being dyed the colour of your choice.
Next, the impeccably skilled therapist will dye then apply a wax-like substance to your brows, creating the illusion of thickness and helping them stay brushed upwards (in line with the bushier trend of late). I found the results lasted for about three weeks, after showering and swimming as normal.
When signing in, glance to your right and you’ll spot the perfect place to grab lunch once your Covid monobrow has been lovingly hacked in half. Much-hyped 100% plant-based eatery Holy Carrot peddles some seriously healthy juices, but you should settle in for a long, languorous lunch of vegan sushi, stuffed kohlrabi and hearty Asian dumplings – everything on the menu is stupendously salubrious.
Tip: While you’re there, try a session in the highly rare Hoccatt machine (Hypothermic Ozone and Carbonic Acid Transdermal Technology). It’s an advanced holistic wellness treatment which uses pure oxygen breathing, transdermal ozone therapy and light therapy to leave the body in an anti-bacterial state.
Meaning: you climb inside a machine completely starkers, before doors over you, leaving just your head and neck exposed. The machine then gently heats up, while you breathe pure oxygen fed through tubes into your nose. It’s not for everyone (can’t imagine why), but you do feel great after a few sessions – and it’s said to treat a myriad of illnesses.
The haircut (and cocktails): SALON64, Soho
This salon in one word? Vibey. Expertly designed to convert into a functioning cocktail bar come nightfall, I highly recommend a haircut or blow dry here before a proper party. If, like me, your new ‘do *always* goes limp three minutes after leaving the chair, solve the problem by simply staying in the actual salon afterwards.
Sip a Vagabond coffee (who are we kidding, an Espresso martini) and bop to loud pop while chatty stylist Ricky conjures magical curls, or cuts off a year’s worth of split ends.
You can choose from a variety of colour services (including tints, highlights and balayage) as well as extension fittings, bridal make up trials and Keratin permanent blow drys. After your session, watch as chairs and workstations ingeniously fold away to reveal trendy fire pits and a full on bar set up. Incredibly clever.
Tip: For every 20 cups of coffee bought from SALON64, you get a free blow dry. Challenge accepted…
The full body scrub: Banya No. 1, Hoxton
Tired of London and you’re tired of life, the saying goes. Feeling a bit lacklustre about your newfound freedom? This Russian Banya experience will reignite your passion for the city (and all its… eccentric offerings) while conveniently making it feel like you’ve escaped to Moscow. Added bonus, it’ll pep you up for any events filling your calendar until your fav holiday destination goes ‘Green’ again.
If your long-neglected skin could do with exfoliating and moisturising, Banya No.1 is the perfect place to start. Spend as long as you can handle in the sauna, then opt for the honey and salt scrub to slough off any dead cells. You’ll feel incredibly smooth for days afterwards – the ideal base for a spray tan or at-home fake tan application.
A fun and downright unusual experience (as long as you’re happy to strip down to your pants and lie on a marble slab, cadaver-style, before being intensely scoured by a stranger). I should probably warn you about the men wearing felt hats, who beat you with birch sticks. And the ice baths. But that would ruin the surprise…
Tip: Lay off the vodka shots in the adjoining snack bar – the sauna is one of the hottest in the world, so you’ll want to take it easy if it’s your first time.
While I’m here, these are the little extras helping The Handbook team navigate the New Normal… don’t leave home without ’em.
The secret weapon:
Absolutely not a treatment, but a great tool to have on standby. DOSE mood mists aim to positively alter your state of mind, harnessing the natural power of essential oils through a light mist. Give yourself a gentle spritz before braving that group HIIT class that suddenly feels *way* too busy, or that wedding you’ve been secretly hoping would be cancelled.
The party starter:
Do we need a reason to carry around a bottle of fizz right now? We’ve a year’s worth of partying to make up for. Try Boco by House Coren, a new, high-quality Charmat method sparkling wine using top-quality English grapes. When it’s this affordable, you can almost drink it every day. And right now, why wouldn’t you…
The recovery aid:
If it’s all a bit too much, retreat home to your bath, book collection and a comforting scented candle. I’m loving new brand Pearl & Linen’s unique blends of premium essential oils, hand-mixed to make mineral wax candles and super long-lasting diffusers in the Sussex countryside. Tuscan Hills is a summer favourite, its herbal and citrus notes giving way to earthy hints of basil and bergamot.