Inside Job

Isabelle Bellis and Terri Lawton go where no aestheticians have gone before.


Usually the sound of a latex glove snapping firmly in place prompts a “Cough again for the doctor” joke, but when the gloves belong to Isabelle Bellis, the correct reaction is to open wide. Your mouth, that is.

Bellis, a self-described “epidermologist,” is among the small group of facialists whose hands don’t restrict themselves to the stratum corneum. She performs the Buccal Technique, which massages muscles inside the upper lip, cheek, and jaw area. “It’s not supposed to be pleasant,” Bellis says in her gentle French accent, which is a disconcerting antithesis to her all-business phalanges. “But if I’m really hurting you, tell me.” “How would I be able to?” I want to retort, but her fingers block any attempt. Buccaling is actually borrowed from a move used in Rolfing, the body alignment method, as a way to encourage movement in the hinges of the neck, head, and jaw. Bellis believes it promotes blood circulation and skin cell oxygenation, resulting in a tighter, smoother complexion as well as improved elocution.

Los Angeles holistic facialist Terri Lawton has also been going inside, since the early Eighties, when she picked up the technique from a protégé of Ida Rolf herself. “The jaw is considered the second-most complex muscle in the body, second only to the heart,” says Lawton. “It’s very overlooked, and with the increased usage of cell phones, our bodies need a chance to rest.” She doesn’t call her mouth massage any official term. (“Buccaling is from dentistry,” she explains. “I come from a family of dentists.”) Nor does Lawton do it on everybody. “I can tell when they walk up my stairs if their jaws are tense,” she says, adding that the work goes way beyond de-clenching. “Products absorb more, there’s more color in the skin, the eyes get brighter,” she notes. “When you really address certain things that are blocked and shut down, it’s like turning on the engine.”

And, according to Lawton, the treatment can be deeply relaxing: “Sometimes my clients doze off and don’t realize what they’re doing. I’ve had my fingers bitten twice.”

Model: Solange at Next; hand model: Yana at Parts; makeup: Hung Vango at The Wall Group; manicure: Ana Marie at Artists by Timothy Priano; prop stylist: Victoria Granoff at Art Dept.