Sofie Pavitt is the go-to aesthetician for every New York-based beauty editor, influencer, and model you see on Instagram—but don’t think she only works with the genetically blessed. The Welsh-born facialist is a certified acne specialist whose true passion is working with inflamed skin, as demonstrated by the before-and-after photos on her Instagram account that have gone viral. She left her 15-year career as a handbag designer for brands like Michael Kors and Tory Burch to open up her own skincare studio on Canal Street in Manhattan, and since then, she has built a reputation for her results-driven methodology.
In July 2019, she gave birth to her son, Nico. They live in New York with her husband, Nam, and two dogs. We spoke to Sofie about her path to becoming an aesthetician, her extensive skincare and bod care routine during pregnancy, and what to do when pregnancy makes you more prone to breakouts.
Tell us about your career—what’s your secret to becoming the go-to aesthetician for every NYC cool girl?
I've always been interested in beauty. My mom was a hairdresser when I was really small. But my first real passion was design—I worked as a handbag designer for a really long time. I was in the industry for 15 years. I was a handbag designer for Michael Kors when Michael Kors was cool, and I was spending a lot of time in Korea for production. I went to Seoul five times a year for nine years! Every time I went to Seoul, I would be obsessed with the skin care and treatments over there.
It got to a point that I was just more excited about the treatments I was getting and the products I was bringing back for people. It quickly became established in the office that I was the person to go to, to talk to for great skincare advice. I knew I had to just go and get my license to be an aesthetician on the side, and figure out what I want to do with it. I didn’t actually think I would go into facials at that point. I actually thought I’d go into editorial because I loved writing and researching products.
As soon as I started training, I realized that I loved doing facials and that I was good at it. When I graduated, I was still working in fashion, but I rented a little room, and I did facials on my friends, just to practice. I’d say, “Come after work, and I’ll give you a free facial, if you let me practice on you.” And then word spread. I was booked all the time, on the weekends and after work. I knew I had to make a decision. I had a husband at home and a full-time fashion job—and I was doing 15 facials a week.
So, I opened up my calendar on my booking site. If I book 35 facials that month, I’ll quit my job. I booked 86.
I quit my job. It was really scary because it was a really great salary, and it was stable. I had my own studio on Canal Street, and I also worked as a medical aesthetician to a dermatologist, working with lasers. I got an eye-opening experience in problematic skin care, and that’s really the focus at my studio now—real results. We’re a results-driven skincare studio. It’s great to go to a spa and get a relaxing, luxurious facial with a massage. But the reality is, when you come to our studio, the radio’s on and we’re chatting all the way through the facial. The idea is that you walk out more empowered with the knowledge of how to take care of your skin. You get really custom treatments because it’s not one-size-fits-all.
Your Instagram mentions that you’re a certified acne specialist. What does that mean?
The doctor at the dermatologist clinic would pass acne patients onto me. They had been on Accutane and other topicals, and I would do their extractions and work out their product routine. It set a fire inside me. I was obsessed with acne. I did an extended training on treating acne not just with medication, but also with products. Acne is a skin disorder. Dermatologists are very busy, so they might not explain it as such.
There's a blanket treatment for people with acne, which is either bringing down oil production with treatments like birth control or toner, or Accutane or low-dose antibiotics—which bring down the bacteria count in skin—for terrible cases. But what we should really be addressing, when we look at acne, is the overshedding of skin cells. That’s genetic, and something you’ve been predisposed to all your life. Acne is a chain of events. It always starts with overshedding of skin cells, but then when the stars align and you have a lot of oil and bacteria growing on your face, that’s what causes the breakout. It’s not necessarily one thing that causes it, but everyone who has overshedding of skin cells is predisposed to acne.
I send everyone home with a complete protocol. It’s like a skin diet—you’re not allowed to use any products except the ones I give you. Every two weeks, we check in to make sure they’re working. If not, we dial it back or we strengthen it up. We see people for facials once a month while they’re on the program. We can do extractions and calm inflammation down with LED and do peels. We really focus on correcting scarring, which is super satisfying because that’s really troublesome for people, whether it’s indentations or hyperpigmentation.
Since pregnancy can make you more prone to acne, what can you do about it if you can’t use retinoids or Accutane?
You should be using an exfoliant at least once a day. You could use a glycolic in the morning, and in the evening, you could use benzoyl peroxide, which is that old-school ingredient we’ve all used as teenagers. [Editor’s note: As always, please consult your doctor before using any products or treatments during pregnancy or nursing.] You can’t use anything with an electrical current—like microcurrents. You can’t do microneedling because that’s invasive. LED treatments are great because they fight inflammation.
What about extractions?
Yes, you can do those. But you have to remember that any trauma to the skin will trigger an inflammatory response. If you go outside while your skin is inflamed, your skin will make melanin to protect itself. It’s a protective response. If you get extractions, make sure to wear sunscreen before you leave the establishment—and avoid the sun for at least a week!
Tell us about your pregnancy body care routine.
You know, everyone is worried about skin care when they’re pregnant. You want to go clean and you don’t want to use any parabens or sulfates. My thing is that the only thing you should really avoid during pregnancy is vitamin A products like retinol and Tretinoin. That’s because vitamin A is a teratogen, which can tweak and change your DNA response. You also absolutely cannot take Accutane.
I was really into glycolic and lactic acids when I was pregnant because I did produce a lot more oil. Sunscreen is massively important because pregnancy-related hormones do make your skin more sun sensitive. Melasma and pigmentation can be triggered by heat. I was pregnant in the summer, so I always made sure I was under an umbrella and in the shade. In terms of body care, I just greased myself up. Just moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. I don’t have one stretch mark, and I attribute that to the fact that I was just moisturizing myself all day. I was huge.
What about exercise during your pregnancy?
I used to work out a lot before I was pregnant. I went to Session with Thea Hughes several times a week. I obviously slowed down, but not in terms of weights. I did a lot of heavyweight workouts. I truly believe that’s why I didn’t have to do a C-section. Keeping fit helped me massively through my delivery. I pushed for three-and-a-half hours. My baby was massive!
Post-birth is another story. I never have time to work out anymore. When the baby was born, I had pretty intense diastasis recti. One thing that helped me was EmSculpt, which is an electromagnetic muscle stimulator that really puts you through a workout, essentially. It can increase your muscle mass by 20 percent over the course of six treatments. I did 12 treatments in all. You have to be super careful, especially after giving birth. Your ligaments and muscles are still soft. I also did successions of CoolSculpt—I was a CoolSculpt provider for a long time—and it really helped.
How did your diet change during your pregnancy?
You know what, I was so busy doing facials that I just ate on the fly all the time. I was working so much! Looking back, I can’t believe I worked as much as I did while pregnant. I had to eat often. I don’t think I gave anything up. I’m from Europe—we’re very chill about what you can and can’t eat over there. I ate sushi from Sugarfish a couple times. I was very casual about my diet. I’m sure that will freak some people out.
It’s such a funny contrast to your stringent skincare and bodycare routine. Thanks for being so honest about it! As you mentioned, you didn’t slow down while you were pregnant. Tell us how things changed after you gave birth last summer, or this year during the pandemic.
I tell people that I did my maternity leave in reverse. I went back to work seven weeks after giving birth. I had four aestheticians working for me. I went back three times a week and had a nanny, which really helped.
You know, when babies are born, they’re like blobs of mashed potatoes. They don’t really do anything—but Nico was six months old when COVID hit, so it has been a blessing in disguise to spend all this time with him. He’s a toddler now, so it’s been much more engaging. Now, I only work Monday through Thursday, so we have long weekends together.
Now that you’re back to work, how are you doing self-care these days?
Oh boy, my self-care has fallen off the ledge. Treatments are my favorite thing because it means I have an appointment. Recently, I’ve been going for this treatment called Morpheus 8—it’s not for the fainthearted. It’s a really intense microneedling radiofrequency treatment. I’ve seen massive results with it.
What is your Eden?
My house in Rhode Island in the middle of the forest with high-speed internet. I sit on my couch and drink coffee and don’t do anything. I do some online shopping, and I’m with my husband and son and two dogs. We’re outnumbered.