The Other Mask:
An Interview with Rosemary Mendez Velasquez
Onda Latina Ohio, like so many live art communities during the Great Pause, was on hiatus in the spring of 2020. While we have plans to meet up for a Zoom open mic in the month of October, for now, I’d like to turn the focus to the importance of self-care in these times of uncertainty. And not self-care in pursuit of conventional standards of beauty, but decolonial Latina self-care, the kind that reaffirms the connection of cuerpo, mente, y espíritu that honors the body and face our ancestors gave us.
Personally, I’ve had to be extremely careful about sun exposure: I had basal cell carcinoma (BCC) twice in my early thirties. BCC is the most common form of skin cancer, and it is also the most curable when treated early, which, thankfully, was the case with me. But, aside from strict and daily use of sunscreen (containing both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide), I’ve also benefitted from the care and advice of Rosemary Mendez Velazquez, a talented esthetician and inspiring Latina business owner.
I met Rosemary shortly after I first moved to Columbus, Ohio about seven years ago. The sun damage from my childhood in Los Angeles resulted in dark pigmentation spreading around my eyes. I learned this was called melasma, a common condition among women of color. On a whim, I walked into Rosemary’s A Spirit’s Touch Salon on High Street and learned about treatments that could help. After following her recommendations, I had outstanding results. I was even asked once – get this – if I was an esthetician. WHAT?! You made my day, homegirl!
But Rosemary is more than a professional esthetician who will get your skincare routine on the right track. Her quality of quiet presence and commitment to healing are a common theme in the reviews her clients post about her services. As one reviewer puts it: “Some people are just tired and want to get rid of their work to have some free time for themselves. But … with Rosemary, no one will be rushed… I felt she was enjoying her time even more than I was! She didn’t once look at her watch or rush me! Rather, she forgot herself and was immersed in her work!”
Below, Rosemary was gracious enough to share her time and thoughts on self-care, healing, and the other mask – the moisturizing version – we might benefit from wearing. (The interview was edited for length and clarity).
Paloma Martinez-Cruz: How did you get into cosmetology?
Rosemary Mendez Velasquez: The reason I got into cosmetology was that my husband was a hairdresser. I was a makeup artist, model, and, at the time, I was also working as a paramedic. I just needed a change, something more relaxing than the trauma of working as a paramedic.
PMC: When did you start A Spirit’s Touch?
RMV: I started A Spirit’s Touch in 2001. I branched off from my husband’s salon because I had a different view on how I wanted to run a spa. There was nothing wrong at my husband’s salon, it was just too loud. Cosmetologists have a different type of music – they need to get a client relaxed.
PMC: Do you feel like having worked as a paramedic influenced your decision to open A Spirit’s Touch?
RMV: Definitely. When you work one-on-one with clients, you get a rapport, you’re like their psychologist or their social worker, and with my training I can see and feel things for myself that they’re not aware of. For instance, I felt a lump on a client’s arm as I was massaging, and I was able to give her my experience with what it could be and if she should she get it checked out. I have a sense of touch, or I can look at people and see what’s going on with my ten years of experience as a paramedic. It’s helped me a great deal.
PMC: When I met you, I learned that your family is Puerto Rican. Do you feel like your spirituality and your culture are a part of your business?
RMV: When I was a paramedic, they were starting to teach physicians and nurses healing touch. A lot of hospitals were starting to use Reiki touch before and after surgery. I had signed up for it, but because I was just a paramedic, kind of down there in the totem pole, I was not allowed to take it. Not too long after that, I decided to become an esthetician.
One of my first clients as an esthetician was a Reiki Master and I was telling her how I was really interested in learning more about healing. There’s a lot of healing with just touching someone, hugging someone, just smiling at someone. And she said, “Well, I’m a Reiki Master, and I’m going to have a class coming up.” So, I quickly signed up for her class and I took Reiki levels one and two. My Reiki is a little bit different. I pray a lot. The healing is not from me, it’s from a higher power. I was raised in the church and I know that prayer is very powerful, so when I was trying to come up with a name, that’s where the name and the emblem on my card came from.
“There’s a lot of healing with just touching someone, hugging someone, just smiling at someone.”
PMC: It’s very beautiful. And I also have to say when someone becomes your client, you’re not telling anyone what to think or believe. The spiritual quality is just something that you feel is available when you walk through your door.
RMV: It’s just in my heart and spirit. I want them to feel like this is a safe place for quietness and healing, and that they can talk to me and it’s going to stay here.
PMC: I know that helping people is something that goes well beyond your place of business. Can you tell me a little bit about how you were involved with Hurricane Maria relief efforts?
RMV: I was really impacted personally with my family living in Puerto Rico. They live up in the mountains in Utuado. It was hard for me to get ahold of my family, to call them. I started looking on Facebook, and saw that there was a group of Marines, there were just six of them in the beginning, who were using their own money, their own resources to reach these people up in the mountains because the roads were gone. I saw that they were in the area where my family was living, and I reached out. How can I help? They said, “We need money, we need more resources.” I have an art background also, so I decided to draw up a picture, then someone said you should make it into a T-shirt. And I made T-shirts. I sold them at my spa and my husband’s salon. I was able to raise over $4,000 for these Marines. And it was nice to see the Marines on Facebook them wearing them, and they were able to use the money to buy supplies for these people.
PMC: A lot of people who are caregivers and have a lot of empathy for others, they often forget to take care of themselves.
RMV: We do.
PMC: Particularly during the COVID crisis and all its stressors, what are some of the things that we can do to take care of ourselves?
RMV: You know, we only have one skin for our entire lifetime and it’s the biggest organ that we have. It’s really important to take care of it because if we don’t have our health, we don’t have anything.
I did work in intensive care for a little bit when I was a paramedic. When people are put in induced comas it’s because when your body is at rest, that’s when it repairs itself. So nighttime is the most important time to cleanse and moisturize to keep your skin healthy. Another thing that’s important is if you can meditate. It takes a while, but if you can start doing five minutes a day, you can work to maybe get up to 10-15 minutes.
My thing is biking. I’ve been biking every day since May 15th when I came back to work, because it’s very stressful wearing a mask and wearing a shield all day long. I feel like I need to exercise my lungs when I get off work and regroup. I try to bike at least six to eight miles a day, but my body’s starting to feel it. Like, okay, it’s time to do two or three miles a day instead of eight.
PMC: For those of us who are fortunate enough to make an appointment with you, what are some of the measures that you have in place to ensure client safety?
RMV: We all have protocols through the state board, and they can come in anytime during any service. We have to wear gloves, and I’m taking your temperature and giving you hand sanitizers. Everything after each client has to be sanitized immediately. I wear a shield and a mask because with a lot of services that I provide here, the client eventually will have to take off their mask. I take a lot of precautions because I was a paramedic during the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Two weeks before we even shut down, when they were saying not to wear masks, I was already wearing a mask at work.
PMC: Has there been any client pushback against these precautions?
RMV: In the beginning, I had a lot of pushback. Some complained I was infringing on people’s rights. They were breathing in their own carbon dioxide or the government was taking over and I didn’t have the right. But what about my right to stay well? And to be able to work and stay open? We were closed for two and a half months. But it’s helped a lot since the governor has mandated it.
PMC: Are there any over-the-counter skin care products that are helpful if a salon appointment isn’t accessible? Could you recommend a mask treatment to do at home?
RMV: In 2017, the FDA finally got rid of a lot of those scrubs because they had the little pebbles going on and they were actually made of plastic. A lot of companies have now gone to natural types of exfoliant like the Pevonia line I use here. There’s a line called No7 and Target carries it. There’s some like Neutrogena and Oil of Olay that have some good things. A lot of girls don’t like to wear sunscreen. It’s very important to wear sunscreen every day. The ultraviolet rays cause damage even while driving a car and there are harmful ultraviolet lights in the office.
A lot of makeup companies now have sunscreen in their foundations, you just have to find the one that’s good for your skin type. Someone with oily skin might not be able to use a BB cream because it has too much moisture in it. There are CC creams now that are made for combination skin. Combination is probably the hardest to treat. And with melasma there’s not a lot of good treatments out there. You have to ask your esthetician or dermatologist about it.
PMC: How often do you recommend a mask treatment at home?
RMV: Probably a moisturizing mask once a week. But you have to know your skin type. If you’re very oily, you’re going to know it, and people who are sensitive usually burn easily in the sun. They have the broken capillaries around their nose or the cheeks, sometimes on their chin. Someone who’s very sensitive will usually have rosacea. They get irritated easily and break out from alcohol, spicy foods, coffee – these can lead to some disfiguring break outs.
PMC You basically just named all my favorite things!
Rosemary Mendez Velasquez is the proprietor and esthetician at A Spirit’s Touch full-service spa in Columbus offering facials, relaxation massage, and waxing. Please consider supporting Latina-owned businesses of Ohio. ¡Sí se puede!
Learn more about A Spirit’s Touch here: http://aspiritstouch.com/?fbclid=IwAR38joNqapmxIpkkFsK5_qDAw9QDmgp6ZIGMG3WpPK0OIY0KBNQ3FbR4MC8