More than skin deep

Yuck, skin disease! This has been the cry of many a bar and bat mitzvah student when informed that this week’s Torah portion will be their Torah reading on their big day. I empathize with them, for I have had the same reaction in preparing this column. But as is so often the case with the Torah (and with skin disease), to get to the root of understanding, you have to go below the surface.

Tazria-Metzora is actually two Torah portions combined into one by the necessities of the Hebrew calendar. The chapters deal with the biblical affliction known as tzara’at, a term that has no English equivalent. The term is often mistranslated as “leprosy,” though it seems to be related to psoriasis, a common skin condition that causes skin redness and irritation in about 3 percent of the population.

When we look deeper at this week’s portion(s), we begin to see a clearly discernible pattern in what the Torah calls the tzara’at-afflicted person. What begins as something relatively incidental to the person becomes something all-consuming and completely identified with the person.

“When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling, a rash, or a discoloration … if the eruption spreads out over the skin … if [the affliction] appears to go deeper than the skin … he is a leprous man, he is unclean. … He shall be unclean as long as the disease is on him …” (Leviticus 13:2-45).

The person has become his or her illness. How often have we experienced this, in ourselves or in others? A person becomes so consumed by his ailment — physical, emotional, spiritual — that it defines him.

We go from being a person, to a person with cancer, to a chemo patient, to being in remission, to (God willing) a cancer survivor or, most sadly, a cancer victim. It is the same for one who has lost a job, divorced, lost a home, or any of the myriad modern-day afflictions. Those things need not and should not define us. We are, our tradition informs us at the moment of our creation, adam; we are a human being created in God’s image.

Maimonides, in his Laws of Tzara’at-Induced Impurity 16:10, describes a different progression, but one that leads to an important related insight. He explains tzara’at as a divine warning message, imploring its victim to soul-search, to look deeper inside himself than what is seen when he looks in the mirror (what is only skin deep). In Maimonides’ progression, the affliction would start by affecting the house, then furniture, clothing and, finally, the body itself. Here, too, there is a movement from the periphery to the center of the victim’s existence.

It is important to note that the role of the priest in biblical times was not to cure the disease; rather, his charge was to diagnose and then quarantine the person from the community. The priest would send him out of the camp for a set period of time, checking on him from time to time, but not allowing him back in until the affliction had naturally subsided. Then an elaborate procedure of sacrifices is initiated to thank God for being restored to full health.

At first this may appear to be betraying the limits of biblical medicine, but, as we have learned, we have to go deeper to find the greater lesson. The question that arises is what happened to the person during the quarantine that cleared up the affliction? And why was it necessary for that healing to take place outside the camp?

One thing we know from our own experiences with becoming consumed by our ailments and afflictions is that emotional and spiritual healing requires perspective. Both progressions of tzara’at — the one in the Torah and the one in Maimonides — describe a process by which one must identify and accept something about himself or herself before a healing can begin. You have to acknowledge the affliction before you can begin to confront it. The ailment is not only physical; it is also psycho-emotional — being defined by our present circumstance (illness, job loss, etc.). As such, it follows that treatment begins with acknowledging that painful fact, what 12-step programs refer to as Step One.

There is no better place to gain perspective on your afflictions than to surround yourself with others similarly afflicted. That is why the priest sent the tzara’at outside the camp — to find perspective and solidarity in those who similarly suffer. When our affliction is no longer unique to us, but shared by others who are travelers on the same road, we cannot define ourselves by it. In that moment, we are are forced to look deeper, beyond how we appear to others, because it is not distinct, and begin to confront how we appear to ourselves. Then healing can begin, and then we are more than our disease —and much more than our skin becomes clear.

Dan Moskovitz is a rabbi at ” title=”” target=”_blank”>

The skin game

Most of us have one body part that we’d like to change, be it our double chin, our tuchis or our belly. And as a quick fix, plastic surgery has become pervasive – according to the American Academy for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, 1.6 million surgical cosmetic procedures were done in 2010; a 9 percent increase from the year before.

But it’s not a solution that appeals to everyone; the cost can be prohibitive, and the possibility of going under anesthesia and being sliced open in the name of vanity may seem extreme.

For those looking to take off a few years without breaking the bank or risking their health, though, there are alternatives, including yoga, massage and noninvasive skin procedures that don’t even require a needle.

Of course, no amount of downward dogging can make your breasts two cup sizes larger or help you drop 100 pounds overnight, but to treat saggy or splotchy skin, wrinkles and other signs of a life well lived, here are some suggestions.


When we think of yoga, we may imagine deep, cleansing breaths and stretching tired muscles. But a growing number of yoga instructors believe that the practice can have cosmetic results that go beyond a firm behind; that with the right exercises, yoga can be used to tone the muscles in the face.

“Facial yoga combines five simple facial exercises with a simple yoga workout,” said Michael Glen, who owns the company Facial Yoga Online, based in San Diego.

When muscles get weak, Glen said, they sag, causing the skin above them to do the same. The exercises he teaches work the 57 facial muscles to keep them in shape. “The result is that you tone up the muscles, which helps remove the wrinkles,” he said.

The facial workout, which takes about five minutes altogether, targets three areas: the neck and chin; the face; the forehead and the area around the eyes. He encourages clients to tack on some traditional yoga moves as well, which adds about six or seven minutes but has the benefit of reducing stress. That can, in turn, reduce lines generated by worry.

The workouts should be done a minimum of once a day, and twice if possible. 

“Look at the things you do that you can be doing facial exercises at the same time,” he said. “When you’re driving, watching TV… you can do a dramatic job of lifting the areas.”


Getting a massage doesn’t sound quite as invasive as going under the knife, right? In addition to being relaxing, massage can have results that are similar — if less dramatic — to those of a facelift.

The primary goal of massage isn’t to look younger, said Brian Reder, the owner of The Massage Place, which has locations in Encino, Sherman Oaks, the Westside and South Pasadena. But, by its very nature, massage boosts circulation and improves muscle tone, thereby reducing wrinkles and cellulite.

“Massage can keep your muscles from becoming stiff,” he said, “[and] it improves skin’s pliability, making it less likely to wrinkle.”

Kneading the skin — not just on the face but throughout the body — helps to improve blood flow and circulation, which can bring about a glow, and in some instances reduce cellulite. Massage therapists often tell their clients to come back once a month for the best results, Reder said — not too tough a prescription to follow.


One of the primary causes of sagging skin is the breakdown of collagen, a protein that helps keep skin looking young, and of elastic fibers in the skin, said Dr. Debra Luftman, a dermatologist with practices in Beverly Hills and Calabasas and co-author of the book “The Beauty Prescription.”

To help reverse the look of aging, she said, a new procedure called Thermage is gaining popularity.

“I truly believe that the future of plastic surgery is something like Thermage,” Luftman said. “I don’t think that in 10 years we will be cutting people’s faces.”

Through radio frequency, heat is applied to the lower layers of the skin to stimulate collagen, while the outer layers are cooled at the same time. The procedure is completely noninvasive and takes about an hour, depending upon how much of the body and face is being done.

According to Luftman, Thermage is nearly painless, with no topical or oral pain medication needed. The treatment can lift skin, making a once-sagging jawline, for instance, become more taut. The results can last up to three years.


Using the same premise as Thermage, lasers target small areas of the skin, causing it to tighten around the area that the laser hits, says Luftman.

In her practice, Luftman uses two kinds of lasers: Fraxel, which can be used to treat wrinkles, sun damage and scars, and intense pulsed light, also called a photofacial. Intense pulsed light can be used to treat a wider range of skin issues, including age spots and protruding veins.

Both are long-lasting, so after an initial series of two to five treatments, patients can go up to a year before having another touch-up.

Whatever alternative to plastic surgery you may opt for, you should do the research to be sure that you’re in good hands, Luftman said.

“It’s important to go to a practitioner who is very experienced,” she said, advice that applies not just to dermatological procedures but to all health-related therapies.

The skin under skinny jeans

Those once-coveted outfits in your closet now elicit sighs of “I have nothing to wear” as last year’s trends take their inevitable plunge. While you’re hunting for the hottest fall fashions this month, remember also to invest in what will never go out of style: soft skin, silky hair, well-groomed nails and a radiant face. These products highlight the most gorgeous accessory you’ll ever own: you!

1. If you don’t get your fill of apples and honey during the New Year, add a little to your bath with SpaMitzvah’s Applebaum Bath Drizzle ($48). Soak in the skin-softening honey while the scent of apples and cinnamon lifts you away from the stress of your day.

2. Those perfect, non-crunchy curls you envy on models in fashion mags only seemed possible via Photoshop, until the Mixed Chicks strutted onto the scene. The Canoga Park-based line offers a No Frizz Trio of Shampoo, Conditioner and a Leave-In ($39.33) that beautifully defines curls on girls of every cultural background.

3. Bring some of fall’s bright hues to your fingertips with OPI nail lacquer in Hot and Spicy (from $2). The pumpkin hue gives a shout-out to the season and is much more fun than your routine clear coat. and local salons

4. Relaxing skin treatments are all the more soothing when you can feel good about how they’re made. Containing only natural, environmentally friendly ingredients made in Israel and never tested on animals, AVANI’s Mineral Body Scrub ($39.99) exfoliates and moisturizes with Dead Sea minerals, jojoba oil and vitamin E.

5. Want poutier lips without the needles? Micabeauty Cosmetics’ Lip Plumper in bronze ($29.95) uses the organic compound niacin (a B vitamin) to plump your kissers while other all-natural ingredients moisturize and shine.

6. Everyone from salon pros to frizzy-haired seventh-graders has been buzzing about Moroccanoil hair products — and for good reason! Moroccanoil’s original Oil Treatment ($40) leaves your locks so visibly glossy and touchably soft that you don’t have to explain why you can’t stop running your fingers through your hair.

Which came first: the building or the dress?

A model at a Parisian fashion show sports an enormous collar that almost hides her head in an aureole of stiff, folded cloth. So stiff does the cloth appear, in fact, that it could almost be mistaken for concrete. Meanwhile, in Yokohama, Japan, architects have covered the ceiling of a port terminal with a folded material that looks very much like pleated fabric. Are these chance coincidences, or signs of some odd convergence between fashion and architecture?

“Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture,” opening Nov. 19 at the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown, proposes that building design and haute couture have increasingly begun to overlap and borrow ideas from one another. Even if the premise seems thin, the show’s parallel images of buildings and clothing suggest that meaningful connections can be found between these two very different kinds of design. Indeed, “Skin + Bones” turns out to have much to say about the current practice of both building design and fashion design, not all of it positive.

Skepticism is a legitimate starting point. Clothing and shelter have different purposes, different materials and different methods of assembly. Why should they be compared? Well, for starters, because designers are always searching for fresh ideas, and architects and fashion designers apparently check each other out on a regular basis.

In an essay for the show’s catalog, Brooke Hodge, MOCA’s Curator of Architecture and Design, who has previously organized shows on the architecture of Frank O. Gehry and Peter Eisenman, as well as the fashion designs of Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons, identifies some obvious and not-so-obvious commonalties between the two mediums.

“A vocabulary derived from architecture has been applied to garments, describing them as ‘architectonic,’ ‘constructed,’ ‘sculptural,'” she writes. Architects, on the other hand, have borrowed some “sartorial strategies,” such as “draping, wrapping, weaving, folding, printing and pleating architectural surfaces and materials.”

Although Santa Monica-based Gehry may not be a “dedicated follower of fashion,” to quote the Kinks, he has undoubtedly boosted the cross-pollination between construction and tailoring with the biomorphic curves of buildings like the Disney Concert Hall, referencing to the human body and other natural forms. Gehry, Eisenman and Preston Scott Cohen are among the Jewish American architects who have contributed work to this international collection of design.

The complementary opposite would be clothing that looks hard and structural, such as a tulle dress from the spring/summer 2000 collection of Hussein Chalayan that appears to be a rigid structure, inflating by four or five sizes the shape of the woman who wears it.

Another structural-looking garment, this one from Chalayan’s autumn/winter 1999 collection, is the “Aeroplane Dress,” which appears to be a smooth, hard shell. A portion of its form seems to be slipping away, like a panel of airplane fuselage that has not been properly bolted, revealing the wearer’s navel and a seductive slice of abdomen.

Some architects are interested in exploring fabric-like materials, sometimes called extreme textiles. The “Carbon Tower,” an unbuilt project by Los Angeles-based architects Peter Testa and Devyn Weiser would be built with a lightweight carbon-based material that curves and bends much like fabric. Although the method of construction on the building is not visible from the images in the show, some so-called “technical textiles” can be woven or sewn together.

The “Inside Out 2way Dress” from the spring 2004 collection of Yoshiki Hishinuma, for its part, seems inspired by the glass “curtain walls” of high-rise buildings. The garment is a tight-fitting transparent tunic (think glass) held in place by a white band (think steel structure) wrapped in a crisscrossing band of cloth around the model’s body.

The relationship between buildings and clothing is not new, according to Hodge. In her catalog essay, she identifies some parallels, both ancient and modern. In ancient Greece, the flutings of classical columns may have been suggested by the folds in the chiton, a garment worn by both men and women. In the Middle Ages, the “propensity for extreme verticality” can be found in the “sharply pointed shoes, sleeves and hennins [conical headdress]” that seem directly related to the “ogival arches and soaring vertical spaces of Gothic architecture.”

Not all of Hodge’s examples are equally convincing, however, such as the analogies to fashion design in the soft curves of the landscape elements of the Yokohama International Port Terminal by Foreign Office Architects. Or the comically oversized collar of folded and feather-like white fabric from Junya Watanabe’s fall/winter collection for 2000/2001.

What is convincing, however, is the degree to which architectural style has become as attention seeking, and in many cases, as short-lived as fashion design. Here the commonality between architecture and couture is the quest for spectacular display. While display as a value in itself is not new, the degree of importance placed on display — so that buildings can make an impression in two-dimensional media such as magazines, newspapers and the Web — has undoubtedly increased.

If the result of fashion design dipping into architecture is not profound, neither does it seem harmful, because couture is ephemeral, fading away quickly into the next sensation. Architecture, however, is about permanence (or relative permanence), and most buildings are expected to last for decades and to serve many different users. Building design that is guided by momentary fashion, can lose sight of its purpose in search of the values of celebrity culture. “Skin + Bones” hints at the degree to which the runway mentality has influenced architecture for the worse.

“Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture,” Nov. 19-March 5, Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 90012. (213) 626-6222.

Morris Newman has written about architecture and other subjects for many publications, including the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

Aromatherapy Miracles

“American Pie” star Shannon Elizabeth may appear to have perfect skin. But Michelle Ornstein knows that everyone, even stars, have bad skin days. And when they do, they turn to this Israeli-born spa owner for help.

“Everyone breaks out. Teens, movie stars, homemakers. People who break out from everything come here,” said Ornstein, running her fingers through her thick brown curls.

Nestled between Crescent Heights and Fairfax on the oh-so-hip Melrose Avenue, Enessa derives its name from the Hebrew word nes (miracle). “To me, aromatherapy is the miracle of the essence,” Ornstein said.

To walk into Enessa is to relax. The stone mezuzah in the doorway welcomes you to serenity. Freeway road rage and smog-related stress give way to calming water fountains and copper leaf inlays in the cool cement floor. The spa’s clean lines and open spaces reflect Ornstein’s skin-care philosophy. “Cleanse, hydrate and moisturize,” said Ornstein, who returns to Israel every few years. “Keep it simple.”

Simple and natural. Aromatherapy, originally practiced by ancient Egyptians and Greeks, is the art of using essential oils (concentrated plant, flower and herb extracts) to enhance well-being. The oils, absorbed into the bloodstream, help the body release toxins and impurities. Based in this practice, all of Enessa’s treatments and products are 100-percent natural. “Synthetic oils and chemicals clog pores and stay in your body. Essential oils are released in six hours,” said Ornstein, who herself has sensitive skin and is allergic to most commercial cosmetics. “Imitation products may smell like aromatherapy, but they lack the actual healing properties,” she said.

Ornstein found topical antibiotics and Retin-A too harsh, so she created her own line of organic products. She now sells over 30 different skin-care secrets. The “Friends” make-up artist hooked Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox and Brad Pitt on Enessa products and all three male “Friends” stars use the aftershave moisturizer.

My luxurious hydrating facial ($70 for 45 minutes) started with the lavender cleanser, followed by a bio-exfoliant scrub, a generous application of cypress oil facial nourishment and a delightful calming mineral mask. She also applied clove oil for microcysts (I now swear by this miracle zit zapper), rose oil eye treatment (great for moisturizing lips, too) and the indulgently moisturizing rose geranium hydrosol.

Many of the products that Ornstein sells at the spa are Israeli influenced. “I import a lot from Israel, like the Dead Sea salts I use in my body polish and mineral mask,” she said.

During facials, she employs a softening gel and nylon strips to open pores. Though most American spas use steam for this procedure, Ornstein finds the Israeli gel method more effective. “With steam, pores go from one extreme to the other, shutting immediately after the steam is turned off. With the gel, the pores remain open, so I can concentrate on one area of the face at a time,” she said.

Ornstein, of Yemenite descent, imported another Middle Eastern beauty secret to Los Angeles: threading. Enessa is one of the few spas nationwide to provide this ancient hair removal treatment. Knotted threads are used to remove facial hair by the root, without disturbing the skin. “Waxing can remove a layer of skin, causing irritation and sun exposure. Threading ($15-$65) is less invasive and the hair grows back thinner,” she said. Salma Hayek is not Ornstein’s only threading fan. Thanks to Ornstein, my eyebrows look fantastic.

Ornstein’s heritage plays a large role in and out of the spa. “Celebrating the holidays, having a Jewish home, it’s really important to me,” said Ornstein, who attends services at Baba Sale in the Fairfax area, keeps a kosher home and is hosting a large family seder this Passover.

It is difficult to balance business and family, the successful businesswoman admits. Married in 1996 by Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz of Chabad of the Marina, Ornstein and her husband, Steve, an auditor, now reside in the Miracle Mile with their 18-month-old son, Daniel. “I’ve cut down on my time in the spa. I don’t want to miss out on the most beautiful thing in the world,” said the proud mother, who pulls out an album overflowing with family photos.

Now in its fifth year, the spa has become a haven to celebs and Chasidim alike. Enessa’s full line of treatments includes facials, body polishing, waxing, threading, massage and acupuncture. Although Ornstein downplays her celebrity clientele, this Hollywood hot spot is a long way from her humble beginnings.

Eighteen years ago, she worked out of her tiny Los Angeles apartment. “I’d advertise in the local Israeli newspapers, and women would climb the stairs to my place to get their legs waxed,” she said.

“In Israel, skin care is number one. Everyone gets a monthly facial; here it is treated more like a luxury than a necessity,” said Ornstein, who moved from the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan at age 13.

Ornstein discovered her skin-care passion while attending Beverly Hills High. “I broke out horribly at 16. I tried everything, nothing worked. And my first facial was traumatic,” said Ornstein, who then took to wandering aisles at the health food store. “I read the labels on all the jars to figure out what might help. I’d go home and make my own masks,” Ornstein said.

She enrolled in a local beauty school after graduation, but trained in aromatherapy in a Tel Aviv academy. “In Israel, I learned natural solutions for problem skin, how each plant and herb possess their own unique power,” Ornstein said. “I also learned that everything affects your skin. Your lifestyle, your diet, acupuncture, exercise.” She looks to Israeli folk dancing, salsa dancing and yoga for release.

With Ornstein’s help, I leave Enessa feeling pampered, relaxed and complexion glowing. And like so many of her celebrity clients, “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

For more information on the spa and its products, visit

Red Like Me

As I write this, I look like James Coburn eating a lemon in a windstorm. Drunk. Not only does my face look red and crackly, it must be covered at all times with a Vaseline-like lotion, thick and greasy, giving me the appearance of someone who has just eaten a pork chop with no hands. And I lack Mr. Coburn’s panache.

I knew I’d be ugly for a week or so. My doctor warned me that even though I was getting the most minor of chemical peels, there would be redness, crusty skin, temporary darkening of the very discolorations and freckles I was trying to remove. In the end, I would look a little better. There was just the purgatory between blotchy and better to be endured.

Wisely, I left town right after the peel and escaped to my mom’s for a few days, to the one place no one was likely to notice a woman molting about the face. Wrong. Even in Las Vegas, my face is something to see. I’m thinking about selling two-for-one tickets.

My second day here, I ventured out to surprise my mother at the casino where she works. I waited in line and walked up to the counter of the sports book, where mom was in the middle of telling a guy he was too late to bet on the 49er game.

“Hey! This is my daughter,” she beamed, introducing me around.

That’s when I saw myself through the eyes of her co-workers. Let me paint a vivid picture. Realizing there was nothing I could do about my face, I completely let myself go. I decided to leave the deep conditioner in my hair instead of washing it out. I didn’t shave or put on makeup. I was wearing the outfit I had worn driving in, an oversized men’s shirt and old jeans. I’m pretty sure I had brushed my teeth, but I don’t want to brag.

“You want to place your very first bet? Clippers or Kings?” asked my mother’s co-worker.

“Now, I know you’re not used to dealing with this kind of cash,” I joked, pushing a five towards him. As I placed my bet on the Kings, the guy let out a hearty laugh, as did the others. Oh my god, I thought. These are sympathy laughs. That wasn’t funny.

Bring your daughter to work day had taken a sinister turn. I felt so bad for my mom, like I was embarrassing her, which I knew I really wasn’t because she’s not as shallow as I am. Still, I wondered what she would tell people the next day. “Don’t worry, my daughter isn’t really disfigured. She’s just vain.”

When mom’s shift ended, we went over to the bar with a couple free drink tickets from the sports book. “Scotch,” she ordered for me. “Something good.” Normally, “good” Scotch from the well of a casino bar is throat-burning swill. What I got was smooth, some sort of Glensomething. It was sympathy scotch and I knew it.

Mom told me about having to have something removed from her cheek once. The surgery gave her two black eyes and weeks of stares. “That’s what it’s like getting older, too,” she said. “You don’t care so much what you look like, and neither does anyone else. You’re outside of that scene. You just want to sit around and hang out and watch life. When your car breaks down, you figure out how to fix it. When a cop pulls you over, you get a ticket. Everything changes.”

Things have changed for me in just a few days. I lack confidence. I’m the same as before, but the package is too much for me to overcome. Since the casino incident, I’ve remained mostly inside. Until this thing is over, I’m not heading into a crowd without one of those Tom Cruise “Vanilla Sky” disfigurement masks. I feel like a loser somehow, and not just because the Clippers beat the Kings.

I never thought much about the word “face,” as in face the music, face your demons, face a challenge, face the facts or Einstein’s phrase, “the face of God.” Now, I can’t stop thinking about Eleanor Rigby’s face, the one she keeps in a jar by the door. I had no idea my own face was such an integral part of how I face people, how I see myself — quirky, flawed, OK from certain angles but overall, a problem child.

Maybe too much alone time equals too much philosophizing. One little peel and all of a sudden I think I’m Albert Camus.

My mom’s right, though. Things change. My face will be back in a few days, serviceable, familiar, with a few fewer freckles. But it will evolve. It will age. There will be speeding tickets. The only face that doesn’t change is the one preserved in a jar by the door, but even the Beatles don’t know who that is for.

Teresa Strasser is now on the Web at