Image Source: Joanna Vargas
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say Joanna Vargas's number is probably on more than a few Hollywood celebrities' speed dials. The facialist to the stars — her clients include Jessica Alba, Naomi Watts, Julianne Moore, and Karlie Kloss — can solve any skin problem with the wave of a microcurrent wand and a pump or two of her skincare products.
Joanna has come to my rescue more than a few times, expertly dealing with my incredibly sensitive skin and eczema flare-ups and sending me home feeling not only refreshed, but happier. That's because Joanna is delightful, the kind of person you want to befriend and ask for advice about your skin, life, relationships, and so much more.
I caught up with Vargas on the phone, just days after what she calls her "busiest Met Ball ever," to find out more about how she broke into the beauty business. The Mexican-American skincare maven and mom of two, who owns salons in New York and Los Angeles and a skincare brand featuring 15 products, shared her inspiring story with POPSUGAR, opening up about diversity in the beauty business, what it takes to make it as a business owner, and, of course, the best beauty advice she has ever heard. Keep scrolling to learn more.
POPSUGAR: How did you first get into the beauty industry?
Joanna Vargas: When I was in high school, I didn't know what kinds of careers existed in the beauty industry. It didn't occur to me until after I finished college for photography. I thought that's what I wanted to do, but when I started getting jobs, I didn't have any passion. I really went to beauty school just to gather my thoughts and see what I was going to do next. That's when I fell in love with doing facials; the idea of taking care of somebody appealed to me a great deal. I gave myself a year to dip in my toe and see if I liked it.
PS: Did you start your business right away?
JV: No, I worked for a time in an organic spa, then for a celebrity dermatologist. I needed to get a feel for what type of skin care I was really interested in, and I certainly learned from everybody that I worked for until I kind of felt like I had a voice that was my own.
PS: And that's when you launched your spa. How did it go from being a new business to the huge celebrity magnet it is now?
JV: It was very word of mouth. I did not have any clients at all when I started out. I thought using natural products and treatments was sort of a unique perspective, but when I opened, it was during the time of huge day spas. Nobody was really opening a place that just focused on skin care and that was very technology oriented. To this day, there aren't that many people that mix it up as much as I do when it comes to new tools and treatments, and my clients like that.
PS: But you're also into natural ingredients. How do you balance both?
JV: That was sort of a winding road. When I started out, I was working for an organic spa. I didn't like a lot of the products, because I felt like they weren't effective. If you had any major skin issue, even if it was just wrinkles, the products weren't addressing it. I didn't like the aromatherapy-type natural products.
But then when I was pregnant with my son, a client bought me a "natural" stretch mark lotion. I remember opening it and being very affected by the smell. It smelled like kerosene, like petrochemicals. I turned it around to see the ingredients and in really small print there was a warning to not use if you were pregnant or nursing. That's when I really started to think about products that are "natural." I never want to sacrifice efficacy — I work with an amazing chemist, who really understands me very well, but we talk about how it would be impossible for me to have the ingredients that I want to have and something that's 100 percent organic. It just isn't possible, so I'm walking that line.
Image Source: Joanna Vargas
PS: Tell us a little bit about that and what the message behind your skincare line is.
JV: My whole message is that anyone can have beautiful skin. It's not in your DNA. I want to get everybody away from the idea that beauty is about who you are. It really just has to do with your routine. I want to be the one that teaches everyone that with a little bit of help, you can look the way you want to look. That's really important to me. It's about what makes skin the healthiest, you know?
Ten years ago, green juices weren't in every article, but it was a thing that I told my clients to add to their routine. The first product that I developed was the Daily Serum ($85), because it was inspired by my love of green juices. A healthy product that addressed things like breaking out, inflammation, and even stress. To this day, I'm trying to create products that are very easy to use. For me, it's about making health, wellness, and beauty accessible to everybody in a simple way.
Image Source: Joanna Vargas
PS: Do you remember your Latina grandma and mom DIY-ing beauty treatments when you were little?
JV: My grandmother had very sensitive skin, so she always made her own products. She used coconut oil on her skin, chamomile to wash her face, rosemary to calm down irritation. My cousins and I would spend a lot of time helping my grandma put on her makeup, too. She was very glamorous.
PS: Do you use those memories of your grandma and family as inspiration for your line?
JV: Yes, for sure! The smell of my Rejuvenating Serum ($100) is based on a memory of my grandma when I was a child. We had honeysuckle bushes in front of my house. If you pull the stem off of the flower, there's a little drop of honey in it. It's a sweet, sugary taste. The scent of the serum is actually based on that memory — it's not honeysuckle per se, but it reminds me of that moment. I think that's why everybody loves it so much, because it came from a beautiful, loved memory.
PS: How did you become such an encyclopedia of natural beauty ingredients?
JV: I've just been an aesthetician for a really long time. When clients would come in and their eyes would look better, I would find out what were the active ingredients in the eye cream they were using, and I would think "I've got to memorize that." Over the years, I developed a laundry list of things that I saw that really worked and I wanted to have in my line.
PS: You run a huge business. What are some challenges as a woman and Latina who runs a corporation?
JV: My husband and I started the company together. We're both Latino. I did not see a lot of diversity coming up in the business. I know clients who are Latino or African-American are looking for their place, too. As a little girl, I would look at ads in magazines and wonder if a product was made for me or not. It wasn't challenging to have diversity in my company. I didn't make it a point to have a multicultural staff; I hired the smartest women and they happened to be diverse. My husband and I focus on mentorship and we're very good at seeing a diamond in the rough. It's very important to me to be an example and to mentor my staff.
PS: What do you think is the key to being successful?
JV: To keep learning. I read a ton of books and it's about setting an example for the girls that work with me, too. We have a library of books that I expect them to read and study. I never felt as a young aesthetician that anyone was trying to educate me.
Also, you shouldn't be afraid to make essential relationships that could help you in the future. I have friends that are in the beauty industry that were assistants getting coffee when we first met. Now, they're running beauty departments. I've been there for them when they needed me, and they've been there for me — that's extremely valuable.
PS: Let's finish it all up with a bow. What's the best beauty advice you've ever gotten?
JV: Many years ago, I was giving a facial to a celebrity who's a little older, a beautiful woman who's aged very naturally. I think I had just had my baby and I was complaining about my looks and she said to me: "All that tells me, Joanna, is you need better lighting in your bathroom." I thought that was the best f*cking advice ever.