Diana Seo’s business trajectory is truly inspiring. In four short years, she has gone from giving individualized facials in the rooms of guests staying at the The Soho Grand Hotel in New York City, to running two B-Spa Bars in boutique hotels, and a spa/salon in Westchester county. A biophysics graduate that gravitated toward combining Eastern and Western treatment philosophies, Diana initially started to develop facials to treat her own acne. Her journey started as a medical consultant for plastic surgeon Charles Thorne, MD, to researching ingredients to detox the body, to earning certification from Atelier Esthétique, which allows her to practice in 39 countries.
Facials from the B-Spa team are totally customized for each client and include hand-mixed treatments based on unusual ingredients like chocolate and tamarind. Plus, Diana has just launched the Stem Cell Facial, which use a reverse polarity device from Italy that enhances the skin’s ability to absorb collagen.
Read on for more of her story:
Why did you set out to “set a new standard in medical day spas?” What motivated you?
Medi spas in the US target clients’ conditions—they are not preventative, they seek to “cure” in a way I believe is too harsh. My experience, working with dermatologists and plastic surgeons, led me to seek out new ways to customize skincare. For example, as I am doing with the stem cell facials I offer at B-Spa, these treatments with surgical grade bovine collagen spur rejuvenation of over dry or aging skin in a healthy, non invasive new way. These facials are breakthrough in that for the first time they allow the infusion of macromolecules of collagen into the skin’s water channels through the newest generation of electro-pulse therapy. B-Spa is one of the only spas in the US to offer this treatment. Men and women are loving it! The skin takes on a super healthy glow, fine lines and wrinkles are diminished, and the skin seems plumper, more youthful. Some of my clients like to do this treatment instead of injectables; they swear by its effects and depend on it as a rejuvenating pick-me-up every week or two. This treatment is a perfect example of my medi-spa approach—offering a non-invasive medical treatment that is healthy, therapeutic, and just gives people a wonderfully serene sense of—to quote what B Spa is all about—“beauty and balance.”
How does your background in science make you a better beauty expert?
I am trained in science—biophysics. I know anatomy. I am well schooled in physiology. The way I can analyze and help improve skin is similar to the way I was trained in the lab. There are many, many ingredients people are unaware of so my background in biophysics and chemistry allows me to scrutinize key ingredients—and then some! As a researcher and a scientist, my background helps me investigate the best way to help a client’s skin. There is a rigor to my esthetics practice—a formal procedure as there is in medicine and science.
You are influenced by Eastern and Western philosophies. When did that start? Does one prevail?
This balancing of East and West has been part of my life since childhood. I am Korean American. I grew up here in the US and I went to school for pre-med but the Western influence I was exposed to in medicine aimed to “cut”—not to prevent. So I sought a balance to learn about prevention versus potentially more invasive ways to “cure.” I studied Chinese herbal medicine and learned how it could prevent future abnormalities. Yet, I also learned that homeopathic treatments could only do so much. I do place a high value on the benefits of Western medicine. And I see that the discovery of new technology allows for better ways to treat the human body. But given the Western go go go mentality, there is a need to offset this with Eastern medicine—neither one is complete without the other.
Have you always had a holistic approach to life? Or was there a turning point?
When I was in my 20s, I was a partier. I did not watch what I ate, I had little sleep (why did I need it? I thought then), I enjoyed a few drinks when I was out…you could say I had a carefree youth. But seven years ago health became priority #1 for me. My beloved grandfather became ill with cancer and I too had a cancer scare. While I took it upon myself to do all I could to help him recover, I also faced a life-changing situation. I made a career change after my doctors surgically removed a big lymph node. I thought that I had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I was working with a plastic surgeon but I knew I had to do something different. Initially I wanted to open a tea bar, I wanted to detox the body based on what tea could do for health and healing. I started researching ingredients for skin and body. As this research progressed, I realized I wanted to be certified for esthetics, for a non-invasive way to help restore beauty and balance to people’s lives. So I earned my certification from Atelier Esthétique. This professional certification is most prestigious, it allows me to practice in 39 countries around the world. But overall, seven years ago I began to take the steps I needed to fully balance my life…and share this approach to health and spiritual, organic wellness with those I touch—through work, friendship and family.
You have just introduced the first B-Spa branded products—the mists inspired by Ayurvedic teachings—what is the importance of Ayurvedic medicine to you?
Ayurveda means Science of Life in Sanskrit, so this scientific, yet holistic way of healing is incredibly rewarding to me. Ayurvedic medicine is about balancing mind, body and spirit, which is a perfect fit with my life philosophy to naturally embrace mind, body, emotions, and consciousness. My mantra for B-Spa is: “nourish your mind & body with balance & beauty.” But I realized I was not nourishing myself. I was always in a rush, never thinking I needed time for myself. Once I recognized that I was not listening to my own mantra and sensed my stress level becoming out of proportion to my life, I decided to create these holistic mists—and they are incredibly helpful every day. Worry Free helps me not to get stressed out. When I need a refreshing pick me up, I reach for Immunity. I love the soothing nature of Vata when I need to center myself and be calm. So I use all three! And now, I never forget that I need to take a moment to nourish my spirit—and I hope that centered feeling stays with everyone who uses our B-Spa Mists. Each one is unique and features the purest essential oils:
Soothing Vata – Rose geranium, sweet orange, basil, fennel and marjoram bring the revitalizing ability to detach and focus as clear thinking takes over from stressful anxieties.
Immunity - Eucalyptus, lavender, pine, peppermint, spearmint, clove, and cinnamon bark encourage you to enjoy the moment as this forest mist surrounds to allow you to feel immune from the intrusive pressures of the day.
Worry Free – Jasmine, clary sage, lemon, rose, and patchouli encourage you to de-stress and create a personal oasis of calm, becoming worry free as you detach from anxiety and find a way to prioritize simply and naturally
These are a natural enhancement for anyone who seeks to function in a state of calm and alertness. I believe B-Spa Mists bring positive energy to every aspect of a healthy balanced lifestyle. Of course, I would love to introduce a complete skincare collection based on Ayurvedic medicine but that day has not come yet…soon I hope. More and more Ayurvedic healing is influencing my life and at B-Spa Bar I am seeking new, healthful, healing ways to integrate it into the spa experience.
What is your personal beauty ritual?
First of all, I love Priori products. They are my personal favorites. However, ritual-wise, I cleanse only at night to preserve the skin’s natural oils. But at night I do make sure to follow consistently (this is important, to be consistent) a three-step regimen. After I cleanse, I use a light enzyme serum, then a rich, intensive night moisturizer to help my skin rejuvenate overnight. But it is a critical step to gently mist with B Mist Worry Free; this eases my mind and helps me sleep. In the morning, I wash my face with water and use a light serum and day moisturizer under makeup. Priori is a Coffeeberry mineral skincare line, which I love. I use their natural SPF everyday as it creates a protective barrier between my skin and the environment—a beautiful balancing step that’s integral to my every day ritual.
Aesthetician Bella Schneider may regularly rub elbows with the rich and celebrated—her clients include Michelle Pfeiffer, Maria Shriver, and Gayle King—but her beginnings were much more humble. At the tender age of 14, she began apprenticing as an aesthetician in Europe to help her struggling family. When she was 21, she immigrated to the US to attend UC Berkeley with the help of a scholarship and received a BA in economics. Yet her love of skincare beckoned and in 1976 she opened the first LaBelle Salon in San Francisco, one of the first full-service salons offering European style deep skincare, a Russian pedicure, and European style waxing. The LaBelle skincare line followed in 1992.
Today, there are three northern California LaBelle Day Spas & Salons locations: San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Stanford. The spas offer a full range of clinical skincare and spa services such as specialized facials and body treatments, nail and hair salons, and makeup. Here, Bella shares her expertise in paramedical esthetics with Beautyinthebag.
Tell us a bit about your background. How did a UC Berkeley graduate move from economics to aesthetics?
This Berkeley graduate has never moved from one to the other. I’ve always been in aesthetics supporting myself since the age of 14—working in skincare and at beauty counters, so that I could afford to move to the US. I then went to Berkeley to pursue higher education because nothing is more important than an education, and I never thought I would make a living in makeup, beauty, and skincare. But, I just couldn’t stop the growth of my business once it started. I knew that this industry was my calling and my passion.
If there were one step you wish all American women would adopt in their skincare routines, what would it be?
I always say, start with the proper cleanser. It’s how you start your routine that’s going to determine the end results. Cleanse and exfoliate!
Your salons in Northern California offer European style deep skincare. What is that?
The European approach to skincare has three steps that every aesthetician must know: proper skin analysis, proper extraction techniques, and proper product application (including massage). There is an art to the European approach to skincare, an etiquette, that’s hard to find now a days. Most new estheticians come to me and don’t have the basic knowledge for extractions, massage, and applying product correctly. Yes, they know about microdermabrasion, acid peels, and other aggressive advancements, but everybody’s skin is different and each technique should be modified according to the specific skin type. I like to merge the European style with the technological American approach to modify and improve the skin.
What three questions should a new customer always ask her facialist?
Before you book an appointment, ask friends and colleagues for a recommendation or at least do a Google search to check reviews of the aesthetician you are considering. But, assuming that you go to a spa that is new to you, you want to ask:
- What’s your background and experience?
- Can you please give me a skin analysis?
- Given my specific skin type, what facial do you recommend? And, what does it consist of?
Trust your instinct based on these answers. If all of this sounds good, get your facial.
What inspired you to create your new Bella Schneider Beauty line?
I wanted to come up with a line that is very retail friendly and universal—a line that encompasses all of the amazing ingredients and technology that is available to us today, that wasn’t accessible before. Throughout my decades of industry experience, I’ve seen that over the years, a lot of products have evolved, and now one product is able to address many issues successfully. I wanted to be able to be an aesthetician to all women, without them having to come into my spa.
If stranded on a desert island, what beauty product would you bring with you, and why?
Sunscreen. Well, I can’t age—I’m still hoping to get off that island one day! I would make sure that my sunscreen has many things in it, and even though it’s just one product, I would want it to give me moisture, sun protection, provide a physical block, and manage my skin well by not being over oily. In short, my desert island product would be a sun protection
The “Three Wow” policy is what sets the Red Door Spas apart from the competition, according to Cornelia Zicu, Global Chief Creative Officer of the venerable spa and and hair care authority. This philosophy maintains that every guest should say at least three “Wows” during their spa treatment. If it doesn’t happen, then a Red Door Spas professional will go the extra mile to further enhance the guest’s experience. Nurturing and maintaining beauty—both physical and within—is very important to the Spas’ aesthetic and also to Ms. Zicu. We chat with the CCO about her beauty regimen, her Romanian roots, skincare in the 30s and beyond, and how to maintain a youthful appearance—with or without a doctor’s help.
What is your beauty philosophy?
For me, beauty is a state of mind; a reflection of health and happiness. Beauty is not just about having good skin and wearing nice makeup–it’s also about having a combination of well-being and glamour. You have to be nice and beautiful inside and outside to attract the admiration from others.
Can proper facial treatments and skincare prevent the need for Botox, fillers, and facelifts?
It depends on what makes you happy. For my beauty standard, having a healthy and glowing complexion that can be achieved by doing facials, using good products, and having a consistent home skincare routine is enough. People who start using Botox at the right age and who stick to a consistent monthly facial, use sun protection, and constantly remove the dead skin layers (microdermabrasion, acid peels, scrubs, etc.) can look much younger than their peers. At any age, a few expression lines should be accepted as a sign of wisdom.
Your Romanian roots and international travels have given you a wealth of knowledge about indigenous skincare remedies and secret family beauty recipes. How does the Romanian skincare philosophy differ from that of the US?
In Eastern Europe, we start at an early age to understand the synergy between the human body and nature. We also learn from our families that a good diet and skin that is in a healthy condition can keep you away from doctors. In our culture, beauty is part of the everyday lifestyle, like the way skiing is part of the Austrians’ lifestyle. Another special thing about us is that we are not afraid to show our love to others and we believe our touch is healing. We also like to make others feel beautiful and happy. We like to take care of others.
What one thing can women do to improve their complexions?
First, we have to permanently protect our skin from the sun. Second we have to religiously clean our skin and never go to sleep before removing makeup. To have a great complexion, we should prevent large pores, pigmentation, and dehydration. To achieve these we should use a cleanser with AHA twice a week (evening is better), exfoliate a minimum of once a week, use a good hydration mask at least once a week or everyday for 15 minutes if we have time, and use products with strong antioxidants, peptides, minerals, fatty acids, and vitamins. A good diet is crucial to assuring a balanced metabolism.
What should women in their 30s look for in skincare? What should they look for when they are 40?
At 30, we should avoid facial expressions because the collagen level is lower now and this will easily produce expression lines. I recommend you test pH levels once a week and try to keep this at a healthy balance because a pH level high in acid will speed up the aging process and can affect your health. A pinch of sodium bicarbonate in a glass of water will turn our pH to alkaline when we need it. Drinking water first thing in the morning to replace the water lost during sleep is necessary for good body hydration. Replacing hot water with warm water during a shower is another mandatory step to prevent skin dehydration. Your daily skin routine should now include products with retinoid, ceramides, AHA, and other strong ingredients that will prevent age signs. Cleaning your teeth with baking soda once a week for whitening is a good for the mouth-pH balance. Staying active and happy is important for attitude, too.
At 40 years old, we go through big hormonal changes and we have to start carefully taking care of our hair, bone density, body shape, skin elasticity, swollen feet, body energy, and sleep quality. Our diet should be rich in calcium and vitamin D, folic acid, and some vitamins and berries are vital for overall good health. We should watch our daily caloric intake and stay very active. Drinking enough water for ligaments, muscle structure, and skin elasticity is a must at this age. Apply a good body lotion after showering, take a weekly bath with marine salt to de-stress and help with swollen feet.
Twice a year, I recommend a detoxification program. Fruits with enzymes are great and should be part of your breakfast at least 2-3 times a week. Probiotic food and probiotic products are essential for a healthy digestive system to function correctly. At this age, our beauty is more affected by our health and lifestyle and we have to be more alert. Everyday at night and morning, use a rich and hydrating cream on the neck and décolleté. A specialized eye cream (not just a generic brand) for morning and another one for evening will work wonders. Specialized serums before using a moisturizer (such as hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, peptide, collagen, etc.) will help to prevent signs of aging.
Tell us about the new Red Door skincare line. Is there a hero product?
The Red Door Spa Professional collection is 100 years of experience and knowledge in a jar. We created each product around a strong ingredient that we know is vital for a glowing and healthy complexion. The Red Door Spa Professional collection is a perfect combination of nature and science and provides our therapists with the tools needed to deliver value in each customized treatment for our guests. Our expert aestheticians were involved in perfecting the texture and consistency for each product.