The following interview transcript is provided as a supplement to the column “Face to Face With Sonya Dakar” by Cathy Christensen running in the January 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine. To learn more about Sonya Dakar, please see the current issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT: SONYA DAKAR
I had interest since the age of 15. Forty years ago, it was more of a social thing to go to a facialist. For problems such as eczema, people would go to a physician. My mom would go once a month regularly and her esthetician name Harriett was a previous dermatologist who got pregnant and decided to be holistic out of her house. I went with my mom. I was fascinated with how happy they were. Harriett cleared the teenagers’ acne and took care of the adults with relaxation. I discovered that there might be something behind all this fluffy stuff. She had converted her philosophy to a more holistic approach. I was captivated.
I went to my mom and heard this philosophy from the people waiting in the lobby. I saw the same thing. She combined the two worlds together without using chemicals or anything. I had perfect skin all my life. Estheticians want to help people. I was fascinated with the whole environment. I decided that I experienced and felt an attraction to this business is a full way. I asked if I could be an apprentice during the summer. After the apprenticeship in the summer, I finished my education and then that was how I started my life.
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From there, I went to school to professionally study for three years anatomy, chemistry and general education to learn the business. While I was working, I was definitely was like a trainee with Harriett two times a week here and there. When I graduated, I opened my own small boutique in Israel. I started playing with my own products. I formulated toner at the time. I knew that alcohol would be really harsh for people. Either it would be too strong for mature skin or young acne. Stripping the oil results in irritation and makes skin more vulnerable.
I went to a center in Tel Aviv to buy all of the raw ingredients, powders and herbs—I still have several raw ingredients that I’m going to frame and put in my office. Thirty-six years ago I created a soapless milk cleanser with no alkali. I started doing lotion and something heavier for more mature skin. All clay for tightening mask. I found out that it was working. At the time, my products were very raw: no fragrances or preservatives. I used to tell my clients to put them in the refrigerator. Essential oil preserves products. I knew food and any that was preserve used a lot of sugar or salt in ancient times. I studied that essential oil preserved product and it can kill bacteria, heal the skin, can activate and stimulate, and by coincidence I discovered this occurred in England in the 14th century and bought several books and started reading them. My husband fell in love with the philosophy and that is how the family business started.
Essential oil is almost spiritual. You can smell lavender and feel very calm. You can smell peppermint and it can wake you up completely. Essential oil starts activating certain elements in the system. That’s how our formulation changed based on aromatherapy.
My husband is still involved with the formulation. We started bottling it and the attraction to it was so phenomenal. We started preaching by it 35 years ago. In the last 15 years, it’s worldwide. Not all companies use it, but it is more of a known. It’s not something people knew about 35 years ago—we were pioneers. We bottled the products and sold them in bulk to estheticians. People thought it was phenomenal. Acne is dispersed because we studied the depth of ingredients. And I would experiment with myself and clientele, they were very happy. It was a laboratory with my clients and when we saw something worked better, we knew that would be the future.
The direction of the business 15 years ago was such a huge success about the products to wholesaling and bulk, our business direction was changed and we decided to sell the products and bottles under the brand Sonya Dakar versus private label bulk. Between 15–10 years ago, the name began to be known.
Twenty-nine years ago, we came to the United States. I thought the United States was the dream land for immigrants to come and explore the center of the world. We were so excited to see what it was about, this magical land they call ‘America.’When we came here, we started to explore we saw the need for this—the results-oriented. At a time when I came to the United States, there were more fluffy treatments. Europe, women used to go to estheticians and it was more relaxed, more social. It was more luxurious. There wasn’t very much awareness about the importance of going to an esthetician regularly to improve and clear the skin. I don’t believe in conventional doctors, but believe that a lot of things can be prevented and discovered if the route that is holistic. In the last 15 years, it has become apparent that alternative and holistic ways can work, even after surgery. This is the only way to heal. People started to understand that it wasn’t fluffy and was about results. Put them through a boot camp of 15 or 12 visits. If a teenager comes to me with cystic acne and inflammation, and before me, they would go to a doctor and take prescriptions, and I say with open arms and heart I said we don’t have to use this route. Try this and we will win it.
Face is not much different from the body. If the body exercises and eats healthy food to succeed, the face does, too. That’s when we did the boot camp. Spas offer my services, even a lot of estheticians look at this route. I remember estheticians would come from all over the country to experience one treatment by me, and this started to grow all over the country. The clients need to come back and they adopt the results-oriented philosophy. I remember when clients used to come to me and I would clear the skin and the doctor would say that it would come back. They had curiosity … especially in Beverly Hills … when they discovered that clients were coming back. A lot of them decided to offer it … they call medical spa today. A more alternative way.
Sonya Dakar started with a small boutique in Hollywood on Beverly Boulevard. Thirty years ago, I started to work from home. I had a clinic in the back of my house—the guest house. It grew very fast. Then I opened a boutique, lots of celebrities and the film studios weren’t far from there. The boutique was getting too small. What it is about you that attracts so many people, a famous dermatologist asked. I built a building in Beverly Hills that we turned into a clinic—I won’t call it a spa. I do more clinical work versus a spa, which is like massages and relaxing facials versus more results-oriented. We expanded naturopathic doctor, pedicure, manicure, eyebrows, makeup—light mineral which suits my philosophy. Even today we attract people from all over the world. Every week, we have clients from Australia, England the Middle East, to see me and what it is about and what I can learn from this one. We sell products from all over the world.
We have one location and we hope to open in New York. Our products are all over the country at hotels and spas from Oklahoma to New York to Florida. Every place in the country uses Sonya Dakar.
I don’t look at this like magic. I’m definitely flattered to see how I changed the industry of beauty. Beauty is health and health is beauty. I look at the accomplishment. I’m still looking at the present and future. There is so much more to discover and do and bring that I feel like my mission is not done yet and the sky’s the limit. I’m not retiring any time soon. I feel like I have to continue and unveil if something is fascinating to the world. I’ll never quit.