Quickly approaching icon status, Sonya Dakar counts celebrities, supermodels and even royalty among her clientele, yet she insists skin is a great equalizer. “I don’t care about your education or how much money you’re worth; you can be a common person and still live a lifestyle that is good for your skin,” she says.
Born in Israel, Dakar was first intrigued by the world of skin health at the impressionable age of 15 after visiting her mother’s esthetician, Harriett. “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,” she explains.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t a treatment that inspired Dakar; rather, it was the people she chatted with while in the lobby. “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 says. Harriett was a dermatologist, but began offering holistic remedies after becoming pregnant, which had an effect on Dakar. “She had converted her philosophy to a more holistic approach,” Dakar says. “I was captivated.”
Dakar acted on her attraction to the business of skin, apprenticing with Harriett while attending school. After graduating, she opened a small boutique in Tel Aviv, Israel, that became her laboratory for developing skin care products composed of raw ingredients, powders and herbs. “At the time, my products were very raw: no fragrances or preservatives. I used to tell my clients to put them in the refrigerator,” she says. After discovering how essential oils were used as preservatives in 14th century England, Dakar and her husband Israel delved into the philosophy that resulted in the birth of what Dakar lovingly refers to as “the family business.”
Dakar and Israel decided to make the move to California 29 years ago after visiting the United States as tourists. “I thought the United States was the dream land for immigrants to come and explore the center of the world,” she says. “We were so excited to see what it was about, this magical land they call ‘America.’ ” Upon her arrival, Dakar found that, as in Europe, skin care treatments were more superficial, and she saw a need to introduce more holistic-based results-oriented esthetic services. According to Dakar, “There wasn’t very much awareness about the importance of going to an esthetician regularly to improve and clear the skin.” She opened a clinic in her guest house, and it grew so quickly that she soon moved to a boutique in Hollywood, California, on Beverly Boulevard, close to the film industry studio buildings, leading to a considerable celebrity clientele. And although it was proximity and a stellar reputation that initially brought those clients through the door, results kept them coming back.
Because her skin care and product business continued growing steadily, Dakar constructed a new location in Beverly Hills, California, which still acts as her home base, although, in the very near future, she plans to expand globally, starting with a second location in New York. She also enjoys an international reputation, often hosting clients who have flown in from Australia, England and the Middle East to experience her expertise, and Dakar products also are sold worldwide.
Her husband is still involved in the formulation of her products—he is the company’s head of research and development—and she credits her partnership with him for her success. More recently, her children also have joined the family business. “My kids grew up with skin care, played with the products and that was my dream come true. I never knew my kids would be part of my growing business,” Dakar says. Her son Yigal is the vice president of sales and marketing; son Nate is president; daughter Mimi is vice president of public relations and marketing; and daughter Donna is vice president of education and spa sales. “It’s the partnership, the family glue—one person cannot do this alone,” says Dakar. “A family is a big deal.”
With the support of her family, she continues to thrive in all areas of her business. And although she plans to focus on changing from hands-on to more of a director role in the near future, Dakar encourages those who are just beginning in the business to persevere. “Keep researching and keep looking, because the answer is there and you will discover it. Don’t give up. Every problem in skin and health is fixable,” she says.
Still, even with the numerous successful branches of her growing business, Dakar always comes back to her central philosophy: making people happy. “In the next few years, we can open a zillion more spas, and we’re going to,” she says. “But when a client’s life is changed—improved self-esteem ... a new job ... an engagement—it’s hard to accomplish something better than this.