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Born Into Beauty

By: Cathy Christensen
Posted: June 16, 2008, from the August 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

“I literally cut my teeth on permanent wave rods,” replies Paulette Agha, owner of Beneficial Skinworks in Clemmons, North Carolina, when asked how she got her start in the beauty industry. As the daughter of a woman who owned beauty salons and schools throughout the Southeast, and who also was the education director for several major companies such as Clairol, Agha had no choice but to become an expert in the industry.

Like a typical teenager, Agha recalls that she kept insisting she didn’t want to go into the field, but, with her mother’s encouragement, she attended beauty school during her summer vacation from high school. During this time, she found that she was interested in all aspects of the profession that the other students weren’t—namely, skin care, makeup and nails. “I had to wait to become old enough to go to the state board to get my license. By the time I was 17, I had 2,300 hours,” Agha explains. At the age of 18, she had both her cosmetology and teaching licenses, went to college, got married and had children—“in that order,” she laughs.

When her children began attending school, Agha decided to look for a part-time position at a salon. A friend talked her into working at her salon four days a week. Six months later, Agha was the manager. Soon afterward, she was offered a teaching position at Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, North Carolina, at half the hours and double the pay. She took it and retired 13 years later as the cosmetology department chair.

Far from predictable, her life’s work took a strange twist when she decided to found Carolina Cosmetology, which brought beauty to Russia in the 1980s. “One Memorial Day weekend, I was watching a Russian lady on the news who was breaking up pavement and putting it in a truck while wearing fingerless gloves. She looked terrible, and I thought, ‘She needs a manicure,’ ” says Agha. From this notion, she developed her own product line, and started traveling to and from the Soviet Union, soon gaining full diplomatic immunity. After several years, Agha was advised to focus her energies elsewhere, due to political unrest in the area.

Agha next became heavily involved in the National Cosmetology Association, in which she continues to participate today. She served as the national designer and co-designer of the nail committee for three years. Always deeply engaged in the education of the industry, Agha served on the curriculum committee for continuing education in North Carolina when esthetics was becoming a separate license.