Following are the personal recollections of Marti Dunne, principal therapist and head esthetician at The West Maui Wellness Center in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, Skin Inc. magazine's Face to Face subject for July 2008.
When I was 17 years old, I was enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. I left my Las Vegas home with luggage, an iron and $40. With luck and determination, I was assigned to oceanside barracks in Okinawa, Japan. I immediately resonated with the Asian culture. I remember the serene Buddist temples, the Zen like ponds, waterfalls in gardens, the food, the music and the smells. These nuances and many more carved indelible warm spots in my psyche. I always claimed to have a vivacious personality, I was average looking and had a type of dyslexia called discalqua. I am unable to understand numbers, forms, machines and sequences. So me and my personality took jobs with the public. I was a flight attendant, a tour director and most lucratively a Nevada cocktail waitress during the Sinatra years. I was dressed like a fairy princess and gave away free drinks for big tips. I used this money to finish my college education (a fine arts degree) build a three-story home in the mountains behind Lake Tahoe and travel abroad. I met my best friend and former husband in the casinos and had my first skin care lesson there. My feisty redheaded supervisor pulled me aside during a shift and asked me why I had so much thick makeup on my face. I told her I thought it made me look pretty. She told me I had nice skin and to change the way I think and show up for the next shift with out the pancake! I began taking an interest in the way my skin looked and have rarely used facial makeup since.
Eventually, working day and night (tour-guiding days, casinos nights) with the mass public took its toll on me; my nerves were shot. I decided to take a short massage class in 1984, then attended formal school at Harbin Hot Springs school of Massage and Shiatsu/Watsu near Calistoga, California. I had an emotional epiphany there in that beautiful, ancient healing place. I realized there was something in me that could be used to help others feel better. I transfered from the Hyatt Lake Tahoe Casino to the health club in the basement. "Spa" was not a well-known term. I was teased for being a massage girl or working in a massage parlor. However, I loved the work and continued my education. Several years later, I met an "esthetician." My severely sundamaged skin had become a great concern for me, and she assured me, as with her, the damage could be reversed. A year later, I entered esthetic school at the Carson City Beauty Academy in Carson City, Nevada. In those days, there were very few estheticians, nevermind teachers of esthetics, so we had a beautician instructor come in one or two hours a week, and we were pretty much self-taught. I loved the environment and watched the "cosmos" dye hair and the "mannys" do nails. Despite the commute to Carson City in the snow and working my job, it was one of the most fun times in my life. I was in comfortable enviroment where my dyslexia disappeared and the right, creative side of my brain thrived. I was coming home!
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In 1994, it was common knowledge that when you graduated from esthetic school, you were to go out and learn about skin care. Educate, educate, educate. I was fortunate to have Flora Spa's Dr. Christian Pascal (formerly of Mennen products) come to The Hyatt and teach our therapists medicinal aromatherapy and its application to skin care. One month after graduation, I was extremely graced to experience one of the most inspiring occasions of my new career. My only esthetics friend, Peggy and I drove to San Francisco and took the first of two intimate skin care sessions taught by Dr. Howard Murad. I was mesmerized by this kind man. The love, humor,intelligence, devotion, pure intention he imparted to us has stayed with me all these years. Glycolic acids were just peeping out then and Dr. Murad was one of the frontrunners in this lasting anti-aging treatment method. It worked for me. I quit going out in the sun completely and began my life-long regimen of rejuvenating and beautifying my skin, and the results encouraged me to help others, as well.
I returned to the Hyatt and implored management to add facials to our meager spa menu. With my job and reputation almost on the line, as I remember it, management razed a small sauna and turned it into a facial room. We were successful, and soon a lovely atrium office nearby was changed into the garden room facial salon! I was happy as a daisy and facials/spa treatments were popular and there to stay. I understand there is a magnificent Lakeside Spa on that property now; several of my former cocktail waitresses/coworkers are now estheticians there as we speak
Following these sucesses for all concerned, sadness, trauma and loss came into my life. My gorgeous soulmate mother died a terrible death to ovarian cancer. I retired from Hyatt Regency Tahoe quietly after 25 years of award-winning dedication. My precious marriage of 19 years was ending, Pristine North Lake Tahoe was becoming another Aspen for the wealthy and loosing its pioneer, rustic flavor. The long cold winters had given me chronic lung disease. With Sept 11th, my 30 years at lovely Lake Tahoe were over. I tried Reno for a year, and worked for a world-renowned naturopath doing microdermabrasion, and assisting him in facial laser surgery. At that time, there was still a chasm between the spa spirits and the medical field. Communication was difficult and frustrating on both sides. A starkl, cold winter brought illness which overtook me. Laying on old matress on the floor of an unfurnished, freezing mobile home, I was in terrible emotional and physical pain. I realized someone up there loved me and was trying to get a message across! Helllooo! A week later, I abandoned my vast belongings and jumped on plane to Maui, Hawaii. I kicked the surfer out of my small beachside apartment and moved into the mess. The following year was spent mourning, reclaiming my health and going back to school to get all my certificates. I began my own business called Kahana Rose Skin Care. I decide to get my CNA (certified nursing aid)license to be more savvy in the world of Western medicine. Blessed again, while attending all these schools, I fell into calling I never imagined. I had become a hospice volunteer in Tahoe. I was now a CNA, still repeating my massage and esthetician education. A dear massage therapist friend here, Candy, hooked me up doing elder care. The first odd Irishman was a pain in many ways; I spent most of my time taking away his cigarettes and hiding his booze. But the money was OK and the oceanfront room I slept in had its perks. Eventually, I connected back with my fondness of elderly women. My grandmother had been a boundary-breaking, assertive, elegant, aristocrat whom I deeply loved and was loved by. So began my career in elder care for ladies. I would not only provide for them in every way, I would give them facials, apply attractive makeup, fix their hair in flattering, elaborate styles. Rummaging through the mothballs, I would find pretty dresses and slinky lounging outfits. Ear lobes would be repierced and thier fine costume jewelry adorned. When I showed them to the mirror, there would be shrieks of happiness and tears of disbelief. We went on outings, recreated formal dining scenarios and their self-esteem and happiness was reinstated, if even for a short time. I was always in beautiful homes on tropical beaches enjoying the best of everything, but paramount was the sweet recreation of something that once had meant so much to them. Most of them transitioned into lovely women once more. Also through my Kahana Rose elder care, I began to help out at the senior citizens centers and developed a skin care lecture series. This was more well attended than I had ever thought it would be. It gave me a reason to brush up on my past public speaking skills and get these mature women excited about recieving facials and using anti-aging professional products. I could also do some pro bono work for women who had limited funds and keep the facial price very low to help them get started and realize the rejuvinating results are real.
Soon, I was able to qualify for working in the exotic, expensive state of Hawaii. I worked at a Major Hotel again and did facials and massage at a cute, happening day spa that was sort of impersonal and mostly about the numbers. There was no senority, motivation or positive reinforcement. There was much about it I did appreciate as I met many wonderful Maui healing practioners there. My soul was starving and my hands ached to reach in and help hurting people on a much deeper level. Somewere lost inside me, I knew God had given me a gift to do much more.
Taking my evening walk along the beach last October, I noticed an old pioneer building being remodeled, and a sign outside advertising for massage therapists. I did not really want to give up my facial work, but knew I needed a change of attitude/venue. I obtained an interview with two very likable women, total opposites. Courtney Johnson is a slim, grounded, attractive, athletic, direct-speaking woman and a doctor of Chinese medicine, acupuncturist and massage therapist.Laura Markison is beautiful, bubbly, warm and empathetic with a masters degree in psychology and is a former health food store owner. I identified with all that they had to say and envision. They called me back a week later for another interview, and let me know I had a position when they opened. Another week later, they met with me and said the had never dreamed of offering facials, but after perusing my resume, they said they were impressed with my education and experience, and asked if I would be willing to head up some kind of skin care program. And of course I was overwhelmed with enthusiasm. I was at that time asked to be the principal (head) esthetician and massage therapist.
Five months later now, I remember how my grandmother taught me to mentally visualize to manifest what is good for me and all those concerned. The Wellness center has been that and more. Laura and Courtney carefully interviewed each employee. We are treated like we are each very special and inimitable in our own way. We have, besides Laura and Courtney's myriad skills, on staff two rolfers, a douala, a zenshiatsuist, other acupuncturists, nutritional specialists, Lomi Lomi therapist and soon will have a gifted, spiritual-based chiropractor. I do many modalities. There are not many souls in need that come in the door that I do not manage to find a bond with. I work a lot with intuition. It sounds sort of New Agey, but when I lay my hands on a body or a face, I feel as though, if I listen with my heart, it speaks to me of its wounds and needs. I rely on this connection very much in my work. Rather than pamper, I nurture. I know life, even in Maui or tourists can be tough. If I can earn their trust, let them go limp while my hands grow strong and my breath meets theirs, they can go where they need to be to heal. What I tell myself at the end of a tiring, physical day is that if I have helped change, inspired or even brought just one hour of comfort and bliss into this person's lif,e I have done a good thing. When my clients compliment me, I am quick to mention that I believe there are three essential elements causing a healing: Spirit (God, Universe, nature), the client and me. I am a conduit from a great source to facilitate peace and progress in this body I am honored to work with.
The wellness center treats us with appreciation, accommodation and respect as individuals "artists" and not as timed, expendible, money-making machines, which sounds harsh, but that mentality exists in many spas today.
What works well for me is that when my patient walks in, they are turned right over to me. Together, we design a custom treatment for them, be it Thai massage with hot stones, with a algae foot scrub detox, reflexology, a facial exfoliation and hot aroma towels. It could be a facial with a deep AHA peel and soft, aromaticl thai poltices gently compressed over the body during the soothing mask period.. love the creativity, variety this gives me and the patients leave with a once in a lifetime, custom treatment. And they come back and they send their friends and families. The wellness center will work around my needs and health. They do a free indepth health workup on each employee, which has helped me with some health issues, so I have more even energy. Inside is always full of lively conversations about health and neighborhood happenings and recommendations for the visitors to Maui. It is always upbeat and our receptionists greet each client as if they were a long-lost friend, or the most important person on Maui! We serve chilled water and exotic delicious teas, sometimes healthy snacks to our guests. We have an outside, cushy love seat and a terrific tropical flower arrangement where our guests can wait, meditate and watch the waves roll in across the road. Next door is The transformational yoga and Pilates center, farmer's market, health food store, coffee corner and ocean activities shop. Lots of fun, healthy places to visit.
Laura and Courtney encourage me in my public speaking career, along with my my love for writing, and help me with my brochures. We are now working on a skin regeneration class for me to teach there. They both have great conflict-management skills. Should the slightest friction occur, they sense it, listen and work things out in a win-win way for all. Within the center, we are encouraged to trade treatments and knowledge with each other. I could not think of a more loving enviroment to be a part of that inspires me to persue my personal dharma.
Being given the honor of working on that sensitive center of our external being, the human face,is a passionate privilege to me. The more imperfections, the more my affection for that face. I am like the mad chef in a gourmet kitchen. I love the smells, colors, products, decorations and soothing music of a facial room. All the former chaos of my entire life is gone, and I am in this healing space with a person laying there in trust and anticipation, perhaps saving up for a long time for this session.
My concerns about the industry are that, at one time, no one knew what an esthetician was, now everyone one wants to be one. Some schools dangle easy employment, large paychecks, and massive numbers of new estheticians are pouring out of these schools. What I see in Hawaii, perhaps other states?, is that estheticians get out of school, get a job and never advance these beginning treatments. It is still to me education, education, education. I worked with one pleasant but static esthetican who, two years out of school, still had her notes opened up, used a bulky plastic school neck sheet and was reluctant to remove blackheads. I could tell you horror stories of estheticians doing things totally uncontricated. Some spas let them coast. I personally feel and have practiced what I preach, that being a good aesthetician requires endless commitment to education.. healthy lifestyle, dedicationto our art. Buy contemporary books on skin care. Read your Skin Inc. magazine cover to cover. Attend Toastmasters. Support the incredible dermatology/spa conferences as frequently as possible. Be fluent in "spa speak" Know all about drugstore products all the way up to higher levels and the products physicians use. Be prepared to answer any question your client may challenge you with. If you cannot answer it, say "I will get back to you on that." Research it and let them know what you found out. Have your clients call you after a treatment if they have concerns and call them to check in with them also. If they are repeats, add a little extra massage somewhere, bring them a special little gift when appropriate. Straighten that special bond when ever you can.
When I was in esthetic school, there came that proud halfway mark where we were allowed to don the white lab coat. It was a source of great pride. I still today use a nice feminine lab coat, white apron or dress in white. Appearance for an esthetician is very paramount. The last place I worked employed an esthetician who came to work defensive in beige Levis, a t-shirt and lank, greasy hair--no makeup on her bad skin, and eventually, because of complaints, she was fired. She never knew why! You never get a second chance to make that first impression. I carefully choose my esthetician clothes, spare but complimentary makeup on my now-good skin. I get manicures and pedicures. I style my hair up, with hair flowers and decorative combs and subtle jewelry. It is important to me to live a health lifestyle so I am congruent with what I recommend to my clients. I can tell that when I look well groomed, confident and come out to greet them with smiling eye contact and a warm hand clasp that they are relieved and assured that they are in good hands. Right from the get go. I shared a space with a young esthetician who would come to work with a brash attitude, sporting spandex shorts, a tight white low cut t-shirt, her blond hair bouncing all over her face and and high heels. What are these people thinking? It is not about you, it is about the gaining confidence and comfort for the client. It has taken a long time for us to gain legitimacy in the field of massage and facial treatments. The image we present to the public represents what we think of ourselves and the work we do.
There is deep gratitude for the life I have been graced to make for myself here in Maui. I love the place I work. My private Kahana Rose offers me endless opportunities in speaking, writing, teaching, pro bono work and training others. I am still best friends with my former husband who manages my discalculia challenges for me. Despite a small studio apartment where I live, I swim in our warm lagoon pool and the Pacific Ocean is my living room. I have a sweet boyfriend of 3-1/2 years who has lived on Maui for 30 years and continues to explain, explore the wonders of Hawaii with me. My dear,great pen pal through the fax machine happens to be my tennis-playing 86-year-old suave white-fox father and his herd of four adopted cats living in my Las Vegas childhood home. I try to do some yoga every day; it symbiotically keeps the body young by being flexible. I continue my Tahoe habit of hiking up to the great views of west Maui's little hills. I read and meditate on the shore across the street from my little grass shack. My closest student friend from Carson Beauty Academy also trained esthetician/LMT ended up living across the street from me! Ona Childs prefers working in the hotels, so we share experiences and travel to skin education classes whenever we can. I am still very skilled and interested in advanced AHA, lactic, glycolic, salicylic peels for the skin before more invasive procedures as they have worked so well for me and also Ona. In the beginning of this bio, I mentioned my profound first sensouous experience as a teenager in Japan. I now spend every hectic holiday-ridden December relaxing in Asia. Most recently, Thailand, where I get wonderful, inexpensive treatments almost every day and study all I can about their ancient spa treatments.
In my late 50s, I resonate that painful change can be a catlayst for some of the most wonderful opportunities in your life. I have deep grattitude for all those who have been patient and supported me along my journey.