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A Down-to-Earth Spa Industry Legend

Cathy Christensen October 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine
Lydia Sarfati headshot

It is virtually impossible to be a skin care professional in the United States and not know Lydia Sarfati, one of the most influential and respected leaders in the industry. Sarfati’s dedication to skin care through its events, associations and seminars makes her both visible and accessible worldwide. Her rise to success, coming to the United States from Poland and opening one of the first day spas in Manhattan in 1977 that grew into the Spa de Beauté concept, as well as her leading professional skin care product line, Repêchage, was chronicled in her book Success at Your Fingertips (Allured Publishing, 2005).

When asked if she ever dreamed of becoming the success she is today, Sarfati fondly remembers a conversation she had with one of her teachers in 1994 during the first trip back to her native Poland since she relocated to the United States.

“My teacher said that she remembered an essay I wrote when I was no more than 16 years old. I wrote that I was going to be a very important person, that I would have a global company and that I would be very successful,” Sarfati laughs.

Achievement may seem as though it’s always been in the cards for Sarfati, but the road hasn’t been without obstacles. The lessons she learned during the hard times are those she passes on to struggling spa owners today.

“I’ve had a few unpleasant curves thrown my way, and I needed to figure out what I could do. I’ve got a lemon. Now what do I do? Do I make lemonade? Do I sell it on the corner? Do I add water to the juice?” she says, acknowledging that, in these tough economic times, spa owners may need to re-evaluate how they do business.

“Try to do little things rather than big things. Instead of a main course, why don’t you try offering snacks and appetizers? Give clients a mask or a massage or just one element of a facial—make it more accessible and more fun,” she suggests.

These tips are not just from a business person; Sarfati says she is simply an esthetician at heart. “Recently, I was in an elevator at a trade show and a young lady was there with her husband and said, ‘Oh my goodness, this is Lydia Sarfati, the best esthetician in the world,’ ” Sarfati says. “When they got out of the elevator, my husband, David, said, ‘It’s funny how you are still an esthetician to them.’ Certainly I am the CEO of my company—the big cheese and the product developer—but, in my heart, I still think of myself as an esthetician.”

Of course, there is no denying that Sarfati has a lot on her plate. Along with all of her personal business responsibilities, she also is very active in many industry entities, and, at the time of this interview, just returned from the 57th CIDESCO World Congress held in Baden-Baden, Germany. Although her responsibilities may seem overwhelming to most, Sarfati insists they don’t feel like work to her.

Product development and client interaction top her list as the favorite parts of her job. “I love developing products and being inspired. In Baden-Baden, during early morning walks in the Black Forest, I was inspired by it and the earth and realized that my next body scrub needs to be a Black Forest scrub,” she says.

Two years ago, Sarfati began performing direct client consultations, through which she has derived much satisfaction. “I love sticking my fingers in the mud and seeing the seaweed on clients, and I love the firsthand satisfied reactions,” she says. Clients aren’t the only ones inspired by Sarfati; skin care professionals are, as well. “I love teaching estheticians and seeing the sparkle in their eyes,” says Sarfati. “I come off of events and trade shows and seminars and my body says ‘Stop!,’ but my head says ‘Go!’ ”

Stopping Sarfati isn’t an easy task. When she isn’t performing facials, talking with clients or writing formulations, she enjoys an hour-long walk every morning and is a voracious reader, preferring books that allow her to learn, especially those based in history. She just finished reading David McCullough’s best seller 1776.

As one might suspect, business is at the core of Sarfati, indicated by her passion for all of its aspects. “I love negotiations. My juices really get going when I sit across from a vendor or a banker and really negotiate a good deal,” she says.

Through it all, Sarfati considers herself truly an entrepreneur, like many spa owners, and this allows her a freedom she cherishes. “Being an entrepreneur allows me not to be boxed in to one particular section of the business,” she says.

The spa industry has benefited from this lack of restriction and will continue to benefit for years to come, as well.

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