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A Casual Sit-down With Michelle Obama's Esthetician

Posted: March 5, 2013
JoElle Lyons-Lee, esthetician for Michelle Obama

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Well the thing was, we didn’t have any white clients. The way I started to look at skin care was this; it’s the human body, the physiological makeup is the same, but different ethnic groups are susceptible to different things. For example if you’re African-American you may be more prone to hyperpigmentation or if you are Anglo Saxon you may be prone to higher degrees of sun damage and skin cancer. I look at the current condition of the skin, and I do my treatment and service based on that.

I think that’s a very healthy holistic way to handle skin, but the problem is that issues that commonly impact women of color are so often not addressed in the schools.

Well yes, most skin care is only marketed to white people anyway, not even Asians, Hispanics and darker-skinned Europeans. I was fortunate that I was exposed to both Milady’s curriculum and the medical end so I was a rarity. I didn’t discover until later that skin care education was geared to white skin, and it’s still not considered to be a prestigious career here in the United States as the beauty advisers are in Europe.

Tell me about your career path.

It began with the surgeon who came in to teach at our school. Physiology and Anatomy was a six- week course; the physician who taught it had actually specialized in ethnic skin in his schooling. He was doing new things like microdermabrasion and chemical peels, and he was the first doctor  I heard say that you must detox and cleanse your colon or you’re going to break out. I thought he was great. When he finished the course at my school, I went to his office to try and apprentice with him; and his nurses would tell me the doctor already has an esthetician so go away. I went back the next day, and the next. And I kept going back until he saw me. When he asked me what my ultimate goal was, I told him it was to have him work for me. He was so impressed that he hired me and trained me for four years. I ended up as director of his skin care department where I developed my first skin care line for him.

See JoElle Lee speak at Face & Body Midwest!

Join us at theFace & Body Midwest Advanced Education Conference Program, where JoElle will kick off the day with an inspirational presentation! She will talk about her career trajectory and motivate you on how to make the most of your journey; how to remain successful in this ever-changing industry; and how to set attainable goals while increasing your self-confidence. Register now!