Mary Zatarain Interview Transcripts

Check out the Face to Face column with Zatarain in the June 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

I got started in this industry by accident. I had graduated from college in foreign languages and had worked at the UN. It wasn’t making me happy and went home to New Orleans and started to work on my master’s and at a daytime job I ran into Edwin Neill and he ended up being my husband. As time went by, one of his sales people hairdressers wasn’t going to do a talk on skin care and they suggested I do it, and I studied up and went to a hairdresser meeting and did the presentation and was sweating. I saw how much interest there was, and how much there wasn’t available to learn here.

They said, “Why don’t you go check out other things?” Went to NY and looked at some companies. Did the same in Canada. Came back and got more involved with Christine Valmy and went through her school of training. Neill Corp. started putting skin care in hair salons (1973) and that wasn’t happening. I went off to Europe and studied some courses there and got to use my languages there. We started putting Christine Valmy skin care units in beauty salons. We handpicked 20 salons in Louisiana and Mississippi with up and coming clientele that would be interested. I got to train people. And it kind of fell into my lap that I would do training. We started training people on a regular basis. Again, an accident, I’m in a salon that we had installed and the manager said that she didn’t want to handle it and she suggested I take it over. The Right Face, 1976. 24 hours later, I was the owner of a skin care spa in Baton Rouge. I was doing that and still training people.

Moved the location to Hammond, started a school and bought a Victorian home and also had a spa. That was in 1980. In the interim, the cosmetology board decided that I could do what I do, that I should be a hairdresser. Being young and naive, I decided to take the law on and went to the legislature and put a bill in to license estheticians separately and all hell broke loose. What we were teaching was so far removed from skin care, it was obvious. I must have had this wide-eyed puppy look that most of the lobbyists felt sorry for me and tried to help me. We were called the Lipstick Brigade. It made the media. We got the bill all the way through the Senate and we lost by one vote in the House. During that process, things came out. I was putting out fires all over the place, and then finally I stood up at the legislature one day, I said I have a salon right here, everyone is welcome to come in and get a facial so you will understand. What a mistake! They started coming! The next year, we brought it back and we knew we were going to win. We would pass it in the House and got it on the Senate. It passed and we got esthetician licenses separate part of cosmetology, schools separate, you could teach as an esthetician and practice and not be a hairdresser. Failed in 1979 and passed in 1980. I was in CIDESCO, I was in the Board of American Esthetics, our objective was to get other states to follow suit. The fact that I came out of that in one piece was amazing. From that I continued to teach estheticians and move more salons, and I had two boys and when they were about 8 or 9, I thought I needed to spend a little more time playing football. Got out of the school business and spent more time in skin care. New Orleans—in dermatology office, skin care clinic in Hammond. During that time, I’ve worked with cosmetic chemists and get to understand what is going on with skin and treatments. Dermatologists weren’t in favor of skin care stuff. The cosmetic dermatologists are just lightening rods with having facials and fillers.

It’s made a major turn. I think it’s for the best. There are some parts that aren’t good. The overall awareness … people can say “esthetician.”Their idea of a facial involved cream and a hot towel. Dermatologists have figured out that it enhances their practice to have an esthetician. Does it contradict each other—yes, but so do doctors and pharmacists. There are limitations in the United States about what you can do, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be aware of the ingredients you can’t use and why not. I think it’s in a good spot. It definitely can move forward, depending on limitations placed on it as we move on. We need a unified license program and testing. The testing is ridiculous because some boards don’t want to have equipment to test on. Until that group has been removed and you have groups that know if you use equipment, you have to have it to test on it. If people continue to push. Everything is about the dollar. If that industry is choking another industry, then there is going to be a fight. Younger people are more than involved. If there’s some unified direction to help licensing across the country, that is need.

Where will I be in 10 years? I love what I do; hopefully, if I’m healthy, I’ll still be doing it. I love it. I’m more selective at my time and presence. These people have become part of my family. If you are going to spend an hour with someone, make sure it’s someone you like. If you don’t, you’ll be miserable. If it’s not in the same format, I’ll certainly do it in another format. I loved teaching and there may be some of that for me in the future.

The passion was truly by fate. I was working at this hotel checking out people, and the next people in front of me are Edwin Neill and Paul Mitchell, and I’m fresh out of college and they were being flirtatious. About four hours later, I get another call and they asked to meet me. I was so not part of it. But the interest that people wanted to know and didn’t have was the key. I think that I am proof that college—for me, what you get from college is not necessarily the degree, but it taught me how to learn, so you already had the skills to learn. When I went to France to learn about skin, I had to know my French.

Your effect on your client is so widespread. You see your client more than their family sees them and you probably know more than you need to know. I do believe that your personality attracts the same clientele.

My New Orleans location at Robert E. Lee and West End was right where the canal broke. We had water all the way through the second floor. It was devastating. We had gone to Hot Springs and I’m looking at the TV and I’m seeing where they’re filming and saying there is my office! I’m looking at a building and it is totally underwater. I went back in February. It was so depressing. Everybody was gone. The trees, the houses, the piles of debris up in the middle of the street. I can remember the first time when I didn’t come home depressed was when the Saints had their first game in the dome. Normally, if I had a client call me and say I’m waiting on the plumber, I would say this is not a good excuse. I started to say “I understand.” It’s very sad and every time I see a little blip on it and the people blaming … that misses the whole point of the pain and drama. That’s what still lingers. The incredible emotional drama that went on—I don’t think that’s ever gonna go. That’s just one of the crosses you bear forever. Christine Valmy was such a mentor for me and the pushing from Edwin. I don’t know that no is there … you just hit the wall and go, I guess I can’t do that.

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