One of America’s most in-demand aestheticians, Joanna Vargas has now brought her signature spa treatments to Hong Kong. Here, she talks non-invasive technology, busting beauty myths and why you don’t need botox – yes, really!
With sell-out salons in New York and Los Angeles already catering to clients that include some of the biggest names in Hollywood, where does celebrity aesthetician and beauty mogul Joanna Vargas look to next? Hong Kong, of course! “It was a really natural fit for me to bring my services here,” she explains from the Four Seasons Spa, where she’s just launched four of her signature facials.
“In New York, I have a lot of clients from Hong Kong, as well as those who travel back and forth constantly, whether they’re women in finance on business trips or actresses attending press junkets. I find that the clientele here is very savvy and, to me, Hong Kong is incredibly fashionable, cool and hip, so I feel it has a vibe very similar to that of New York in many ways.”
Vargas and her team have just spent two weeks in Hong Kong training the Four Seasons staff on her non-invasive treatments, which utilise a combination of LED, microcurrent and radio frequency with no downtime or side effects. This includes her signature Triple Crown Facial, which works to tone, firm and boost radiance, and is dubbed the “red carpet facial” because of its popularity among Hollywood stars during award season. Steadfast followers include Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rachel Brosnahan, Greta Gerwig and Sophia Coppola.
A self-proclaimed “beauty fanatic,” Vargas never started out with the intention of becoming a therapist. After college, she worked in fashion photography but, finding she wasn’t suited to freelance life, enrolled in aesthetic school. “I really fell in love with taking care of somebody and helping them figure out the puzzle of their skin. So, it was then that I thought, OK, I’ll give it a year and see what happens and I never looked back. That was 27 years ago.”
After nearly a decade of hands-on experience, Vargas decided to open her first salon on Fifth Avenue in 2006. But 17 years ago, the landscape was vastly different for someone trying to get their business off the ground. With Facebook in its infancy and Instagram not yet invented, having a social media presence or influencer marketing wasn’t an option (and out of respect for her former employer, Vargas didn’t take any of her previous clients with her). Although an early undercover review by an Allure Magazine journalist did bring some traffic, Vargas had to rely on good old-fashioned word of mouth. “I just tried to make every facial so good that you have to tell your best friend about it,” she says.
Seventeen years later, such an enduring mantra has not only earned Vargas a stellar reputation in elite circles but also resulted in her New York salon having an average daily waiting list of 75-100 people for her non-invasive treatments, with clients booking six months in advance to secure a spot. A third salon opens in Brooklyn next month.
Surprisingly, Vargas doesn’t consider New York to be “super cutting-edge” when it comes to the newest technologies in beauty. Instead, she looks to Korea and France to stay ahead of trends, as well as communicating with global counterparts to see what she can bring to her clients that’s innovative and different. “People are sharing their deepest insecurities with me, so I try to see how I can thoughtfully address that for them with the treatments I offer, because one woman’s insecurity is probably 50,000 other women’s insecurity,” she says.
While the wider cosmetic surgery industry often thrives on and even encourages such insecurities, Vargas’s embrace of non-invasive treatments sets her apart. “I think I have a reputation for being trustworthy and really straight with people,” she explains. “At the end of the day, I’m not going to encourage people to do procedures I think are unnecessary. I’ll tell you if you don’t need something, and I’m the first person to say you don’t need filler or botox.”
Vargas’s approach to skincare is instead driven more by a holistic philosophy, placing greater emphasis on the health and wellness of the skin. In 2011, she launched her own skincare line formulated with plant-based ingredients, which was influenced by her year-long study of nutrition.
Since then, the boom in skincare-focused indie beauty brands has spurred a democratisation of the sector, with names such as The Ordinary offering potent active ingredients at a low price. Although Vargas is glad so many options exist today, she recognises the potential drawbacks of such an abundance of information.
“Consumers have a tendency to become confused by which ingredients are good for their skin and consequentially I think they use too many actives and have too many steps in their skincare routine,” she says. Her advice to anyone trying to navigate the industry? “Having a professional aesthetician guide you is still as relevant today as it was 20 years ago.”
For this reason, in 2020 she published her book Glow From Within, an easy-to-understand, practical guide providing advice on skincare routines, the science behind ingredients, diet and self-care.
“On Instagram, I receive messages all the time from people asking about this or that, and my day-to-day clients have so many questions. They feel overwhelmed and don’t know who to listen to. So, I thought if I could help sort it out for people, figure out what works for them, and also explain how our habits inform the way our skin looks – moving our body, making better choices at dinner and getting more sleep – all of these things are visible in our skin every day, and I don’t think that people really have that connection.”
But the one beauty myth she’s most keen to dispel is botox. “People get fed the botox and filler conversation so young: today 25-year-olds are thinking about their first botox shot; it’s insane! What I try to do is explain that you don’t have to do the cookie-cutter thing to get the most out of your skin. When people understand that and how powerful non-invasive technologies can be, then they see that it can really change the look, health and wellness of the skin – and of the whole body.”
Find out more about the Joanna Vargas facials available from the Four Seasons Spa website here.