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Shani Darden’s Journey From Spa to Celebrity Aesthetician

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Shani Darden’s Journey From Spa to Celebrity Aesthetician

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Welcome to Big Break, where some of the most influential figures in the beauty industry reflect on the moments that made them — from the good to the bad and everything in between. Here, Shani Darden, celebrity aesthetician — whose clients include Jessica Alba, Chrissy Teigen, and Shay Mitchell to name a few — and founder of Shani Darden Skin Care shares her journey from beginning as a spa receptionist, to building an epic celebrity client base and a successful skin-care line.

Shani Darden loved skin care from a really early age. “My mum was really into the importance of taking care of your skin,” she tells POPSUGAR. Having skin that was prone to breakouts made Darden even more interested in finding more out about the world of skin car. But even though her love of beauty ran deep, she didn’t know she wanted to be an aesthetician. In fact, “we didn’t even have an aesthetician where I grew up, so it wasn’t something I knew I wanted to do,” she says. After moving to Los Angeles, Darden was trying to figure out what she wanted to do and one of her friends suggested she work in a spa. “I had worked as a receptionist at a couple of spas and really liked it. So first I went to school to be a massage therapist and then an aesthetician after that.”

Not long into school, Darden knew that being an aesthetician was exactly what she wanted to do. “I was really fortunate enough that I got really great jobs right out of school,” Darden reflects. “I worked at a really high-end spa and I worked as a receptionist there in hopes that they would hire me after to be an aesthetician, which they did not do,” she laughs, “but they helped me get a job at a dermatology office.” Darden worked alongside renowned LA-based dermatologist Dr. Erma Benitez; where she learnt a huge amount about skin types and conditions. “I bounced around different places; I literally worked everywhere, every hotel, plastic surgeon office, you name it — until I went out on my own.”

“Jessica Alba was my first celebrity client that talked about me and she mentioned me in Allure magazine and that’s kind of how it started.”

Although she loved what she did, there was one aspect she wasn’t keen on. “Oftentimes being an aesthetician at a spa is not somewhere you’re going to make a lot of money unless you’re pushing product,” she explains. And that’s exactly what Darden didn’t want to do when it came to her own approach. “What I didn’t enjoy about working at any spa was that you have to push products, which was really hard for me because I didn’t necessarily believe in all of them and also not everyone can afford to leave a place spending that much money each time.” Darden was even fired from one of the places she worked because her sales were so awful. “Not all product lines were even right for everyone’s skin types, so I knew that working for a spa was definitely not for me in that sense.” So whilst Darden says opening up her own clinic wasn’t necessarily a “goal”, it happened naturally from following her ethos of trying to give her patients the very best care.

For Darden, going out into business on her own wasn’t the most challenging aspect of her journey. She noted that by far the hardest aspect for her was dealing with negativity and challenging bosses prior to going out on her own. “Being on my own wasn’t a challenge because it’s just me. The only challenge is myself.”

“Big celebrities were walking through my house to use the bathroom while my kids were hiding in the bedroom,” she laughs.

From there, Darden’s success continued to grow and the catalyst for exponential growth was thanks to her now-friend Jessica Alba. “Jessica Alba was my first celebrity client that talked about me and she mentioned me in Allure magazine and that’s kind of how it started,” she says. “That’s when a lot of makeup artists started coming to me and then they were referring their clients.” At the time, Darden wasn’t completely working on her own. . . yet. “The place I worked had mostly celebrity clients and they would always see the owner, but I ended up seeing Jessica this time and we just hit it off, and then later became friends,” Darden says. “Because of that, it definitely changed everything for me, for sure.” From there, clients ended up going directly to see Darden in her home office. It wasn’t long before Darden had an epic list of celebrity clients.

Following her success in the clinic, it was a natural progression for Darden to come out with her own product line, which all started with one product: retinol. “Because I worked for a dermatologist, I worked a lot with patients that were on a retinol, Retin-A, or Tazorac; I was so in love with the ingredient but knew there is downtime with using a prescription retinol,” Darden explains. “I wanted to make one that everyone could use and I kind of went from there.” Since then, Shani Darden Skin Care has expanded to include a cleanser, oil-free moisturiser, sculpting wand, lactic acid serum, and much more — launching in Sephora in the States and Cult Beauty in the UK.

As far as pinch me moments go, Darden has, unsurprisingly, had a few. “Everything always is [a pinch me moment], I see some of the biggest celebrities and I’m still always like, “How did I get here?” kind of thing,” she says. Darden also explained that when she rented a house and worked out of the back office, she didn’t have a bathroom in the clinic space. “I would say a pinch me moment was that I had this small house and there were really big celebrities walking through my house to use the bathroom while my kids were hiding in the bedroom,” she laughs.

Aside from all of that though, with her work, Darden has one goal: “always to make people feel confident and get them on the right track — that’s all I really care about.”

Image Source: Shani Darden



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