Career Diaries: How Celebrity Esthetician Shani Darden Made a Name for Herself in Hollywood
Shani Darden, celebrity esthetician, Garnier ambassador and retinol champion, helps some of Hollywood’s most famous faces achieve and maintain their flawless complexions. She also has her own eponymous skin-care line and legions of followers on Instagram who look to her for skin-care education and pro tips. We caught up with the skin-care expert and chatted about how she went from working as a model to pursuing a career in skin care, her personal skin-care routine and why she’s such a believer in retinol. Keep reading for the full conversation.
Were you always into skin care and beauty? What inspired you to become an esthetician?
I grew up in a small town in New York state. I started making face masks when I was little, probably nine or ten years old. As a teenager, I became obsessed with skin care because I was struggling with skin rashes and acne. The closest dermatologist was an hour away, and I begged my mom to take me there.
Then I moved to LA in my early 20s to become a model and instead ended up in music videos. I eventually realized my true calling was skin care and went back to school to become an esthetician.
Early in my career, I was fortunate enough to work for dermatologist Dr. Erma Benitez, and I saw a lot of young people with acne and many other skin concerns. It motivated me to want to help people with their skin. This is when I developed a love for retinol because I saw how it can really make a big difference with boosting collagen, smoothing fine lines and wrinkles, clearing acne and decreasing pigmentation.
Tell me about your professional approach to skin care and how you think it sets you apart in the industry?
I’m all about a no-nonsense, honest approach combined with effective, easy-to-use products. I’ve experimented with so many different ingredients and formulas over the years, and every day I’m getting feedback from my clients, so I know what works. I’m known for my serums. If you have a powerful treatment product paired with the right staples like a cleanser and moisturizer, it can truly transform your skin.
What made you want to start your own skin-care line?
I launched my first product, Retinol Reform, in 2013. I couldn’t find a retinol product on the market that had all of the benefits of a prescription retinol product without the dryness and peeling, so I decided to develop my own formula that is incredibly effective but without the harsh side effects.
Over the years, I have worked with so many clients of all different ages, ethnicities and skin types and have been able to see which ingredients really work on skin. My clients were always asking me about launching more products, so I finally decided to take all of that knowledge and put it into developing my own skin-care line. Two years ago, I launched Texture Reform, the gentler sister to Retinol Reform, along with Cleansing Serum, Sake Toning Essence and Weightless Oil-Free Moisturizer. I also have a number of other products I’m working on now.
How did you pivot your business in response to COVID-19?
Los Angeles issued a shelter-in-place order three days before my brand launched at Sephora. As a founder, it was a really scary moment. We had worked for months preparing for the launch, and then all of a sudden the plans had to be put on hold. Luckily, I have an amazing team that was able to adapt and shift the focus. We quickly shifted all our marketing and press online and started to create content that was relevant to customers who were trying to take care of their skin at home during this unprecedented time. It’s been almost five months since I gave my last facial at my studio in Beverly Hills, and I really miss the human connection I have with my clients. Being able to connect with them and a wider community digitally has really helped me cope with all this change personally.
Walk me through your current skin-care routine. Has it changed at all since you started social distancing?
Being at home has given me more time to focus and keep a dedicated skin-care routine, which is great. I’m always very diligent with my routine, but being home means there are fewer excuses to not stick to it.
I cleanse with the Cleansing Serum, which is my gentle gel cleanser that doesn’t strip your skin. It actually helps to add moisture back into your skin with glycerin and sodium hyaluronate.
After cleansing, I use my Deesse LED Mask for 20 minutes. LED light helps boost collagen in the skin, minimizes fine lines and wrinkles and improves circulation to give you a nice glow. Next up, I apply a vitamin C serum for antioxidant protection. After that, I use eye serum. Lately I’ve been loving the Cosmedix Opti-Crystal Eye Serum; it’s really brightening and hydrating. If I need a little extra hydration, I’ll add in a hyaluronic acid serum before sunscreen. I love the Supergoop Play Everyday Lotion with SPF 50. It’s lightly hydrating yet doesn’t cause congestion. I wear sunscreen every single day, no matter what.
At night, I use the Cleansing Serum again, followed by my Sake Toning Essence that helps to regulate sebum production to keep pores clear as well as gently brightening the skin. Next up is Retinol Reform. This is what I recommend to all of my clients to keep their skin glowing between facials — I can’t live without it! It helps boost collagen in the skin, minimizes fine lines and wrinkles, evens out the skin tone and keeps skin blemish free. While that’s absorbing, I’ll apply my eye cream. For extra hydration, I like to use a hyaluronic acid serum like Dr. Nigma’s Serum No 1 to plump up the skin. I finish my routine with the Weightless Oil-Free Moisturizer, which provides lightweight hydration without causing congestion. Twice a week I exfoliate with the Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Peel Pads.
What are some of the most common skin-related questions you’ve been getting from your 250K Instagram followers lately?
One question I get every single day is whether you need to wear sunscreen daily while staying indoors, The answer is yes, absolutely! UV rays can pass through your windows, so you have to keep your skin protected even if you’re not going outside.
In addition to your own line, you also work with Garnier, which is owned by Skincare.com’s parent company, L’Oréal. What are some of your current favorite products?
I use the Garnier Water Rose Micellar Water every day. It’s great as your first step for cleansing to remove makeup and impurities from the skin. It’s a gentle enough formula that all skin types can use, even sensitive ones.
How do you hope to grow your brand and business in the future?
We have a lot of innovative products in development that we will be launching in the near future. I’m also looking forward to continuing to create content at home and in my Beverly Hills studio. I take a very customer-centric approach. Growing up and dealing with my own skin issues, I love being in the position to help others with their skin. Whether they’re my direct client, or someone reaching out to me on Instagram, I love these moments. I know how hard it can be to deal with issues like acne or melasma and how much it can affect your confidence, so being able to share my knowledge with others is very important to me. Being able to help people everywhere with their skin is my goal.
Do you have any tips for aspiring estheticians who have a goal of owning their own business and line someday?
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and fearlessly pursue your dreams. Don’t be afraid that people won’t like you; one of your greatest assets is being your unique self. Believe in yourself and your ideas!
Photo: Courtesy of Shani Darden; Designer: Hannah Packer