It started with an idea: What if, instead of interviewing facialists ourselves, we had them interview each other? Interesting enough, but maybe not a full blown story. We went back to the drawing board. Then another idea: what if we had two iconic facialists, the best in the biz, who happen to have the same first name, interview each other? Now we were getting somewhere. That’s how we ended up orchestrating the best skincare meet cute we could have imagined; Joanna Czech and Joanna Vargas, two soon-to-be best friends (and maybe collaborators—we can dream) sitting down to chat for the first time, and letting us record it. The following is an excerpt of that evening, with the two legends swapping philosophies and war stories on skin and wondering—why are you still not washing your face twice a day?!
Joanna Czech: I have so many questions for you.
Joanna Vargas: Me too! We might be here a while…
JC: I can’t believe we’ve never met!
JV: Well you don’t live in New York anymore, right? And even if we overlap in LA during Awards Season—I think people think that when you go to LA for Oscars week, you’re just hanging out. But I would imagine you’re working quite a bit, like I am. It’d be the worst time to be like, ‘Hey, wanna hang out?’
JC: I was here [in New York] for 23 years and we didn’t have the chance to meet.
JV: When did you leave?
JC: I left seven years ago. And now if I’m here, I’m working, working, working… As for LA…I don’t know about LA. I think I’m done with Oscars…
JC: It’s overwhelming to me.
JV: Because you’re so busy?
JC: I’ll do 50 treatments in five days. It’s too many for me.
JV: For me, by the end of Oscar week, I find that I need to do a proper detox in a way. It’s a lot of nervous energy. We’re talking about a lot of insecurity and things like that. For me, after that, I need a moment to not be an aesthetician and just hang out at home, play the piano, be with my kids…
JC: Do you find that you have to be a psychologist and babysitter [when you’re treating a client]?
JV: Of course. It’s intense.
JC: It’s intense!
JV: I used to tell people that at the end of Oscar night, I need to just…cry a little bit? You have so much pent up. You need to release and do a little recovery.
JC: I end up sleeping sitting up. [Laughs]
JV: Do you find yourself doing any body work as a part of your recovery?
JC: I try to get massages as often as possible. I’ll do it on a daily basis even! I strongly believe in that.
JV: What type?
JC: Deep tissue, sometimes with drainage opposite to it. I alternate those. I do cupping. And for whatever reason, working out works better than almost anything else for me. I’ll run a 5K, something like that.
JV: I do boxing.
JC: I love that! But how are your hands with that?
JV: It’s actually helped my hands a great deal! Also my fascia release massage—I don’t know if you’ve done it before, but it’s extremely painful. They basically break up all of the knots and tightness in your muscle. You just walk around like a cloud all day after that.
JC: I love it.
JV: I went through a period of time, a few years ago, when one of my best clients was doing an Oscars campaign. So we were doing a lot of treatments to gear up for that. But at night, I’d come home and my hands would hurt so much I could barely feed myself dinner! They were swelling all the time. So I went to Dr. Lipman and I was like, ‘I think I have arthritis!’ At the time, I was also eating pretty much vegan and very raw. So he said, ‘I’m pretty sure it’s your diet.’ Then he put me on one of his infamous cleanses—Frank’s answer to everything is a freakin’ cleanse [laughs]—so I said ‘OK.’ Eye roll…OK! And then two days into the cleanse, my hands stopped hurting. Five days in, the swelling went away and everything was done. It was because I was eating too much raw. It was a lesson! Not everything is good for everyone. Just because it’s healthy doesn’t mean it processes properly in different bodies.
JC: Different things work for different people. Right now, I’m reading the Plant Paradox and that philosophy is working for me. Fewer headaches, immediately less bloating. And if you’re loving boxing, then I’m going to go back into it. I love that.
JV: It’s so much fun. And it’s been really good for me and my hands.
JC: What made you want to be an aesthetician?
JV: I moved to New York when I was 21 and I wanted to be a fashion photographer. I booked jobs here and there, but I was extremely shy and realized that it wasn't for me. So I was just being in New York not knowing what to do. And then I figured if I went to beauty school, I could do makeup. I wasn’t sure. I did that, still not knowing—but I fell in love with really taking care of somebody and holding a face in my hands. I gave it a year to try it out—and that was 20 years ago!
JC: I learn tons in Poland. Every time I go back there, even from my 81-year-old mama. When I first learned about micropuncture here in the States, my mom knew about the micropen and the green light already—from her treatments in Poland. But I’ve always been very into science. I became an aesthetician by chance when I thought I was going to med school. But I never looked back. But that background informs me most. I look on Instagram, but I’m not sure I learn a lot.
JV: My rule for Instagram is that if it takes a good picture then it’s probably not interesting technology. If you care about how a tool looks in a photo, then maybe you’re not thinking enough about the science. Most women who come to my salon, the common goal is ‘I wanna glow.’ It’s the goal that everybody has. With a lot of the concerns that people have today, I find that LED is still one of my favorite tools for rosacea, for skin tone in general, for sensitivity, even for a little bit of the darkness.
JC: And consistency will help. It’s been working for us for so many years. And I’m so glad that LED is now so popular—but we’ve been doing it for nearly 20 years. I remember, Sarah Brown at Vogue did an article on LED forever ago and you and I were among the first ones who believed in LED. At that point, aestheticians were using only microcurrents in terms of technology. I started doing it on the set of Sex and the City in 2003. I got it from Switzerland. And I’d love to have your LED bed, by the way…
JV: I just redid it—you’re going to love it even more now.
JC: And are you selling that bed?
JV: Of course!
JC: We’re going to need to talk about that.
JV: We’ve gone into business already! We’re having a moment…
JC: We honestly do have a lot in common—beyond the name. In terms of how we approach the skin, it’s with a ton of respect.
JV: My commitment to my clients is to do the best for them and to have an opinion on what’s happening in the whole space, not just my salon. So that includes paying attention to what’s happening in Europe, or something a doctor is doing, or a study that’s come out. Then you think about how it applies to the 20-year-old client and the 80-year-old client and if it works for everybody, that’s when we know we should bring it in to what I do.
JC: I’m nervous with many new skincare lines. They’re being born too quickly. I don’t think everything is completely thought through. If all of a sudden, someone launches 12 products in a year—that’s impossible and shows that it wasn’t thought through. If you have one moisturizer that now spins off into one that’s clarifying and one that’s brightening and one that’s purifying… something is not right. And I don’t believe in every cream that’s whipped in grandma’s basement. They often don’t work on a cellular level—nothing penetrates. Clean science is my favorite approach. Organic and natural—these words are confusing and we are not all on the same page about what they mean. I’m skeptical of that.
JV: Today I had a meeting with my aestheticians and we were talking about the confusion people have around clean beauty. Everyone had a different concept of what clean meant. There’s not one definition. People might think that if it’s clean and organic and handmade, maybe it’s better. But you have to have some preservatives in products in order for them to be safe. Just because something is a chemical doesn’t mean it’s bad for you. As consumers, we can get very confused and I don’t think the free reign of marketing has helped. It can actually be harmful to the consumer to go to these various extremes. I’d like some middle ground.
JC: This is part of the reason it’s been 33 years and I still don’t have a skincare line. I’m too nervous about it. If I do it, it’s going to be small—but I admire anyone who does it.
JV: It was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. You know how you stumble into things not knowing how hard it’s going to be? This was that. I just thought, oh I’ll make some products. Then the first product took me two and a half years.
JC: And you’ve got to love it. That’s why I have my Czech List. I have my favorites and I’m abusing the last name of my ex-husband. [Laughs] That’s it! I’m always looking for some version of vitamins C, E, and A. I mean, we can go into peptides—I think there are only three that probably work but people will say they have 22 in their formula…
JV: [Laughing] Totally!
JC: …but I come back to C, E, and A. You’ve got cellular turnover, brightness, and protection all in those three.
JV: I’d say vitamin C, retinol, and then a face oil. I couldn’t live without something with argan or neroli.
JC: Oh oils for sure. Oil helps everyone.
JV: What I see in most clients is that they’re overexfoliating…
JV: …too much laser…
JV: …too much filler…
JV: People focusing on aging so much when they’re 24 years old—it’s insane to me.
JC: Do you believe in preventative Botox?
JV: I don’t judge anyone for anything. But, personally, I’d advise not to do that.
JC: I very often have daughter and mother in the room together for the same treatment. I think that’s too much.
JV: Social media hasn’t been great for anybody’s perspective on this—everyone wants to be perfect for Instagram.
JC: Those filters don’t need to exist!
JV: It’s too much.
JC: One simple thing I’m struggling to tell my clients is to wash before bed. Don’t bring street to your sheets. I’m always saying—your face starts at your hairline and goes to your nipples. It would be nice if you could wash your face, even better if you’d wash off your body [ed. note: point for night showerers], right? Skin operates differently during this regeneration time at night…
JV: Totally. A shocking amount of people don’t wash their face!
JC: Could you imagine?!
JC: Just imagine not brushing your teeth. I give all the comparisons, but it doesn’t seem to work.
JV: And of course, I use sun protection and tell all my clients that. But I also want to be realistic about it. Sometimes I play tennis outside without a hat though…that’s a vice of mine. But if I do think about who has the best skin out of everybody, it’s the people who never go in the sun because they’re so fair. It’s hard! When my kids were little, I had to be more lax about it with myself. I wasn’t going to not be with my daughter in the pool because I might get too much sun. I’m not going to be in gloves and long sleeves, so sorry. [Laughs]
JC: How do you do it?! Take care of your children and babysit many adults?!
JV: I get that question quite a bit! I’m very scheduled and structured so that allows me to be very focused on my kids when I’m with them. I find kids do well with that. And they’ve never known any other way of living—I got to LA every month without them. That’s the life they know and we’re fine. And I think it’s good for them to know that I have another passion. They are my passion, but also I found what I really love. I love my career and I want my children to find that as well.
JC: I think that’s great. Can I tell you—the number of people who have booked with me and not with you but thought it was you and were disappointed to find it was me?!
JC: OK, maybe just two people.
JV: Who are those psychotic people? Oh my God—do you remember when Gary Janetti posted that thing?
JC: He is your friend, right?
JV: He’s one of my clients. He has an Instagram and has developed this fake character about Prince George, and he’s very catty as this character. There was this picture of Prince George being very upset and walking to the car. The caption was, ‘Cancel my appointments and book me a facial with Joanna!’ So both your clients and my clients were tagging us… It was like, Gary, which Joanna?!
JC: It was so funny.
JV: The Battle Of The Joanna’s over Prince George–the fake Instagram character.
JC: We were both ready!
—as told to ITG
Photographed by Tom Newton.