Black Can Crack: Esthetician Seven Brown On Raising The Bar For Clinical Skin Care
Words: Angela Johnson
The beauty entrepreneur and founder of Harlem Skin & Laser Clinic tells us how she built her skin care company from the ground up.
Whether you prefer being au naturale or beat to the gods, it’s important to start with a nice, clean slate when you’re giving face. The skin is the body’s largest organ, and one of the first things people see when they look at you.
No one knows this more than Seven Brown. The celebrated esthetician has made helping people have great skin her life’s work through her company Harlem Skin & Laser Clinic (2119 Frederick Douglas Boulevard) in New York City.
Brown’s love affair with all things beauty began at a young age. She credits her grandmother Elena—whose dresser was regularly decorated with irresistible perfumes and powders—as her inspiration.
“I would sneak in her room and use [her perfumes] all the time, even though my cousins tried to stop me,” Brown recalls.
The single mother of four (and grandmother of one!) has risen above her personal challenges to become an internationally renowned esthetician, skin care educator, and a force to be reckoned with in the skincare game.
After receiving her esthetician licenses, Brown made a name for herself at the prestigious Atelier Esthétique Institute of Esthetics in New York, where she became the lead educator. During her tenure, Brown managed the school’s postgraduate curriculum, and helped launch the first esthetic school in the Philippines.
In 2011, Brown stepped out on her own to open the Harlem Skin & Laser Clinic, a full-service clinic offering skin treatments, laser hair removal, and waxing for men and women in New York City.
While the treatments leave her clients looking and feeling great, Brown believes that the secret to having great skin has as much to do with what you put in your body as the cleansers and creams you put on it. Any secrets clients try to hide in their consultations—like smoking and drinking—will be revealed once Brown takes a closer look at their skin.
“I have the reputation of being a skin detective,” she admits, “but honestly it’s just from paying attention to the details your skin is telling me.”
We spoke with Brown about how she turned her one-room practice into a successful business, and the special things women of color need to know about caring for this important organ.
Education is a big part of what you do. How did you get involved in training and why is it so important to you?
Growing up, education was a very important thing. It was seen as a way to succeed and overcome obstacles. A dear friend and colleague, Tracey Beyer, pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and [teach]. I couldn’t believe how much fun it was, how much just came naturally.
Why I specialize in educating is pure passion and a personal belief that without specific education, you run the risk of being average. Also, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and your client. Who wants cookie-cutter service? Who wants a person who only knows an average amount about what they’re performing on you? The service we perform can have a dramatic impact, if you do the right thing. It’s deeply personal and often attached to self-esteem, so it’s your responsibility to take it very seriously. Education is the key to growth.
Where did you get the idea for Harlem Skin & Laser Clinic?
My life was in an uproar [at the time]. I had a job offer that had just fallen through. I was travelling back and forth to Virginia, because my daughter was having a really hard time with childbirth. I needed something that would allow me to take care of her, my youngest child [who was living] in New York, and bring home money at the same time.
I started out two days a week inside a yoga studio, sharing a room with the massage therapist and a person who did Reiki healing. We walked furniture out of my house and down the street every single week and back to my house on Friday evenings. Eventually, the room became mine and we just kept growing and growing and growing.
Were there any obstacles to getting your idea off the ground?
Finances. I started without proper capital, structure, and organization. I didn’t go in with an idea or vision of this happening.
The business took on a life of its own, so I found myself always responding to situations instead of planning for them. The most surprising obstacle was not knowing how or refusing to ask for help. I didn’t trust that people would be there for me. Wow, I learned a lot.
What makes Harlem Skin & Laser Clinic different from other salons or spas?
There are two things that make us different. The first is personal service. Living in [Harlem] for so long, I know a lot of people, and we’re on a first-name basis. Those we don’t know, we make the effort to get to know.
Secondly, we don’t cut corners. We have never compromised the type of wax, the length of service, or how we [provide service] based on how much you pay. The bottom line is, sales go up and down, but the service is forever.
What makes skin care different for women of color?
Well, skin of color is different, period. We are different in the way we look, our needs, our challenges, [and our] health and nutritional concerns. Sometimes [having] color means protection when you consider things like UV exposure and aging—the “black don’t crack” thing. On the flip side, color can be an issue when the person [giving the treatment] doesn’t understand skin of color.
Clinical skin care is based on the concept of “calculated injury”—microderm or peels are treatments that are meant to create calculated injuries. That calculation is off kilter when you add heat or inflammation.
Anything that presents like the sun or heat causes melanin to respond in our skin, and it will tan or hyperpigment, which essentially makes the area darker. On the beach or in the summer, this is beautiful, and goes away once the circadian clock in your body knows the season has changed. But in an injury, it may become permanent. The clinician must institute protective measures to keep this from happening.
I also wouldn’t choose salt on a person of color, because it could contribute to conditions like high blood pressure, simply because the skin becomes permeable when exfoliated and the salt could slip in. It sounds silly, but without these protective measures, the integrity of the treatment is diminished.
If you could pick one skin care treatment that every woman should splurge on, what would it be?
If you can only do one, pick a product instead. A great product goes a long way. It has longevity, versus one random treatment. The treatment is going to stop showing results quickly if you’re going home and not following up with the proper home care. Can you go to the gym once? No. But you can change [your] eating and lifestyle and get the same result on a budget.
As for choosing the product, serum is the workhorse. A cleanser is going to clean pretty good as long as it’s not stripping the skin. You can get a good cleanser for relatively no money. The serum is the one that does the real work. The serum should speak to the condition that you are working on, whether it’s dark spots or lines.