Among the sundry disappointments of 2016, it was supposed to be the year I was going to stop picking zits and cruising for blackheads. From January 1 forward, I was never going to fall asleep without washing my face, and I was going to do a detox mask at least once a week, followed by a hydration mask, followed by some sort of spray made out of ocean water and ground up dinosaur bones. It was the year I was going to be a grown-ass woman and fall in step with Alicia Keys’ no-makeup movement.
But of course, you know how that story goes. Life gets in the way, and you can’t help but touch your face after eating fries (or help but eat fries, period). The inevitable disappointment of your acne not magically disappearing after a single mask rattles your confidence in the entire skincare industry, and besides, popping zits is disturbingly pleasurable.
Enter Mia Belle, who’d like to have some real talk about the way we treat our skin and stop our obsessions with quick fixes. The paramedical aesthetician set up her practice in Beverly Hills a year and a half ago and has built up a super devoted clientele that can’t get enough of her holistic approach to treating skin in a way that is highly specific to you and your lifestyle. Raised in the South Bay near San Jose, Mia grew up a “hippie at heart, but also a big geek,” fascinated by beauty products and aromatherapy, but with an abiding interest in physics and and chemistry in school; it was these two seemingly separate interests that formed the tracks upon which her career path would follow.
After high school, Mia attended the famed Esalen Institute in Big Sur, where she studied energy healing and massage, and then followed that up with courses at UCLA on chemistry and what goes into creating skincare products. All the while, Mia was pursuing her love of travel while expanding her education, consulting with renowned skincare specialists in Montreal, Paris, London, Norway and Iceland. She went on to work in some of the top dermatology centers in Los Angeles, such as Ole Henriksen and Lancer Dermatology. But after working closely in an industry that was increasingly becoming enamored with fillers and lasers, Mia became more committed than ever to what she views as the most effective way of treating your skin: holistic methods that change your skin on a molecular level. What does this mean, exactly? Well, for starters, it begins with your bone marrow: “You have to think of the bone structure first. When you age, the bone starts to thin, then the muscle starts to shift off the bone, and then the fascia tissue and the muscle starts to weaken, and then the fat on top of the muscle gets thinner, and then the epidermis isn’t working right, and then the dermis, so you have to hit all of those layers of the face. You have to think of what’s going on each level that is hitting it. It’s just like a house. You don’t want to just change the paint on the house and then you have a foundation and pipes that don’t work.”
This philosophical backbone of Mia’s practice, coupled with her insistence on focused, attentive relationships with her clients, draws a stark parallel to a dominant “medspa” skincare industry focused on quick, short-term results. She’s been featured on Oprah, Extra and Access Hollywood, and she talked with Girlboss recently about her unique methods, how she goes about building such strong relationships with her clients, things you can do to keep your skin from hating you when you travel, and what’s in store next:
So, you’re a little bit of a renegade when it comes to skincare, and that’s a lot of what sets you apart. The industry is pushing botox, and you’re pushing bone marrow health. As a business person, how do you get people on board with your methods when there are so many experts advocating for lasers and injections?
Everyone’s doing Botox and filler at 19, and crazy lasers that do nothing for you. They make you look great for a month and then it makes you look horrible six months later. That was my reason for opening up my own clinic; [at the previous places I worked it was always] “Everyone get everything done every other week, and just sell, sell, sell.” I didn’t feel like it was right, so that’s why I opened up my own place. I think the number one thing that I do is I really try to educate my patients about what I’m doing and why and empowering them to figure out to intuitively take care of their health on every level. I don’t just say to someone, “Stop eating this. Do this.” I tell them, “Listen to your body. Let’s try this, let’s try that.” I make them be a part of it. I think that’s how I gain their trust and how they get their results.
It really is a holistic process of the skin. You’re taking into consideration the genetic background of somebody, their stress levels, their lifestyles, their hormones, their food, everything. For me, what I felt was missing was that no one had an imagination, no one was into making the treatments and products super individualized, which is so important. Because someone comes to me with rosacea, say, and every product line out there has these two things you’re supposed to use, and every derm tells them there are two lasers you’re supposed to use. But in fact, everyone has to be treated in such a different way.
Dermal Bonding is something you developed for your practice. How do you describe it to prospective or new clients?
Obviously, when people come in, they want to aesthetically look better. That’s the number one thing. They don’t want to have the fine lines, or they feel dry or they have acne. I know it’s a broad term, but it’s just for me to be like, “OK, so you have acne, but why?” Because it’s a symptom. If you have blackheads, why do you have blackheads? You’re not holding enough water or you’re not holding enough oil or it’s a hormone thing or it’s a blood thing. You have to not just treat the symptom of things; you have to really go after the cause or you’re not going to change the skin on that molecular level.
That being said, it is harder as a business model in a sense, because you have to commit more time with me. We’re going to try to really change your skin. It’s not going to happen in one session.
Do you sense that other people are following your lead and that there could be a shift in the way dermatology practices go about treating patients? Or are you pretty much a lone rebel out there?
I’m very fortunate because I work for myself, so I don’t have to answer to a doctor or a corporation. I will say, there are one or two doctors here in Beverly Hills that are plastic surgeons that actually kind of are on the same page. Together, we’re trying to create a new voice in the industry, because the fact of the matter is that filler is horrible for your face. People don’t want to say that in our industry, because it’s such a big money maker and everyone gets mad at you. People don’t want to say lasers are really ineffective, but they’re so ineffective. But again, you’re talking against your colleagues and you’re talking against these big companies.
I think you have to be delicate about it. It’s all about education. You have to educate people. I’m lucky because being in Southern California, especially Beverly Hills, my patients are savvy. That’s why they like working with me. They’ve gone through all the BS. They could go anywhere, they could pay anybody, they could fly to Paris for their treatment, but they come to me because they respect the fact that I do make an individual choice for them. I empower them with education and so then they get it, they get what I do.
What have been some of the biggest challenges of building your business, and specifically, one that goes against industry norms?
Again, it comes back to education. People will read something online and they think something’s great and every big company is going to advertise that same laser, or every person’s going to do it on TV. I don’t know if it’s a challenge, but I think the most important thing that I’ve found in making my business successful is being able to build a true relationship with somebody and having that trust. If you work in a corporate setting with what I do with service and health, it’s really hard to create that trusting relationship in those atmospheres. You have to create a relationship with somebody that’s actually authentic and not just me flashing smoke and mirrors, or a red carpet facial that makes you look pretty for two seconds. In the past, that’s what people would do, right? I think it’s about building a really authentic, invested relationship with the right audience.
You’re a one-woman show—you book all your own appointments, handle all of the business aspects of things, and of course, create treatment plans. What happens when this grows to a point where you can’t do it all?
Rather than me having a bunch of people work under me, I’d rather educate other new skin care professionals, because I don’t think of it as a competition. I think the more of us that are doing good work, the stronger it makes the industry. I’m going to start educating and doing classes and things like that for other estheticians all around the world. I just got back from Australia where I trained people in Sydney for a week, actually. I think people in my industry who are first drawn to it really do want to help people and they want to give people results; that’s why we’re in the industry, right? My passion lies more is empowering other people.
Speaking of Australia, that’s a long-ass flight. How do you take care of your skin when you’re traveling?
It’s about protecting it from environmental stresses. When I was in Australia, the ozone layer is depleted and the sun there is like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my life. You have to take stuff like that into consideration. I always make sure that I have a veil on my skin so I’m not getting the dry air and the germs. And of course, sleep. Sleep is so number one. Get it while you can. Try to sleep on the plane. Try to take a little nap in the Uber. You want to just take little cat naps if you can, because otherwise your body doesn’t have time to repair. It’s a lot of stress on your body when you’re traveling. You’re switching time zones, you’re changing electromagnetic grids on the planet, it’s a big deal on your body.
Any advice you can pass on to girls looking to strike out and start something on their own?
Just do it. I really, honestly believe that if you have passion for what you do, that if you’re good at what you do and you come from an authentic place, you will attract patients or clients. It’s so hard to have your own individual voice when you work under other people. I think clients and patients are so hungry to be with technicians or doctors that really believe in them and that have an authentic agenda. I do. It’s priceless and you will be successful if you stay true to who you are, always. That’s your brand. Your authenticity, that’s your brand.
-interview by Deena Drewis