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The Violet Files

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How one of the most in-demand, LA-based estheticians cultivated her signature style and a skin care collection all her own.

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VIOLET GREY profiles female beauty entrepreneurs who are considered industry game changers because of their individual approach to business. Each one entered the conversation in her own manner and maintained a steady, if not unparalleled, trajectory with her indomitable spirit.

Before she became Hollywood’s go-to esthetician (her A-list clients include Jessica Alba, Emmy Rossum, January Jones, and Kelly Rowland, among others), Shani Darden was eager to make it as a model. After appearing in music videos for Destiny’s Child and LL Cool J, she tapped into skin care, a childhood passion that she never let go of.

As a teenager, Darden struggled with her skin and early in her career, she got a first-rate education working for Los Angeles dermatologist Erma Benitez, M.D., who specializes in the treatment of severe and cystic acne. Darden says of her time there: “Seeing young people with acne and other skin concerns motivated me to want to help them with their complexion—and confidence.” It was where she developed her love for retinol, seeing firsthand how the powerhouse ingredient could at once boost collagen, smooth fine lines and wrinkles, clear acne, and decrease pigmentation.

That paved the way to her first product, Retinol Reform, a prescription-level retinol serum that she launched in 2013. With more products in the pipeline and a newly-minted facial studio in Beverly Hills, which she opened after seeing clients in her guest house for years, the LA-based skin guru is forever devoted to making a difference in how people feel about their skin. “Growing up and dealing with my own complexion issues, I like being in a position to help others. Whether they’re my direct client, or someone reaching out to me on Instagram, I love the moments of connection and empowerment.” Here, she reveals why LED masking is part of her morning routine, her all-day hair routine, and her psychic abilities.

  • 01

    VIOLET GREY: First thing you do when you wake up?

    SHANI DARDEN: I wash my face and then pop on my Déesse LED Mask.

  • 02

    VG: Hours of sleep on the regular?

    SD: Not very many, unfortunately! With two small kids and a busy business, there’s not a lot of sleep happening in my life right now.

  • 03

    VG: Time spent on beauty in the a.m.?

    SD: I like to keep my mornings as easy as possible. Most days, it’s just sunscreen and go!

  • 04

    VG: Typical skincare regimen?

    SD: I cleanse with my Daily Cleansing Serum, which doesn’t strip your skin. It actually helps add moisture back with glycerin, jojoba, and sodium hyaluronate.  After cleansing, I use my Déesse LED Mask for 20 minutes to boost collagen, minimize fine lines and wrinkles, and improve circulation for a nice glow. Next up, I apply a vitamin C serum for antioxidant protection, eye cream, and sunscreen, which I wear every single day, no matter what. I love Supergoop’s Everyday Sunscreen. It’s lightly hydrating yet doesn’t cause congestion. At night, I cleanse again and follow up with my Daily Toning Essence, which helps to regulate sebum production and keep pores clear. Then I use Retinol Reform. If my skin is a little on the dry side, I’ll apply a hyaluronic acid serum like Dr. Nigma’s Serum No 1 to plump things up. Then eye cream and my Daily Oil-Free Moisturizer, which provides lightweight hydration with natural extracts and humectants. Twice a week, I exfoliate with the Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Peel Pads.

  • 05

    VG: Hair situation in the a.m.?

    SD: When you have curls, it’s an all-day situation. I diffuse, curl, add product, and curl again! My hair is my obsession, so I show it some serious love.

  • 06

    VG: Your signature beauty look?

    SD: I keep it pretty simple. I love Tom Ford bronzer, a little Nars Orgasm Blush, mascara, and lip balm, In the evening, I add a lip shimmer and a bit of eyeliner.

  • 06

    VG: Favorite workout?

    SD: I love going to see Nichelle at Cycle House.

  • 07

    VG: Go-to breakfast and a.m. beverage?

    SD: I eat a salad for breakfast with extra dressing every day.

  • 08

    VG: Foolproof self-care move?

    SD: My early, quiet morning LED mask routine always centers me and helps me start my day off right.

  • 09

    VG: Signature scent?

    SD: Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower.

  • 10

    VG: An expensive-but-worth-it product or treatment?

    SD: Facials, of course!

  • 11

    VG: Bedside beauty essentials?

    SD: Lumity supplements

  • 12

    VG: Last thing you do before bed?

    SD: I kiss my kids.

  • 13

    VG: Beauty icons?

    SD: Jessica Alba

  • 14

    VG: Best job?

    SD: Oprah

  • 15

    VG: Worst job?

    SD: Being a mother

  • 16

    VG: How the idea for your current company came to you?

    SD: I couldn’t find a retinol product on the market that had all the benefits of a prescription retinol product without the dryness and peeling, so I decided to develop my own that would be just as effective minus the harsh side effects. I think people also fell in love with Retinol Reform because it has both retinol and lactic acid, so you get immediate smoothing and brightening benefits and long-term anti-aging.

  • 17

    VG: Best career advice you've ever received?

    SD: Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.

  • 18

    VG: Highest point as an entrepreneur?

    SD: Opening my own studio!

  • 19

    VG: Lowest point as an entrepreneur?

    SD: I haven’t had a low point. Everything that has happened has happened for a reason, and I’ve learned from it.

  • 20

    VG: Scariest thing you've ever done?

    SD: Becoming a mother. It’s the scariest, but it’s the best and the most rewarding!

  • 21

    VG: Best hidden talent?

    SD: I can make people call me when I think of them.

  • 22

    VG: Backup career?

    SD: Don’t have one. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing!