At first glance Dolphin Street in White Rock, BC looks like any other residential street in Greater Vancouver’s greener suburbs. The only clue that something special is happening there is the Essence of L Medi Spa sign proudly standing in front of the home and workplace of award-winning White Rock Esthetician and Blanche Macdonald graduate Leah LaVanway. It’s where she’s changing lives.
“Last year I won the Surrey Now Awards for the ‘Best Day Spa’ and ‘Best Laser Clinic’ for the Surrey/White Rock area and have been nominated for both categories again this year” smiles Leah. “That’s people in the community voting for me! Every client that comes here for the first time says that they didn’t expect a home-based spa to look like this. I wanted to create a tranquil sanctuary. The energy here is really calm and clients can connect with that.”
The atmosphere at Essence of L may be relaxing, but that doesn’t mean that Leah isn’t providing serious skincare treatments. Dermapen, Celluma LED Therapy, Cold Laser Therapy, Microdermabrasion, Clinical Peels and Clinical facials are all available for clients looking for long-term solutions to skin concerns. Leah understands how debilitating skin conditions can be. She speaks from personal experience.
At the end of the program we did a project about opening up our own spa studio. . . I was starting to get my spa ready before I’d even graduated.
“I had cystic acne for ten years,” she explains. “Struggling through that was challenging. I tried so many over the counter products. I used to go to a Russian esthetician in North Vancouver for my deep cleansing acne treatments and she’d perform manual extractions for over an hour. It was excruciating but gave me some form of physical relief.”
Leah was working in Mexico when a poolside discovery with a new friend led to a life-changing decision.
“She was an esthetician, studying Holistic Nutrition and Reiki Therapy. I read her workbooks daily and found them fascinating. Information about food allergies, and mineral and vitamin deficiencies made so much sense to me. I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I came home and told my parents I wanted to be an esthetician. I wanted to help people through the process and to see the light on the other side.
“I started researching esthetics schools and Blanche Macdonald was one of the first places that came up. It was love at first sight. Everyone I spoke to was open and honest. I came back to Canada in August and started the Esthetics Program in September.”
That program provided the education, and the inspiration, to turn Essence of L from a concept into a reality.
“I loved it! Understanding more about the skin was super exciting for me. I was at the top of my class for all the practical work. It became my personal goal in the bodywrap and massage classes to deliver total relaxation to everyone I worked on. Many of the people I worked on ended up falling asleep in the middle of our classes.
“At the end of the program we did a project about opening up our own spa studio. I had so much fun. I had a leather-bound folder full of local suppliers, the equipment I would purchase and the finances it would require. That’s when I realized I could do this. I was starting to get my spa ready before I’d even graduated.”
Essence of L opened for business in Leah’s late grandmother’s condo, delivering body wraps, pedicures, facials and waxing services to a growing client base. At the same time, a contact Leah had made at Esthetics School was poised to move her career in a more medical direction.
“While attending Blanche Macdonald, Lorinda from PuraVida gave my class a microdermabrasion and cold laser therapy demo. One of the girls in my class had a cluster of broken blood vessels on her cheek from being hit by a softball when she was younger. The machine cauterized the blood vessels while we watched. It was like a magic eraser. I was incredibly excited. So was my classmate!”
Leah’s own laser therapy treatment produced similarly spectacular results on her skin. Inspired by her experience, Leah decided to commit herself to the business of solving skincare concerns.
As soon as I moved by business home I noticed that people were asking for more medical and proactive skincare treatments.
“I met Audrey Buck of Medi Spa Therapeutics, who was the importer of the equipment I wanted, and worked closely with her for two years, assisting with office work, training seminars, trade shows and sales. I was able to learn about the products and technology I wanted to incorporate into my own business. I bought the Cold Laser and Microdermabrasion equipment and more and more people started coming to see and refer me.
Leah took a break from expanding her business when her husband was involved in a serious car accident. Once he was healthy enough to return to work, Leah wasn’t going to waste another moment.
“I figured the best way to grow my clientele was to go somewhere that already had it, so I rented a room in a hair salon. I was there for a year until I outgrew the space. I knew I had to find somewhere that would be stable. I’d brought a few select clients into my home when my husband was recovering. They suggested bringing the spa here full time. They told me how they preferred the more private experience and felt comfortable with no makeup on. And it’s a great commute for me!
“As soon as I moved by business home I noticed that people were asking for more medical and proactive skincare treatments. My spa wasn’t about making people feel relaxed any more. It was about doing treatments where people could see visible results. Now I do medi-facials 95% of the time. I’m always incorporating new products and looking for better applications by trying it on my own skin first.”
Leah’s business has grown exponentially over the last year and a half. People from Surrey and beyond are curious about Leah’s proactive approach to skin care.
“Sometimes clients turn up expecting miracles. I go through an extensive consultation for everyone. I’m a big believer in a holistic approach and treating the person as a whole. That’s why I always talk diet and lifestyle in my consultations. I created a relationship with a naturopath and give clients the option of seeing her to discover if they have undetected intolerances that may be causing some of their problems. Clients respect the process when I give them homework.
“Being a skincare nerd I love learning about newer technologies and the newest products on the market. I’m looking for clinical results. As I’ve moved into the medical side, I’ve started examining medical research papers and asking about the science behind it. When you can explain the process behind the treatments clients understand and appreciate the education a lot more.”
The growing success of Essence of L proves that Leah’s clients adore the services and the customized treatment they receive at her spa. For the esthetician that once suffered from a serious skin condition, knowing she’s making a difference in people’s lives is its own reward.
“I love witnessing the improvements, and seeing clients feel the results!” she beams. “When you have acne or a skin condition, it’s like a little cloud that’s always there. It can be hard on your ego. When I can give people some relief, that’s exciting for me. When they tell me they’ve had comments on their skin, that their friends and family have noticed the improvement, that makes me ecstatic!”