AIA Legend Danné Montague-King: From European Facials to Paramedical Innovations

Written by Danné Montague-King

Fifty years ago, when I commenced this journey into changing people’s lives by upgrading their self-perception, the only beauty therapy available was presented in the form of “pampering palaces” of doyennes of beauty such as Christine Valmy, Ilona of Hungary, and Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door.

 

king2I was in Chicago during this time and saw women of all ages disappear into these glamour shops in the early morning and reappear hours later – polished and glossed from head to toe. This was the day of one income families. It was also the startup era of beauty pyramid schemes and beauty workshops held in the homes of women who did not have the money for the pamper palaces, but wanted to earn extra income in a comfortable, less highbrow way.

In my book, “The Maybelline Prince,” I describe in detail some of the dramatic, corny, and often amazing things that went on in this decade and the lengths people would go to look beautiful at any age. My focus and research during this time was on age management and severe skin anomalies, such as the various stages of acne. I was terribly out-of-touch with the beauty therapy business due to the fact that I firmly believed there is no single method of skin work – whether it be a miracle product or machine – that addressed all aspects of skin disorder. My laboratory was the human body itself – all its defense mechanisms and renewal systems and how they interact in concert to attempt to maintain homeostasis in the epidermis.

 

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My treatments were thought to be weird by many – too practical and not enough fancy beauty therapist massage techniques or presentation. In later years, I would become aware of the value of these things by the great British beauty educator, Lillian Maund.

 

Worse yet, my reception area was coldly clinical – similar to a doctor’s office – with no soft lighting in pink tones or swaged and puffed window dressings. I purposely did this because I was attracting a lot of male clientele – from dock workers to corporate CEOs to several well-known, professional sports figures. This clientele felt comfortable in a sterile waiting room that was not overly feminine.

 

 

Machines had not hit it big yet. The best equipment available at the time, basically, boiled down to galvanic machines, high frequency zappers, and a suction device that allegedly sucked up deep wrinkles in areas of glycated tissue with concavities. I recall there were some ozone machines and early microcurrent, but nothing like the plethora of equipment available on the market today.

 

king4My approach was phyto-chemistry, creating situations via treatment where the skin’s dormant enzyme activity in tissue was re-energized and kick-started.

 

In most problematic skin cases, homeostasis was out of sync, leaving the skin trying to defend itself by holding onto dead cells, with everything underneath becoming compromised. This, alone, opened the door to inflammation, lack of circulation, and cells dying much too fast, when they could have been kept alive much longer.

 

True, some of the popular treatments at the pamper palaces seemed to make skin appear much fresher, but only on a very temporary basis.

 

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I was on a mission for long-term results, bolstered by precise homecare based upon professional treatments and the client’s skin condition (as opposed to skin type).

 

I was also researching treatments for African-American skin because this demographic was pretty much ignored at that time. I love challenges, and pseudofolliculitis barbae (razor bumps) is a major skin issue within the black community that I aimed to learn more about.

 

I did finally come up with a treatment that alleviated this bothersome condition, tried it out on a few professional sports stars and the word spread like wildfire. It ended up positioning me as an instructor in a beauty school, teaching skin care classes twice a week. The owner of the school was a visionary because, in those days, there was no separate licensing for aestheticians. In fact, aestheticians did not exist. All the employees in the pamper palaces were licensed cosmetologists or apprentices.

 

king6My classes became quite popular and heavily attended. In fact, a group of attendees went to a savings and loan company to raise money so I could open a full-time school. I was very moved by this. I remember the day well when six young ladies came to my clinic to tell me the good news, only to find packing boxes everywhere. I had decided to move to California for personal reasons and for the expansion of my concept to become more national and international. I was sure there were other like-minded individuals out there that I could attract. It took me the next 20 years to discover that there were not.

 

Beauty therapy, in those years, was based upon the cosmetic handbook written by the late Joel Gerson, a dear friend of mine who once said, “Where were you, Danné, when I was writing my book?” Beauty therapy, then, was basically: cleanse, steam, do extractions if needed, massage, tone, and firm with products. All kinds of masks were touted – many that could be removed still hard and hung up on the wall. There was nothing on the intercellular reasons why any of this would work.

 

king7Then, the peel craze hit! Everyone thought that applying the strongest peel was the absolute finite for skin care. Burn off the corneum and – voilà – new, young skin. There was the blue peel, green peel, Euro-lift peel, and the Germany peel. Logically, burning the heck out of the epidermis to remove signs of aging or hyperpigmentation did not resonate with me – it did not sound right. Any time the skin is attacked beyond its normal defense capabilities, intercellular fluids rush to the breach and the skin puffs up for a while. Collagen is forced to rapidly proliferate, as well as stem cells, but, all in a reparative mode that is focused on the injury only.

 

A few months down the line, when the swelling is gone, the client may be left with irregular collagen – types 1 and 3, under the skin – that is wavy and uneven. Melanogenesis also becomes irregular and, although some melasmas may be removed with the peel, new hyperpigmentation may be formed under sun radiation and hypopigmentation can appear all over the place.

 

I had a client like this. Her peel was done in a motel by a European “expert” named Alexander. At age 68, she had no wrinkles at all. Her skin looked tight and plastic, with a line of demarcation along the underside of the jaw. She was chronically light pinkish red and could only bear the lightest touch to her skin.

 

king8Performing my enzymatic treatments on her was a nightmare, as I attempted to rebuild her burn-ravaged skin, while silently cursing this Alexander – who walked off with a cool $7,000 in his pocket. There were a lot of “Alexanders” during this time, working out of hotels and beauty shops, all claiming to be doctors in their own countries, but were too poor to take the required medical courses here – doing miracle peels to support their families.

 

And, I fell for such a scheme. It was called exodermology and was presented in a posh office located in a lake-front highrise in Chicago. A young Polish man, named Yasik, contacted me and made an appointment for me to visit the doctor of the company to see if my downtown clinic was suitable for this procedure.

 

The doctor was real enough: Dr. Agustina, a general practitioner who had a very pragmatic approach to medicine. He told me that exodermology was a new twist on the old phenolic acid peel which had less down time and fewer contraindications.

 

king9After much back and forth, looking at before-and-afters, and meeting a couple of their previous patients, I became convinced that this was indeed something new. I also envisioned how it could fit into my regular treatment concept.

 

I look back now and see how we both connected with each other. They, of course, saw my medical-appearing, downtown clinic. I saw a more advanced procedure that would open the door for my treatments and, of course, a financial opportunity that would allow me more research
and expansion.

 

The procedure was simple: after cleansing with a low pH cleanser, the lightly-sedated (IV) patient would have their entire face painted with the three special serums owned by the exodermology company. I could smell the phenol as one of the ingredients but was told this was a minimal percentage of the entire formulas.

 

king10The patient was, then, wrapped up with surgical tapes. It was my idea, however, to buffer the pH of the serums after the face was covered and feather the solution down into the neck, so there would be no line of demarcation – a dead give-away of a medical peel. Following the procedure, the client was transported by car to The Ambassador - East Hotel and put into a room for 10 days with a rotation of 24-hour nurses.

 

Many lost weight, as they could only sip a protein drink through a straw. After the last day, the tapes were removed, leaving a swollen, bright red epidermis weeping fluids.

 

At this point, the nurse applied a thick layer of thymol iodide to the entire face and the patient was driven home and instructed to stay put for a few more days, applying the orange-brown thymol several times a day, resulting in humongous scabs.

 

king11This is called the eschar crust and, on the last day, the client greases it up with an oily cleanser, applying a hot towel every few hours. Eventually, the crust breaks away and drops off, revealing new skin. Results varied amongst clients and, ultimately, almost every client was happy with the result. But, I attribute this to the aftercare, not the procedure itself.

 

I commenced with enzymatic treatments the day after the crust fell off. A home regimen of water, lipids, transepidermal creams with strong epidermal growth factor, antioxidants, and protein was mandatory. I kept most people compliant, pointing out the money they spent versus the results. Many of them became regulars at my clinic, but in my gut, I felt that such a vigorous attack on the skin was not the true path to natural skin revision.

 

The doctor decided to move out of Chicago and Yasik claimed to know the formula and said he would hire another doctor. Suspicious of this young man from the beginning and only trusting Agustina, I declined.

 

king12To this day, I feel ashamed of myself for falling into such a trap. Experimentation at this time seemed a way of life. I questioned everything and anything that sounded good, but did not seem logical and part of the big picture of the body. In fact, I incorporated the word “WHOLEistic” into all of the printed materials; it would attract many top people in the fields of live cell therapy, nutrition, and biochemistry. We started many programs where the client would be placed on an altered lifestyle food plan for weight or acne disorders. The blood work and cortisol testing allowed us a view of the client’s insides that could be responsible for anomalies on the outside.

 

I even worked out an aerobic routine, as aerobic classes were offered all over the city and were very trendy at the time. The manager of Elizabeth Arden’s Red door, Mary Jane Gregory, a huge fan of mine, had a CEO from Neiman Marcus fly to Chicago to see what I was doing. Neiman’s was entertaining the idea of investing in a “beauty clinic concept” that was different than what anyone had ever done before. My little team and I frantically put a knock out program together, including a real video of a male and female coming to the clinic (which I had renamed Secrets) and leaving two hours later, totally regenerated and swinging big bags of homecare products.

 

king13A man from the company, Mr. Sloop, seemed dazzled by everything and assured me and Mary Jane that he would tell corporate in Texas how incredible this sort of “medical spa” was. Corporate waited for three weeks and sent me a polite letter, thanking me for my presentation but that I had too many things being offered under one roof – that it was too medical and trendy, and this kind of idea would never become mainstream. I wonder if any of those corporate people are still around after 35 years, remember me, and see how wrong they were.

 

Now, everything is different, but the mentality is the same. Everyone is looking for a quick fix with little down time. Nowadays, there are many more licensed aestheticians, although most state school curriculum is substandard compared to the European Union – especially Finland, where a qualification takes four years of education.

 

There is also a plethora of machines after the advent of microdermabraders, the somewhat illegal needling devices, and all kinds of light wave apparatus.

 

Most of this equipment is not stand alone, but I have learned, as a chemist, just to shut up and work protocol around these machines, which therapists will always purchase. In many cases, machinery can speed up an action or a result. But, organically, we are still a body orchestrated by enzymes – a bag of fluids – a few chemicals all held together by electromagnetic fields.

 

0310coverThe aesthetic field is in rapid growth mode, now. The public wants to see a real bang for their buck.
Good education – not just product knowledge – is demanded and starting to be supplied.

 

As I have witnessed over the last 50 years, trends will come and go but the natural dictates of our bodies remain the same. Through decades of experimenting on myself and working with tens of thousands of clients, I have learned to work alongside the natural principles of biochemistry to provide the optimal environment for healthier skin.

 

Aestheticians and aesthetic doctors are hungry for modalities that actually do something that has long-term sustainable results. It is not the dawn of a new era. It is the practical growth period, and I have been honored to be at the beginning of it all and, at age 75, to see it blossom and bloom.
I am also honored to be recognized by DERMASCOPE Magazine as having a small role in this radical change in aesthetics.

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