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Celebrity facialist shares the one product that has transformed her clients skin


Celebrity facialist shares the one product that has transformed her clients skin

 Skin expert Shani Darden followed a twisting career path from accidental music-video star to celebrity facialist and owner of a transformative skincare brand that heroes star ingredient retinol.

You don’t have to be a skincare obsessive – although it helps – to register name recognition with some of the industry’s biggest players. The products created by Dr Dennis Gross, Augustinus Bader, Dr Barbara Sturm and other once-niche brands are now among the most sought-after and respected brands creating consumer skincare. Shani Darden is well on her way to joining them. 

Lesser known here, the LA esthetician is the woman on the speed dial of Hollywood’s most recognisable (and luminous) faces. Jessica Alba, January Jones and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley are regular clients and she is a go-to for those in the know for glow-inducing facials and red-carpet prep since starting in the skincare business working under a well known LA dermatologist.

But her star has since ascended well beyond Beverly Hills, where her chic studio is based, thanks to her exceptional namesake skincare line. The hero of which is a retinol serum called Retinol Reform that has been credited as a liquid problem-solver responsible for delivering flawless skin similar to that of her famous clients, to customers all over the world.

Shani Darden with some of her skincare line, including her best-selling Retinol Reform serum

From her home in LA Darden explains that growing up in a small town in upstate New York she learned the benefits of seeking out skin expertise, rather than flip flopping with different approaches, early on. 

“I started making face masks when I was little, probably nine or ten years old, ” she says.  “As a teenager, I became obsessed with skin care because I was struggling with skin rashes and acne. The closest dermatologist was an hour away and I begged my mom to take me there. 

“Growing up with my own skin issues, I saw how it can affect your confidence. Being able to help others [now] with their skin is very important to me.”

Though her experiences inspired a love of effective skincare, her ultimate career choice wasn’t immediately apparent.

“I moved to LA in my early 20s to model, and instead ended up in music videos,” she admits, referring to a stint appearing in clips for Destiny’s Child and LL Cool J, though confirms it was never her end goal. Instead she realised her ‘true calling’ was skincare and she went on to train as an esthetician. 

Darden says she was fortunate enough to work for a well known dermatologist, Dr. Erma Benitez early on, and during this time saw many young people with severe acne and many other skin concerns. 

“It really motivated me to want to help people with their skin. This is when I developed a love for retinol because I saw how it can really make a big difference for the skin.”

In the years following Darden worked at a number of high end spas around LA, where she met, and retained, many of her famous clients. Alba in particular has been a vocal fan, and is now one of Darden’s close friends, but plenty of other A-listers refer to Darden’s hands-on expertise as having been key to the appearance of their skin. 

It was Alba that encouraged Darden to go it alone, and taking the actresses encouragement she set up a boutique space in her guest house to deliver her custom facials. Concurrently she decided the time was right to bottle her expertise, creating her first product by addressing some of the downsides she’d found that exist with existing retinol treatments.

The powerhouse ingredient is one of the most researched and impressive skincare ingredients, lauded as a powerful anti-aging ingredient and often prescribed in higher dosages by dermatologists, but it can also be tricky for skin to tolerate. 

Shani Darden’s Beverly Hills salon.

“Retinol is the ultimate multi-tasking ingredient, she explains. “It can boost elasticity in the skin, minimize fine lines and wrinkles, reduce hyperpigmentation, as well as help to keep skin clear and blemish-free. If there is one treatment product you use – it should be a retinol!

Despite the devotion, she couldn’t find a retinol product on the market that has all of the benefits of a prescription retinol product without the dryness and peeling associated so she took it upon herself to tweak the approach with her own formula, in a creamy serum to be applied before bed.

 “Retinol Reform was the first product I released about 9 years ago. “

Darden explains it has been clinically proven to address multiple anti-aging concerns from the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, to uneven texture, dullness, and even loss of firmness, and was formulated with cutting-edge time-release encapsulated retinol, designed to delivers a consistent penetration of retinol throughout the night to minimize irritation often experienced with retinol products. 

“It also contains an AHA, which helps to brighten and smooth skin, so you get both immediate benefits and long-term results, she explains, “It’s an essential treatment for glowing, youthful-looking skin and what I recommend to all of my clients to use in between facials!”

Although she has since extended her range to include cleanser, moisturiser and eye cream  and more she believes the Retinol Reform has become so popular because it has numerous benefits, giving it wide appeal, but also because it suits those that may have previously given the ingredient a wide berth.

“One misconception I’m always challenging is that all retinols cause dryness and irritation. I formulated my Retinol Reform to cause minimal dryness and irritation. Also, many think that if you have sensitive skin, you cannot use a retinol. If you start slowly, with just one night a week, and allow your skin time to acclimate, you can work your way up to using Retinol Reform regularly. You just may not be able to use it every single night. “

The pandemic has been challenging for the hands-on expert – particularly the six months where her studio salon closed for customers – but the mother of two daughters with husband Anthony,  spent that time developing future arrivals to the skincare line and creating educational content.

She is glad to now be back in her beautiful Beverly Hills salon. The light-filled studio opened in 2019 following a fit out Darden says was intended to create a space that evoked that coziness and serenity while maintaining the feel of a high end spa, with muted tones ​​of beige, pale pink, and ivory.

“It’s a mix of clean lines, natural materials, and polished finishes. The walls are coated in a lime wash texture which gives it a natural, organic base. After ripping up the old flooring, we found these amazing wood floors. We bleached them several times to create this stunning light color. 

“In the powder bath[room], we wanted it to be a moment, so the walls were done in a dusty rose lime wash to offset the brass faucet and Calacatta Viola marble sink. “

She is particularly proud of the custom limestone fountain in the entry. 

“I always keep fresh flowers floating in it and I also have hanging floral arrangements . You walk in the entry where the fountain is, then through an arch into the reception area. It’s a beautiful, calming moment as you enter the studio.”

There is also a discrete entrance for her well-known clients and a selection of products from other brands also on offer, something Darden is insistent on.

Her less-is-more approach is steadfast but she believes offering other brands is important because it can be difficult to find everything you need in one category. 

“Customizing your skin care routine to exactly what your skin needs is the most important thing, so it’s okay to mix and match. What works for you might not work for someone else, so taking the time to find out what products work for your skin type is worth it.”




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