In Conversation With Joomee Song
Meet the celebrity aesthetician who is pioneering a kinder and more connected approach to caring for our skin, and ourselves.
The Los Angeles-based, celebrity aesthetician, author and CEO, Joomee Song is a kindred spirit and I feel so lucky that our paths crossed when they did. Born and raised in Japan, Joomee has spent the past two decades steeped in all facets of the beauty and skincare worlds, both in the U.S. and in Japan. All of that wisdom, coupled with an authentic desire to help others achieve their healthiest skin possible, led her to develop her signature KAIKA™ Facial Massage, which is based on an ancient Japanese form of deep facial massage that detoxifies, tones and lifts the skin to the point that the entire facial structure is transformed. I’ve experienced it firsthand, and the level of tension release I felt in just about every facial muscle was nothing short of extraordinary (Lady Gaga herself enlists Joomee’s magical hands). What I love the most though is how Joomee focuses on massage as a way to connect with and care for ourselves, and skincare as an act of kindness rather than something that, for so many, has become a contentious battle.
Joomee shares so many of the same values we hold at Vintner’s Daughter, and I am thrilled to share our conversation with you! Joomee was also kind enough to demonstrate her signature techniques, exclusively for us, using Active Botanical Serum. Below, watch her step-by-step guide, a wonderful way to show yourself, and your skin, an extra bit of loving kindness. Thank you as always for being here with us.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk. To start, would you share a bit about your background and how you came to what you're doing today?
Well, I was born and raised in Japan and I always wanted to be a makeup artist. Growing up, my grandma was very into beauty rituals. She used to own a kimono factory with her husband in Kyoto, had seven kids and was such an entrepreneur. At the end of the day, at the same time in the same chair in front of the same mirror, she gave herself a facial massage basically by removing her makeup with Shiseido’s Deluxe Cream. I remember that so vividly, the way my grandma just sat on her chair and her face was so peaceful while she was massaging. Now that I think about it, she was removing the stress and the chaos and the voices in her head. That was like her meditation time. She was always surrounded by Korean skincare and Japanese skincare and my mom carried on that ritual as well. Neither of them were in the beauty industry, but they invested their time so much in the ritual.
Growing up in Japan, I became so taken with the '90s supermodels, like Cindy Crawford and decided I should be a makeup artist. I said to my mom, "You know what? I'm going to New York after I graduate high school and I'm going to learn about beauty.” She was like, "You are crazy. You have to at least turn 20." Twenty is the legal age in Japan. So I graduated from high school, went to junior college, which is only two years, graduated in March and I moved to New York in April. But in the late '90s there weren't really any makeup schools in New York. People said to me, "Joomee, you have to move to Hollywood." So I packed myself up and moved to L.A. with three boxes.
And how old are you at this point?
I was 20. I didn't speak the language, didn't have any relatives, friends, and I didn't know anybody. All I knew was I wanted to be a makeup artist. I stayed in a hotel in Santa Monica for close to a month. Back then we only had the yellow pages and ads in newspapers. I found an advertisement for Yamano Beauty College on Wilshire and Fairfax in the middle of Los Angeles. In the ad it said, cosmetologists, esthetician, nails, and makeup. I recognized the word makeup, so I called them and the principal at that time, Mr. Kimora, spoke Japanese. He said, "What are you doing out here all alone? You need to come here right now." I took a cab, went to the school, and I told him my situation.
I can tell this is when things start to get very interesting.
Exactly. I ended up taking the esthetician course, not really knowing what it was, and started to learn about skin and facials and cleansing and exfoliation. Yamano Beauty College was a school where you learned by practicing on clients so I started to do a lot of facials. I graduated, went to makeup school, and started to work as a makeup artist in Hollywood. I was 21-years-old, I didn't really speak the language that well, and was surrounded by actors and actresses and working crazy hours in a crazy industry. I started to get really depressed and realized that wasn’t the industry I wanted to be in. During that time, actresses would come in and their skin was so dry or dehydrated and I always gave them advice on skin care. After a few years I said, well, why don't I go back to skin care, which I was good at anyway. So, after four years in the United States, I decided to go back to Japan, start all over again and learn all about the Japanese beauty industry. I learned a lot. But, after four years I felt like it was time for me to go back to the States and I came back here in 2006.
When you were in Japan, what product lines or companies were you working with?
I was working with the company called Clair. They are one of the top botanical skincare companies in Japan. Their product lines are great and it's a very natural, gentle approach. I was actually their top sales person in Japan. In Japan, there are a lot of natural skincare brands because what we can put in a bottle is so limited because the FDA in Japan is so strict. We are kind of forced to look at plants we have from our garden or the mountains, so there are a lot of interesting ingredients. However, are they as effective? If you ask me, that's highly questionable. It's really about how you want to approach your skin.
The quality of course has so much to do with everything too. It's one thing to be natural, but it's another thing to really understand quality sourcing, and then how everything kind of goes together in terms of what percentages, what ratios. So when you come back to LA, what is your plan?
When I came back to L.A. I dove into the medical industry since I was in such a natural, organic skincare world in Japan and I was curious about the opposite approach. I worked at a high-end medical spa in Los Angeles as the lead aesthetician. We had at least ten different facial gadgets, carried something like 35 different skincare brands, and had at least 18 different facial protocols to choose from. I learned a lot about using so many different gadgets, acids and peels, lasers and things like that. What I started to realize was those clients that I was seeing regularly, their skin wasn’t getting better by my standards. I felt like their skin was only becoming more fragile, reactive and red, which contradicted what we were intending to do. I knew that was not what I wanted to do to people's skin. That’s when I decided to do a 180 and change my approach.
I remembered my grandma always massaging her face. When she passed away at 86 years old, her skin was literally so beautiful and bright. I knew that had to be the answer. I decided to dig deeper into what was behind that. I had been working at the La Prairie spas at Hotel Bel-Air and the Beverly Hills Hotel and my name started to be recognized for my work as an aesthetician and for my facial massage. When the spa decided to bring in a whole new staff and I was suddenly jobless, it was kind of like a lucky accident. I started going to people's houses because I already had a lot of clients who lived around Bel-Air and Beverly Hills and six months in, I met Lady Gaga.
I was curious when and how Lady Gaga came into the picture.
I met her in 2015. She asked me if I could do my massage, the KAIKA™ Facial Massage, on her basically every day, and of course I said I could.
I know you and Gaga still work together, but you went on tour with her, right? What was that like?
I was so fortunate to monitor how one person’s skin can change so much by practicing facial massage every day. Not only improving the skin texture, it literally can change the shape of your face. You understand so much more deeply how we carry stress and tension on our face. During the four and a half years with her almost every day, I was just so stunned by what we can do just using hands. I was so grateful that I had that experience with her. You don't have to use harsh products or the craziest gadget on the market. You can literally use your hand and a good product and your skin will be golden.
You don't have to use harsh products or the craziest gadget on the market. You can literally use your hand and a good product and your skin will be golden.
Incredible. Do you feel like your relationship to skin has changed over time?
My approach has changed over time as I’ve grown as a therapist and as a person. I've noticed what certain ingredients or certain treatments could do to skin. Skin is so interesting because how you take care of yourself is related to how you take care of your skin. Now my skincare approach is not just about skincare, it really directs a whole being, understanding how the inner self and the outer self are connected. That’s why I only see a very limited group of people. It's very personal. Skincare is very personal.
Gentle and consistent seem to be the big themes of your approach, and the idea that the love and the kindness that you show yourself, you show your skin.
Right. You have to decide what consistency and gentleness means to you. A lot of us believe no pain, no gain. You have to feel pain or burning or scrubbing, otherwise you don't see any results. Those people usually approach themselves that way too. Very perfectionist, very hard on themselves. I have to redirect them and say, "No, you don't have to feel pain. It's actually the opposite. You have to listen, you have to be a best friend to your skin and to yourself."
That's amazing. If someone walks into your office and they are doing harsh, abrasive chemical exfoliation every day or using retinol every day, or getting lasers every week, how do you begin to change that relationship?
I ask them first why they feel they need to do that? What is the goal? Where are you trying to get by doing those harsh lasers or scrubs or exfoliation every day? Their answers, 99.9% of the time is they're doing it for anti-aging purposes. Then again, what's anti-aging? Because anti-aging can mean so many different meanings to so many different people.
Even the term anti-aging is so triggering and in my mind, terrible. I never use that term. To me it's just part of that flywheel of fear and insecurity that people want us to stay on to buy more products.
Exactly. It should be pro-aging. It should be happy. And stopping those harsh treatments will help with the aging process. Just using a cream or a gentle oil will too.
What the idea of anti-aging ultimately does is create this distrust in your body that leads to disconnection. It is a privilege to age. Pro-aging is what we should all be celebrating, especially after a year like we have all had.
Yes. If we are so fortunate to age, how can we love, how can we nurture our aging process? It's not something to fear or to target or cause so much pain around. As an expert, I feel I have a responsibility to be a role model on what aging skin looks like. A lot of people ask me if I’m against injections or Botox. I'm not against it at all, what I'm against is for you to not look like you, and for everyone to start to look like one face a doctor believed that we should all look like.
Something I found so interesting was the way your massage technique can also relieve tension, especially as someone who grinds their teeth at night.
There are so many factors to that. It can be the way you carry tension, it can be your bite, but unfortunately there's nothing that basically makes you not grind at night. What you can do is you can massage your masseter muscle every day, every night for five minutes and that's all you need to do. For all of us, by massaging the face, feeling that tension every day, you start to notice the changes, the differences that happen on your face, and that's how you connect with yourself. That's a part of the reason why I ask people to massage and really feel their face every day. Practicing gua sha or using a jade roller is totally fine, but I want you to use your fingers after that. I want you to feel your face with your fingertips, because your hands will remember what your face felt like yesterday. I want you to connect with yourself.
I think, ultimately, skincare, and any kind of wellness, should be about connecting to yourself and your own rhythms. Intuition is a big word right now, but it’s really about what you know to be right and good for your body. Anytime you get away from that, it just does more harm than good.
Exactly. When do you want to really look at yourself? It’s better to face your fear and ask why you feel like you have to stay skinny all the time? Ask who you are trying to please. Really see and look within and be content with who you are. It's not easy. You have to do a lot of work. However, when you can get there, your skin will just beam and glow from inside.
Practicing gua sha or using a jade roller is totally fine, but I want you to use your fingers after that. I want you to feel your face with your fingertips, because your hands will remember what your face felt like yesterday. I want you to connect with yourself.
I think you would agree with me, that that is the definition of true beauty. It is this ultimate confidence in who you are and that you are content with yourself.
What you described, that is the truest beauty. The woman, the man, the person who can walk into a room, wrinkles, gray hair, not a perfect size four, or six, or whatever, stand there and know that they are worthy to be standing there exactly how they are. Everyone knows and feels that they are the most glorious person in that room. Skincare is really how you approach yourself. If an oil takes you to a place that makes you feel so beautiful inside and out, that makes you happy, that's the product for you. That's what skincare should offer.
How I think about it is if the quality and the integrity around the products that we make resonates with you, it will resonate with your skin. It will bring you to that place that you want to be.
After all, we are all talking about the skin epidermis. The skin surface is only one, paper thin layer. If we keep abusing this surface, of course you're going to eventually start having problems because that's what skin is made to do, to react and let you know you are doing something wrong. That's why a lot of people start to develop dermatitis or eczema or breakouts, because they believe these things that they are doing are good for their skin.
Really see and look within and be content with who you are. It's not easy. You have to do a lot of work. However, when you can get there, your skin will just beam and glow from inside.
Right, and trying something new every day, not listening to skin and not being consistent.
How do you even have time to listen to your skin when you are so trend focused? You end up so disconnected from yourself and from your skin of course.
It’s so exciting that you’re planning to launch your own skincare line. Tell me about that.
I am putting this product out to really neutralize the noise. I don't want to add any more and I don't want to confuse people more. I just want to make the skincare industry less crowded. I truly believe that that's my job by launching my skincare or just talking about my approach. I have to keep reminding people, skin is not just about what you do from the surface. It's really what you feel inside.
Watch Joomee’s demonstration of her KAIKA™ Facial Massage, using our very own Active Botanical Serum. Enjoy!
To learn more about Joomee Song and her incredible work, visit her on Instagram @joomees.