Erno Laszlo, The Man Behind Iconic Starlets' Complexions, And Mine

My day at The Institute, getting skin treatments worthy of Old Hollywood.

The Institute in New York City is a monument to the incredible career and groundbreaking techniques that propelled Hungarian dermatologist Erno Laszlo to the status of Hollywood Skin Angel. He was known to jet all over the globe treating the faces of the rich, famous, royal, and oftentimes blemished, helping skin look perfect in a time before Photoshop.

Many skin care techniques we use today, such as oil cleansing, were pioneered by Lazlo. His treatment of the acne and scars of Hungary’s Princess Stephanie was legendary, and he created a lightweight and acne reducing makeup product just for her.

The Institute was a staple of New York’s Fifth Avenue for generations, and has been rebuilt downtown on West Broadway, in the shopping mecca SoHo. Though it is a bit morbid, Laszlo’s skin care sanctuary has a photo of Marilyn Monroe’s bedroom upon the hour of her death. A table by her death bed showed a collection of Erno Laszlo products.

Looking in from the outside, a three-story chandelier beams bright, beckoning a look at the authentic 1930s furnishings placed thoughtfully throughout The Institute. Statues of gorgeous Alphonse Mucha-esque ladies, pops of red leather and crystal--this space is as beautiful as it purports to make your skin.

A sales floor filled with Laszlo’s trusted skin "Phormulas" is attentively staffed. Original favorites such as the Sea Mud Deep Cleansing Bar and Phormula 3-9 Repair Balm are arranged to entice, and it's exceptionally hard to leave empty handed after testing them.

The basement décor is even better, furnished like a silent ladies’ lounge of a grand theater. This level is the site for the The Institute's sole focus: treating the skin, whether for acne, dryness, or both (no waxing, no massage). Clients are encouraged to purchase annual memberships ($5,000 per year) rather than pay individually for services. This aspect of the business model is surprisingly clever.

First I was zipped into a hyperbaric chamber for 37 minutes. This body-oxygenating treatment, a common practice among those who have seven-figure annual incomes, was pretty epic. I didn’t feel like a superhero afterward, but I definitely breathed lighter and felt less tense.

Afterward, my technician Colleen and I had a frank conversation about my skin: she noted areas where I could clearly benefit from treatment, and others where I was doing a very good job of things. A few hormonal spots, a few healing scars from last month’s spots, but mostly I have plump, moisturized skin with few wrinkles--hallelujah! We attributed this to my devotion to moisturizing, and my reward was smaller and less clogged pores. This comes from treating the face as a whole rather than just going for acne.

My skin may be plump, but it overgrows itself quickly, which is why I need frequent exfoliation. Colleen explained to me that the Laszlo Institute encourages membership, which includes all aspects of a facial service, with no added cost. Imagine being able to get microdermabrasion or peels whenever needed. Services are 100% customized and come without any hard selling. If Colleen thinks you need micro that day, done! If things are looking good, the focus will be on balance. This approach is not something you often come across, but it’s different and has one goal in mind: long term good skin.

My own service was delightful. I had my very first microdermabrasion session and glycolic/salicylic peel, services for which that many other establishments charge $150 on top of regular cost. Treating acne is more than treating your whole face with harsh products or medicines. If the skin is properly moisturized and sufficiently exfoliated, garden variety clogged pores shrink up and go to sleep!

Fighting oil with oil was one of Laszlo’s pioneer discoveries, and the Phelityl Cleansing Oil was the product that started it all, as well as my facial. Oil cleansing or pre-cleansing is an excellent way to get rid of makeup and excess sebum fast, and this one also matches the pH of skin for extra gentle efficiency.

High frequency electronic treatment and LED light treatment were both part of my facial, as well as some extractions. I have received high frequency treatment before, and it is AWESOME for my hormonal breakouts. This process uses a glass electrode to conduct electricity over your face and gently ‘zap’ any active pimples. It has an antibacterial effect and is also great for controlling sebum. LED light is also pore-tightening, and uses the entire light spectrum to heal the skin after the micro and peel situation without damage.

Laszlo was known for verbally scolding even famous ladies who strayed from his advice. After all, he was right, great skin cannot be had simply by way of a single miracle product. Great skin comes from commitment (at home if you can’t afford a pro) and nothing else. I can personally attest to this difference that consistency has made for me. It’s pretty awesome when your facialist can tell that you don’t sleep in your makeup. Colleen was the perfect ambassador to the Erno Laszlo method of treating acne as a whole with the entire face, not spot by spot. I thoroughly enjoyed my treatment at The Institute, and its historical, clinical, and precise environment is one I would trust to keep my skin looking its best. My skin is feeling smoother than ever, taking my dedication and bringing it to the next level.

Have you ever had a skin treatment that changed your skin care habits, or the way you care for you skin altogether? How do you feel about skin care memberships such as this one? Photos: Darnell Scott