Keeping It Real with Joanna Vargas

From her sprawling, 14,000-square-foot luxury day spa, on New York City’s Fifth Avenue, the beloved aesthetician to the superstars is definitely glowing a little brighter lately.

Joanna Vargas at her Fifth Avenue Spa. Photo by Jeremiah Unruh.

Joanna Vargas at her Fifth Avenue Spa. Photo by Jeremiah Unruh.

Joanna Vargas stands tall at five-foot-ten—well, at least that's what she projects, even though she's only five-five. "You know, I always did have tall thoughts," giggles Vargas, who has remained true to her roots and to her craft for 20 years and counting. There's a reason why her clients, both famous and not, are so dedicated to her, so this is where I shamelessly name-drop those she beautified for the 71st Met Gala: Rachel Brosnahan, Julianne Moore, Lili Reinhart, Natasha Lyon, Tessa Thompson, Chloë Moretz, Hailee Steinfeld, Riley Keough, Mindy Kaling, Constance Wu, and Ruth Negga.


While I was lucky enough to be receiving one of her ultimate facials, like a star, we went down memory lane, because I wanted to know, how it all began. It turns out, Vargas was on a "winding road," eventually landing in New York and becoming a fashion photographer. But being as shy as she is, she quickly realized that the profession might not be right for her (although she still loves it, her spa filled with beautiful images and portraits). 


She decided to go to beauty school, thinking she might become a makeup artist and still be a part of the image-making process and artistry of it all—and that was the "ah-ha" moment. "Wait, people get paid to do this?" she recalls. "I just loved taking care of someone's face, beautifying them while I had their faces in my hands." It made sense to her because her grandmother, a total beauty lover, had a significant influence on the young Joanna. "When I was little, I always asked for beauty products. When it comes to presents—creams, bubble baths, perfumes, you name it—I asked for it." Then 20 years later, voilà!

Above slideshow: Joanna Vargas Fifth Avenue spa, N.Y.C. Photographs by Jeremiah Unruh


Her new spa is stunning and expansive, housing 13 treatment rooms and 4 rooms housing her patented LED RevitaLight Bed, and boasting very high 15-ft. ceilings, an airy vibe with dreamy poured resin floors reflecting off the large arched windows, the feeling is plush - all blanketed by her signature color, pale-blush-pink. And when you walk in, there's a neon sign by the waiting area that reads “#GlowBrighter,” that being the absolute goal. "Out of everyone in my family, my grandmother would have loved it here the most," shares Vargas, who absolutely loves what she does, which includes creating her very own skin-care line—"one of the hardest things I've ever done, but I love it, I love the science behind it, and I'm really a science girl." Yes, Vargas is always researching and experimenting with how to use a specific combination of treatments that are tailor-made for individuals, for maximum effect. For me, she designed the following facial.


After exfoliation, a medical-grade collagen mask was applied. She uses different types of collagen, depending on what is happening on a particular skin, and my mask was infused with hyaluronic acid with a super-healing-and-hydrating epidermal growth factor that was perfect for rejuvenating the skin. A molding mask was then set atop, keeping the cover super-active, followed by micro-current, which increased lymphatic drainage, added stimulation and tightening of the muscles, and boosted collagen production by five to six percent. The result? A clear "wow" factor, as you can see on my Instagram handle @sunheebeauty.


"I have a client, one of the top female financial analysts in her field, and after her fourth or fifth facial, she says to me, 'Joanna, I don't feel invisible anymore,’ Vargas recalls. "And it's moments like that that make me want to do a million more facials!" And I can assure you-you'll be going back often, not only for her addicting facials but to lay on her LED RevitaLight Bed, which I mentioned earlier and that has since been modified to yield even better results than ever before. She debuted this new model last November when she opened her Fifth Avenue retreat (with the help of her beloved husband and CEO, Cesar Vargas, who is clearly the bedrock of her glorious enterprise). 

Joanna Vargas Spa at The Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood, Los Angeles. Photographs by Lily King.

The patent on this genius bed may have taken years to get, but it’s no wonder, because of its incredible sophistication. Joanna cleverly engineered this LED in the form of a full-coverage bed designed to address different body zones, from cellulite on the butt to anti-aging on the face, and a $150 session will do the trick in just 20 minutes. (Full disclosure: you will find me on that bed once a week from now on!) And for the über-wealthy with second homes around the globe, this incredibly enticing bed—made in the U.S.A.—can be purchased, with white glove delivery, natch. And the cost? Go for a visit and inquire, ‘cause a girl can dream. If not, don't worry. She has the bed at her L.A. location as well, the coveted Sunset Tower spa retreat so you can breathe a sigh of relief.


What’s more, Joanna launched her Lymphatic Drainage Full Body Massage for awards-season this year, as well as the Body Booster add-on treatment, which employs air-compression boots to assist with lymphatic drainage and to de-puff from head to toe. Can you say, "Sign me up?" And there’s always her stellar skin-care line, for which she puts her whole heart into. Her latests from @JVSkincare are the energizing, green-teaRitual Bar soap; the Ritual Brush, a natural-bristle dry tool; and the Glow to Go Mask Set, which includes sheet masks for the face and eye areas to address all skin concerns.


The maintenance measure for her movie-star clients is simple. "In between films, they come often and do a lot of treatments (from her signature facials, Supernova to Triple Crown and Forever, as her spa offers 23 different treatments with 30 aestheticians in-house). Since they are gone for months on location, they have that boost to rely on and are holding together nicely," Vargas explains. "Like everything in life, it's about keeping up the regimen and maintaining, to bring out the best in you." And when it comes to her work ethic? "Success won't find you unless you make an authentic go of it." Amen to that.

Joanna Vargas Spa Fifth Avenue reception. Photo by Jeremiah Unruh.

Joanna Vargas Spa Fifth Avenue reception. Photo by Jeremiah Unruh.