March 21, 2002
An Israeli skin guru to the stars spills her secrets.
"American Pie" star Shannon Elizabeth may appear to have perfect skin. But Michelle Ornstein knows that everyone, even stars, have bad skin days. And when they do, they turn to this Israeli-born spa owner for help.
"Everyone breaks out. Teens, movie stars, homemakers. People who break out from everything come here," said Ornstein, running her fingers through her thick brown curls.
Nestled between Crescent Heights and Fairfax on the oh-so-hip Melrose Avenue, Enessa derives its name from the Hebrew word nes (miracle). "To me, aromatherapy is the miracle of the essence," Ornstein said.
To walk into Enessa is to relax. The stone mezuzah in the doorway welcomes you to serenity. Freeway road rage and smog-related stress give way to calming water fountains and copper leaf inlays in the cool cement floor. The spa's clean lines and open spaces reflect Ornstein's skin-care philosophy. "Cleanse, hydrate and moisturize," said Ornstein, who returns to Israel every few years. "Keep it simple."
Simple and natural. Aromatherapy, originally practiced by ancient Egyptians and Greeks, is the art of using essential oils (concentrated plant, flower and herb extracts) to enhance well-being. The oils, absorbed into the bloodstream, help the body release toxins and impurities. Based in this practice, all of Enessa's treatments and products are 100-percent natural. "Synthetic oils and chemicals clog pores and stay in your body. Essential oils are released in six hours," said Ornstein, who herself has sensitive skin and is allergic to most commercial cosmetics. "Imitation products may smell like aromatherapy, but they lack the actual healing properties," she said.
Ornstein found topical antibiotics and Retin-A too harsh, so she created her own line of organic products. She now sells over 30 different skin-care secrets. The "Friends" make-up artist hooked Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox and Brad Pitt on Enessa products and all three male "Friends" stars use the aftershave moisturizer.
My luxurious hydrating facial ($70 for 45 minutes) started with the lavender cleanser, followed by a bio-exfoliant scrub, a generous application of cypress oil facial nourishment and a delightful calming mineral mask. She also applied clove oil for microcysts (I now swear by this miracle zit zapper), rose oil eye treatment (great for moisturizing lips, too) and the indulgently moisturizing rose geranium hydrosol.
Many of the products that Ornstein sells at the spa are Israeli influenced. "I import a lot from Israel, like the Dead Sea salts I use in my body polish and mineral mask," she said.
During facials, she employs a softening gel and nylon strips to open pores. Though most American spas use steam for this procedure, Ornstein finds the Israeli gel method more effective. "With steam, pores go from one extreme to the other, shutting immediately after the steam is turned off. With the gel, the pores remain open, so I can concentrate on one area of the face at a time," she said.
Ornstein, of Yemenite descent, imported another Middle Eastern beauty secret to Los Angeles: threading. Enessa is one of the few spas nationwide to provide this ancient hair removal treatment. Knotted threads are used to remove facial hair by the root, without disturbing the skin. "Waxing can remove a layer of skin, causing irritation and sun exposure. Threading ($15-$65) is less invasive and the hair grows back thinner," she said. Salma Hayek is not Ornstein's only threading fan. Thanks to Ornstein, my eyebrows look fantastic.
Ornstein's heritage plays a large role in and out of the spa. "Celebrating the holidays, having a Jewish home, it's really important to me," said Ornstein, who attends services at Baba Sale in the Fairfax area, keeps a kosher home and is hosting a large family seder this Passover.
It is difficult to balance business and family, the successful businesswoman admits. Married in 1996 by Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz of Chabad of the Marina, Ornstein and her husband, Steve, an auditor, now reside in the Miracle Mile with their 18-month-old son, Daniel. "I've cut down on my time in the spa. I don't want to miss out on the most beautiful thing in the world," said the proud mother, who pulls out an album overflowing with family photos.
Now in its fifth year, the spa has become a haven to celebs and Chasidim alike. Enessa's full line of treatments includes facials, body polishing, waxing, threading, massage and acupuncture. Although Ornstein downplays her celebrity clientele, this Hollywood hot spot is a long way from her humble beginnings.
Eighteen years ago, she worked out of her tiny Los Angeles apartment. "I'd advertise in the local Israeli newspapers, and women would climb the stairs to my place to get their legs waxed," she said.
"In Israel, skin care is number one. Everyone gets a monthly facial; here it is treated more like a luxury than a necessity," said Ornstein, who moved from the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan at age 13.
Ornstein discovered her skin-care passion while attending Beverly Hills High. "I broke out horribly at 16. I tried everything, nothing worked. And my first facial was traumatic," said Ornstein, who then took to wandering aisles at the health food store. "I read the labels on all the jars to figure out what might help. I'd go home and make my own masks," Ornstein said.
She enrolled in a local beauty school after graduation, but trained in aromatherapy in a Tel Aviv academy. "In Israel, I learned natural solutions for problem skin, how each plant and herb possess their own unique power," Ornstein said. "I also learned that everything affects your skin. Your lifestyle, your diet, acupuncture, exercise." She looks to Israeli folk dancing, salsa dancing and yoga for release.
With Ornstein's help, I leave Enessa feeling pampered, relaxed and complexion glowing. And like so many of her celebrity clients, "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille."
For more information on the spa and its products, visit www.enessa.com