The word “no” does not exist in my vocabulary. It never has. It is this “can do” attitude that has helped me persevere with so many things in my life, even in the most difficult of times. Entrepreneur, skin care advocate, author and Founder of Atelier Esthetique in New York City have been some of my greatest achievements. My name is Annette Hanson and this is my story.

My colleagues have called me a pioneer in the skin care industry. I wear that badge with honor. I am so proud of my journey that started in Calgary, Canada, led me to Paris, France and finally to New York City where cosmetic legends Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden paved the way for business women like me to succeed in a predominantly man’s world. From the beginning, my goal has been to empower women (and men) to succeed. I have been mentoring and educating aspiring estheticians for almost four decades. It takes my breath away when I unexpectedly encounter a graduate (it happens often) in various places around the world, and I hear how I have helped change their life. I have stayed true to my mission that I established from day one: “Excellence in Education, One Student at a Time.”

The Early Years: Growing up in Calgary, Canada

When it comes down to it, I am just a small-town girl from Canada that came from a very close-knit family with strong values of honesty, loyalty and respect. My parents have been my role models my whole life. They always told me that I could achieve anything I wanted with hard work and dedication. I lost my father when I was only 26 years old. My mother just passed this year at 95-years young. The key values they installed in me and the constant support I receive from my two sisters, is what has shaped me and continues to make me a better person. I will always strive to make them proud of me.

What Inspired Me to Make a Career in Esthetics

I guess you could say beauty is in my blood. My parents owned a drug store in Calgary. My father was the pharmacist-he was my model for patience and kindness. My mother was the first Beauty Advisor for Du Barry Cosmetics, the first and oldest cosmetic brand in the United States. I inherited my love of skin care from her and she taught me everything I know about customer service. At six years old, I was honing my retailing skills by selling penny candy with incredible enthusiasm. As a child, I thought that every little girl grows up and owns their own business. And so, the entrepreneurial spirit was ingrained in me at a very young age.

Paris, France: Love at First Sight

After graduating from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, I got my first job in Toronto as a Meeting Organizer for the Council of Ministers of Education. I was sent to Paris for 3 months as a Consultant to OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) for 3 months -but much to the surprise of my family and friends, I did not return to Canada. Paris had stolen my heart. I fell in love with the language, the food and the culture so I decided to become a student. And what subject did I choose? ESTHETICS. I so admired how French women celebrated their natural beauty while aging gracefully. It was impossible not to marvel at these sophisticated, glamorous women. I enrolled in the famous Carita Institute on the elegantly fashionable Rue de Faubourg Saint Honore. I studied “Esthetique” entirely in French for one year and, not only did I become bilingual, but I became passionate about skin care and French Beauty.

My Educational Background–Travel the World for Knowledge

I have always had an insatiable desire to continue learning. Over the years, I studied in Germany at the Nemectron Institute; in Brittany, France at the BCM Institute of Thalassotherapy and in London with the eminent aromatherapists Micheline Arcier and Eve Taylor. I was honored when I was awarded my French Certificate of Professional Aptitude (CAP) as well as my many ITEC diplomas, which allow me to practice worldwide. My life changed dramatically when the President of Lancome came to the school and asked the director if he could interview only the best estheticians. I was chosen to open the first Lancome Institute in New York City on the 8thfloor of Bloomingdale’s. I was excited to come to the ‘Big Apple”, as I had never been there before.

Surprise Surprise, Are You an Astronaut? Are You an Anesthesiologist?

Can you believe that in the “fashion capital” of the world, there was no such word as an Esthetician”! Skin care treatments, waxing, makeup, and nail care were all part of New York’s Cosmetology license performed in a hair salon. How could that be? When I came to work at Lancome, even after I had studied extensively face and body treatments in Europe, Lancome had to send me to school to get my Cosmetology License, in order to perform facials legally in the state of New York!

New York, New York–If You Can Make It Here, You Can Make It Anywhere

And so, my career began, introducing “French Beauty Treatments” to the United States. First at the Lancome Institute and then as a Manager of the Payot Institutes, headquartered on Park Avenue. I went on to open the first ever Estee Lauder counter at Macy’s Flagship Department store in Herald Square. As the manager, I transformed it into the nation’s highest grossing sales counter in only three months. I was then hired by Dynex as their Training Director for Esthetic Equipment and France Laure, a French line of skin care. It was there that I trained owners of salons, cosmetic companies and their estheticians.

Every Little Girl’s Dream–To Own Their Own Business Top of the World: 34th Floor of the Empire State Building

In 1985, I opened a Cosmetic Distribution and Postgraduate Training Facility for Skincare and Body Specialists in Suite 3406, without one single customer. It was probably the biggest risk I have ever taken. I started with one line and, by 1993, I was a distributor of five major European cosmetic product lines. Still in 1985, the word ‘Esthetician” was not well known and there were no dedicated salons to skincare. I remember going through the Yellow Pages in the phone book, calling every salon and asking to speak to anyone doing facials and waxing.

Get Political, Get Active

In 1988, I joined the New York Cosmetology Association (NYCA) headed by Ernestine Reese with one goal in mind: To speak to everyone who would listen about how important it was to set apart skin care from the cosmetology license. Each one needed separate training and a separate curriculum. I continued to work with the NYCA and was awarded the Keith Lamar Plaque for 10 years of service in the Esthetics Division.

Needing to expand, we relocated to 386 Park Avenue South with the training center and a warehouse on two different floors. Not only was everything there for training, but it was the first time ever in New York, that there was a body treatment classroom with a balneotherapy tub and a vichy shower. Who else would pump up water from the street to the 14th floor, install 2 hot water heaters and build out a raised platform for plumbing? Not every decision was cost-effective! Being a French-trained Esthetician, I was very familiar with the healing power of the sea-Thalassotherapy. Taking a ‘cure’ in seawater remineralizes and detoxifies the body. No matter what the price, I wanted to provide this education to my students. I was spontaneous and determined. I answered only to myself and “usually” got what I wanted.

If You Want Something Done, Ask a Busy Person

Finally, on July 5, 1994, New York State Appearance Enhancement Division of Licensing created Specialty Licenses in Esthetics, Cosmetology, Natural Hair Weaving and Nail Technology. Esthetics now had an approved 600-hour curriculum that included facials, waxing, and make-up. What a huge milestone! Estheticians no longer had to learn how to cut hair in order to perform a facial.

Now that I had fought so hard for NY to have an Esthetics license, it was only natural that I open a licensing school, in addition to the product lines and advanced training. On September 14, 1993, Atelier Esthetique® Institute of Esthetics officially opened, offering 600 hours of education to obtain the newly created Esthetician’s License.

I have always been a spur of the moment, fly by the seat of my pants kind of gal. I can remember sitting in my office on Park Avenue with my colleague, friend, and Atelier Esthetique advisor Paul Labrecque. We had just met that day. Nearing noon, I quickly sketched his first Spa in Reebok on a simple piece of white paper; and then we celebrated at Anthony Bourdain’s hot spot “Les Halles” across the street. Any excuse for “Steak Frites” will do!

My Greatest Accomplishments

After being asked to write the first Esthetics Curriculum for New York State in 1992, I was subsequently nominated to serve the State of New York on the Appearance Enhancement Advisory Committee. As they were just about to swear me in, in Albany, the Secretary of State turned to me and said, “You are a U.S. Citizen, right?” Well, at that time, I only had Permanent Resident status coming from Canada. I returned to the city and filed for my U.S. citizenship to be able to serve on this Committee. I was so proud to be sworn in as a US Citizen on Constitution Day, September 14, 1999 by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. I went on to serve as “Educator” on the Appearance Enhancement Advisory Committee for esthetics, nails, and cosmetology for the next 17 years. I am proud to say that I voted in 3 US Presidential Elections.

Raise the Standards of Our Industry and Protect the Health and Safety of the Consumer

I was concerned to learn that Nail Technicians were waxing without obtaining their 600-hour esthetics license. This meant that they were working on the public without having any formal training on Sanitation and Disinfection. So, I lobbied for a separate Waxing License of 75 hours for the State of New York and in 1999, the “Waxing Specialty” License was created, the only state to have one. This allowed so many individuals in New York to begin their careers at waxing studios.

I was instrumental in changing the waxing regulations mandating the use of disposable gloves and prohibiting double-dipping. I will always continue to lobby for licensing, and high educational and professional standards. In fact, one of my former students has called me “Sheriff Hanson.” I like it. I think it has a nice ring to it.

Public Speaking is My Passion–Teaching with Humor and Audience Participation

Before the popularity of webinars and YouTube, Estheticians mainly updated their knowledge by attending trade shows and conferences. I was honored to be a speaker at many of them here and abroad. I loved to engage with the audience, to get the crowd motivated and inspired, to elevate their skills.

One year in Miami, at the Les Nouvelles Congress, I was speaking about how some states were considering deregulating our profession – no license needed and no practical exam. I was outraged because it is this license that creates our profession and protects the public. I had ushers hand out over 500 buttons and had the audience repeat after me, chanting over and over” I’m an Esthetician, Ask Me What I do!” We were all united in our campaign to safeguard our license, no matter what state we lived in.

Creating My Own Two Product Lines

I always dreamed about creating my own product lines but I wanted to have a lot of experience and knowledge of ingredients first. After many years of studying, I finally did it in 2001! I licensed the rights to GHK® copper peptides for the spa and salon market and created Simple Solutions, one of the first peptide cosmeceutical skin care lines. At the same time, I also created AquaSanté Spa products, a Marine-based seaweed and seawater body line from Brittany, France. I designed both brands myself and even wrote every ingredient label and “Instructions for Use” in English and French. I created specific treatments to be used in spas to accompany both lines. I demonstrated these products to a great many salons in the northeast and then I took to the skies, crisscrossing the country (2 million+miles on American Airlines) to lecture at every major trade show on two subjects: The Anti-Aging Effects of GHK® Copper Peptide Technology and the Power of the Sea. It was thanks to Will Strunk, the owner of Dermascope, who allowed me to introduce Simple Solutions and AquaSante on the stage to a packed audience in Dallas, that the orders began to roll in.

I marketed both lines for three years across the U.S. and sales grew to $1 million. Eventually, we stopped distributing other product lines and just sold my own across the country. I was not able to devote as much attention to the school, so when I was approached by a major biomedical company, I decided to sell both brands on December 30, 2003. It was a very bittersweet moment. To hand over the two product lines that I had created from the beginning-ingredients, packaging, labeling, brochures, samples to someone else was one of the most difficult moments of my career, not to mention saying goodbye to all the salon owners and their staff that I had trained along the way.

Chapter Two Begins

I like to say that Atelier Esthetique Institute is the ‘Harvard” of esthetics schools.” We set the bar high in order to prepare students academically and for the real world of business and I am proud to say that I have graduated over 1,000 estheticians, who are part of an exclusive worldwide alumni group.

The Change of the Face of the School

In June of 2010, Atelier Esthetique Institute of Esthetics became nationally accredited by NACCAS, the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences. This was huge. We were now able to offer federal financial aid and loans. Since the inception of the school, I never had a partner in business. Now suddenly the federal government became my partner. This gave so many more students, who couldn’t afford the program prior, a chance to go to school allowing them to obtain an education where they could become successful.

When I first started the school, I was an Owner/Operator. I taught every class myself. When the enrollment got larger, I hired instructors who went through a vigorous training period before being allowed to teach students. Once I hired them, I continued to go into every classroom to observe and guide their teaching. I built my business by being very hands-on, never sitting at a desk (and happily logged in 10,000 steps daily). I wanted to always interact with all my students and staff.

For every new machine or treatment that was ever introduced into the program, it was I who was the “model” in front of students. I had two ulterior motives–first, I was able to have a lie-down in the daytime, and secondly, I could finally have a treatment in my own school.

I Am Only as Good as the Team Around Me

Through the years, I have had the best staff anyone could ask for. Making good hiring choices is so important in a school. I’m proud to mention that Irene Johnson, Finance Officer, and Ms. S (Schettino) Lead Instructor have been with me for over 20 years. I have hired each staff member personally and I always made sure, whether it was administration or teachers, that they all had the same drive for excellence as I do. I looked for employees that would help maintain the professionalism and high levels of excellence that the school was known for. I always encouraged creativity and welcomed my staff to contribute ideas to make our school better. Without the people with whom I surrounded myself, MY AE TEAM, I would never have gotten to where I am today. For all of them, I am very grateful.

How I Grew My Business–The Ups, The Downs–The Journey

As a single woman female business owner in Manhattan, I have had my share of challenges. Dealing with Contractors, Landlords and rising rents was not easy. Stubbornly, I just worked harder and refused to give up. Being a Sole Proprietor has both its rewards and its hardships. You are responsible for all successes and equally all failures. Be prepared to make emotional and financial sacrifices. Your time is no longer your own. You must answer to your staff and to your clients 24/7. Your mind never turns off continually strategizing your facility run better and achieve more.

Proudest Moment in My Career

In August 2009, I was honored as a Dermascope Legend. To be recognized by my peers in the industry for leadership and education in skin care meant so much to me.

Mission Accomplished

I measure my success by how many students have gone on to have fulfilling careers in the industry. I hope I have touched and inspired them in my teaching. When my graduates tell me that I am responsible for their careers, I am both humbled and grateful.

What Now?

Addressing the students on graduation day has always been one of my favorite things to do. Currently, I am spending less time in the classroom and more time chairing panels, lecturing at industry events, writing articles, and consulting for skin care schools, spas, and cosmetic companies. I will endeavor to be the best Educator, Motivator a Mentor as I can be. I will always fight for high standards and professionalism in Esthetics. Being the Founder of Atelier Esthetique® in New York City is an enduring legacy that I will always be most proud of.

An Industry Leader and Visionary

First to Introduce…

  • Seaweed and Seawater treatments from France
  • Non-Strip Hard Wax from France
  • The Double Wax Pot in the US
  • Aromatherapy treatments using Eve Taylor Essential Oils from London
  • A postgraduate training facility for estheticians and body therapists on the east coast offering certificate workshops
  • Glycolic acid to estheticians using MD. Formulations
  • International accreditation by London ITEC (International Therapy Examination Council) which enables estheticians to obtain the highest international esthetics diploma worldwide-ITEC Facial Treatments and ITEC Facial Electrical Treatments

What Other People Say About Annette Hanson

Paul Labrecque: “Annette made sure I used only the best in facial care from the equipment to the products. It was nice, as a salon owner who specialized in hair, to get someone of Annette’s caliber to be my guiding hand! My relationship with Annette goes so much further than business. She is my theater buddy, beach pal, family during many holidays. She is like a sister to me.”

Dorothy Mckinley Soressi, Former chairman of the NYS Advisory Committee: “Our focus was on student success and providing a quality education beyond what was being offered in other facilities. During this time frame, New York state was in the process of developing the licensing and requirements for Esthetics, and Annette’s facility was the leader in setting the standard. I was impressed with the respect her staff and students had for her.”

JoAnn Juralewicz, Salon Owner who served on Atelier Esthetique Advisory Committee: “Annette and I are friends for life. Her dedication to skincare and business have become part of my philosophy as well. I have amazing memories of her as a speaker at many industry events. I admire her energy to go and do, from the moment her feet hit the ground in the morning (after 2 cups of espresso, of course). Always wanting to make a positive difference.”

Tammy Pahel, President of Spa Management Solutions and VP Wellness Operations, Carillon Resort. Miami: “Annette is the most dedicated person I know in this field. I admire her attention to detail. We met almost 30 years ago, when we were both lecturing at ISPA, and became instant friends. Often, we went on stage as a Dynamic Duo. She is a great Consultant and Educator because she is an excellent Esthetician herself. She has a great sense of humor, loves to have fun and she is very competitive in cards!”