Stephanie Johnson started in the beauty industry with hopes of running a makeup studio. “Skincare wasn’t my first love,” the 39-year-old business owner admits.
But go figure – Johnson is doing a beautiful job running The Formula Skin Lab, a boutique skincare and facial spa in the Bankers Hill/Hillcrest area of San Diego. Johnson bravely opened the business during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 after working as an educator at a cosmetology school the previous two years.
The Formula Skin Lab is a skin and beauty bar that specializes in professional treatments including facials, microdermabrasion, acne correction, ethnic skincare, hyperpigmentation removal, hair waxing, microblading and more.
She said the company uses a professional grade vendor for some of their items but that she does have her own product line and formulations.
The business provides corrective care solutions for melanated skin and offers niche educational classes to beauty professionals.
Johnson said her typical customers are women between the ages 25 to 40, who stay an average of two hours. She said those who visit are “business owners, entrepreneurs, professional women… and mothers” coming for facials, massages and waxing.
“They love coming to get a break away from their husbands, their children, their work,” she said. “We think a lot of the time they come to relax, but a lot of times they just want to talk. We listen. We are also what I call skin therapists.”
Bringing Diversity into the Beauty Space
While she said her client base is 99 percent Black, with Latina and Asian women following, she is working toward expanding the business’s demographic and has been aiming from the start to “bring diversity into the beauty space.”
“There’s not been a lot of representation over the years for brown, black, Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern skin,” she said. “We want to welcome everybody. We fill a void, but everybody is welcome.”
Women aren’t the only ones who are seeking skin and body treatments. There is also a growing number of men who want to enjoy a break from the stressors of the days and weeks.
“The men are really loyal, some come every two weeks,” said Johnson, who prefers to go by ‘Steph J.’ “One time a woman called us and said, ‘My husband loves your products. He wants to come in this week.’ We actually set up a same-day appointment. Men are starting to come back without their wives. They get a break they didn’t know they needed till they got one!”
Johnson is originally from Connecticut, later studying mass communications while attending Benedict College in South Carolina with plans to become a journalist. She made her way to San Diego with her best friend in 2014.
Roots in the Fashion Business
She said she was working in the fashion business, falling into makeup, which took her to skincare and opening her business in 2020. Through the Covid-19 pandemic mandated closures, re-openings and shutdowns, Johnson was able to transform the business’s back area as a way for her and her staff to see more clients.
Johnson said she never applied for government funds that were specifically geared toward keeping small businesses afloat during the COVID pandemic. “I just made it work,” she said.
Johnson will be moving her business in the next few months because her building is being turned into a condominium building but for now The Formula Skin Lab remains in the location where it originally opened two years ago.
Johnson said she is tight with the business-savvy Black San Diego community.
She credits the Black San Diego group (ourbsd.com) as giving a strong voice and platform to Black-owned businesses in San Diego. The group has a strong Facebook page presence, with more than 42,000 members.
“That platform really helps keep the Black community closely knit,” she said.
Johnson said she does a lot of networking in the community and that her main goal is to mentor young black youth, help minority students get into the industry, especially since most don’t get the opportunity to get into big spas to learn and grow their craft.
“In 2022, I plan to bring a full curriculum, to fill the void,” she said. “There is no education on melatonin skin tones in textbooks. I want to help existing estheticians learn more about minority skin, help to elevate the experience.”
FOR MORE COVERAGE: Click here to view the entire Celebrating Black Entrepreneurs Special Section from the Feb. 7 San Diego Business Journal.
FORMULA SKIN LAB
Business: Skin care boutique and spa
Proprietor: Stephanie “Steph J” Johnson
Location: 3333 Fifth Ave., Bankers Hill/Hillcrest, San Diego
Websites: https://linktr.ee/Formulaskinlab and The Formula Skin Lab By Steph J In San Diego CA | Vagaro
Notable: Spa owner Stephanie Johnson originally was considering being a journalist and studied mass communications in college.
Stephanie Johnson at her San Diego business. Photo by Karen Pearlman.