leigh kelley skin studio hudson valley facial massage

Inside + Out: We Are Upstate With Master Esthetician Leigh Kelley

If you love following the latest in skincare innovation and cherish customized facials based on your individual needs, then meet Master Esthetician Leigh Kelley. After working with the industry’s top names in NYC and Los Angeles for over a decade, she launched her Kingston NY practice just over a year ago, bringing a bespoke experience you must try.

Kelley’s services include Geneo treatments, oxygen serum infusions, LED, non-invasive peels, diamond tip microdermabrasion, and the luxurious Ionix Oxylight, to name a few, and all facials combine sculpting facial massage with results-driven technologies customized according to your skin.

Let’s get to know more about Leigh Kelley!

INSIDE+OUT: Where are you originally from and how did you wind up in the Hudson Valley?

Leigh Kelley: I grew up in a small rural town in Virginia then moved to Richmond, VA for college.  After graduating, I spent a decade living in Brooklyn, then back to Richmond, then Los Angeles before settling down in the Hudson Valley.  It feels very nice to finally call a place home and know that my family and I are staying put.  The nomadic lifestyle was fun in my youth but these days I live a much quieter life.

What inspired your interest in skincare and what was your journey?

I fell into skincare by accident, but it was truly a happy accident.  My degree is in Art History with an emphasis on museum studies and cinema studies.  A very different path.  My father is an architect and I worked for him throughout college. Upon moving to NYC, I landed a job working admin for a small boutique architecture firm, where I eventually took on the role of a project manager.  But after five years with the company, I knew it was time to move on.  A friend suggested that I check out the Aveda Institute in SoHo.  I toured the school and registered that very day!  The idea of being hands-on with clients but in a peaceful environment really resonated after years of chaos.  I have worked in the industry for over 11 years now and have experienced every end…clinical, holistic, working for A-list names and everything in between.  How I work now is a culmination of those experiences.  This industry can be tough and I have had some really intense experiences, but it has all led me to where I am today and for that, I am extremely grateful.

Describe what you mean by bespoke skin care. How do you work with clients to achieve a treatment that is personal to them/their skin?

Understanding the factors which play a role in skin health is critical to being a good esthetician.  That can include home care, stress, diet, environment, lifestyle, hormones, inflammation…the list goes on.  And those factors can vary widely based on the individual.  So having the flexibility to tailor a treatment to what a client needs at that moment is so important.  Those factors can shift from day to day.  There is certainly a trust that is developed in building relationships with my clients and at this point, they feel comfortable coming in and saying “do what you think needs to be done.”  I also work closely with clients to develop a home care protocol that is right for their skin and provide support in between services.

Tell us more about your services and products.

Every modality and product I offer is something that I would either personally use and love or would give as a gift to a friend and feel confident that they would love it.  My services incorporate a lot of sculpting facial massage, which moves lymph and increases circulation.  I previously worked under a big name in the industry who is known for her massage techniques and feel incredibly grateful to have trained under someone so skilled.  Over the past few years, I have expanded my training and learned a range of approaches.  These days, I can pretty easily identify areas of tension in the face as soon as I touch someone and kind of let my hands intuitively guide me from there.  That is a skill that has come from years of experience.

The modalities I offer are all highly results-driven.  Microcurrent and LED are two that I have used throughout my career and I absolutely LOVE.  In a younger client, they can really slow the aging process with treatments every 4-6 weeks and in more mature clients, they serve as an excellent way to non-invasively soften lines, lift and sculpt.  For clients who need more corrective work, I generally recommend a series of back-to-back treatments and then monthly maintenance.

My product lines were selected based on the integrity of the ingredients and the efficacy of their blends.  My primary backbar line is iS Clinical, which is a clinical strength line packed with active ingredients, but they are all very beautifully buffered to reduce inflammation and not be overly aggressive the way some lines are.  They hands down make my favorite Vitamin C serums, which can be a tricky ingredient for some skin types but even my most sensitive clients have been able to tolerate these.  I also am the exclusive provider of MBR (Medical Beauty Research) in the Hudson Valley and I am obsessed with this line. It truly is the creme de la creme of skincare and their products are unlike anything else on the market.  Their Cream Extraordinary is my favorite cream of all time for dry/dehydrated skin and has quickly become a top seller at the studio.  Their products are pricey but are highly concentrated, so you get several months of use out of each container since a little goes a very long way.

Do you have your own personal skincare ritual?

These days, I am sent a lot of products from brands who are interested in partnering, so I have to admit my regimen is a bit all over the place.  My skin veers toward dehydrated with a lot of sensitivity and is happiest when I do have a set routine with a balanced amount of hydration, and anti-inflammatory ingredients with a limited amount of actives.  The routine it loves best includes a gentle cleanse with the Soothing Cleansing Gel from Exquisite followed by their Ultra Hydrating Toner, Pro-Heal Serum by iS Clinical during the day and either the MBR Modukine or Tissue Activator Serum at night, Cream Extraordinary by MBR and SPF 30 from iS. I also use Adipeau, which is an incredible treatment cream that triggers your body’s natural production of healthy fat cells to increase plumpness and firmness.  I have been using it for several months and definitely see a difference and my clients who use it have become equally obsessed.  When my skin is in need of some exfoliation, I use either the Peeling Lotion by Forlle’d or Active Peel Pads by iS.

In your opinion, what is a good routine people can follow for everyday skincare?

Keeping your routine simple tends to work best for most people, from every standpoint.  10-step routines became big over the past few years; however, your skin really does not need that much, not to mention the time and expense of maintaining that.  My biggest recommendations are a gentle cleanse, a steady dose of Vitamins A, C and E (Pro-Heal Serum by iS Clinical is perfect for this!) and finding a moisturizer and exfoliant that work for your skin.  SPF is non-negotiable for daily use.  It is scary the number of people who come to me and say they do not use SPF daily.  That is the number one thing you need to do for your skin.  UV exposure not only leads to potential skin cancer, but also causes damage in the form of inflammation, hyperpigmentation and premature aging.  It doesn’t matter how many fancy products you use…if you skip SPF and/or sunbathe, you are going to see it in your skin over time.

How do you define wellness?

Wellness can be as simple as taking a quiet moment to clear your mind or taking a walk.  Anything that makes you feel at peace and allows your mind and body to feel good.  I don’t really believe in restriction and think everyone needs a vice or two.  But if those vices make you feel good, that counts as wellness in my book.

The wellness industry has really blown up over the years and the demand for facials in the U.S. market has become huge.  When I first began many years ago, facials were considered pampering if you had the disposable income or they were something you did if you were experiencing issues with your skin.  But post-COVID especially, more people are making the connection between the benefits to your skin and the deep relaxation you can get from a treatment.  I personally incorporate a lot of facial massage and do Gua Sha treatments, both of which trigger the parasympathetic nervous system which really allows you to feel like you are floating away in the treatment bed.

How does wellness influence you professionally and personally?

I am honestly so immersed in that world that it is difficult to answer honestly.  I feel like much of what I do is influenced by my business and my business is in wellness.  With that said, I am not big on trends and ignore a lot of the GOOPy-style wellness stuff.

What has it been like working from Upstate in the Stockade District vs NYC/LA?

Honestly, it’s not that different!  People these days tend to be very skin savvy and come in knowing what they want.  Most of the time, regardless of where they are located, they just need help sorting through all of the information that is out there to figure out what is best for their skin and they want to leave looking and feeling good.  The biggest difference comes in not working for someone else any longer and allowing myself proper time with each client versus the faster-paced settings of a city.  I get that is necessary there because rents are higher and everyone has to hustle so much harder.  But it is nice not to feel pressure to burn myself out.  Now, I get to take my time greeting clients, chat with them before and after their treatment and allow myself moments in between to decompress.

What is one question you’re constantly asked or the biggest misconception about what you do?

That this job is easy and that estheticians make a lot of money.  It has become a very saturated industry but a lot of estheticians don’t make it past a few years.  Some jobs pay very well while others hardly cover the bills.  The past 11 years for me have involved a lot of advanced education, a few horrible bosses, living paycheck to paycheck and truly wearing out my body.  The literal aches and pains are very real for estheticians!  That said, I truly love what I do and have stuck with it and found my path.  And I have met some really incredible people along the way.

How do you grow your business and how do your clients find you? Do you leverage social media to get work and how is that working for you?

Social media, specifically Instagram, and word of mouth have both been incredible for helping to grow the business.  My web designer, Kristen Bromiley of Hayda Studios, has been beyond wonderful in sharing social media tips and tricks with me.  Unfortunately, I am very lazy with it though.  Ha!  She helped build the social media for another very big name in the industry and someday I hope to be able to hire her to take over my social media management.  But for now, I handle it myself and some days I feel inspired and other days I do not.  But that is okay.  As long as my treatment room is busy, I don’t really care about my online presence.  That said, clients have told me that they love watching the facial massage videos I post.

What is the most rewarding and challenging part of your job?

The most rewarding is spending time with clients I really love and meeting so many interesting people.  I also get really excited by all of the technology and learning new techniques.  So many fun toys to play with in the treatment room! The most challenging would be physical exhaustion.  Some days I manage this better than others but estheticians are very hands-on and as I get older, my body isn’t bouncing back the way it used to.  But as long as I maintain yoga and deep stretching, I am typically okay.

Are there any new developments or upcoming projects you’d like to share?

Yes!  In mid-June, my Ionix Oxylight arrived!  This machine is incredible…it does so many different things!  We used it for red-carpet prep at my previous job in Los Angeles and it truly makes people look like a million bucks.  The microcurrent, ultrasound and radiofrequency on it are excellent for tightening and sculpting.  But my personal favorite is the oxygen mist combined with LED.  You leave feeling so refreshed and energized and glowy.  I have a few other things in the works which I can hopefully reveal soon!

What is it about the Hudson Valley that makes it unique to live + work here?

It’s such a supportive community with so much diversity.  People here seem to truly get excited and want to support the businesses they love.

What impact does your business strive to have on your community?

In my first year as a business, I have managed to do some fundraising and clients have been very keen on that.  I hope to organize more in the future.

What local businesses do you rely on to be successful?

Village Grocery for my morning matcha, Brunette for my evening glass of wine.

What is missing in the area that you wish we had?

More vegan-friendly restaurants.  I would specifically love to see more well-prepared and thought-out vegan breakfast and brunch options around here.  That and of course affordable housing for all.

Tell us something about yourself that people might be surprised to know.

You have to come in for a facial to learn my secrets.

What would be your dream Staycation?

A beautiful hike with my family, a good meal at Garden Cafe, a Gregg Araki movie marathon at Tinker Street Cinema (Can we make this happen?!?), coffee in bed, more than 7 hours of sleep in a night.

What is your current state of mind?

Excitement for what is to come.

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