It was through age-old word of mouth that Biba de Sousa found success.
The celebrity aesthetician, based in Los Angeles, has treated a who’s who of Hollywood stars, even resonating with the younger generation; her regulars include Billie Eilish, Miley Cyrus and Hailey Bieber. She also treats Eilish’s brother and bandmate Finneas O’Connell, Justin Bieber — and for years, the likes of Emily Blunt, Emma Roberts and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.
“People found me,” she says one afternoon in her work space, located in an inconspicuous building in L.A. “People just found me.”
Completely self-funded, the attention she’s received has come from spontaneous shout-outs from her celebrity clients in magazines and online.
“I’ve never paid for publicity,” she says.
She hasn’t needed to; with a dedicated rotation of visitors, she rarely takes on new clients.
But she’s still a small business, and it was only recently that she hired her first employee — an operations manager. “I’m bootstrapped.”
De Sousa has been treating skin for nearly two decades, consulting for numerous brands and developing a namesake line of her own. Made in the U.S., with 32 stock keeping units, it’s available direct-to-consumer.
“It was mostly for my clients,” she explains of launching products, which are priced between $16 and $95. “I eliminated unwanted ingredients. And I added what I wanted.”
Her ultra-hydrating Cream Barrier moisturizer is the talk of beauty circles in L.A. — as are bestsellers that include The Plant Stem Cell Serum with peptides and The Zinc Mask, recently reformulated with goji berry prebiotic.
“I really learned,” she says. “I know skin. I know the business. I know technology. I know product ingredients.”
Before venturing into beauty she studied art, as well as law and language — she speaks five — in former Yugoslavia. She left for the U.S. as the region was erupting in war, landing in California.
“I grew up in a holistic environment,” she says. Her mother indulged her in beauty rituals, from homemade egg-based shampoo to bathing in milk.
“She was a big pamperer. I had a perm at 13,” she laughs.
By age 16 de Sousa showed an interest in pursuing work in beauty, but her family disapproved.
“My parents said, ‘You’re not going to wash anybody’s dirty hair,’” she continues. “That was their response. I just had to abide.”
It was in San Francisco, seeing the life her best friend’s boyfriend was living as a hairstylist, that she decided to pursue her passion and enroll in beauty school.
“I literally walked through a portal and then never looked back,” she says. De Sousa was working in design at the time, transitioning through different professions.
She began making a name for herself in beauty in 2007. She was working at a popular L.A. spa after relocating from northern California.
“Even though it was popular and advanced, it wasn’t enough,” she says of the experience. “It wasn’t specific enough. It was a spa, right? It was treating people as a business whereas I was focused on helping people with their skin problems.”
She was nervous but encouraged by her peers, de Sousa says, of stepping out on her own: “I was really scared. I summoned the courage, but I didn’t have the faith. That was the part I had to work on.”
In the first week alone, she had 15 clients.
“The practice grew to the point where I had 50 people on a waitlist,” she says. “I started to get super busy and overworked. I worked 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.”
She’s now in a different phase; de Sousa is busy but works at her own pace.
Her goal has remained the same: “I think as a facialist, it’s about helping people and making their lives better.”
Known for clearing up problematic skin, she says the number-one myth when it comes to acne is that it’s caused by bacteria.
“It is not caused by bacteria,” de Sousa says. “Bacteria is just a part of the whole process of acne formation.”
While many consumers are treated with harsh medications and lasers, she says a lot of acne — particularly when it’s inflamed — typically comes from using comedogenic products that block pores. (She has a pore-clogger checker on her site, bibalosangeles.com, where visitors can search whether an ingredient is non-comedogenic or not.)
“Ninety-eight percent of people that I clear were using comedogenic products,” she says.
Along with acne, there are five other common skin issues, she explains: dehydration, hyperpigmentation, aging, sensitivity and rosacea.
With a holistic approach, she’s constantly reading the latest scientific research to help clear up skin with her methods and products, de Sousa says. And when it comes to tools, “I’ve had every gadget under the sun,” she adds. “What I can say is I’m sticking with a couple true and trusted.”
She utilizes “a couple of exfoliating modalities and modalities that impart hydration,” she says. “Microcurrent is wonderful, massage tools, lymphatic drainage.”
Next, de Sousa may develop her own device. “Maybe,” she says. “We’ll see.”
Pausing, with a smile she adds, “Ideas are cheap.”
Developing personalized massage techniques over the years, in the end — working closely with skin — it’s down to basics: “I think that the value is in the hands.”