Already a household name with estheticians throughout the South, Elaine Sterling’s name soon will be on the lips of everyone interested in self-care. Upon perfecting her skincare skills in her native South Africa, and continuing to hone her skills as she traveled the globe, Elaine finally laid roots in Atlanta. She then decided to share her knowledge, expertise and experience by embarking on a huge adventure to create an entire school, The Elaine Sterling Institute. This esthetician-turned-entrepreneur celebrated her professional accomplishments earlier this year by opening her newly expanded, 26,000-square-foot school campus in Buckhead. Elaine, a single mother of two, is always striving to expand her self-care empire, regardless of any obstacle that tries to slow her down. This survivor of stage two breast cancer and spinal meningitis isn’t just a mentor to her students; she’s an inspiration to everyone she meets. Get to know StyleBlueprint’s newest FACE and, in the process, learn more about your own face and what Elaine recommends for looking and feeling your best.
Why did you decide to open your beauty school, The Elaine Sterling Institute, in 2008? How has the skincare world changed since then?
I opened my school, hoping to uplift the professionalism of the industry and bring the European standards of the spa industry to Atlanta. All the technology America has to offer, paired with the foundation of esthetics, is of paramount importance to me.
The skincare world is changing at lightning speed. Who would have thought microdermabrasion would be a dinosaur?! HydraFacial, microneedling, dermaplaning, microblading — to name a few of the latest aesthetic trends — have all been game-changers in our industry. In skincare, there have also been many innovations in ingredients and how we deliver them; peptides, CBD and stem cells are some of the latest scientific breakthroughs in skincare science. I am very excited to see where we go from here.
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What was your biggest challenge going from esthetician to entrepreneur?
My vision is to be a global leader in spa education — educational excellence in the esthetician, nail care and massage therapy arenas. The daunting task of being accredited and staying in compliance with state and federal guidelines is not easy but it’s a challenge I take on every day with my talented and dedicated team. Finding the right team members is the biggest challenge for any entrepreneur as you grow.
What skincare items do you swear by? How do our needs change when the colder months hit?
I use Elaine Sterling Skincare as my go-to for the last 15 years. I love the Daily Gentle Cleanser, HA Serum and the Power Rescue. The older we get, the more hydration and moisture our skin needs — daily skincare is essential to replace vital moisture. My skincare is power-packed with peptides and ingredients that are excellent for sensitivities the skin shows due to environmental damage.
Winter has the added challenge of going from extreme cold to indoor heating, as well as environmental stress, which causes the need for antioxidant protection and hydration. Winterize your skin!
After growing up in South Africa and living abroad in Taiwan and Australia, how did you end up in Atlanta? What is your favorite thing about living in the South?
I love the South! I love the trees, the long stories everyone tells and the melting pot of cultures that Atlanta has to offer. I came to Atlanta with my husband, who was working at CNN at the time, after the Olympics. When I got divorced and found myself alone as a single mother, I looked in one of my boxes, saw my certifications from South Africa and wondered to myself, Can I do this in the U.S.? Will my credentials be recognized? The rest is history!
In addition to ESI and the new 26,000-square-foot Buckhead campus that opened in 2019, you have your own skincare and makeup lines, as well as a new spa. What is the next goal in your empire?
I continuously strive to help my graduates build their dreams and be successful. I also aim to grow my nail care and massage therapy programs, and establish a hybrid online learning platform for those busy professionals who want to change their careers, but can’t meet the schedule of a traditional education. I will continue to remain open to what the universe will bring to the Elaine Sterling brand, and I hope to take my skincare line nationally and beyond. My dream is to be on QVC!
Are you training your children to take over the family business one day?
My children are strong, independent women. My oldest, Asha, graduated from SCAD in Atlanta and now acts as my COO — not only running the technology and branding, but also assisting me with the day-to-day business of compliance. My youngest, Jasmin, is an esthetician and works for a plastic surgeon. I never thought they would be interested in my world, but both of them are fantastic in their roles within the spa and education arena.
You’ve overcome stage two breast cancer, spinal meningitis and Bell’s palsy. Do you think your life’s work of sharing the joys of self-care correlates to your own body overcoming daunting odds?
I do not beat myself up about negative experiences or mistakes. Everything you go through moves you to exactly where you need to be and with whom you need to be. I believe in the mantra, “Keep moving forward.” Lick your wounds and get up like a prizefighter.
What has been your proudest accomplishment?
My children are my proudest accomplishments; they are my rock! I started my school with a credit card and a prayer. I hope I make a difference in our industry every day. Being a cancer survivor and a single mother, the challenges I have faced is an all-too-familiar story. I am thankful to be part of an industry I absolutely love, and that I have educators and staff who share the vision of educational excellence. Every challenge has brought me to this place. I am humbled and grateful.
Who are your role models?
My parents. My mother is an Ikebana master and a talented chef. My father, Spencer Sterling, was a pioneer in the motor car industry in South Africa. He taught me so much.
If you only had to choose one, what is the most important product in a daily skincare regimen? And on the flip side, what is the worst thing we (unintentionally) do to our skin?
A good cleanser that is pH balanced is vital — clean skin is in! Chemical-free SPF, every day of the year, is also something I cannot live without. I see too much over-exfoliation.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Do what scares you.
What three things can you not live without (excluding friends, family and faith)?
Red wine, chocolate and spa services
Thank you, Elaine, for offering a glimpse into your inspiring life. And as always, a huge thanks to Catrina Maxwell of CatMax Photography for today’s wonderful photos.
For more inspiring FACES of the South, click here!