Going Global: The Swiss Take On Aesthetics

Four sisters reflect on running a European skincare dynasty and why they are pioneering a friendly — and understated — approach to injectables for the millennial set.
Expert Opinion
Jamie Rosen09.12.2019

From that French girl je ne sais quoi to the intricacies of the multi-step Korean skincare routine, the international cosmetic and aesthetic industries are as vast as they are unique. But, thanks to globalization, niche trends now have universal appeal. In this series, The AEDITION explores geographical markers of beauty and how they influence today's global patient and consumer.

When the four Polla sisters were growing up in Geneva, Switzerland, their dermatologist father, Dr. Luigi Polla, didn’t mind much if they stayed out late at night with friends or at a bar. Forgetting to wear sunscreen, however, was another story. “We would never get in as much trouble with him as when we got a sunburn,” says Ada Polla, the eldest sister. “That was pretty much the worst thing that we could do. He was always very particular about how we treated our skin. It was part of our education, if you will.”

A lifetime of safe sun habits was not the only thing that made an impression on the sisters. All four are now involved in one or more of the family businesses. There’s the skincare line, Alchimie Forever; a medical practice and spa, Forever Institut, in Geneva; and a newer store concept geared towards millennials, Forever Boutique, in Lausanne. “We all worked with him throughout our childhood,” says Ada. “I started at 10, helping with filing and the front desk.”

Today Ada, 41, is the CEO of Alchimie Forever, which she runs from Washington, D.C. Cyrille, 39, is director of communications and marketing of Forever Institut and Forever Boutique; Rachel, 36, is CEO for both. And Roxane, 30, helped to launch Forever Boutique last fall but is currently focused on her fellowship in vascular surgery at the University Hospital in Lausanne.

They are all proactive in their personal routines, but they have learned from their father that the key to amplifying one’s own beauty is in not overdoing it. “You would never see a patient of his and say anything like, 'Wow, your lips look amazing. Who do you go to?'” says Ada. “His approach to beauty is for the long term, not in making dramatic or drastic changes. It’s about small, incremental improvements that you will notice, but everyone else will just think that you look gorgeous.” Among his signature treatments is the Softlift Forever, a liquid facelift technique using hyaluronic acid fillers to lift, contour, and sculpt the face.

Forever Institut - Genève - Centre de médecine esthétique photo from Alchimie Forever The interior of the Forever Institut in Geneva. Photo by Marin Raguz, Le Marin Productions

While his patients at the Forever Institut on the Rue du Rhône in Geneva tend to be over 40, he noticed a new “beauty attitude” among the younger generation and encouraged his daughters to create a space more tailored to their needs. “The idea that women today, but men as well, they want it all,” says Cyrille. “They want medical aesthetics, but they want natural results. They want to have an active career but they also want to take care of themselves and for their well being. They want accessibility and, at the same time, luxury and high service.”

With this insight, and inspired by trends from the United States (from blow dry-only hair salons like Dry Bar to the limited laser offering at Skin Laundry), the Polla sisters opened Forever Boutique in Lausanne last fall. “The idea,” says Rachel, “is to enhance, not transform.”

Everything at Forever Boutique is geared toward the patient who is being proactive about her skin before she notices major changes and who is committed to taking care of it for the long haul. She wants services that are preventative, quick, and done in a professional but casual environment.

There are six categories to choose from: Lips, Look (botulinum toxin injections), Complexion (peels), Skin (microneedling and micro-injections of hyaluronic acid), Makeup, and Lasers. All injectables are performed by doctors, while other treatments are done by aestheticians and nurses. Each service comes in a “lightweight” and “intense” version. “Bo-Look,” for example, offers far fewer units and a more subtle improvement with Botox®, while “Bo-Top” more closely resembles a standard botulinum toxin treatment.

The most notable option, which is unique to the practice, is Instalip, an ultra-temporary lip plumping procedure that was developed in-house. It’s a combination of hyaluronic acids of varying molecular weights injected so that they only last for two to three weeks. The idea came from the realization that a lot of young women were afraid of fillers because of seeing overly inflated results. “You can have slightly plumper lips, the ones you really want, without looking done, and without a commitment,” says Rachel. “It’s less serious. It’s less intimidating. And if they hate it, their lips go back to normal in two weeks.”

To keep women coming back regularly — and to encourage a habit of dermatological self-care — there is a membership program which lets customers buy a year’s worth of regular services at a 25 percent savings, which amounts to around $100 to $200 a month. “We target a younger clientele, and we are conscious that these girls need to have an idea of their budget,” says Rachel. “You have a budget for the gym, you have a budget for your hair, and now you can have a budget for your skin.”

Forever Boutique et Equipe 2017 8Q2A6079 photo by Marin Raguz Le Marin Productions Treatment chairs at the Forever Boutique in Lausanne. Photo by Marin Raguz, Le Marin Productions

Each sister is a poster child for the regular maintenance. They all do Botox® around twice a year, and each has committed to treatments that address their various skin concerns — from light peels for acne to lasers for redness and hair removal to mesotherapy and PRP scalp injections for hair loss (see below for their individual routines).

Given their collective careers and how early they began, it’s no surprise to learn that both of their parents were not just doctors but entrepreneurs. Hard work and a sense of adventure was ingrained in their upbringing. From 1984 to 1986 (before Roxane was born), the family lived in Boston, where their biomedical researcher mother, Dr. Barbara Polla, studied at the Harvard School of Public Health. During that time, their father did his post-doctoral fellowship at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Mass General with dermatologist and laser pioneer Dr. R. Rox Anderson.

It turned out to be an auspicious start. When Luigi returned to Switzerland and established his own clinic, he did so with lasers and was the first to bring the new technology to Europe. While the lasers were initially used to treat children with port wine stains and hemangiomas, their existence and medical usage planted the seed for both the skincare line and a booming aesthetics practice.

“Lasers back then were not as ‘lunchtime,’ as they are today, so the treatment created a lot of heat and a lot of redness and swelling and side effects,” says Ada. “My father wanted a product that would heal the skin post treatment.” The cream he developed with a pharmacist friend was given to children, but their mothers began coming back and asking for seconds. From there, Alchimie Forever was born.

The original product, the Kantic Brightening Moisture Mask, is still the top seller, and the products that have followed — some of which were formulated by Dr. Barbara Polla — all center around combating inflammation and the health of the skin.

“From the start, it was about calming,” says Ada. “Today people are aware of its importance, but when I had this conversation 10 years ago when we started, it was all about, ‘This product isn’t making my skin red. It’s not making my skin peel. I don’t feel anything, so obviously it’s not working.’” Luckily, that attitude has shifted, and customers more readily understand that irritation is not always the best sign that a product is the right fit for your skin.

In addition to lending her expertise at formulation, the girls’ mother also lent her beauty outlook, impressing upon them the importance of self-care as a form of self-respect. “She was very focused on beauty, but not necessarily looks, more about the feeling that comes with beauty,” says Ada. “It was always important to take time for ourselves, to get injections and treatments and to use creams, not because we’re vain and we want to look much younger than we are, but more in a philosophical way. If we look good, we feel good. And if we feel good, we’ll do good.”

4 Polla sisters in colored dresses at Forever Institut 2017 photo by Marin Raguz Le Marin Productions The Polla sisters (from left): Cyrille, Rachel, Ada, and Roxane. Photo by Marin Raguz, Le Marin Productions

So, what are their go-to treatments for healthy skin? The Polla sisters share their aesthetic regimens with The AEDITION.

Roxane, 30

“The first treatment I did was laser hair removal. Now I do light Botox® in between my eyebrows because, when I don't do it, I tend to have frown lines. What I tell my friends is that it's not that I want to hide all my starting wrinkles. It’s more that, when I have that particular one, I feel it doesn't at all represent my personality because it gives me a very stern look, which I feel that I’m not. I still have zits and acne, so I do peels — especially the Alchimie Forever Brightening Peel — on a regular basis.”

Rachel, 36

“I have started to do Botox® twice a year. I was the first one to try Instalip. I have discovered a new type of laser hair removal for people with blonder hair at Forever Institut. It’s a q-switch laser that kills hair follicles for four months — it works not on a thermal basis but on a mechanical basis. When I need a nice glow, I do the Alchimie peel or another peel we do at the boutique. I’m going to start to do treatments to treat cellulite. It’s a mechanical massage for body contouring for light cellulite.”

Cyrille, 39

“I have a tendency to have a sensitive vascular system and redness, so I do a lot of the Vbeam laser treatment to reduce rosacea two or three times a year. I've been doing Botox® twice a year. I like enhancing lips once or twice a year. Since I know I like it, I don’t use Instalip. I use one that lasts for six to nine months.

After giving birth I started losing a lot of hair, so I tried mesotherapy and PRP injections in the scalp, which really helped. A few years ago I also tried my first Softlift. After giving birth, I lost a bit of weight and that started to show fatigue on my face. SoftLift helped. For summer, I do body contouring and Botox® in the armpits to reduce perspiration. It lasts three or four months.”

Ada, 41

“I have a short answer: The only thing I do is Botox® twice a year when I go to Geneva — only ever with my father. I make up for the lack of in-office treatment with all of the Alchimie Forever products, which I slather on myself on a daily basis.”

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