In 2005, Sandra Morgan Downie was looking for a change. At the time, she was in her early thirties, had just finished a stint as a nanny in Greenwich, Connecticut, and knew she wanted to take her career in a different direction. She had always loved beauty, but wasn’t quite sure what to do next. A friend connected her mother — an esthetician — to Downie, hoping they could chat, and just like that, Downie’s life was changed forever. “She successfully talked me into a career that I'm so passionate about and love to this day,” she shares. Since that year, when she attended Paul Mitchell The School® in Hamden, Connecticut, where she went through the International Dermal Institute’s℠ training program for skin therapists, Downie has leveraged her learnings into a true vocation. Today, the 46-year-old Brooklyn native is a full-time esthetician, entrepreneur, and founder of the skincare studio Amenda Beauty℠, in Manchester, Connecticut.
Clearly, Downie has come quite a long way since she started her career as a Mary Kay® consultant at the age of 22. It was during that job experience that she first saw the power of makeup and skincare in real time. “I realized how it impacted women — to feel beautiful in their own skin,” she recalls. It was the perfect predecessor to an important conversation over a decade later that would ultimately determine her fate.
“I've always loved skincare, makeup, and beauty,” says Downie. “What I love most about being an esthetician is helping people find confidence, be comfortable in their own skin.” Flash forward to 2020, and Downie sees approximately 10 clients a day — of all ages and skin types! — at her private skincare studio. Under her calming hands and trained eye, Downie’s clients are equipped to fight back against hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, uneven texture and tone, and acne concerns. “Most times, people seek out skin professionals because they are frustrated with what is going on with their skin,” she says. “As an esthetician, my goal is to always help my clients reach their skin goals, efficiently and effectively.”
Plus, she is trained in applying henna brows, a form of eyebrow tinting that stains the skin under the hairs, creating the illusion of fuller arches. (Thanks to a brief tenure at a Benefit® Brow Bar, she fell in love with brows.) “I became Connecticut's brow queen very quickly,” she says, proudly.
On top of her (already) impressive resume, the multifaceted business owner splits her time between Windsor, Connecticut, and Brooklyn, New York, has a skincare brand named Amenda Beauty, a beautifully curated lifestyle website, and a devoted following of nearly 100,000 fans on Instagram®. Oh, and she’s also married, with a 26-year-old daughter. It’s safe to say that Downie is busy.
Inspired by Downie’s self-reinvention, success, and radiant skin, we had to pick her brain. Here, she shares advice for those looking to follow in her footsteps, who inspires her, her skincare and aesthetics regimens, what she’d like to see more of in the future of the beauty industry, and more.
Spotlyte: What was your first job as an aesthetician?
Sandra Morgan Downie: I couldn't find a job out of school. [But], because I equally loved makeup, I worked at a MAC® counter in Nordstrom® [in Connecticut]. I was one of the top salespeople with no training from the company. At the same time, I was working as a makeup artist in New York; [my work has] been internationally published in magazines. I was just tired of working beauty counter jobs, so I then decided to go out on my own. In 2008, I opened a little one-room beauty studio. I really focused on weddings and skincare — on my own terms.
Spotlyte: What obstacles did you face pursuing your profession?
SD: I'm going to be honest: there are not a lot of African American estheticians. It was very hard to see myself in the industry. I had to seek out the knowledge by myself and work hard. Initially, I joined some forums for estheticians on Facebook® and online. That really helped me to stay empowered and encouraged.
Spotlyte: What career advice would you give to individuals looking to follow in your footsteps or get involved in the beauty industry?
SD: Make sure you start with good education and a solid foundation. Really don't stop learning, because the beauty industry's ever evolving. The minute you think that esthetician school is enough, you're never going to continue to learn. It's super important that you continue to expand your knowledge.
Find a mentor that's willing to give you advice along the way. I spent years under the tutelage of Elizabeth Evans, MD, learning more aggressive skin treatments, peels, microdermabrasions, advanced microdermabrasion techniques, and dermaplaning.
Doors didn't open for me. It was really hard getting in. I paved my own path and opened my own studio.
Spotlyte: What would be a beneficial change for the beauty industry?
SD: It would be nice to get more women of color into the industry. I think about it when I go into Sephora®: There are several makeup lines [for women of color] right now, but I don't know even one skincare-driven line owned by African American women carried by Sephora. I wish a little bit more diversity would be accepted in the beauty industry.
Doors didn't open for me. It was really hard getting in. I paved my own path and opened my own studio.
Spotlyte: Who have been your biggest cheerleaders throughout it all?
SD: My daughter and my husband — but my daughter in particular. If I say something negative about myself, she's like, "Mom, you're so amazing! You know who you are."
Spotlyte: How did motherhood impact your career path?
SD: As an esthetician, I chose to focus on more results-driven skincare because my daughter, Gabrielle, 26, struggled with acne in early junior high. Really, it peaked in high school, around 10th grade. I really became passionate about becoming an acne expert.
Spotlyte: Do you think your daughter will follow in your footsteps?
SD: Oh, honey, please! I wish! Everyone's like, "She's so beautiful. Why is she not doing this?" But, no, she's a pretty important person at her company in the pharmaceutical industry. She doesn't have a desire to really follow in my footsteps. She does help me with ideas: marketing ideas, business development, things like that. But in regards to her wanting to get into the industry — no.
Spotlyte: What has being a mom taught you about beauty, if anything?
SD: That the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. I'm really proud of the fact that she is the young lady that she is. Being a mom teaches me to continue to be a good example — to her and young women around the world. My followers are all ages, all demographics, and they want to know that getting older isn’t a death sentence! You can look amazing as you age gracefully. I want to always make sure that I look amazing.
Spotlyte: What's your stance on anti-aging?
SD: It's super important to age-manage. For me, it is never too early. Your skin starts to deteriorate around age 27. I love the fact that I have a diverse clientele, because I have girls who are young adults, 20, 21, all the way up to 60. I just think it's really important that people focus on age management and sun protection.
Spotlyte: You have a significant following on social media. Are there any influencers or people in the beauty community who inspire you?
SD: Kate Somerville inspired me to really focus on my first big beauty studio and spa. I will always give testimony to this. I've always been inspired by her and her knack for bridging science and skincare, and making [products] really results-driven. I fell in love with PeterThomasRoth® when I first started. As for an inspiring influencer who also started her own beauty brand, Marianna Hewitt of Summer Fridays® is amazing.
Spotlyte: You have your own skincare line — why did you start it?
SD: I started my skincare line because I'm passionate about the fact that I don't believe all natural products can do everything. I believe there needs to be a balance where science and nature work synergistically. That's how I work in my skin studio, too.
Spotlyte: So, what is your morning skincare regimen?
SD: In the mornings, I get up, cleanse my skin with a Amenda Beauty Kathari Botanical Cleansing Milk, and then use my Amenda Beauty Kapha Hibiscus Toner Essence. Then I use Sunday Riley® C.E.O. [Glow]TM 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum, OleHenriksen® Banana Bright® Eye Cream. For moisturizer, I use Pink Club®, Herbivore®, or Institut EsthedermTM Intensive Hyaluronic Cream.
Spotlyte: What’s in your makeup bag?
SD: Estée Lauder® Double Wear® Stay-in-Place Foundation. NARS® Radiant Creamy Concealer has been my tried and true. I don't necessarily prime all the time. Sometimes I set my foundation or I don't, because sometimes it's nice to have a dewy look to your skin. If I set it, it's with the Two Faced® Born This Way® Ethereal Setting Powder or Make Up For Ever® HD Microfinish Powder. Blush is usually NARS® Blush Exhibit ATM.
Spotlyte: What is your evening skincare regimen?
SD: In the evenings, I use either ELEMIS® Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm or Drunk Elephant® Makeup-Melting Butter Cleanser. Then, I use Paula’s Choice® Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid. Sometimes I will alternate with Kate Somerville® +Retinol Vitamin C Moisturizer Cream, SkinCeuticals® Retinol, and Olay® Regenerist® Retinol Eye Cream.
Editor's note Retinol shouldn't be used by women who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. Please consult with your doctor before use.
Spotlyte: What is your exercise routine like?
SD: Walking for 30 minutes every day is my workout. Honestly, I have a love-hate relationship with working out. It's just a struggle for me. I have hypothyroidism, and I also had a hysterectomy a few years ago.
I'm always talking about my eating with my followers. It's just very much a part of my life and wellness. I'm always sharing healthy recipes, or the supplements that I take, or the shakes that I love.
Editor’s note As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new supplement.
Spotlyte: What else do you like to do in your spare time?
SD: I love cooking. I am Jamaican, so I like to use a lot of flavors and herbs in my food. I like to cook plant-based meals, even though I'm not vegan. My husband, Scott, is Italian, so we do a lot of pasta dishes and wine. I hang out with my friends. We love to brunch.
I love decor, so I'm always switching things up in my house. I love visiting my daughter in Brooklyn. In our free time, my family loves to travel when we can. We generally do three to four major trips a year. Then we do other trips in between.
Spotlyte: Do you get injectables?
SD: I get injectable wrinkle reducer, and I've been getting it for about four years in my elevens. I got filler once, a year and a half ago. I loved the results. I think people should do as I always say: "Do you, Boo!"
Editor’s note Injectable wrinkle reducers temporarily smooth the look of moderate to severe wrinkles in certain areas of the face, including the forehead, frown lines, and crow’s feet; they should not be used more frequently than every three months. Injectable filler is a temporary treatment that adds volume to areas of the face such as the lips, cheeks, and laugh lines. Like any medical treatment, both injectable wrinkle reducers and injectable fillers have potential risks and side effects. Talk to a licensed provider to see if they’re right for you.
Spotlyte: Do you have a mantra?
SD: What I always say to my followers is: “life is never guaranteed.” You need to live life to your fullest every day. Every morning you are blessed to see the dawn of a new day. I'll say it until the day I die, because you just never know — anything could happen. You have to live it up every single day.
Learn more about inspiring entrepreneurs:
- Miami’s Hottest Chef Ana Quincoces Has a Room For Her Makeup
- Meet Inge Theron: Founder of FaceGym, a Workout For Your Face
- Maneet Chauhan of “Chopped” Shares the DIY Beauty Tips She Learned Growing Up in India
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