Talking Shop: No quarters for this laundry

It can take anywhere from one to two hours for the smell of clean clothes to infiltrate your senses at a laundromat.

But Elson Lai and Chris Carey were determined to do one better. They established a company that completes a laundry cycle in just 10 minutes.

There's only one difference: the material in question is skin, not fabric.

The aptly named Skin Laundry offers facials that employ medical-grade lasers. It caters to on-the-go customers, providing an alternative to the beauty treatment that in some places can take 60 minutes.

"In the beginning, it was all speculation and spitballing, but we were confident we were onto something," Carey noted in an email.

The pair set out anticipating that their core demographic would be women 30-45. Many clients are mothers, Lai said, who comment that the time spent at one of Skin Laundry's three locations has been the most they've relaxed in days. But an increasing number of men, teenagers and retirees have been equally impressed by the treatment.

Both California natives, longtime friends Carey and Lai debuted the first store in Santa Monica in May. They anticipated opening another before the year's end.

The demand quickly surpassed the supply, prompting the duo to not only set up shop in West Hollywood in July but foray into the Orange County market in October.

"Fashion Island actually came to us," Lai said.

Customers arrived in droves on opening day, ensuring that the team was fully booked within an hour of opening its doors.

An eye surgeon who has frequently used laser treatment to correct his patients' sight, Lai covers the medical side while Carey functions as CEO. The two agreed to create a clean and hip image for Skin Laundry, a nod to Southern California's surf culture.

The Newport Beach location is outfitted in white and earth tones, with silver and wooden highlights. Glittery Christmas ornaments peek out from among facial products — including a cleanser, toner, eye cream and sunblock moisturizer — and custom-branded bottled water. A relaxed vibe can be found in the way attendees, dressed in jeans and matching baseball shirts, greet clients, many of whom turn out in hoodies or workout clothes.

"Skin Laundry has been a great addition to Fashion Island — we're thrilled to be able to provide our shoppers with another boutique that delivers top-notch, express services and needs for today's busy customer," Stacie Ellis, senior marketing director for Irvine Company Retail Properties, wrote in an email.

Ellis added that the store fits well with other recent additions to the shopping center such as Blushington, where customers can get professional makeup in 20 minutes and Drybar, which blow-dries hair, including wash and style.

According to Lai, the vision of Skin Laundry is rooted in a desire to present men and women with an affordable one-stop shop for skin treatment. .

Also, unlike counterparts such as Botox and dermal fillers, the laser facial simply stimulates collagen and shatters the pigment found in sun or dark spots — in 10 minutes. The result is rejuvenated skin that feels clean, smooth and lighter.

"Regular visits to Skin Laundry leads to a healthy, radiant complexion by tightening and toning your skin similar to the way your personal trainer helps train your muscles," Carey said.

Before the two-part facial, which also employs light, begins, clients are asked a list of questions. Those who present a history of keloids or skin cancer on the face are turned away, as are others who are pregnant, use tanning lotions and sprays or have undergone Botox in the past week. Customers must be over 16.

The first facial is complimentary, so people can get a taste for Skin Laundry's offerings and decide whether to return for a single $75 session or to purchase packs of three, six or 12 facials. Neither Carey nor Lai values hard-selling strategies. Instead, they've adopted a completely results-driven approach, which is grounded in the knowledge that their concept — "Healthy Skin with No Downtime" — works.

"This business has all the complexities of a medical practice, a service business and retail," Carey said. "Some startups struggle to find an identity or an appropriate niche. We've always had that, so now it's about maintaining the level of service and quality of treatment as we roll out nationally."

Highly-trained medical professionals, the backbone of their staff, work closely with Lai before being sent out into the field. They even conduct the procedure on him because he knows how quickly the laser is meant to move and how the overall experience is supposed to feel.

"It's like stopping to get coffee and going on with your day," Lai said.

If You Go

What: Skin Laundry

Where: Fashion Island, 123 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach

When: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

Information: or (949) 706-7203

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