Like a gym membership. But for your skin.


Blush Med founder Arleen Lamba at the location in in Bethesda. (J. Lawler Duggan/For Capital Business)

Taking care of your skin, Arleen Lamba says, isn’t much different from going to the gym.

Both require regular upkeep and commitment. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll see results within a few months.

That idea led Lamba to open Blush Med Institute in Bethesda two years ago with a distinct concept in mind: A skin care spa with a monthly membership.

Hundreds of customers have since signed up, and Lamba said the concept has been so successful that she is looking to expand nationally, in urban markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Miami. Two potential investors have already lined up.

Lamba, an anesthesiologist, was living in New York in her 20s when she was hit with a bad case of adult acne. She tried a number of treatments to no avail.


Brittany Batchelder mixes a custom topical skin treatment at Blush Med in Bethesda. (J. Lawler Duggan/For Capital Business)

“Nothing was really giving me a solution — and it took a big hit on my wallet,” Lamba said. “The problem with the skin care industry is that it’s really hard to afford something that gives you results.”

She thought she could find a better way — a monthly model that stresses skin maintenance as much as it does quick fixes.

“It’s like getting a personal trainer for your skin,” Lamba, 32, said.

It took Lamba about a year and a half to put together a business plan, find a storefront and formulate a line of organic skin care products. She and her husband, also a doctor, spent more than $100,000 of their own money financing the venture.

The company was profitable in its first year. Lamba would not disclose revenue figures or membership numbers, but said she expects sales to grow 40 percent in the next year. The spa is also on track to have 650 members by 2015.

The company has two membership models: The first costs $59 per month and includes one treatment — facial, chemical peel, light therapy and others — every month. A second option, which Lamba added this spring, offers monthly laser treatments for $150 a pop. There is no registration fee, but members must sign a year-long contract.

“Affordability has a lot to do with whether people actually keep up with skin care,” Lamba said.

The model also helps the spa keep costs low. Lamba said she knows she has a steady stream of business coming in every month, which makes it easy to run efficiently. The company currently has eight employees, six of whom are full-time.

“Our growth has been very organic,” she said.

Lamba, who went to medical school at George Washington University, said she chose Bethesda as her first location because it’s easily accessible — and has parking.

Her husband, Herman Singh, a physician with an MBA from Georgetown University, handles the company’s financials.

Blush Med’s clients range from age 16 to 85, Lamba said. Treatments, lotions, creams and serums are personalized for each customer at the spa’s “blending bar.”

“We customize our frozen yogurt, we customize our jeans,” Lamba said. “Why not customize our skin care?”

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section. She has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
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