In the suburbs of Philadelphia on the affluent Main Line, the name "Ilona" has come to be synonymous with holistic skin and body care. In the early 1980s when Ilona Csaky first posted the word "aesthetics" on her business sign, most people were puzzled about its meaning. Since that time when she introduced the serious holistic spa concept to the area, she has become known for offering aesthetics for the whole body, externally and internally.
Born and raised in a small village in Hungary, Ilona developed her strong will and determination due to the life she had there. Because of the communist system and her family's situation, she was helping her mother care for the family by the tender age of five.
As the second oldest of eight siblings, there was a lot of work to be done and children of which to take care. Yet Ilona's curious mind afforded her a way to get an education. When she was in first grade, she was in charge of caring for her one-year old brother. While the other siblings went to work in the fields, Ilona would carry her one-year old brother to and from school, just so that she could attend class.
As an excellent student, she earned the privilege of receiving a secondary education – something that was given to only a handful of the best students. However as time passed, Ilona found that receiving an education toward her dreams was continuously being derailed by the communist government. It was at that time that she made the challenging decision to flee the oppression of her native land for the freedom of the West.
On November 10th, 1968, Ilona and a girl friend crossed the Hungarian/Yugoslavian border and headed toward Italy. Unfortunately, a few miles from the Italian border, they were captured and jailed in Yugoslavia for six days. However, finally on November 21st at 2 a.m. she crossed the Italian border and stayed at an immigration camp for nine months until she was able to come to the U.S. In August of 1969, she arrived in New York, weighing 85 pounds and with not a penny to her name.
After leaving Hungary, Ilona encountered someone at every step, who seemed to be miraculously placed there to give her a helping hand. A Hungarian-born lady asked Ilona to come live with her. Another lady of Hungarian-descent offered Ilona a suitable office job. She felt very lucky and grateful for these blessings and today, tries to give back to others in the same way.
In 1971, she married Michael Csaky; a fellow Hungarian-American with whom she started a family and began working. Since leaving Europe, Ilona had missed her days of receiving facials and body muds, which in Hungary were very common for the average person to receive. She wished to experience them again, but there was no place for it in her new home. Realizing that skin and body care was not very known in the U.S., and also knowing how valuable they are, she became inspired and began thinking about doing something in the aesthetic field.
A turning point in Ilona's life took place in 1980. After the birth of her second child, she experienced post-partum depression. "I felt like my body was shutting down. So for one solid year, I spent every Saturday at a holistic health clinic, even though it cost much more than what we could afford at the time. But my life was depending on it."
The treatments she received helped dramatically. Seeing these effects inspired her even more to do something so that she could help people in this same way. "I was astonished and fascinated by the positive results I was experiencing, so I sought training in every aspect of alternative healing at a local college, such as nutrition, reflexology, Shiatsu, kinesiology and Reiki."
Ilona signed up at the Von Lee International School of Aesthetics in Maryland. During that time, the legendary Carole Walderman was the director of the school, as well as Ilona's teacher. Ilona admired Walderman's dedication, knowledge, passion for aesthetics and excellent teach-ing methods.
Even years later when Ilona was leading her own seminars, she often referred back to Walderman's unique and effective teaching methods. As she was teaching, Walderman would stand in front of a mirror and demonstrate massage techniques as her students stood behind her, watching and mimicking them.
Another way that Walderman challenged Ilona was to get her to learn about and enjoy makeup, and eventually become skilled in color analysis and makeup application.
After finishing her training, Ilona was armed with an aesthetics' license in Maryland, a cosmetology license in Pennsylvania, and multiple wellness certificates. She began working in a salon. Taking her job very seriously, Ilona wanted to incorporate the knowledge she had received into her place of employment but as she says, "I was probably a little too early with these modalities as my boss wasn't receptive to these new ideas. He finally told me, 'If you want to do it your way, you'll have to do it in your own place.'"
In 1983, she took this advice to heart and opened her own spa, Ilona Bio-Aesthetics, in Wayne, Pa. During this time, Ilona met another inspirational lady: Miki Guinta, founder of Systeme Avance Body Care. Guinta helped a great deal with the set-up of Ilona's "mecca of the Main Line" spa, eventually helping it become a magnet for stressed executives, chic homemakers, teenagers with a growing sense of self-image, and visiting celebrities.
Guinta has lots of knowledge and a heart of gold. She assisted with product selection, training and advising – things Ilona is still grateful for. Guinta also taught her how to analyze the skin and body, with closed eyes, completely based on texture. To this day, as soon as Ilona touches a body for analysis or massage, her eyes automatically close and she can feel the smallest imperfections with her fingertips. With teachers like Walderman and Guinta, it is no wonder that Ilona receives complements on her work.
While doing her best to raise a family, build a spa and study until late in the evening, Ilona continued to attend as many trainings as possible. She was hungry to understand how the body works, so that she could find solutions to the issues her clients were experiencing. She learned about anything that could be squeezed into her schedule: Acupressure, aromatherapy, hydrotherapy, various forms of body analysis, lymph drainage, and all types of skin and body care treatments.
Since the concept behind Ilona Bio-Aesthetics was so new, Ilona faced 50 older ladies who were petitioning the spa when she went to the township for licensing. They did not want what they perceived as an unsuitable person in their neighborhood, as they did not know what aesthetics was and how they could benefit from it.
Civil-clothed police men would come and attempt to extract information about certain "massages" that simply were not being offered at the spa. It took a few years until everyone became aware of the fact that aesthetics and body work are wellness treatments, and not other kinds of unprofessional services that they were expecting.
Even a very well-known insurance company turned Ilona Bio-Aesthetics down for group health insurance saying that they were not a "desirable group." Despite all this, Ilona Bio-Aesthetics eventually became so successful because its goal was to help its clients' bodies heal themselves.
In 1984, Ilona teamed up with plastic surgeons and dermatologists to host informational seminars. Even hospitals sponsored some of these workshops. Later at Ilona's suggestion, nutritionists were also included on these panels in order to take the discussions in a more holistic direction. In addition to these workshops, Ilona collaborated with these doctors by performing pre- and post-operative treatments for their clients.
Ilona believes that the key to excellent treatments is to begin with a proper skin and body analysis, with which Guinta helped enormously. The entire staff at the spa was highly and continuously trained in these techniques. Ilona Bio-Aesthetics featured the first underwater jet massage tub from France and featured all kinds of serious body treatments like shaping, firming with the help of lymph drainage, essential oils, various massage techniques, seaweed elixirs and masks, electronic muscle stimulation, and heat treatments, the results of which were all enhanced with nutritional supplements and exercise.
The more results Ilona received, the more satisfied clients were and the more people traveled several hours for a visit to the spa. Inspired by these achievements, several of Ilona Bio-Aesthetics' younger clients were motivated to become aestheticians.
Community colleges and local evening schools invited Ilona again and again to do week-long courses on skin care. High schools requested engagements to give advice for teenaged skin. It reached a point where Ilona did skin care everywhere – from schools, wellness fairs and shopping centers, to radio and television. As her daughters were growing, she dedicated even more time to finding the best solutions for teen acne, healthy habits for healthy skin and a well-balanced body.
The struggle was always there for finding a balance between family and business. As Ilona would hold trainings at locations that were farther away, her husband began accompanying her and he began to learn more and more about aesthetics. He noticed that there was a very big need for a company that catered to spa owners. In 1989, they opened Aesthetics Complete, Inc. in King of Prussia, Pa. with the intention of having a place that offered quality equipment, products and accessories for spas. In addition to this, the company also offers education on the skin and body care products and treatments it sells.
Raising a family, working at and running a spa was too much. Ilona sold her spa in 2001 and dedicated all of her time to Aesthetics Complete. As the educator, Ilona held holistic skin and body care trainings for schools, day spas and destination spas in most of the major metropolitan areas in the country. She advised her students that no-nonsense, high quality, results-oriented treatments are vital for developing a return clientele.
During these seminars, she could not help but teach outside of the set curriculum, so as to enable and motivate attendees to do the best possible work. Ilona's mother had taught her from a very young age about the importance of finishing what you start and giving the task at hand your all. These qualities which are a large part of Ilona's mindset, are exactly the things she wanted to instill in her students.
Anytime she does training, Ilona learns things from the attendees because the questions they ask make you look for answers. The more she learned, the more Ilona realized how much more there was to know. The body is so complex that there are always deeper layers in which to work. This concept is what has kept her motivated year after year.
In 2006, Ilona's two daughters who lived elsewhere, moved back to Pennsylvania and Ilona gave spa ownership another whirl. Partnering with her one daughter, Mathesy, they teamed up to open Harmonia Healing Arts Spa on the same property where Ilona Bio-Aesthetics once stood. While the philosophy of beauty through wellness has remained, Harmonia has taken the spa concept to the next level by offering holistic treatments like acupuncture and wellness-focused workshops.
Building a wellness sanctuary takes a lot of time and work. Happily, now people are more focused on well-being and even some insurance companies cover certain therapies. Time after time, Ilona has come to the realization that what her daughter said at age nine is so true. Clenching her hand and holding out a fist she said, "Mom, I hold my future in my hands." This is why she tries to direct therapists to teach their clients about the importance of home care and in changing their lifestyle for optimum results.
"Home care routines should consist of skin and body care, diet and exercise," says Ilona, "Pair these things with personalized spa services and you'll start to get compliments like 'you never fail to amaze me' on a regular basis."
Ilona still attends tradeshows and keeps up on various health newsletters and industry trade magazines to stay abreast of all the latest developments. For over 20 years, Ilona has been an active supporter of Aesthetics International Association. Additionally, Harmonia is a member of ISPA. Ilona believes that referrals, charity work and business associations are all important parts of networking and she strives to give back to the community, always.
Ilona looks forward to continuing her work with people – helping them live their happiest and healthiest lives. As she says, "The body makes itself better. We just encourage it, help it along."