How many beauty products have you used in the last week? Make a mental catalogue of all the cleansers, lotions, serums, creams, and makeup that crowd your bathroom shelves.
Now imagine ditching all those familiar little tubes and bottles and replacing them with one small bar of lye soap.
That’s all you’re given when you go to jail, says Dawn DaLuise, a Los Angeles aesthetician who, in 2014, spent over 10 months behind bars at the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood for what amounted to a misunderstanding. (Her story was the subject of a 2015 feature in Los Angeles.)
Before she went to jail, DaLuise was a successful business woman. At the Dawn DaLuise Skin Refinery in West Hollywood she plumped, plucked, and waxed the famous and the not-so-famous. Her signature Galvanic Electrical Muscular Stimulation facial and self-labeled beauty products were touted in the pages of Vogue, InStyle, and Vanity Fair. On her website she lists Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, and Brad Pitt among her celebrity clients.
DaLuise was arrested on March 5, 2014, and charged with solicitation to commit murder. A text she sent a friend as a joke wound up in the hands of the West Hollywood police, who took it seriously and believed she had plans to hire a hitman to take out the owner of a rival West Hollywood waxing studio. Bail was set at $1 million. DaLuise didn’t have the cash to pay it, and so she went to jail to await her trial.
“It could not be more necessary to remember that people are innocent until proven guilty,” DaLuise says. “Every woman in that jail, even if they had a trail of bodies in their wake, until they went in front of a judge, they were technically innocent. That was my saving grace. I knew I was innocent and I was going to end up back home like it never happened. I was sure of that.”
DaLuise still remembers the horror of her first few days in jail. She describes standing naked in the cold as gruff guards searched her body cavities for contraband. She remembers the blank stares on the faces of the other inmates.
“It was like a horror movie, like Dawn of the Dead,” she says. “Every single woman there looked like a zombie.” She says she later learned many were taking a prescription medication called Seroquel.
Incarceration was taxing on the then 55-year-old in ways both obvious and unexpected. There were the practical issues of daily life: DaLuise had spent thousands of dollars on braces a few years before her arrest. In jail she did not have access to her retainer, so she stressed over the thought of all that money going to waste.
“I was so responsible,” she says. “I was never late on any of my bills. I was just one of those people who wouldn’t sleep at night if my taxes weren’t paid. And so it was a slow torturous ordeal losing everything.” Over the course of her 10-month incarceration, DaLuise lost her apartment, her car, and her business.
According to DaLuise, for a year before her arrest she had been the victim of a vicious stalker. She claimed her tires had been slashed and that she’d constantly received cruel, threatening text messages. When men began showing up at her townhouse in the middle of the night, beating on her door and demanding sex, she says she discovered that someone had posted a Craigslist ad using her real name and address that claimed she was looking for anonymous sex with an intruder. DaLuise went to the police, but she didn’t have any hard evidence they could use to make an arrest.
Throughout her ordeal, DaLuise believed her harasser was a man named Gabriel Suarez, the proprietor of a new waxing studio called Smooth Cheeks that had opened near her place of business. It wasn’t until she’d been arrested that she says she came to believe that two clients she thought were friends, Nick Prugo and Edward Feinstein, were behind the harassment.
Prugo had been a member of the infamous “Bling Ring.” He had served time for stealing millions in clothes, cash, and art from celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, and while he was in jail he’d met Feinstein. Prugo and Feinstein were charged with felony stalking and solicitation to commit rape, but eventually pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor stalking charge after a judge threw out the more serious solicitation charge for lack of evidence.
Still, DaLuise says, “It is a cautionary tale. It taught me that not everybody is what they seem. I just don’t trust anyone now. Maybe it’s not so bad. There are worse things than not trusting people you meet right off the bat in L.A.”
In jail DaLuise was sent to pod one, cell 26, “the same exact cell where Paris Hilton ended up that time she went to jail,” the aesthetician notes. “Which is ironic, because she was also once upon a time a victim of Nick Prugo.”
Inside cell 26, DaLuise stayed positive by relying on her faith. “I had to find the silver lining. I’m a Christian and I believe in providence, that things happen for a reason,” she says.
Her fellow inmates were also a source of strength. “I had to acclimate myself to being part of the worst of society because it really was us against them,” she says. “The guards did not care. Everyone there was guilty as far as they were concerned.”
According to DaLuise, one of her cellmates was a confessed murdered. “Some of these women had dead bodies in their wake,” she says. “I know how I felt about that before I entered the system. But at least these women were nice to me. They introduced themselves to me and gave me their extra coleslaw at lunch. Meanwhile the guards were screaming at us. You had no choice but to see the humanistic side of these women.”
One way she connected with her fellow inmates was through skincare. “It’s amazing how resourceful we were out of boredom and tediousness,” she says.
DaLuise watched as her cellmate spent hours carefully scraping the shiny silver lining out of a snack-sized bag of Lay’s potato chips. Once removed and secured to a plastic cup with a rubberband, it served as the only mirror the pair had access to inside their cell.
Because her family put money in her commissary, DaLuise could acquire small comforts, like a travel-sized bottle of Head & Shoulders shampoo and Neutrogena face soap to augment the lye bar. In search of an exfoliant, she discovered that a little Neutrogena mixed with ground up bran cereal flakes worked wonders.
“The girls would ask me for little tips,” she says. So she reminded them not to touch their faces and advised them to ask for extra ice at dinnertime to press against sores when breakouts did occur.
She also learned how to use a disposable razor to scrape the pigment off makeup ads in magazines. The colorful dust could be collected and used as blush or eyeshadow. A cheap stick of Wet n Wild eyeliner, also available at the commissary, could be mixed with the chalky toothpaste distributed by the jail and transformed into better eyeliner (applied with a pencil tip) and mascara.
“They looked beautiful, by the way,” she says. “Some of these girls, you would think that they had had a makeup artist working on them because they put so many of these things together.”
When DaLuise’s case finally went to trial, a jury acquitted her in under an hour. She was free. But she was immediately spit out of the system into a media frenzy. She says she remembers hiding from ABC7’s Miriam Hernandez in a bathroom stall at the courthouse.
The stress of jail also had caused DaLuise health problems. She had symptoms while incarcerated, but it wasn’t until after her release that she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. She spent the year after her trial living at her ex-husband’s house and undergoing surgeries and extensive treatments. She is now cancer free.
There were also legal matters to deal with after her release. DaLuise sued L.A. County for police negligence and for not giving her proper medical treatment in jail. She has since settled with the county for an undisclosed amount.
After five stressful years of harassment, incarceration, and financial and medical issues, DaLuise is ready to move forward. She says the whole ordeal is finally starting to feel like a distant nightmare.
DaLuise is a remarkably resilient woman. Like youthful, collagen-plumped skin, she has bounced back from her ordeal with no visible signs of trauma. In her new studio at Salon Republic in Beverly Hills on a recent Saturday, she was cheerful and calm. Her freshly dyed hair looks fantastic.
“I was a little concerned at first that maybe I would’ve lost my sense of who I was and my self-confidence as far as being able to relate to people and give them the skincare that they need,” she says. “But it has been like riding a bike—it just came back, and I realized I need this in my life.”
If you go see DaLuise for a Galvanic (EMS) facial at her new location, you’ll need to trust her completely as she applies gooey, collagen-soaked strips of cloth to your face, transforming you into a living, breathing mummy. Her calm, experienced, light-hearted tone will help you relax as she secures a thick, Hannibal Lecter-esque leather mask to your face. And you’ll want to just breathe and go with the flow (er, the current?) as she cranks up the voltage on the machine delivering electricity to the metal probes attached to the mask.
“Some people equate it with being in an electric chair,” DaLuise says. “You should see the selfies they take.”
Google DaLuise today and her mugshot pops up before her website. So because you can never escape your past, and because whether you’re rebuilding a life or rejuvenating a face the process is sometimes brutal, DaLuise has decided to rebrand her business.
“It’s a play on the whole debacle. I’m just owning it,” she says with a smile. “I’m calling it ‘Killer Facials.’”
This article has been updated for clarity.
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