Arlinda's Magic Touch


April 03, 2005|By Emeri B. O'Brien | Emeri B. O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Whatever you do, don't forget to breathe. Arlinda Harris pulls out what looks like a surgical tool and prepares to go to work. The heat of the spotlight shining and the coldness of the metal offer an alternating sensation.

Harris scrutinizes the face in her hands.

"The skin is the largest organ in the body," Harris says. "It tends to show you not only what you eat, but how you handle the stress within your body or in your mind."

She moves in closer. A tear comes to one eye as the impurities of the skin are scraped away during a facial. Ouch. Beauty hurts. But all at Arlinda's Place is not painful. The day spa at Merritt's Athletic Club in Woodlawn creates an atmosphere of serenity that could put even the most uptight person at ease.

Arlinda's Place is a small operation on two levels of the building. One side on the first level provides a shower and table set up for massages. The other side has a dentist-like chair and on the walls are diagrams of the lymphatic system, motor points of the face and histology of the skin. On the second level, there are three rooms that provide a place for small groups and couples to relax and another room where massages and other body treatments are performed.

While Arlinda's Place offers a range of services from facials, waxes and massages ranging in price from $4 to $250, what its proprietor Harris offers is education.

A licensed esthetician, Harris travels the country conducting workshops on skin care and other cosmetology topics. "I think when we are wiser about our skin it also helps us better take care of our image," Harris says.

It's Harris' expertise in skin care that keeps Carla Tucker, 40, coming back.

Tucker has struggled with her acne for years, and after visiting dermatologists and trying various over-the-counter products, she decided to try an alternative route. Her Web search led her to Arlinda's Place, and she has been a client since November.

"She completely cleared up my skin," Tucker says.

The state employee says being at Arlinda's Place was just like being in the comfort of a friend's home.

Harris says many people go to spas with the wrong perception. What's always pretty and lush may not always be right for clients, she says.

"People come inside here looking for the rest of my salon," Harris says. "I think this is a beautiful space because of its warmth and because of the knowing that comes out of here."

If Harris knows anything. It's beauty.

What started out as a childhood dream to become Miss America led to a career in bringing the beauty out in others.

Ironically, Harris became a pageant makeup artist.

"I couldn't be Miss America," Harris says. "But I was placed in a position by the grace of God to create the path for Miss America."

It was while she was working at a pageant in 1979 that she caught the eye of Oprah Winfrey, then working at WJZ.

"Oprah Winfrey was watching me when I was working," Harris says. "She was standing in the door with a black jumpsuit. ... Watching me move through a group of young women as I was applying their makeup."

The three contestants that Harris had worked on all placed in the top three.

"Oprah made the recommendation that I [should] be the one who would come back [next year] and do the makeup for the group." Winfrey encouraged Harris to stay in the beauty industry and Harris became the executive director of the Baltimore's Best Pageant.

Harris, who has been featured in Ebony and Essence, and was named one of Maryland's Top 100 women in 1998 and 2003 by the Daily Record , worked in Atlantic City and later in the Washington area. She returned to Baltimore and set up shop at Merritt's 24 years ago. The 55-year old wife and mother of two sons has been in skincare for 30 years.

She sees her occupation as a ministry to improve the quality of life for women.

"Many of us in our churches today are saying that my body is my temple," she says. "I go through the Word and look at how God has taught us how we should be eating during certain periods of stress and phases in our bodies. It's a nice way because I can teach [people] or minister to them in a nonthreatening way during a session. It allows them to walk out being thirsty to find out, `I wonder where she got that from.' "

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