He’s the facialist to the stars. And says he has never owned a business card.
For 26 years Thuyen Nguyen [pronounced: Two-yen Nwin] has been a skin and body care wellness expert to the most discerning of clients: Jennifer Anniston, Katy Perry, Eva Mendez, Michelle Williams, Uma Thurman, Amal Clooney, Christie Brinkley, Cindy Crawford, Candice Bergen, Jimmy Fallon … are just a fraction of the A-listers who have experienced the Thuyen touch.
With residences in both East Hampton and Manhattan, he works three days in the city and four days out east, traveling as needed. In the summer, he works full-time in the Hamptons.
“I follow my clients,” says Nyguen, who recently opened a storefront in East Hampton on Newtown Lane: Curated by Thuyen, a wellness retail shop with multiple brands of Zen-chic clothing, artisan jewelry, cashmere scarves, skincare and body care products including his own THUYEN Skincare line.
Nguyen kickstarted his career in the Hamptons, after a psychic in New York directed him to “go east,” he recalls with a quick laugh.
“He said, ‘There’s a place on Long Island … when you go there, try to find a fountain, you will know that’s where your destiny is.’”
The fountain turned out to be the fountain at Naturopathica in the Red Horse Plaza in East Hampton. Nguyen “was hired on the spot by (Naturopathica founder) Barbara Close” and two years later he went out on his own.
After a stint as creative director of the spa at Robert DeNiro’s Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca, he opened his own luxury spa in Wainscott known as FaceXercise Skin and Fitness Spa.
Word traveled. In 2013, Vogue named his facials Best in New York. People magazine’s wellness editor called him “a good alternative to botox and fillers.” In 2018 he came out with his own skincare line.
“I decided before COVID to switch my spa in Wainscott that I had had for 10 years to East Hampton,” he says. “I wanted to get into an elevated version of what I do with wellness and beauty.”
Curated by Thuyen represents Nguyen’s 26 years as a leader in wellness and beauty. Nguyen selects and puts his stamp of approval on all brands, which include exclusive fashion lines like Saaksa & Kinni (India), Casa Nata (Germany) and cashmere and fine jewelry with James Paul Cheung (USA), his retail partner.
A spacious private spa treatment area in the back offers focused, holistic treatments where Nguyen can work his massage magic. He is also partnering with Viva Cryo owner Tiffany Lee to offer her high tech body sculpting services to reduce cellulite and body inflammation.
So how did a gay, Vietnamese refugee who was bullied his whole life and whose family was on food stamps in Florida build a successful wellness and beauty brand and become one of the most demanded facialists for the Oscars and the Met Gala?
“It’s an intense story,” says Nguyen, who, when he isn’t running to a private client, is working in his store, or green-juicing for health, or planting in his Zen garden at his home in Springs.
We caught up with the very-booked and busy Nguyen via phone to hear more about his business and his personal journey.
How did you break into the celebrity circuit with your work?
It was primarily through word of mouth that I created this “Insta Lift facial” that became so requested for the red carpet. My name got passed around by makeup artists to stars like Cindy Crawford and Katy Perry when they asked, “Who can I trust with my skin?”
In one hour I was able to take jet setters with crazy schedules and reset their faces to make them look rested, even if they flew 24 hours.
I became associated with these gorgeous iconic women. And I was always trustworthy with people. My nickname is “Buddah” for a reason.
Why massage, how did it start?
I have a gift in my hands. I’ve heard it thousands of times. The minute I touch people on the body, they say the same thing after five minutes, “You have the gift,” or, “You’ve solved the pain.”
Although I’m known as a facialist pioneering skin fitness, I was originally a therapeutic massage therapist for the body.
I developed my facial passive exercise technique in the late 1990s by volunteering to give massages to paralyzed patients to prevent the damage of muscle atrophy. That’s when I realized massage therapy is the most ancient form of anti-aging for keeping the skin tight.
It took me a long time to accept it when people told me I had a gift, because I was built insecure from my upbringing.
I was bullied as a child, and I was bullied at school profusely, living in Jacksonville, Florida, the only Asian kid in the class most of my life, and always the smallest kid in school. I was beaten in the locker rooms, my head slammed into metal lockers.
I was literally mute until I was 18 years old—I would look down, I didn’t talk to people because I was so traumatized. I learned that if you stay invisible maybe nobody will try
to beat you up.
From Vietnam, where you were born, to the U.S.—what was that transition like?
When I came here in 1975, America had just lost the war in Vietnam—the Vietnamese were seen as the enemy. We were told, “Do not tell people you are Vietnamese, tell them you are Chinese or Japanese.”
After the fall of Saigon we came as refugees, we lived outside in refugee camps in cots in Guam for two months. We were the “boat people.” I had to really stay invisible.
Like a lot of gay people, I became almost like an orphan because my family could sense I was gay and they weren’t supportive, like a lot of Southern Baptists in Florida.
How did you move forward and get to New York?
I was very strong willed. When I came here I was already working in medical insurance. We were so poor we were on food stamps, so I had worked three jobs since I was 13 years old.
I left Jacksonville to get away from oppression. I got a job in New York doing medical insurance at The New York Times. After three years, someone told me I had good hands and that I should go to massage school.
So with a full-time job, I went to school at night working a weekend side job, and I finally passed the test.
My first massage job was $25/hour and now I’m $500/hour (laughs).
What is a Thuyen Skin Fitness facial massage like?
My signature Insta Lift Sculpt and Tone approach is that I massage the face the entire time. It’s not like a regular facial. My fingers go so fast and are constantly moving. The approach is based on the time-honored benefits of massage therapy which is over 3,000 years old, before machines or products or laser.
The core of my facial is looking good inside and outside—it is healthy. I am against the injection movement. It’s fitness for the face.
How booked ahead are you?
I’m typically booked a month in advance, and I always fit people in. Post-COVID I have had so many clients come out of the woodwork with breakouts from wearing the mask and a year of constant stress.
How do you feel today as a gay Asian man?
Very different. The Hamptons and New York have helped me. That’s why I’m so involved with a lot of the charities (the LGBT Network, Gimme Shelter Animal Rescue, Second
Chance Rescue and the Ellen Hermanson Foundation) because I really feel like I’ve been through so much pain, and I feel like I’m in a position where I can tell my story and help other people to know that in the darkest times, that the world will change if you work on yourself. And by keeping a good person.
I took my own pain and, through empathy, have created this legacy of skincare where I am able to make people feel good.
Curated by Thuyen is located at 94 Newtown Lane, East Hampton. For more info, visit thuyenskincare.com.
For information on Viva Cryo, visit vivacryo.com.