Tucked away on a residential street in the Athenian neighborhood of Ampelokipoi, is a large, unassuming apartment building — the kind that was built en masse in Greece during the 1960s and '70s. Walk through the glass and wood paneled lobby to the elevator, up to the fourth floor, and knock on an otherwise nondescript door.
Welcome to the clinic of the best facialist in Greece.
For the past fifteen years, the Dimitra Goula Institute has been quietly servicing Athens’ beau monde. There are no shortage of aestheticians and pharmacies in the city, but Goula is a true pioneer. She exclusively uses all-natural, organic ingredients, and her institute is the first in the country to work without any chemicals.
Goula, who grew up on the southern island of Crete, went to Germany for cosmetic school in the late 1990s. When she returned to Greece to open up her own boutique, she used products containing chemicals for a few years — until her sensitive skin started to have a bad reaction. “I started freaking out reading the ingredient lists and researching about [these products],” she told Travel + Leisure. “All these chemicals are bad for our health, and bad for the health of our children.”
She threw everything out and started over, this time studying in Greece and focusing on holistic, all-natural skincare. Luckily, of all the places in Europe to focus on clean skincare, Greece has one of the richest canvases, with over one thousand endemic plants and a significant botanical history. The majority of the products Goula uses comes from Mt. Athos in northern Greece, one of the most important and spiritual centers of Eastern Orthodox monasticism. There, monks enjoy one of the healthiest lifestyles in the world, as their pristine, organic environment has remained unspoiled for the last couple of centuries.
Goula works directly with these monks to collect products like rose petals, wild chestnut oil, soapwort, and beeswax. They gather each item at the peak of its freshness: jasmine, for example, is best picked around 3 a.m., when its scent is strongest. Products that don’t exist on Mt. Athos (papaya, cinnamon) are sourced from organic producers in other countries. For Goula, this is as much about beauty as it is a philosophy: treat your skin kindly, simply, and only use natural products. Even simple olive oil or honey is better than the harsh acid exfoliants the skin care world is fawning over.
“It’s very easy to have this philosophy, actually,” said Goula. “And it’s cheaper.”
Treatments and products are bespoke: you’ll start with a three-hour-long consultation that includes testing the skin’s pH and oxygen level. You’ll be asked questions like “What is your favorite smell?” as a way for the esthetician understand what your skin may subconsciously be missing. (The smell of oranges, for example, means your skin might be dull and lacking brightness).
Unless you’re already exclusively using organic products, first-time visitors will start with a deep-cleansing facial that meticulously extracts each of the chemical impurities your poor pores have been sucking up. Goula also offers non-invasive treatments designed to lift and tone, like acupuncture, micro-needling, cupping, and buccal massages. After your first facial, you’ll be sent home with a report card much like in high school that grades, in eye-watering detail, the subjects your skin is both excelling and failing at, and which products are best for your skin specifically. Products are made on the spot for each client after treatments; you’ll be sent home with a little refrigerated bag. If you’re ordering from abroad, the products will be shipped to you on dry ice (following an online consultation, of course).
“Everything must be refrigerated because they don’t have any preservatives or stabilizers - you can put a spoon inside and eat it,” said Goula. The products can remain “alive” for a few days out of the fridge, which is helpful if you’re traveling and the minibar, which you were hoping to repurpose as a minispa, is nowhere to be found.
Greece has several skincare brands that have achieved worldwide popularity — if you’re visiting, it’s a good time to stock up on both Korres and Apivita, which are sold here for a fraction of the price in the U.S. But Goula, with her holistic approach and commitment to all-natural excellence, remains an local secret — for the time being, at least.