HALINA: Fought Nazis/ Promoted Skin Care
In one of her husband favorite photos of her, Halina Pradzynski peers alert and interested at the viewer with a slight smile. She is in her eighties in the photo. And despite growing up in the midst of World War II, she does not look worn. In fact, she is glowing.
Instead of being caught up in the battle scars and scratches of her early life, Halina became a healer. She dedicated her life to showing people how to literally put their best face forward by promoting science based and personalized skin care.
She was arguably the first person to introduce European methods of skin care to the southern United States through her salon and spa, which offered treatments that couldn’t be found outside of Los Angeles or New York in the 1970s. And while newspapers and magazines across Texas gave rave reviews, Halina herself stood as the ultimate proof to her methods.
Growing up Underground
Halina was born in Plock, Poland in 1923. Her mother was a teacher, her father a construction engineer. Her hometown was the historic seat of the Polish royalty in the 12th century.
“I grew up in the shade of buildings built in the 13th and 14th centuries and visited the graves of kings,” Halina told a reporter in a 1978 interview.
Her husband Andrzej was born in the same city. They attended the same kindergarten and even dated in high school. But they would not reconnect until years later after World War II, an event they each experienced through very different lenses: Andrzej as a concentration camp prisoner in Auschwitz, and Halina as a member of the Polish resistance movement.
Halina was 16 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland.
“I had two more years to go to high school when the war started,” Halina said in the interview. “It completely changed my life over night.”
Halina joined the Polish Underground Movement, An opposition group that fought the Nazis while trying to maintain parts of civilian life that the Germans had shut down, like schools. Halina helped distribute an underground newspaper and continued her education in secret, studying with a small group of students who met in different homes every day.
In 1943, she married a Polish resistance leader, but was soon widowed when the Nazis killed him on the street in Warsaw.
In 1944, The Polish Underground Movement rebelled against the Nazis in Warsaw in an attempt to drive the Germans from the city and reestablish Polish sovereignty. The Warsaw Uprising, as history would come to call it, was strategically timed to take place as the Germans were withdrawing forces from Warsaw and the allied Soviet army was approaching. But Stalin ordered the troops to stop on the east side of the Vistula River, right on the city limits. He would rather see the Polish crushed by the Germans over the Soviets not controlling the future Polish government .
Warsaw was decimated. The Nazis destroyed over 60 percent of the city, and killed at least 16,000 rebels and 150,000 civilians in mass executions.
Halina, then 21, was taken to a prisoner of war camp where she nursed the wounded in the field hospital. After several months she escaped to Kraków, which was liberated by the Soviet army in the January of 1945. The war was almost over.
After witnessing years of destruction from the war, Halina traveled to Wroclaw in 1945 to help rebuild the city. She was selected by the Polish government to be the assistant to Wroclaw’s city manager and to aid in reestablishing Wroclaw’s local government and infrastructure.
“The city was [still occupied by the Germans] and it was probably more than 50 percent destroyed,” said Halina in the interview, referring to how the city was damaged during a Polish campaign to oust a lingering group of SS members that remained in the city after the war.
When The University of Wroclaw opened its doors after the war ended, Halina then enrolled in the university's medical school. Wanting to be near Halina, Andrzej enrolled in the university’s chemistry department. The once high school couple were reunited and married. One year later Halina gave birth to a son, Richard, and three years later to another son, Zbigniew.
Halina attempted to continue her medical studies while raising her two sons, but it proved impossible to balance. She resigned from school, but as it would turn out, leaving the university would be the first step in her long and successful career in skin care.
Skin Deep Studies
As Andrzej finished up his doctorate in chemistry, Halina raised the children while also working as a freelance journalist. When the family moved to Warsaw, Halina enrolled in a one-year cosmetology college. It was a chance to learn the basics of professional methods of skin care, beauty and hygiene, topics that had always fascinated her.
After graduation, she started working at the most prestigious skin care salon in Warsaw and apprenticing in the dermatology department at Warsaw’s largest state hospital. The apprenticeship gave Halina an in-depth knowledge of the skin, common problems people faced and how to treat them from a scientific perspective.
To stay up to date with the progress of cosmetology, Halina travelled to France in 1958 and enrolled in the Helena Rubinstein Beauty Institute in Paris. Madame Rubinstein, the head of the world-renowned cosmetics company, and Halina became friends. Besides sharing similar and distinctive first names, the two bonded over a common Polish heritage.
Through her extensive training and experience Halina started to develop a skin care philosophy based on scientifically proven and personalized methods.
Instead of hiding flaws with a cosmetic veneer, Halina pushed for protecting, cleansing and nurturing the skin and face for optimal health. The natural beauty would follow.
“I never apply false eyelashes, I never did false nails, because maybe it is very good looking, but in one year, two years people have destroyed something of their own,” said Halina in a 1980s interview.
After six-months at Madame Rubinstein’s institute, Halina returned to working at the salon in Warsaw. But this time, she also took the general public as her new personal client. She wrote popular columns on skin care and make-up in Polish women’s magazines and had her own monthly TV show on television on hygiene and skin care.
However, in February 1968, Halina and her family left their homeland after an anti-Semitic action by the Polish communist government officials cost Halina’s husband his job at the Polish Academy of Science.
“I survived the war and danger to be treated as an equal citizen. In accordance with my principles and my self-respect, I had to leave Poland,” said Halina in a 1978 interview.
They emigrated to Vienna, but didn’t stay long. The University of Texas at Austin offered Andrzej a research position and the family left Europe behind to start a new life in The United States.
Halina in Texas
The Texas climate takes its toll on unprotected skin. The same sunny skies that cause the often-coveted summer time tan can bring, in time, the wrinkles, dark spots and other skin problems. In theory, it was the perfect place for an accomplished skin care provider like Halina to set up shop.
But at first, she was unsure.
Skin care clinics that offered holistic and science-based skin care—the European approach—were unheard of at that time outside of the most cosmopolitan of American cities. In the 1960s, Texas women went to beauty parlors, not skin spas.
Halina also didn’t speak English. But an intensive three-month English course for foreign students and a voracious intake of American television, radio and newspaper helped her learn. She started to think about opening a salon.
To learn more about American salon operation, Halina travelled to New York City and met with Helena Rubinstein’s daughter, who was in charge of the Rubinstein company. Incidentally, the company had just closed their salon to focus on their more profitable cosmetic line. So, Halina went to observe at Elizabeth Arden’s salon instead. It only took a single day at the salon to convince Halina that she could make it on her own. She called her husband to ask him to start looking for a potential salon spot in Austin.
In early 1970, Halina European Skin Care was born.
Halina started the salon with $4,000 borrowed from a friend, and chose the iconic bust of the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti—a symbol of timeless beauty—as a symbol for her business. She hired Polish-trained estheticians who were looking for work in New York and Chicago. And later, she brought in estheticians who graduated from the same cosmetology college she attended in Warsaw, arranging for their immigration to the United States.
In the first year the business made $10,000 in sales, and profits doubled every year for the first five years.
Halina’s clients ranged in demographic and social group and age. Everyone from teenagers troubled with acne to those worried by their wrinkles came to see the salon. Halina personally met with each and every new client for a complimentary skin consultation.
“We can clean, we can educate, we can pamper and make the person feeling great and relaxed,” said Halina in a 1980s interview.
A consultation with Halina was a personalized and educational experience.
After analyzing a client’s skin, Halina would explain to the customer the condition of their skin, recommended care, results and when they could be expected.
Occasionally, Halina could sometimes glean more about a patient than the state of their skin. One client, who wrote about her salon visit, experienced it first hand.
“It amazed me when, after examining only my face she asked if I had cold hands and feet!,” wrote Middy Anderson in an article in the San Antonio Express News in 1979. “Halina explained she could tell I had poor circulation by the condition of my skin.”
In a 1980s interview, Halina reported that she had 5,000 active clients on file. Included among them were a variety of notable Texas women. At “Think and Shrink,” a two-week beauty retreat organized by Lady Bird in 1977, Halina was in charge of providing skin care to the former first lady, Liz Carpenter and other important women figures.
“I’m not going to worry about the pounds I should lost and didn’t, because I’ve got a brand new face by Halina Pradzynski,” wrote Scottie Fitzgerald Smith, the only child of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, on her impressions of the retreat.
And when Halina opened a second location for her salon in San Antonio Texas in 1978 many of the famous faces stood with her at the official opening ceremony. Liz Carpenter, who encouraged the idea of a second salon at the “Think and Shrink” retreat, served as the master of ceremonies.
Much Bigger than Her Business
As Halina was growing her salon business, she asked her husband, who was a chemist, to create a line of skin care products to be sold in her salon, and later other locations. Halina’s extensive skin care knowledge combined with her husband’s chemistry skills led to the creation of Halina-Andre, a brand based on the use of natural ingredients scientifically proven to promote skin health.
The product went from small scale to being produced in a manufacturing laboratory in an office building adjacent to Halina’s Austin salon in 1979. Halina-Andre products are still available today, and although not owned by the Pradzysnki’s any longer, the products still bear the husband-and-wife team’s name.
While Halina and her salon are best known for their Texas impact, Halina regularly spread her skin care knowledge and techniques to an international audience as a member to many skin care associations and organizations. In the 1970s, she spoke at multiple overseas conferences for the International Committee of Esthetics and Cosmetology (CIDESCO), and was awarded an honorary membership to the Aestheticians International Association.
A Lasting Legacy
Halina’s accomplishments in skin care are significant: A salon with two locations, a successful product line and respect among her peers.
But they are all rooted from a quite simple and honest source.
“I simply love my profession and helping people,” said Halina when asked what motivates her work in an earlier interview.
Halina worked in skincare until the late 1980s. Upon her retirement she sold her business to a mother-and-daughter team of trusted employees that she had worked closely with for five years. She currently resides at Longhorn Village, an Austin retirement community located in the Hill Country.
And although she does not see clients or write articles any longer, Halina’s role is timeless. Through the salon and products she created and knowledge she imparted she leaves a lasting mark on all who encounter them—much like the timeless beauty of the Queen Nefertiti symbol that still reigns over Halina European Day Spa and Salon to this day.