Laura Todd is a scientist at heart. As a young girl, her wide-eyed fascination with how things worked blossomed through practicing middle school lab experiments. Today, as a licensed esthetician with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a candidate for a master’s degree in education, Todd applies her natural scientific curiosity to her work as the director of the Institute of Advanced Medical Esthetics, a division of The University of Professional Sciences, in Richmond, Virginia. She now imparts knowledge about her dual loves—science and skin care—to the burgeoning experts of tomorrow. “It’s a profession with a scientific basis,” Todd says. “It’s not just about facials anymore; it’s about skin care.”
The hundreds of students who enroll in the school each year learn that Todd’s brand of instruction is about much more than treating the skin with today’s techniques. She recalls that when she enrolled in esthetic school in 1990 the industry itself was relatively new and didn’t include microdermabrasion, chemical exfoliation or laser hair removal.
As the profession has developed, Todd’s education has evolved, as well. “New technology is always out there,” she notes. “If you don’t stay on top of it, you become obsolete. The clients sometimes know more than the estheticians. We need an education that not only teaches present-day information, but future information as well.” It is that mind-set that has taught Todd’s students that education truly is a lifelong process.
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For her, this process recently led her on a trek across the world to Regina Isabella, a thermal spa nestled on the island of Ischia, Italy. In this natural oasis, the once violent eruptions of Mount Epomeo have given way to thermal water that flows upward from the fertile soil into the island’s many springs. The spa, which sits on the edge of the Gulf of Naples, harnesses these gushing hypothermal pools to repair, regenerate and detoxify skin. Todd recalls how the resort’s technicians harvested pail after pail of the spring’s famous mud, which steeps for six months before its collection. “I attended a school in Italy to further my education in lymphatic drainage and to learn advanced techniques in lymphatic drainage for the face and body,” she explains.
Now, in the medical spa housed in her institute, she not only taught others to capture the medical and cosmetic properties of lymphatic drainage and the added benefits of integrating into every day treatments, but she also has imparted the European spa’s approach to life, energy and beauty. Todd’s clients have reported clearer and more refined skin, and her students have benefited, as well.
At the institute, she strives to create an environment in which students experience the hands-on learning of new techniques, rather than the “read-and-regurgitate learning” that she says can plague vocational schools. “We’re facilitating the learning process and training the estheticians in critical-thinking skills rather than cookie-cutter skills,” Todd explains. “It’s not ‘Everybody gets the same facial.’ Each individual gets a skin care treatment.”
Todd does all she can to pass on her knowledge—she keeps no trade secrets close to heart. This is her share-and-share-alike mentality in action. “When I’m working with clients, I’m only touching one person,” Todd says. “By training other estheticians, I am able to touch so many. My talents are exponentially utilized.”
This approach to improving the esthetic industry has not gone unnoticed. After she lobbied state legislators for stricter licensure for estheticians, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner appointed her to the first four-year esthetician’s seat in the history of the state’s Board for Barbers and Cosmetology. As a result of the persistent efforts of Todd and others like her, in July 2007, Virginia will become one of only two states in the nation to offer two-tier licensure for estheticians. “Promoting regular standards helps protect the safety and welfare of citizens,” she says. “It ensures that the individuals practicing are protecting the consumer.”
Schroeder Measurement Technologies, Inc., one of the companies that develops standardized tests for cosmetology, barbering and related fields, also hired Todd as a subject-matter expert to assist in creating a new Master Esthetician Examination. She collaborated with other industry leaders who congregated in Florida last July in order to develop the exam. Although such endeavors tend to pull Todd away from her practice and her school, she never seems to mind much. This is, after all, what she set out to do so many years ago.
Along her journey through the industry—from cosmetologist and nail technician in the 1990s to institute president in 2004— each step Todd has taken seems to have been made purposefully toward reaching one goal: helping other estheticians to become recognized as real professionals. As she continues on this path, combining leaps to change industry regulations with smaller paces to alter the outlook of individual students, she hopes to promote the free exchange of knowledge throughout the profession. “A lot of us do a lot of things, and the rewards aren’t monetary,” Todd notes. “They are for the betterment of the industry.”