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Good Hands: Back to the Beginning

By: Annet King
Posted: June 4, 2008, from the February 2007 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

It’s not a coincidence that this year’s column begins in February, when every store window in town is filled with the frilly pink hearts of St. Valentine’s Day.

That’s because this article for the new skin therapist isn’t about romance—but truly following your heart.

The next four Good Hands columns—a whole year’s worth—are dedicated to closing the gap, educationally speaking, for skin care professionals. What does this have to do with following your heart? Good question. The answer is that learning also requires passion. Passion comes from the Latin word for “suffering.” It’s true! And while your career as a skin care professional shouldn’t be a shrine to pain, attaining success does require sacrifice and hard choices. Are you ready?

Commit to postgrad

It’s like this: If you are finishing your undergraduate studies and are about to take your licensing exam, be prepared to commit to at least two more years of intensive postgraduate education. You should make this commitment because the education requirement in the United States is lower than it is in the United Kingdom and Continental Europe. This means that your counterparts overseas—many of whom come to this country to work—generally carry with them at least two or three more years of full-time, advanced education than a typical U.S. esthetician, which was obtained as part of their undergraduate training. Skin care professionals in other major international markets simply are required to possess greater expertise much earlier in their careers. They also must pass many more practical and written examinations to be able to attain a recognized qualification and go on to practice skin care. This is not being said to sting, but simply to direct. Make the commitment now and understand that your real education begins after you get your license.

Prevent burnout

The rate of annual burnout in this industry is astronomical. Most of this attrition occurs early on, within the first year or two of passing the state board exam. This occurs for several related reasons, all of which should be prevented by committing to continue your studies.

  • You feel isolated. Going directly into a work setting—which for a skin therapist generally means working alone in a small room—when you’re extremely green does not build confidence. Of course you have huge potential, but your skills are not finely tuned. How could they be? You may make mistakes during the treatment, or you simply may not yet know how to offer a superior experience to your clients. This may result in client dissatisfaction, ranging from mild to miffed—and ultimately in failure to retain clients. This does not feel good on either end of the professional equation and does not help your long-term professional prospects.
  • You don’t network. This is an extension of the isolation. You don’t market yourself, so you lack opportunities to develop new clientele. You may not be busy enough at your primary job, so you might take a second part-time job. Disenchantment and burnout are right around the corner.
  • You get distracted. If you feel that you aren’t gaining traction as a new therapist, you may start grasping for new, trendy, exotic treatments to attract business. This is the origin of the “novelty” skin care practice, where so-called treatments focus on unusual ingredients, such as gold, caviar and tourmalines. Some of these menu offerings are simply feel-good sessions, involving rose petals and chocolate. At the other end of the spectrum is an overreliance on hardware, machinery and dubious high-tech contraptions that promise to erase cellulite, miraculously slim the thighs, or eradicate wrinkles overnight. Maybe next you’ll start offering tarot readings between skin treatments.