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Viewpoint: Male Estheticians Need More Respect

Jason Spain December 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine
male esthetician carrying stones

Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this Viewpoint are those of the author and not necessarily those of Skin Inc. magazine.

My name is Jason ... from that, you can tell I'm a guy. I’m also an esthetician. That puts me in a small group of other men who work in the skin care industry as estheticians. If you’re a guy and an esthetician, you’ll know exactly where I’m going with this column. If you’re a female and an esthetician, I invite you to read on and discover a whole new perspective on skin care from a guy’s point of view.

I’ve been an esthetician for five years, and I work in a terrific spa in San Francisco that provides services for a health club and a five-star hotel. I only mention this because I have a wide array of clientele, ranging from athletes to hotel guests, both male and female. So I’ve had to learn how to give facials and other skin care treatments, including waxing services, to all kinds of people. And I’ve had to learn how to do all of this by myself.

There’s very little support or education available to address the male esthetician. Even in esthetic school, I had to adjust everything to the fact that I am a man. Simple things, such as the size of my hands, the pressure I used during facial massage, glove sizes, extractions, everything was different for me than what I was being taught in school and what I saw my female colleagues doing.

And then there’s waxing and the whole “male waxing a female” conundrum. I like to refer to it as Pandora’s wax pot. Is it appropriate for me to be giving a female client a bikini wax? The five-star hotel I work for says “No way,” and I have to respect its rules. But I often ask myself, “Why not?” I’ve found that some of my female clients would rather have me do their waxing. They trust me, they know they are safe and in a professional environment. Their modesty is completely and strictly maintained both for their comfort and mine. I mention waxing as a classic example of how our industry really hasn’t addressed the issue.

There should be standards set and strict training required so that male estheticians are accepted in all arenas of skin care. I find our profession to be sexist in some very subtle and very obvious ways. For example, in advertising, you never see a man giving a client a facial; however, any time I see laser being advertised, it’s often a man doing the procedure. Are there not any female dermatologists out there? Are there only female estheticians? Of course not. So why do estheticians put up with this blatant role-playing. It can only hurt us in the long run because we are basically allowing advertisers to tell the general public who should and should not be getting or giving skin care treatments.

Another example of sexism in the spa industry is spas that are overly feminine, including the decor, the menus, the treatments and the products being sold. Why do spa owners effectively scare away male clients and make male estheticians seem out of place working at their facility? I have struggled for years trying to get my spa to butch it up a bit. Still, to this day, every client is handed a fluffy white robe. Male clients are asked to go into the men’s locker room with all the other guys, change in and out of their workout gear, don a fluffy white robe, and walk back to the waiting area. Ladies, guys don’t like that! Our menu colors used to be pink and light blue with cursive print. Ladies, guys don’t like that! The name of one of our spa’s main skin care lines means “beautiful woman.” Try convincing a male to buy from that line.

It’s not just my spa either. The majority of spas effectively discriminate against men and male employees. In any other profession, there would be outrage, but in this industry, nobody seems to care or even notice. Hairstylists are men and women, and the majority of salons are unisex on purpose. Makeup artists are both male and female—almost 50/50. There’s an even amount of male and female massage therapists, and it’s common to ask a client who books a massage whether they would prefer a male or female therapist. Why is this not the same for facials?

The skin care arena has collectively said “no” to men as both estheticians and clients. I’m also a flight attendant and have been flying for 25 years. When I started flying in the mid-1980s, there wasn’t a trace of sexism among crew members, and that was a huge hurdle for men to jump back then. So when I became an esthetician in 2003, I expected the same. I was very shocked to find myself in a female-dominated career that had no idea what to do with me as an esthetician, from how to train me to what uniform I should wear.

I was more than used to working with women, so it didn’t bother me at first. But now I see my personal profits being scared away by an antiquated paradigm that states that only girls like skin care. Profits are being lost because of this, and I believe we all need to focus on making our industry unisex from now on. I challenge industry publications to publish more articles for male estheticians, to show men giving facials, to talk about men and waxing, to encourage men to join the ranks of professional estheticians and to convince skin care lines to tone down the feminine attitude. Don’t get me wrong, I love women and I love working with and for women; I just want men to feel comfortable, too. It’s only fair and it’s good business.

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