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5 Steps Towards a SMART Purchase

Contact Author Terri A. Wojak
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Safety, Maintentance, Affirmation, Research, Takeaway

Spa owners and estheticians are constantly introduced to new products, treatments and devices, all claiming to be the next best thing for their clients. Each product company boasts superior ingredients, quicker results and long-lasting effects. Products today are introduced with fantastic testimonial photos, celebrity endorsements, enticing claims for instant youth and case studies that are meant to qualify as scientific evidence of the product’s effectiveness.

Too often, skin professionals fall prey to the idea of a new “miracle” treatment or product before finding out the supporting science. It is important to do your own research and determine the efficacy of products and services before you offer them. Prematurely endorsing an ineffective or unproven product can be damaging to your reputation and your business. Use the SMART purchasing method: Safety, Maintenance, Affirmation, Research, and Takeaway, as described here.

1. Safety

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The margin of safety with topical skin care products available typically does not pose a significant concern. Immediate allergic reactions, mild stinging and/or burning can occur with use, but long-term effects usually take place only after continued use. In contrast, using a powerful heat, light or electric-emitting device can cause a severe reaction right away, including wounds, burns and then eventually more permanent damage, such as scarring. Additional scrutiny is prudent prior to endorsing or using the latest and greatest new device.

First of all, make sure that your license allows you to operate the device that is being presented, and that it is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This alone doesn’t mean caution isn’t necessary; there are many devices that have been FDA approved that are dangerous and can potentially harm someone in the wrong hands. Improper use of devices can produce insignificant results or cause more harm than good.

If you decide to purchase a particular device or invest in a product line, make sure it is from a reputable manufacturer. With the rise in Internet sales, it is common for consumers to search for cheaper prices online. Although it is enticing to save money, the buyer must be aware that many of these “discounted” devices are used. It would be difficult for anyone to know or verify how the previous owner cared for the machine. The device could have been new but stored for years in an environment detrimental to the machine’s upkeep, such as a humid area that could compromise the machine’s functionality or have caused a breakdown in the integrity of its parts.

The same goes for skin care products. These products could be expired, stored incorrectly, used and resealed, or something other than what they are labeled. Besides being unsafe, the purchase and use of off-manufacturer materials hurts the product industry as a whole. These products might have been stolen or given as samples. Either way, just as we want our clients to buy from us, we need to respect the company working hard to provide us with safe, effective products to offer.

Ensure that the manufacturer provides you with information on its product specifically, not just similar technology. Just because one type of technology is deemed safe does not mean any or all comparable products are as well. The manufacturer should offer proper training on the use of its devices. If the company selling a product or device doesn’t ensure safe use by their providers, then safety might not be important to them on the whole. Even if the device seems easy to use, there is always a chance of complications. Bottom line: Devices and products should be procured only from reputable sources, and those sources should be ready and willing to educate the provider on safe usage.

2. Maintenance

Whether it is a new product or device, or something that has been on the market for a long period of time, ensure that the manufacturer or sales company will make themselves available to you after you’ve purchased. When it comes to skin care products, product representatives should be accessible for follow-up orders and continued education, as well as product and sales support.

While product representatives have good reason to support their accounts and help market for continued sales, laser salesmen have been known to be less attentive to their customer’s needs. Many medical devices have a hefty price tag and may also have consumables that require regular replacing, i.e., parts or disposable aspects of the device as a whole. A rep might come into your practice several times promising that your investment will be paid off easily, and that they will be available to help up-market the service using this device. Unfortunately, after the check is signed, the rep might suddenly have no time to help promote the service. Once the device is sold, the rep has nothing more to gain. Some do keep to their word, especially those from larger, more reputable companies. In fact, some companies now provide marketing plans with the sales of their equipment. This is another top consideration in choosing the right company to work with; ongoing marketing support with this type of “big sticker” purchase is a must.

3. Affirmation

Any new product you are considering should be compared against similar products that have been tried in the past. Is it a similar formulation to a product that was introduced last year? If so, what type of results did you see? Were there any complications reported? Looking to the past will often help you predict the future. For example, retinoids have a proven track record of effectiveness in reversing the signs of aging skin; therefore, a product containing retinol would likely hold more weight than a newly introduced product containing “vitamin X.” However, just because a product is similar to an established therapeutic does not guarantee its potency. There are many factors in a product’s delivery system that will determine its effectiveness, including the correct pH, concentration of the active ingredient(s) and the right vehicle to carry the active(s) into the skin. There are also manufacturers who might add or subtract ingredients or utilize less efficacious forms of the active agent in attempts to cut expenses. These differences make for uncertain effects.

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The same goes for devices; technology that has been proven effective will likely be further utilized; for example, lasers for skin rejuvenation, radio frequency and ultrasound for skin tightening, and skin needling for collagen induction. Although these modalities are used often for effective, safe treatments in esthetics, each device must have its own studies and clinical science to qualify and support it.

4. Research

It is important to research the safety and efficacy of any product or service considered for use on clients. There are plenty of resources accessible through the Internet, including user and patient reviews. It is also helpful to get in contact with peers who have experience with the equipment or product line in question. Representatives should have clinical studies, scientific evidence as well as before and after pictures available. It is important to be skeptical of boasted research and advertised testimonials. Read reports carefully, and critically examine presented photographs. Research studies claimed by manufacturers may be in-house projects that are conducted by paid investigators. Rarely are these papers submitted to peer-reviewed medical journals. Ask for a copy of the study, so you can examine it yourself. If the company chooses not to provide one, you should be hesitant before going any further.

Similar to informational materials, photographs intended to demonstrate improvements are notorious for being less than truthful. There are many tricks for fooling the eye. However, a critically trained eye will recognize that post-treatment photographs are often taken at different angles and light exposures. This can have a very dramatic effect on the perceived color and texture of the skin. As a professional in the industry, it is your job to investigate any products you consider recommending to your clients.

5. Takeaway (ROI)

Regardless of a product’s potential significance to esthetics, it would be an unwise decision to purchase any product that will not increase your business’s revenue in some way. Of course, the first priority is to make clients feel better about themselves; however, having an expensive product that provides short-term results would not be beneficial to anyone.

There are devices available that, although effective to a certain extent, are not worth the cost to the business and, ultimately, to the client. First and foremost, disposables must be taken into consideration. Get information before investing in any equipment, such as the cost of maintenance, disposables, warranties and repairs. This information is important for determining your potential return on investment (ROI).

Consider this: I recently gave an in-office training on a laser device. The company in question spent almost $100,000 on a used laser device, but the owner didn’t realize that there was an additional and perpetual cost of $8 for the disposable tip needed for each client. With this unintended cost, the owner quickly realized how this would affect the perceived profits from all laser treatments.

Another aspect to be aware of when determining a purchase’s ROI, particularly for equipment and/or devices, is whether there is local competition on “daily deal” websites. If there are other practices in your area that offer a given treatment with the same device you are considering purchasing, this might bring down the perceived value of your practice offering the same treatment. This issue has become a concern to manufacturers who have started taking steps to maintain device value—which, in turn, protects treatment value. Purchasers are being asked to sign agreements to not promote services that use the manufacturer’s products on daily deal sites. After all, if another provider decides that high local competition due to such web-based offers will make purchasing a given device a non-starter, then the manufacturer loses a sale.

Take Responsibility

When considering a new product line or service, be certain you fully understand the product or treatment. Remember, your clients seek your expertise because they trust that you know what is best. If you are skeptical of a new product’s claims, read all that you can on the product/device and consult with those who have already used the product or with colleagues whom you trust. Bottom line: When it comes to the boasted claims of the next hot treatment, it is your job to investigate and your responsibility to not take advertisements and claims at face value.

Terri Wojak

Terri A. Wojak, licensed esthetician of 20 years, is an authority on skin care in a medical setting, education and business. She is director and educator at True U Esthetics, co-author of Mastering Medical Esthetics and author of Aesthetics Exposed: Mastering Skin Care In A Medical Setting and Beyond. She is a member of the Skin Inc. Editorial Advisory Board.

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