It’s a fact that America is going gray. Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, now number approximately 78 million—about 31% of the population. And so Rolling Stone has been replaced on America’s coffee tables by the latest issue of AARP The Magazine.
Inside and outside influences
The buzzword these days is, of course, “anti-aging.” It’s a misnomer, however, because even a scalpel and laser cannot truly slow the sands in the hourglass. Still, there has been a radical shift in how those in the science and medicine professions consider and discuss the aging process.
Even a generation ago, drooping, sagging and wrinkling were commonly equated with the then-current understanding of aging. A woman of 40 or 50 literally was expected to look weathered. Today, it is known that the conditions frequently associated with aging are not the result of genetic or hormonal programming—otherwise known as intrinsic factors. They actually are primarily the result of the opposite, called extrinsic factors. The most significant of these is—you guessed it—exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Other extrinsic influences include environmental pollution, stress and nutritional choices. Even commonly observed phenomena, such as the breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin that is concurrent with menopause, largely may be the result of free radical assault—which is extrinsic—rather than purely the decline of estrogen production, as once assumed.
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The current medical thinking today is that if humans ate healthfully, were sheltered from environmental toxins, got adequate exercise and rest, and spent most of their lives indoors and away from the sun, their skin would look and feel plump, moist, firm and unlined well into the sixth and seventh decade of life. But is this anyone’s idea of fun?
Real-life age management
The boomer who constitutes the majority of your spa’s clientele has had her day in the sun—and she wants to have more. What can you realistically offer her?
First, it is your professional responsibility to suggest restraint. There is an absolute frenzy surrounding the anti-aging phenomenon. Many clients are feeling desperate as the sun sets over the Woodstock nation, and, as a result, some cosmetic surgeons, manufacturers and others have gotten greedy. Multiple dubious procedures have led to the emergence of a reckless new nation—that of translucent women. These are clients with radically compromised lipid barriers and serious inflammation, primarily due to too much exfoliation, which is anything but healthy. And, health aside, it doesn’t make the skin look any better. In fact, the overzealous stripping of the outer layers of the stratum corneum can make skin look 20 years older.
What you must keep in mind as the anti-aging hullabaloo blathers on around you is that, as an esthetician, beauty and looking good are not at the heart of the mission of professional skin care. You must be all about the health of the skin and the person who inhabits it.
What really works
Every client needs a reality check. First, provide a complete skin mapping and analysis. Find out what medical procedures they’ve had and what constitutes their home-care regimen—hopefully it does not include 30% glycolic acid purchased from the Internet. Give their skin a complete examination under a magnification lamp, then feel your way—in fingerpad-width increments—across the entire surface of their face and neck.
Allow your hands and eyes, as well as your verbal questioning, to reveal the entire client, not just the skin they’re in. They may volunteer information that offers personal insight into particular concerns with aging. Following are several common dilemmas that your boomer clients may be facing, as well as information about how to develop the proper treatments and recommend the correct take-home products.
Texture. Texture is improved by hydroxy acids; nonacids, such as UGL complex; lactic acid; and mechanical ingredients, such as corncob meal and rice bran. Explain that it is important to avoid rougher scrubs, such as those made with apricot pits and other stone fruits, because the jagged particles actually tear at the skin and irritate it. This is a key point: Many clients and some therapists mistakenly think that irritation is synonymous with a product’s effectiveness. This is why many use glycolic acid to exfoliate, when lactic acid has been proven to be more effective and less painful. Pain does not ensure gain.
Firmness. Firmness can be invigorated with peptides, vitamin C and retinol—all of which increase fibroblast activity to jump-start sluggish collagen, elastin and glycosaminoglycan (GAG) production. This makes the dermis thicker and more elastic. Enzyme inhibitors protect proteins from breaking down. Some ingredients, such as red algae, provide calcium to desmosomes, strengthening the bonds between cells. This, in turn, firms the epidermis through cell cohesion.
Regular, even skin tone. Skin tone improves with melanin inhibitors and natural brighteners. Explain why hydroquinone is a no-no—it actually depigments the skin instead of slowing down melanin production and may be an irritant in the long term. Phytic acid, rice enzymes, lactic acid, vitamin C, licorice and aspergillus all are safe, effective choices for brightening, as opposed to lightening or whitening.
Puffiness. Puffiness may be minimized by ingredients and techniques that assist in draining fluid from the area. Chamomile, ivy, butcher’s-broom and various forms of algae are beneficial botanicals. Pressure point massage and champissage (inspired by traditional Indian head massage) also may help. However, fatty tissue deposits need to be referred to a cosmetic surgeon for removal—no amount of eye gel can melt them away.
Don’t promise too much
Skin care is an aspect of health care and self-care, as well as energy work. In some ways, it comes close to real magic in the sense that human hands electrify product on the skin in a way that is amazing. However, there are client complaints that cannot be addressed by any topical treatment, any fantastic product or any lovely massage. When there is significant muscle and tissue flaccidity, more radical medical solutions should be explored. Conditions that will not be affected dramatically by skin care treatments include a hanging “turkey” neck under the chin, drooping eyelids, deep wrinkles, cellulite, a fold-over tummy and a southerly moving bosom or bottom. If you do choose to refer clients to a cosmetic surgeon, be sure that the physician’s credentials and reputation are impeccable, and that they are not motivated purely by the latest celebrity rage in the tabloids or on reality television.
OK, you’re not a guru or a psychiatrist, although sometimes your clients treat you as if you were. However, you do wield tremendous psychological power by the way in which you approach age-sensitive clients. In addition to intelligent, scientifically driven and conservative-yet-compassionate treatments, you also can give them the gift of genuine acceptance. Although every client has a unique agenda and personal issues, meeting and treating every individual with true respect and appreciation will go a long way.
Start by making efforts to remove ageist messages from your skin care environment. Is everyone who works in your spa 25 or younger, impossibly perky and a size 2? This is alienating to the largest percentage of your real clientele. Are all of the images of women used in your advertising, on your Web site, in marketing materials and on displays frozen with nary a silver hair or a laugh line? Consider your client who is contemplating her first face lift the next time you design a new sales piece, redecorate your space or hire a new team member.
Don’t treat your clients’ signals of aging as a contagious disease, and don’t position every aspect of a treatment or every feature of a product as being a clock stopper. This utterly negates the value of their rich life experience at age 30, 40 and beyond. Allow your clients to celebrate every decade.