MLMs in Esthetics: Opportunity, Challenge Or Threat?


In the past year, how many times have you seen one of your Facebook friends post an advertorial on how great their new skin/shampoo/essential oil/supplement company is and how it has changed their life? If like me, you also belong to esthetics social media groups, how often have you seen discussions from your peers on being contacted or asked about a multi-level marketing (MLM) company? As someone in the beauty industry, how many times have you been contacted to be a consultant for one of these companies?

Chances are you answer yes to more than one of these questions, as MLM companies are growing at a faster rate than ever, having sold 35.54 billion in retail sales in 2016. Popular ones related to skin care and spa include: doTerra, Jennesse, Younique, Young Living, Arbonne, Avon, Nu Skin, Mary Kay, Nerium and Rodan & Fields, among others. Perhaps you’ve thought about carrying one of these line, you already do, clients have asked you about them or being approached or sold to by these companies lights a fire in your soul. We interviewed a number of spa industry professionals to find out why these companies approach skin care professionals, the difference between professional skin care and these lines, how some in esthetics are adopting these lines and what you can do or say when approached by one.

Two Sides of the Coin

There are two sides to every story, and that is certainly the case with MLM lines and esthetics. Erika Lauren has been a licensed esthetician for 10 years and is strongly opposed to carrying an MLM line, though not for their lack of effort. She says she is approached weekly, and while it used to make her angry, she has changed her approach. “I've learned not to expend the energy to unnecessarily defend my education and expertise. The line drawn between us is clear; they are running off of incentive and regurgitation while I am working from passion and correct intent,” she commented.

Conversely, Sherrie Church has been a licensed esthetician in Oklahoma for 10 years. She currently is an instructor at the Florida College of Natural Health, but she also serves as the lead esthetician and spa consultant for Glissandra Skincare and as an executive distributor for Young Living. She chose to distribute and educate for these MLM lines based on quality and efficacy, but notes that she will not carry something she doesn’t believe in. “I have been approached by MLM companies because of my involvement with a few companies. Everyone that knows me knows I will not endorse nor promote products or service I don't believe in. I protect my reputation and really care about sharing truth.”

Extra Income and Skin Care Efficacy

When asked why they carry MLM lines in addition to their professional SKUs, skin care professionals often cite either efficacy of additional income. Shannon Esau, a licensed esthetician and director of education for Rhonda Allison, sees the latter, noting that it is often the small, start-up practitioners who carry the lines. “I have seen this more with someone getting started and feeling like this could be additional income for them,” she added.

Church also noted the additional income but has seen improved skin in her clients. “Of course the benefits are improved skin and allowing [clients] to look and feel better. It also allows them to earn an income on the side. I feel as long as there is truth and not a scam, then it can soar,” commented Church.

Lauren believes skin care professionals should think twice before carrying an MLM line. “I would tell them to rethink their decision. You didn't invest into your career to play ball with the general public by carrying an MLM line. You owe it to yourself and your clients to align yourself with the professional industry,” she noted.

The Difference

So, what is the difference between an MLM skin care line and a professional one? For that, we went straight to Esau, who emphasized the focus on true skin care change. “We take full ingredient decks into consideration, and I haven’t come across any MLM that would meet our standards for skin care that makes a lasting change. Many of these lines have fillers and other toxic ingredients that do not take the overall health of the skin into the equation for final product,” she explained.

“MLMs are more about the money and business vs most professional lines are more about making a true change in the skin. Also, professional lines like ours are able to individually address skin needs vs putting everyone in a box. We feel like we can create the perfect home care regimen for every skin who walks in the door. We can customize seasonally too which is very important and MLMs do not address this. Finally working with a professional line and an esthetician they are able to focus on what is working and what isn’t and continue to improve the skin. Breakouts and reactions are not the only indicator that something isn’t working for the skin. You want that healthy glow and continued change!”

We reached out to the team at Rodan & Fields to comment on the difference between professional and MLM skin care lines, but they declined to participate in the interview.

What to Say

When someone approaches you about MLM skin care lines, whether it is a client or someone in a social forum, it is always prudent to respond with professionalism. Lauren believes it is particularly important when you are approached by a client with a question about an MLM line. “It’s important to handle it with the utmost patience and finesse, even if it's the most annoying question we can hear. It takes courage for them to ask us our opinion, especially if they are newly selling,” noted Lauren.

So, what do you say? That likely depends on you, but here are a few examples. “ I tell them why I won't be changing from my realm of esthetic developed lines, always reflecting on the commitment I've made to their skin by offering retail that compliments what I use in treatment, but I thank them for thinking of me,” added Lauren, who furthered, “For random people, I try to answer with the same kindness.”

Esau added that estheticians should know the difference between professional and MLM skin care and reply with a focus on ingredient education. “[Talk about] why not to use synthetic fragrances or dyes, how some preservative systems can create negative responses and finally fillers that aren’t valuable for impacting and creating beautiful results on the skin. The other focus is on price point. You are paying for all of the marketing, glitz and glamour so to speak with most MLMs,” she explained.

A Threat to Esthetics?

The question remains then, do MLM skin care lines pose a threat to esthetics. Most experts such as Lauren agree that it does not as long as you are educated about ingredients and physiology. Rather, she believes it brings estheticians more business. “ It's no threat. It only adds cleanup crew to our job description to fix all the mistrust in clients caused by MLM lines. We will always have something they don't, the license to treat and provide an experience,” she furthered.

Church hopes the industry accepts viable MLM lines to help educate clients on proper skin care. “ I hope the industry accepts the MLMs that are true. I personally feel it's a great way to educate others on the proper protocols and the proper use. This way, they are making intelligent decisions on how to care for their health, wellness and skin, she noted.

Esau believes that for true skin care efficacy, clients are always going to rely on their skin care professional. “If [clients] are looking for results-driven skin care that has formulations that support the skin from a cellular level, stick with your licensed professional,” she concluded.

Lauren agrees with Esau, likening estheticians to tour guides on a client’s skin care journey. “We can be a pit stop or their tour guide depending on how we handle situations like being presented with MLM questions. Educate your clients in a thoughtful and kind manner and you'll have even the clients selling MLM buying from you. Don't let these companies be a thorn in your side. You are everything in the skin care world. Be the tour guide!”

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