Can You Survive a Spa Inspection?

Spa Room Thailand

Editor’s note: The idea for this article came to light during the opening panel of the Advanced Education Conference Program at Face & Body® Northern California in October 2012. During the panel focused on regulation, the question about how to handle an inspection came up and it was suggested Skin Inc. run an article on this topic. Regina M. Tucker, a regular Business Solutions authors, attended the panel and offered to bring the topic to life. For more thought-provoking and inspiring education, make plans to attend the Advanced Education Conference Program at this year’s Face & Body, August 24, 2013, in San Jose, California. Register today at

It’s a typical day at the spa with clients coming and going. The spa manager is in the back office processing payroll, the front desk coordinator is multitasking, making appointments, and checking clients in and out. It’s business as usual until an unexpected arrival … an inspector from the state board of cosmetology, who is there to conduct an inspection. If this were your spa, how would the rest of the story unfold? Would your team panic or would it be prepared? You can ensure the latter with just a little planning.

The professional skin care industry is constantly facing new challenges. For example, according to the Tennessee State Board of Cosmetology, recent increases in communicable diseases have prompted strict guidelines on the utilization of sterilized equipment, gloves and goggles for all licensees when performing any type of service on a client. It is important that you not only stay up-to-date on expectations, but you and your staff should also be prepared should an inspector arrive unannounced at your door.

Understand the purpose of the visit

Although the laws applicable to professional skin care facilities vary from state to state, their underlying principles are the same. All states want to protect the safety and welfare of the consumer and, therefore, must ensure that spas are adhering to state laws and enforce penalties if they are not.

State boards require regular inspections of schools and spas. Inspectors are responsible for a region, and are assigned a territory and a certain number of facilities—at which they conduct inspections to ensure general compliance with state rules, and to investigate improper sanitation and unlicensed activity. The consequences for violations include fines, revocation or suspension of a license, or monetary penalties.

Although it is important to understand the inspectors’ role, it is equally important to understand what they are not looking for. An inspector is not there to investigate personal matters, such as child support, outstanding parking tickets, or any other personal legal issues you or your employees may be facing. Nor does an inspection mean that clients have filed complaints. State boards receive many complaints, which range from unlicensed individuals employed in a spa to bad chemical peels; unsanitary conditions, to dissatisfaction with the spa’s return policies. It’s determined on a case-by-case basis whether an investigation is required. It is possible when the state board receives numerous complaints on a licensee or particular spa that an inspection might follow. However, it is more likely that the visit is simply routine.

What the inspection involves

Upon arrival, inspectors will let you know they are from the state board and are there to conduct an inspection. Inspectors should always have proper identification. You don’t have to drop everything that you are doing; continue to work on your clients while the inspection is being performed. Inspectors may ask to see valid picture identification to verify the employees or technicians working are licensed. To ensure the spa has its proper authorization, they may ask for relevant business licenses and employee licenses. They will ask to see the manager or licensed employee responsible for unlocking cupboards, doors or drawers within the spa for inspection.

Inspectors also will verify that estheticians are working within the scope of practice for which they are licensed. An esthetician’s scope of practice may vary from state to state, but an individual should always work within the boundaries of their license. (Editor’s note: To ensure you are practicing within your scope of practice, contact your state board. Complete contact information for all 50 state boards can be found at Some states have established different types of licenses that allow estheticians to expand their scope of practice. For example, The District of Columbia Barber and Cosmetology Board offers a two-tier esthetics license: a basic esthetician license and a master esthetician license. The master license allows for a wider scope of practice. Master licensees are able to provide premium services, such as microdermabrasion and advanced chemical peels. If your spa offers laser treatments, Botox, teeth whitening and permanent makeup, be sure your estheticians are appropriately licensed to conduct such treatments. These are the types of issues the inspector will be on the lookout for.

The report

After inspecting the spa, checking for licenses, reviewing proper sanitation practices and ensuring all spa employees are performing duties within their scope of practice, the inspector will likely review an inspection report with the manager and with any individual licensees found to be in violation of their licensing terms. According to the California State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology website, common violations include: incorrect storage of disinfected and soiled nonelectrical instruments, improper disposal of nondisinfectable instruments, and improper labeling of liquids, creams, powders and cosmetics. Examples of individual violations include: failure to have a license, having an expired license and providing services for which an individual is not licensed to provide. For a detailed list of common violations and expectations in your state, contact your state board of cosmetology; complete contact information for all 50 state boards can be found at The process for reporting citations also varies by state.

Some states, such as Ohio, issue citations immediately. Fines, however, are often assessed later by the respective boards of cosmetology. In other states, such as California, a copy of the report will be provided, but the citation with fines will be mailed to your spa after a review. If you do not agree with a citation, you have the right to appeal. In most cases after an appeal request is made, an informal hearing will be scheduled. During the hearing, you will have the opportunity to discuss your case. You may bring appropriate legal representation, witnesses, written documentation or photos to support your case. Also, remember that life is not over if you receive a citation; the most important thing is correcting the violation. If clients inquire about a citation or violation, be honest and share what you did to correct it. Consider it a learning experience for you and your staff, not the kiss of death for your spa. Your team members don’t have to jump ship, and you don’t have to close your spa doors due to minor infractions.

Be prepared

Don’t slip so far into your everyday routine that you become lazy in your efforts to comply with state rules governing your spa. Preparation plays a significant role in surviving a routine spa inspection. You can prepare your spa and team members for an inspection in the following ways.

Stay up-to-date on state laws and regulations. State laws and regulations governing the practice of cosmetology are constantly changing; new licenses are regularly created. For example, on its website, the Texas Advisory Board on Cosmetology and Authority recently added a new eyelash extension specialty license and adopted new sterilization requirements. It is important to make sure you are adhering to the most current laws; ignorance of the law is not an excuse.

The best resource for staying abreast of new guidelines that might be part of an inspection is your state’s board of cosmetology. New guidelines and explanations are often posted online and also are reflected in meeting minutes from previous state board meetings. By reviewing your state board’s monthly meeting minutes, you can find what violations are popping up most frequently. The state of Maryland, for example, has a tab of disciplinary actions on its website where you can review all of the disciplinary actions for licensees and spas in the state. Bookmark your state board’s website and check it often.

Perform random self-inspections. Ensure that your skin care facility is operated in a manner that is consistent with state board standards by conducting random self-inspections. Create a list of common violations and randomly check for them. Doing so will help you stay in compliance with your state’s requirements and reduce violations. Items that should make your list of common violations include establishment licenses, personal licenses, and health and sanitation practices. After you complete an initial self-inspection, identify and create a list of all compliance issues; prioritize by significance, ranking those with the greatest and costliest consequences highest on your list followed by those easiest to correct. Document a strategy and time line for addressing each issue. Immediately take action to address threats to clients’ safety. Get your staff members to help—this not only gets them involved, but also strengthens their awareness of acceptable and unacceptable practices in the spa.

Prepare with your team. Discuss the potential for state board inspections and their scope with your team, and include a discussion of areas in the spa the inspector is permitted to access. Educate your employees on the procedures involved in an inspection and discuss their rights.

Knowing what to expect from your state board inspection can really help you and your skin care facility survive the visit unscathed and with confidence ... and often emerge a safer, more sanitary business for your clients.

MC Daks, Here Comes OSHA Are You Ready? New Jersey Biz 19 14 15–18 (Apr 3, 2006)
(All websites accessed Mar 5, 2013)

Regina+M.+TuckerRegina M. Tucker is a licensed esthetician and makeup artist in Maryland and Washington, D.C. She enjoys researching, and providing professional commentaries on pertinent topics impacting today’s skin care professionals, and can be contacted at 202-471-0086 or [email protected].



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