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A Little Learning

There is truly nothing more important than education to the success of any business, especially in the skin care industry. Manufacturers may tend to forget this-they think that their potential success rests with their products. Actually, the key is in the education of the people who use their products. I have dedicated the past 30 years to the education of skin care professionals. But here's what I've discovered: our clients also need to be trained. In fact, they are badly in need of a sort of Client Boot Camp.
I agree with the great Dr. Samuel Johnson, who said that "A little learning is a dangerous thing."

A lot of skin care professionals have a "little" learning. When they earn their state license, they have begun on the journey of their training. In order to develop and refine their expertise to a competitive level, I believe that American therapists need to commit to a minimum of two to three years of postgraduate study after they have passed the state exam. It's sad that so many stop when they really should be starting-and the fact that they don't continue with their own education significantly contributes to their inability to communicate with and, essentially, "train" clients to appreciate and value what we do as professionals.
With all of this in mind, we all must see every day as the opportunity to learn, and to teach. Many of us are dedicated to training skin care professionals, but it seems that we've overlooked the fact that the customer needs coaching in a big way in order for our profession to truly shine. This is more essential today than ever, because skin care is often blurred in the mind of the consumer with at least two other industries. The first of these is the beauty business, because many of the manufacturers of cosmetics now manufacture skin care products. In some cases, this means scary things like the do-it-yourself-home-microdermabrasion kit, literally on the shelves of major beauty emporia, department stores, and online. Many consumers literally see skin care as part of the lip gloss/ self tanner world. I actually believe this is potentially dangerous to the client's skin, in the sense that hourly sales staff with no background in skin histology, biology, anatomy, etc. are entrusted to recommend products to treat conditions such as, say, acne and rosacea.
The other big area of market-blurring is with the medi-spa industry, where clients may seek intrusive and semi-intrusive procedures which must be performed by an MD, an RN, or someone else in the medical profession. The aggressive procedures including microdermabrasion, peels, and injectibles are a powerful part of the anti-aging landscape, and there's probably no turning back. But these procedures cannot take the place of a traditional skin care treatment.
Clients need to be educated concerning what real skin care is, what its purpose truly is, and what it can and cannot accomplish. Who will do this training of the consumer masses? We will, the operative "we" being the skin care tribe. Clients need to be shown and told what to want, what to expect, and how to get it. When these expectations are in place, then we can truly begin to grasp our responsibility and potential as a creative industry, and as one of the healing energetic arts, which is what I believe professional skin therapy to be.
First, therapists must present themselves in such a way which broadcasts that they value their own time, and demand that others respect them for it as well. For many of us, attaining this mindset may be difficult-as an industry, we are far more "Yin" than "Yang". We want to make people happy, not reprimand them. However, it is essential to present ourselves and our expertise with authority, and as deserving value.
Rule One: the 15-minute cut-off. Clients arriving 15 minutes or more after the appointment-time are subject to cancellation by the therapist. Your doctor, your dentist and probably your hairdresser certainly employ this sort of no-nonsense policy. Let it be known that, in addition to being cancelled after 15 minutes, clients will be charged for the missed appointment. Rule Two: along the same lines, the 24-hour cancellation policy needs to be introduced. This means that clients are charged for appointments cancelled less than 24 hours in advance. We need to structure our business in such a way that our time is valued.
This policy needs to be sent to clients in the form of an e-mail and a postcard mailing, if possible. These policies need to be posted beside every work-station, and also printed on your menu of services. Your clients may be shocked. A few may even huff at the shocking idea of holding them accountable for their actions. Let them go. The fact is that you cannot give clients proper service when appointments begin to overlap. You feel rushed, they feel confused. Soon, a little colony of disoriented, blinking people are suddenly padding around in the hallways clad only in towels, wondering where you went, and it's a ghastly mess. Be prepared to patiently explain this to anyone who expresses resistance to your newfound rigor.
In fairness, skin therapists ourselves have created this problem. We have allowed our industry to be associated with the following words: luxury, pampering, indulgence. These concepts introduce a certain servitude into the therapist-client dynamic, as if the client is a grand courtesan who is being groomed and primped by a lowly handmaiden. The fact is that skin therapists, especially those who pursue postgraduate education, are among the most highly trained professionals in any aspect of the health, wellness, or beauty industries. As a tribe, we are tireless learners.
Because our tribal culture is one of nurturance, we tend to be modest about our expertise, but I think it's time for tough love. We need to offer our clients this expertise in the form of supportive information. For example, we need to truly work with them and explain why they must not let a glossy, multi-page advertising spread featuring a celebrity in a fashion bible be the deciding factor in their purchase of a moisturizer. Likewise, we must help them understand why products which smell fantastic as the result of artificial fragrances, or stand as irresistible eye-candy in clever packaging on the shelves of the beauty "candy" stores, may not be what their skin truly craves in terms of correction, balance, and improved health.
Luxury, pampering, and indulgence might be applicable to wearing monogrammed cashmere pajamas, but this really has nothing to do with the concept of professional skin therapy. These words themselves, and the idea that a person "treats" themselves to professional skin care services like a huge hot fudge sundae, persist in advertising for skin care products. Again, this places the skin therapist into the role of someone who merely caters to the whims of a frivolous, Marie Antoinette-ish client. This is not flattering - and not fair - to either us as professionals, or to our valued clients.
If you want candy, buy candy, metaphorically speaking. If you want a glass of champagne, have one-have two! Buy yourself great mascara, or a new crocodile bag. But if you want a healthy meal and a fitness plan for your skin, take it seriously enough to learn about it from a professional.
Here's the word: the professional skin care industry is under attack from the explosion of consumer products claiming to offer results which may only be achieved through highly skilled service by a licensed therapist. We're also being co-opted by medi-assisted procedures which in some cases compromise the long-term integrity of the skin - here, I am thinking of the exfoliation obsession in this country, where aggressive mechanical and chemical procedures, especially in combination, may truly threaten the precious lipid barrier and do permanent damage. Skin therapists are generally more aware of this risk than their medi-spa counterparts.
The fact is that skin therapists know skin in a different way than dermatologists. Our areas of expertise certainly may be complementary, but with respect, they are not identical. And we as a profession certainly know a lot more about skin than an hourly salesperson who sells cosmetics, too. It's high time that we drew our line in the sand, or in the exfoliating scrub, as it were, and made this distinction more clearly to consumers. Give us our props. We deserve it, and so do our clients.

Jane Wurwand, established The International Dermal Institute, a postgraduate skin and body care training center, in 1983. Jane teaches her innovative education and product philosophies throughout the world. Under Jane's continuing direction, The International Dermal Institute is the research and development center for the Dermalogica professional skin care line, introduced in the U.S. in 1986 and currently distributed worldwide. Jane can be contacted through The Dermal Group at 310-352-4784, or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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