Monthly Archives: January 2010

Oils From the Earth. On My Jeans.

My 600-hour adventure in esthetics school. Read about the project or catch up with weeks 1-10.

This, for the uninitiated, is a paraffin foot dip.

At Beauty U, we keep blocks of paraffin wax constantly melting in a warmer, which looks like a large, rectangular crockpot, circa 1978. When someone wants a paraffin dip, we use a disposable plastic cup to scoop out some molten wax and pour it into gallon-size plastic baggies (for feet) or pair of latex gloves (for hands). Then we kneel before the client, carefully lower their appendage into the hot wax and give it a little massage to spread the wax around.

Those are my feet up there so I can tell you that while it looks ridiculous, a paraffin dip feels AWESOME. These days, there aren’t too many beauty treatments that I’m getting excited about — maybe because last week centered around having my face bathed in acid— but I would get this done every day if they let me. It’s heaven on earth if you go through winter with permanently cold hands and feet (like I do), or spent your weekend sanding and stripping wallpaper (like I did) so now your hands feel like sandpaper, because paraffin is warm and toasty and turns your skin to butter. (Oh, and unlike the wax used on your bikini line, hot paraffin wax doesn’t stick to your skin. It just cools down to a Playdoh-like texture that peels right off.)

But paraffin dips are definitely from the department of it’s better to receive than to give. It doesn’t help that tonight is one of those nights when we’re all feeling the pain of stuck-here-till-10-PM. The teachers are squabbling with each other over tests gone missing and scheduling changes. Stephanie’s cats have a tape worm. One of the senior girls is on a tear about the rest of us not remembering to take out the trash. The cosmetology students put their towels in our dryer yet again, so all our sheets and spa wraps come out covered in gummy clumps of hair.

And I go to perform my first-ever paraffin hand dip on Miss Jenny, hold the wax-filled glove at the wrong angle, and do this instead:

To my favorite pair of jeans (which, by the way, I’m only wearing because getting a 95 or higher on a written exam entitles you to a one-night jean pass).

I also coat a good portion of the floor, which means spending the next half hour scraping it up with a Popsicle stick.

And so ends my paraffin love affair.

Related: Whenever Milady’s refers to paraffin wax, mineral oil, petrolatum, and the like, it makes sure to note that these petroleum-derived ingredients are “oils from the earth.” There are also a lot of comforting phrases like “biologically inert,” “hypoallergenic,” and “time-tested.”

I guess that’s all technically true, but don’t words like that make just about anything sound nicer? Like you might dig up some lovely “oil from the earth” while mucking about in the garden or frolicking with some cute woodland creatures.

You know, instead of getting it this way:

And seriously: Anyone know how to get wax out of denim?

[Paraffin wax photos via my iPhone, oil drilling photos via HowStuffWorks.]


Filed under Beauty Schooled, Body Treatments, In Class, week 11

[Beauty, Overheard] A New Feature

From a proud grandmother, pondering whether her granddaughters, ages 9 and 6, are beautiful:

“Sometimes Tabitha looks terrible, sometimes Aurelia looks lovely — it’s really too soon to say.  But you do wonder, what will they be?”

[Have you heard something pretty unbelievable about being pretty? Send your quotes to beautyschooledproject [at] gmail [dot] com and I’ll post ’em here. Names changed, of course, so scout’s honor for accurate reporting.]

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Filed under Beauty Overheard, Beauty Schooled, beauty standards

Pretty Price Check (01.22.10)

The Pretty Price Check: Your Friday round-up of how much we paid for beauty last week.

  • $735: The price of Clive Christian No. 1 Pure Perfume, which Bella Sugar says is the world’s most expensive fragrance — and continue to sell well, despite the recession and its weirdly Renaissance Faire-inspired packaging.
  • 2013: When Europe bans all cosmetic testing on animals. (Nice one, Europe.) Scientists are developing a chip that can be used for cosmetic allergy testing instead of Fluffy. (Via Jezebel.)
  • $1.7 billion: What Shiseido paid to acquire Bare Escentuals. Will the company that brings us placenta face creams change Bare Escentuals’ light green style? (Via Cosmetic Business.)
  • 1 in 5 women in Mauritania undergo “gavage,” a torturous process that involves squeezing a young girl’s toes between sticks while force-feeding her mixtures of millet, milk and butter so she’ll gain enough weight to attract a husband. (Check out National Geographic’s disturbing  video here.) Proof that beauty standards are range from absurd to cruel wherever you go* — and we need to think global as well as local to change things.
  • $1 million: The amount Avon is committing to Haiti disaster relief. Thumbs up for good corporate citizenship, though my inner cynic would be happier if these companies just sent the checks and didn’t need to issue press releases about it at the same time.
  • 15 percent: How much sales of medical beauty treatments (think Botox, laser hair removal and boob jobs) dropped in 2009. Don’t get too excited — the industry says it will be rebounding by five to ten percent per year through 2013. That’s keeping your chin up (and tucked).
  • $200: What this Real Simple blogger is contemplating paying for a haircut. A couple of you commented last week that the high price tag is why you expect a pretty high level of life-changing customer service when you go to a salon. What’s the max you would pay for a great haircut — and why?

*Because meanwhile, Mad Men star Christina Hendricks is getting slammed post-Golden Globes as “a big girl in a big dress.” Yup, at the same time women’s magazines are falling all over themselves to feature scantily clad “plus-size” (that would be “normal weight and still unattainably attractive”) models, and promise it’s more than just a token gesture. Square one, here we are again.

I’d be completely depressed if it weren’t for this brilliant trio of posts: Jezebel on how it’s creepy that plus-size models are always naked, and Salon and on why the media debate over the beauty of “real women” is so troubling.

On that uplifting note, have a great weekend!


Filed under Beauty Schooled, Pretty Price Check, products

More Thoughts on Chemical Peels.

My 600-hour adventure in esthetics school. Learn about the project or catch up with weeks 1-9.

Stephanie and I are talking about how she did just fine with Monday’s alpha hydroxy acid peel, while I cried like a little tiny girl. For starters, she’s had more experience with peels because one of her best friends is an esthetician who hooks her up at cost, while I was a peel virgin. “I think you do kind of work up to being able to tolerate them,” she says.

“Also, keep in mind that Stephanie’s skin is much thicker than yours,” says Miss Jenny. What she means is, Stephanie is black. According to Milady’s, page 212:

Black skin is prone to hyperkeratosis [My note: This is esthetics speak for “an excessive build-up of dead skin cells.”] thus needing more exfoliation and deep pore cleansing. Black skin does not age as quickly because of the differences in physiology and the additional sun protection. However hyperpigmentation [Me again: “brown discoloration from melanin production due to sun or irritation”] is a greater problem for darker skin types.

Milady’s follows up that explanation with a photo of a black woman and the helpful caption, “ethnic skin is more fragile than it looks.”It goes on to note that “Asian skin is considered to be one of the more sensitive skin types,” while “Hispanic skin is usually oilier and needs more deep cleansing treatments.” And, “if you want to specialize in ethnic skin care, there are educational resources and advanced classes addressing this area of study.”

“Wow, that’s a lot of generalizations about my skin,” says Stephanie after we read that section out loud in class. Plus, some none-too-subtle reinforcement of racial stereotypes (those oily Hispanics, eh?). Not to sound all “We Are The World,” but color aside, Stephanie and I have noticed that our skin is a lot more similar than it is different; we both break out along our jawlines, get dry around our noses, and get dark circles under our eyes.

But here’s another reason that Stephanie handled the peel better than me: “It reminds me of this Fair & White skin cream I tried once to even out my dark spots,” she says. “Actually that was way worse — I got a little in my eye and thought I was going blind.”

Oh, you mean Fair & White, as in one of the skin lightening creams that the New York Times ran a front page story about last weekend, because they contain steroids and mercury, not to mention hydroquinone, which I told you about when Sammy Sosa went ghost-faced on us last fall? Yep, I bet those do make your basic glycolic peel feel like a walk in the park.

And so maybe Milady’s has a point, because for sure, nobody has ever tried to sell me a skin whitening cream. But does that make “ethnic skin” and “Caucasian skin” so fundamentally different? Or does it just mean the beauty industry has figured out different ways to get our money?

[Photo: Amazon]


Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Chemical Peels, Facials, Ingredients

(Not) Hooked on a Peeling.

My 600-hour adventure in esthetics school. Learn about the project or catch up with weeks 1-9.

Here’s how Milady’s explains a chemical peel, which is where an esthetician paints your face with glycolic acid (a kind of alpha hydroxy acid derived from sugar cane) to exfoliate away your dead skin cells, from page 384:

These light peels are noninvasive/nonaggressive in nature, and are designed to create an enhancement of the epidermis by working on dead cells, not the dermis, or living tissue. The application of peel skills in your skin care practice will be one of the most exciting and financially rewarding areas of your treatment “bag of tricks.”

And here’s why peels are so beneficial (and exciting and financially rewarding), from page 386:

Peels improve the texture of the skin and increase the CRF [cell renewal factor], hydration, intercellular lipids, barrier function, moisture retention, elastin and collagen production. Peels also reduce fine lines, wrinkles, and pigmentation. After treatment, skin looks and feels smoother and softer. Peels are used to control skin conditions such as acne, hyperpigmentation, clogged pores, eczema, and dry skin.

And here’s how my skin feels as Meg paints on my first-ever chemical peel last night: Like she’s using live electrical wires to coat my skin in battery acid.

Nothing against Meg, you understand. She’s a pro. And keeps saying “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry!” when I yelp. But you know that scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin where Steve Carell gets his chest waxed? Yes, that one? Okay, so imagine me as Steve, only it’s acid and it’s on my face.

“You’re absolutely fine,” says Miss Jenny. “This is not that bad. It’s not like you’re dying.”

“Are you sure?” I say. “Because it really feels like I might be dying.”

“She’s fine,” Miss Jenny tells the room at large as I break the spa’s no swearing rule.”She’s going to love how her skin looks.”

“I don’t get this,” says Meg, rushing to remove my peel with cold towels. “A chemical peel just doesn’t sound like anything you would want on your face no matter how well it works.”

“So call it a sugar peel or a fruit enzyme facial,” Miss Jenny advises. “Some of them are even made out of chocolate now.”

Most of my face turns red, “but you redden so easily,” Miss J sighs. (True that.) The burning does subside after about five minutes, and five minutes after that, I’m back to my normal color. My skin feels baby smooth. Ten minutes after that, it starts to feel tight and dry. Miss Jenny says we will all need to apply extra moisturizer before bed and again in the morning, “but the good news there is you won’t need to wash your face again because the peel works so well.” And I imagine, because any small amount of soap-like product would irritate the heck out of your skin.

You’re only allowed to have one peel per week, and Milady’s notes that “more than eight weekly peels in a row is not recommended,” though “a series of peels every three to four months is the typical recommendation.”

Miss Jenny likes to host peel parties, where a group of girlfriends will get together at somebody’s house and pay her $25 per peel. It’s a big discount over the $75 you’d pay at her spa, plus she brings wine and cheese.

“I worked for about three hours last Thursday night and made $270,” she says. “You girls are going to love peels.”


[Photo: Samantha post-chemical peel, via’s “Vanity Insanity,” which puts chemical peels in the same category as pinky toe removal (to facilitate more comfortable stiletto wearing). That sounds about right.]


Filed under Beauty Schooled, Chemical Peels, In Class, Ingredients, week 10

Pretty Price Check (01.15.10)

Pretty Price Check: Your Friday round-up of how much we paid for beauty last week.

  • 10: The number of plastic surgery operations that reality TV star Heidi Montag had in a single day, according to her “Addicted to Plastic Surgery” interview with People Magazine. Um, you think? (Via DoubleX.)
  • 20: The number of garbage bags full of sliced up unsold clothing spotted outside a Manhattan H&M store on a typical night. The store makes unsold merchandise unwearable before trashing them, to prevent them flooding thrift stores at even cheaper prices. (Via New York Times.)

PS. I don’t want to get all preachy and say “for the price of a lip gloss you can help save lives,” but, you know, you could do that. So just in case you haven’t donated yet and are looking for the right cause, The Nation has a comprehensive list of worthy organizations on the ground in Haiti who could use your help, plus a link where you can urge the White House to do more already.

And lest you think international tragedies aren’t on the beauty community’s radar, Teen Vogue beauty director Eva Chen is organizing a clothing drive, which is a nice way to help if extra cash (for lipstick or life saving) just isn’t in your budget right now. Let’s hope H&M gets that memo.

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Filed under Pretty Price Check

Try the Kool-Aid, It’s Delicious.

An excerpt from our packet on “People Skills:”


1% DIE







I mean, no pressure or anything.

That being said, I’ll admit that I’ve moved on from hair stylists when I felt like I’d lost their attention a bit, and figuring out how to tame my wavy hair was no longer their reason to get out of bed in the morning. Simon Scott says it’s a common problem: Stylists and estheticians give amazing service the first time they see a customer, meaning you walk out feeling like they’ve changed your life. The second time around, they do more or less exactly what made you so happy before — but you’re disappointed because you didn’t get that epiphany moment of “oh my God, why have I been straightening my hair all these years?” And by the third visit, you start to think you’re in a rut and it’s time to move on.

That scenario rings pretty true for me, and it’s making me wonder why we want our salon workers to treat our acne, our split ends, our callused feet like these admittedly mundane problems move them on some kind of spiritual level. On the one hand, it should elevate our respect for their work — these people are trained professionals, artists, heroes even, capable of working strange and powerful magic on your appearance that you could never hope to replicate on your own. Miss Jenny tells us all the time how great she feels when a client won’t shut up about how amazing his or her skin looks, post-treatment.

On the other hand, you’re asking a near-stranger to obsess over the clogged pores and hard-to-grow-out bangs that might keep you up at night, but the rest of us barely notice.

Also from the packet:







I get that this is a business and we’re in the service industry. I’m just wondering when customer service turned into the customer cult.

Thoughts, please: What do you expect in terms of service when you go to a salon? What makes you leave a hair stylist or esthetician and take your business somewhere else? Do you think our expectations about salon pampering have crossed the line? (Leading the witness there, I know — feel very free to argue the other side.)


Filed under Beauty Schooled, Career Opportunities, Customer Cult, In Class, week 9

Spas — the New Harems?

Hey, remember last week, when I was talking about the weird prostitute vibe that comes up when a female esthetician works on a male client? A new women-only spa is opening in Marrakesh, calling itself Harem. Here, a few tidbits from their press release:

The Harem is a sanctuary for women who yearn for – and appreciate – escapism at its most glorious and unapologetically indulgent and utterly free of self-consciousness.

This is a week of not having to make any wardrobe decisions – each guest is given a djellaba and babouches for the duration of their stay.

Clients are women of all ages who rarely have the time to really take care of themselves, and relish the experience, rather than feeling guilty for putting themselves first.  They are women, who come from various walks and stages of life, whether they have pursued a career, have finished their studies, have raised a family, with a household to run, and often all of these combined.  Some are recuperating from medical treatment.  One thing they all have in common, is that they appreciate luxury, understand how vital it is in this life of ours to be pampered, want to be reminded what it feels like to be feminine, are looking to rediscover their sensuality and are striving to define who they are and what it is they need in order to live a more balanced, fruitful and healthier life.

Another thing these women all have in common is at least 2,500 Euros (starting price for seven days of “pure luxury and utter indulgence,” plus a shared room) and a planet ticket to Morocco.

More to the point: Being mostly familiar with the colloquial understanding of “harem” as “pretty darn close to a brothel,” I did a little Googling for our edification. At its most basic, a harem is a Turkish/Arabic word meaning “forbidden space,” and refers to the women’s quarters in a Muslim household. The term dates from the Ottoman Empire, when the wives, concubines, and children of royal and noblemen lived together in harems. I’m sure there’s a feminist defense to be made of these “sacred female spaces,” but I’m having a hard time getting there since life in a harem seems to also involve following a lot of rules about when and how you’re allowed to go into public, sharing your husband with a bunch of other women, and having your daughters married off into other harems at oh, age 13.

At this shiny new Harem, Dutch founder Sandra Zwollo has committed to donating 80 percent of her net profits (after paying staff and expenses) to Dar Tifl, a local orphanage for girls. She’s even started a special fund “to help these girls furnish a small apartment with their basic needs thus providing them with a better chance of success in their careers.” You know, so they too can grow up to work in a harem.

Filing this one under “good intentions, sloppy on the dismount.”

(Thanks to Notes to Self for this gem.)

[Photo: “Egyptian women of the harem at the dressmaker,” 1900-1919, via George Eastman House on Flickr.]

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, For Extra Credit, week 9

Deconstructing Facials.

My 600-hour adventure in esthetics school. Read about the project or catch up with weeks 1-9.

I think we’re all getting itchy about facials. It feels like we’ve been doing them for 100 weeks (reality: about five) but we have to perform 75 before we graduate, so the empty pages in our blue books (where Miss Jenny signs off on each treatment) seem to mock us as we hurry through yet another cleanse-analyze-exfoliate-extract-massage-mask-tone-moisturize.

And the truth is, I’m extra impatient because I’ve always been sort of dismissive of facials. They just seemed like an absurdly expensive indulgence that didn’t really give you a whole lot of take-home results. I’m still having trouble seeing the much-touted results — after I had Repechage’s Hydra Medic facial last week, everyone raved about how clear my skin became, but as far as I can tell, the three papules and pustules (technical terms, yo) that were there before the facial are still there now.

Even so, I’m kind of giddy when Miss Jenny breaks out the box of Repechage Four Layer Facials. This is because the Four Layer is like the Cadillac of facials. Repechage founder Lydia Sarfati developed it about 30 years ago, and claims that it revolutionized the way we do facials because the four layers of seaweed masks are so much kinder and gentler than so many other facials, which leave you red and raw after as proof that they’re “working,” yet just as (more so? why not?) effective.

Spas pay about $20 per Four Layer in ingredients and charge anywhere from $80 to $150. So you pretty much have to know how to do one because it’s one of the biggest money makers on the spa menu.

Problem there is, they’re wicked hard.

So here’s how it’s supposed to go down: Up above, you can see the Repechage model version of the Four Layer. A seaweed serum, hydrating cream, seaweed mask and mineral mask are all layered on and left to set, and then, in box number five, we have the grand finale, when the mineral mask hardens into a thick shell and you can rock it off your client’s face in one magical piece. The seaweed mask rubberizes underneath, so you peel that off, slap on some more hydrating cream, and show your client their shiny new self.

Here’s how I did:

No, that’s not a pile of vomit. It’s my seaweed (green) and mineral (tan) masks, after I had to break them off Meg’s face. Not so much on the gently rocking and rolling them off. More like, both masks set before I finish applying them, and begin hardening into a lumpy mess all over poor Meg’s face while she focuses on deep breathing so the claustrophobia (that quite naturally ensues when your face is frozen by a granite-like pile of mineral gunk) doesn’t win.

“It’s your first time and this is a very hard facial,” says Miss Jenny sympathetically as she helps me pick pieces of seaweed mask out of Meg’s hair. The senior girls, who are all rocking their mineral masks off in one scary Halloween mask piece, nod. “I’ve broken a lot of mineral masks,” says Sue.”You’ll get it next time.”

And, anyway: “Meg’s skin looks fantastic now!” says Miss Jenny. “Just look how much better.”

I look and look and wish I can see what she sees.


Filed under Beauty Schooled, Facials, In Class

Are You Green, Glam and Gorgeous?

Are you 5’5″ or taller?

Between the ages of 18 and 26?

And — wait for it — “NEVER BEEN MARRIED, single, born female, NEVER given birth?”*

Congratulations, because you sound like a fine contestant for the Miss Earth Girls 2010 Pageant. All the pageant organizers need do is add “white and straight” to that list of criteria and we’ll have ourselves a party.

From the Guardian’s Environment Blog:

So, how exactly does a beauty pageant help to protect the environment? The organisers say that by “setting a legacy of beauty and responsibility, the candidates and the reigning beauty queen of Miss Earth uphold the preservation of our environment and continue to campaign for the protection of Mother Earth”. Hmmmm.

Apparently, my letter to the Environmental Movement That Hates Women got lost in the mail.


Are those the Rockettes? No they're environmental activists, silly.


*Capital letters are direct from Carousel Productions Inc’s eligibility requirements, not my sloppy writing.


Filed under Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Happenings