Monthly Archives: February 2010

Pretty Price Check (02.26.10)

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

Photo of DKNY Pure Fragrance with Ugandan Vanilla

  • $60: What you’ll pay for 1.7 ounces of DKNY’s newest fragrance, Pure. Pretty By Nature notes that the bottle looks like a bottle of water (so pure, see?) and bills itself as containing pure (again!) Ugandan vanilla, because DKNY has partnered with CARE to support the women of Ugandan and raise awareness about global poverty. All fine and good except the press release doesn’t say how much of Pure profits are actually getting back to these poor Ugandan women. And the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database gives DKNY’s other perfumes a high hazard rating of 8 (out of 1o). All of which sort of undermines the purity test.

H&M Organic Body Lotion Photo

  • $5 and under is what H&M is charging for each product in its new Ecocert-guaranteed organic bodycare line. I’m liking that everything is paraben and phthalate free, and while at those prices, it’s safe to say we’re not saving any vanilla-scented Ugandan villages here either, at least they aren’t pretending to be anything more than better-for-you beauty products on a budget.
  • $1.3 million: How much California is fining Unilever, maker of Axe Body Spray because each container of Eau De Teen Boy emits levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that exceed the state’s safety regulations. Along with, you know, smelling like death. (Via Grist.)
  • 85 percent of models who walked in New York Fashion Week shows were white. Fewer than ten designers gave an opening or closing spot to a non-white model. (Via The Cut.)
  • $5400: The price tag on eyebrow transplants. Yes, eyebrow transplants. Apparently our eyelash obsession has spread north. (Via BellaSugar.)

[Photos via Pretty By Nature and BellaSugar.]

PS. Thanks to the very awesome women of Smith College’s Albright House, and CrazySexyLife for the blogroll love/mentions this week! (By the by, if I’m on your blogroll or you’ve mentioned BSP somewhere on the interwebs, and I haven’t thanked you/reciprocated in kind, do let me know at beautyschooled[at]gmail[dot]com. I’m mindful of manners that way.)

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Pretty Price Check, products, week 15

[Career Opportunities] Rock Stars and Role Models.

Molly Surno Nail Salon Photo

Melissa asks:*

Who are the beauty industry stars that the people in class aspire to be? Is Miss Jenny a role model? Are there big six-figure earners people look up to? Does anyone aspire to a Hollywood-style job as a celebrity or Fashion Week makeup artist? Is getting in with a brand–like being a MAC artist a big thing? Just curious about the aspirations/expectations.

There’s a lot of talk about the potential to earn six figures, but I have yet to meet anyone who graduated from Beauty U and is doing that. A few weeks ago, Mr. G gathered us all in one of the classrooms to show us pictures of a former student with a big rock star because she cuts his hair now (sorry, I’m being coy to help with the whole protecting my sources thing —  by which I mean the student, not the rock star!). She had emailed them over to let him know how well she is doing out in LA and he couldn’t wait to tell us about it. “This is a Beauty U graduate!” He kept saying. “This could be any one of you!”

“Do you know how she got that job?” one of the cosmetology students wanted to know. “Like, what she did after she left here to end up working for Mr. Rock Star?”

“I do not,” said Mr. G. “I’m guessing she went to New York City to get some more training and then I think she ended up moving to California for family reasons. So I don’t really know the whole story. But she started here, just like you.”

I mean, there is every chance that this former student is actually Mr. Rock Star’s niece or something. Suffice to say, her Beauty U. degree isn’t what landed him in her salon chair. It seemed like the current student population was pretty evenly divided between finding her story totally inspirational (a lot of the hair students talk about migrating to NYC for apprenticeships or additional training at big salons like Bumble & Bumble) or more of a fairytale that didn’t have much bearing on their lives.

What’s been making me a little sad is the fact that the ratio keeps skewing more towards the what-a-fairytale end of things the longer I spend in beauty school. Miss Jenny, Miss Lisa and the other teachers are absolutely role models, but more for their knowledge and talent than for their financial success, especially since Miss Jenny let slip that she’s earning “way less than $20 an hour” working at Beauty U. But when we started, several of my classmates were pumped up about the idea of being makeup artists, working on photo shoots for magazines, or at the very least, doing bridal makeup freelance or for a big spa in our area. At the midpoint, they’re talking more about working for a dermatologist or plastic surgeon. This is because the work feels more meaningful there and because you’re more likely to get health insurance.

And when I talk to the senior students who are graduating in the next month or so, even that ship has sailed. Sue started by applying to dermatologists’ offices, but no one seems to be hiring and those that are require extra training on top of your basic 600 hour Beauty U degree. So she’s selling Mary Kay cosmetics instead, hosting parties, moving $500 worth of products at a time, and bringing their promotional materials and samples in for all of us to try and buy. Her Mary Kay sales director drives the silver Chevy (which has replaced the pink Caddy, FYI) and makes a “good corporate income,” all the while being a stay at home mom to her kids. That’s living the dream.

So while facialist-to-the-stars is a nice fantasy, a ticket out of the lower middle class is more of what we’re aspiring to these days. Everyone worships brow guru Anastasia Soare, for example, but nobody seems all that connected to the notion that they could personally become the next Anastasia, with a celeb-studded client list and products in every Sephora.

I guess reality is setting in. I just hope it’s still worth $8500 in tuition payments or loans.

[Photo from the ever-amazing Molly Surno‘s Smallest Canvas project.]

*Do you have any burning questions about Beauty U, behind the scenes? Hit me in the comments, email beautyschooledproject [at] gmail [dot] com, or find me over at, which seems to be what all the cool kids are doing now.


Filed under Beauty Schooled, Career Opportunities, In Class, week 15

[Government Watch] On the Matters of Tanning and Toxins.

I admit to being fully impatient with anyone who thinks a tax on tanning salons is a bad idea. Of course, thus far, that group is mainly limited to tanning salon owners (shock) who feel their “one little industry” is getting stuck with the country’s entire health care reform tab (via Jezebel). What’s more surprising: The fact that they aren’t getting much support from the rest of the beauty industry on this one. Before embarking on this here project, I tended to think of the beauty industry as one big, pretty battleship. But it’s actually made up of several different and sometimes warring factions, and tanning salons are to estheticians kind of the way reality TV stars are to um… the cast of Gossip Girl. By which I mean, they’re both guilty pleasures, but at least Leighton and Blake and the rest have to try to act.

“A big part of our job is to promote good health,” says Miss Jenny. “I think it’s irresponsible for any esthetician to go to a tanning salon or even tan regularly during the summer.” She’s not against a healthy “I spend time outdoors” glow, mind you, but you best be wearing and reapplying your SPF all day long.

And the tanning industry is hopping mad about the way the rest of the beauty industrial complex is treating them, because twist! The new 10 percent tanning tax really came about as a replacement for the 5 percent tax on Botox and other cosmetic surgical procedures, which was soundly squashed by the beauty industry and feminists alike. I’m still working through how I feel about that one. Claiming it’s discrimination to tax Botox when women need it to compete in today’s tough job market? Issuing statements about access to expensive, elective surgeries when so many Americans don’t have access to health care at all? Are we really doing that, NOW? And yet! There’s that pesky issue of abortions and birth control not getting covered, while male vanity drugs like Viagra slipped through the cracks.

So I guess you can’t blame the tanning industry for being cranky with Big(ger) Beauty. From StyleList:

Vice President of the International Smart Tan Alliance Joe Levy told NBC Philadelphia: “In creating the bill Rep. Maloney and Dent [the Congresswoman and Congressman who started the bill] have been duped by the cosmetics industry, chosen to ignore the latest research of UV light and have sided with cosmetic companies who seek to keep all of America out of the sun and covered with sunscreen.”

Duping you into preventing cancer? By telling you to wear sunscreen?! Yup, that sounds like the cosmetics industry all right. Oh wait, except it doesn’t, since potential carcinogens are among most cosmetic manufacturers’ very most favorite product ingredients. And extra sales tax on those wouldn’t do us much good, since beauty brands aren’t required to tell you when they’re using toxic ingredients.

At least for now: Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) is calling for an overhaul of our federal toxic chemical law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The current TSCA doesn’t require any manufacturers to disclose dangerous ingredients or do any pre-market safety testing on chemicals before they stick them in all the consumer goods (makeup included) that you bring into your house and put on your body every darn day. If you think greater scrutiny sounds like a good idea, go here to email your senator on behalf of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Campaign, a coalition of non-profits and advocacy groups working to get a new bill passed.

It’ll be an uphill battle against Big Beauty and all its industry friends (cleaning products? furniture? food? Check, check and check), so do spread the word. And let’s hope that grouchy tanning salon owners don’t hog all the media’s attention when it comes to stories on just exactly who the beauty industry is throwing under the bus.

What do you think? Does a tanning tax make sense? Would you like to see more regulation on which chemicals are allowed in consumer goods? Do tell.

[Photo: Tanning Beds For Sale Online. Good to know.]


Filed under Beauty Schooled, Government Watch, Happenings, Ingredients, products, Tanning, week 15

Would You Like Your Breasts Included in This Service?

So are you guys sick of facials yet? I’ll admit, I am — and I still have 59 more to do before I graduate. But this week, we’re taking a hiatus from cleanse-exfoliate-massage-mask-tone-moisturize to learn about body treatments. Which means: “Shave, moisturize, do whatever you need to do,” Miss Stacy told us, as we were leaving last week. “Because it’s time to get naked!”

We’ve already learned the (not naked) paraffin hand and foot dips, so next up on the body treatment list are Dead Sea Salt Body Scrubs, Herbal Body Wraps, Seaweed and Mud Body Wraps, Sugar Scrubs, and the Detox Inch-Loss Wrap. In all of these, your client strips down to a disposable thong (or sometimes an old bikini). Your job is to massage her from top to toe with the scrub or wrap her whole body up in product-soaked elastic bands (they look like huge Ace bandages). Then you wrap her again with heated blankets or shiny Mylar sheets (above) and leave her to cook like a giant baked potato.

So tonight, Miss Jenny jumps right in to the deep end. “It’s time to get over our shyness, girls,” she says. “Your breasts are a part of your body. Your buttocks are a part of your body. Why shouldn’t they receive the same treatment as the rest of you?”

We steer clear of nipples and plumbers’ cracks, but we’re going to learn to apply the scrub or massage cream using a circular motion all around the outside of the breasts and haunches. Of course, some clients are shy and don’t want this much hands on action. So we do first need to ask, “Would you like your  breasts included in this service?”

If the answer is no, we provide them with a disposable bra, or at the very least, use a strategically placed hand towel. Even if we are including it all, we’re going to learn to discretely avert our eyes when we remove the towel to attend to these parts, and quickly re-drape afterwards. That helps to underscore that you’re not getting that kind of body treatment.

“But I encourage, or at least, do not discourage, my clients to have everything included for best results,” says Miss Jenny. “You have to remember that it is just a body and breasts are a perfectly normal part of that.”

So somebody, clock it: It took 77 posts, but I think we finally have a totally body positive message being imparted by the beauty industry! Your breasts and butt are part of your body. Be proud of what you’ve got. (And um, treat them to a nice $75 salt scrub… okay, but A for effort.)

Anyone here a big fan of body treatments? And do you choose to have your more personal areas included, or does it freak you out to show your esthetician that much skin?

[Photo via Totally You.]


Filed under Beauty Schooled, Body Treatments, In Class, week 15

My First Real Client.

Last week, when I was finishing up my Three Months Down report, commenter Kate Ashford asked:

I have a question: How does the working-on-not-fellow-students clients thing work? Do people know you’re students? Do they get a discount? Does the beauty school have a spa that customers use, with the knowledge that they might be peeled and spackled by beauty students in training? And how are you feeling about working on real people? (Not that students aren’t real people, of course.) But it’ll be pretty different, no?

The answer: Pretty damn different, indeed.

First, the facts:

At Beauty U, we spend the first twenty-odd weeks dividing our time between book learnin’ (the beloved Milady’s Standard Fundamentals for Estheticians) and practicing what we’ve learned by working on each other. Once we finish every chapter in the textbook, we graduate to “senior student” status and are eligible to work on any client who walks in the door.

From the outside, Beauty U looks like any other strip mall salon. The main room has all the chairs, mirrors and sinks-with-chairs set up for the hair dressers and behind that is the spa, with all of our facial beds and the waxing station. Whenever we do book work, we shuttle off to a couple of small, windowless classrooms at the back. When we’re doing the hands-on stuff, we work on each other out in the spa, right alongside the senior students working on regular clients. So those folks know they’re coming to a beauty school and will have their facials, hair cuts and other treatments performed by “senior students under the supervision of an instructor.” That’s actually the draw because our services are much cheaper than average salon or spa prices. Think $25 for a facial that would run you $60-80 anywhere else. And we’re always running specials; right now I’ve got a stack of coupons that will entitle you to a free European facial and 25 percent off our retail products.

Now, I’ve still got about two months to go before my class finishes our Milady’s time and is deemed real-client-ready.

But tonight, three of the four senior students are out with the flu.

Only Becky made it in and here we are, with two real people clients, a body treatment and a microdermabrasion facial, scheduled for the same time. Miss Jenny and Miss Stacy look at each other in horror. They can’t work on clients at Beauty U because, as Miss Jenny says, “we don’t perform services for these kinds of prices anymore.” (Plus, she has to teach the class, which she can’t do if she’s behind a curtain giving a facial.) Becky obviously can’t perform a body treatment and a microdermabrasion facial simultaneously.

And so, before I know what is happening, I find myself up and off the bench.

“Is she ready?” says Miss Stacy. “She hasn’t even learned micro yet.”

“She’ll be ready.” Miss Jenny is sure. She squares off with me, and it’s like Coach Taylor bringing in the rookie for the final touchdown. (Everyone here watches Friday Night Lights, right? Okay then.) “You’re ready to do a facial, aren’t you? You’re not afraid to work on a real client, right? Well okay, get in there.”

I scrub up and plug in the steamer while Miss Jenny heads out to explain to the client in question that she can’t have microdermabrasion tonight because nobody qualified to do it is available, but I can give her the best damn European facial she’s ever had and it’s $15 cheaper anyway. My client, Jody, is apparently happy with that, so a minute later, Becky and I are walking across the salon floor to pick up Jody and her friend Betty from reception.

They’re Beauty U regulars, middle-aged soccer moms out for a girlfriends facial & body treatment night, on a budget.

I’m nervous, obviously, though it’s not the facial itself that’s freaking me out. It’s all the logistics around it that suddenly seem so awkward, even though we’ve been running drills for weeks and, after all, I’ve been on the other side of the spa chair plenty of times myself. I lead Jody into my curtained-off area in the spa and tell her to go ahead and change into the spa robe and then get into bed. And when I say “get into bed,” I have to try very hard not to giggle, because dude, I just told this strange lady to take her clothes off and get into bed.

I mean, of course I did, and she obviously knows that’s what she’s going to do, but still.

So I go hover outside while Jody changes, and Miss Jenny rushes over for a little coaching. “Her skin looks pretty sensitive; micro wouldn’t have been good for her anyway,” she whispers. “You can try upselling her to a Vita-Cure facial, maybe — oh wait, you haven’t done that yet — or how about a paraffin hand dip?”

I peer through the crack between the curtains and see Jody standing in her striped Hanes underwear, still folding up her clothes. I bolt back like I’ve been shot and return to pacing nervously around the spa door — I swear, I did not mean to spy on her, but how else am I supposed to tell if she’s ready for me?

Of course after that, I wait too long and by the time I poke my head back in, Jody has tucked herself in the facial bed and is clearly wondering if I’ve died. So I overcompensate with chatter as I give her face a quick cleanse and examine it under the creaky magnifying lamp. Does she have any concerns with her skin? What products does she use at home?

Jody keeps her responses short (“no” and the name of a skin care line I’ve never heard of) and that “I’m here to relax, please don’t talk to me” cue is one I can read right, so I shut up, forgetting that I’m supposed to use that info, however flimsy, to plot what products to try to sell her later.

Once I’ve got the steam going, we both start to relax — Milady’s claims steam is good for your skin because it hydrates and melts sebum clogging your pores. But I’m just as convinced we use steam during professional facials to make them seem more professional. Even as I’m painting exfoliator under Jody’s nose and massaging her shoulders, the thick cloud of steam between us feels like an important barrier, giving her permission to stop thinking about me sitting at her head.

I get in my groove after that, so when she speaks suddenly as I’m applying her mask (to say “that smells good”), I jump. And check the time — facials are supposed to take an hour, but I realize I’m not clear on whether that’s an hour plus time for them to change before and after, or an hour total, and anyway, I can no longer remember what time I started, or how many minutes the mask is supposed to stay on.

Meanwhile, Miss Jenny pops her head in every so often, to check my technique. Since Jody has sensitive skin, she’s anxious that I not let her steam too long or extract with too much vigor. But I can tell she’s also proud — the first of her students, working on her first client! It’s sort of stage mom-ish, but sweet.

And then I’ve got Jody toned and moisturized, and it’s over almost before it began. I slip out so she can dressed (pulling the curtain more tightly behind me this time) and collapse into a chair next to Miss Stacy to ponder the client consultation form. I don’t have anything to write next to “What did you upsell?” and “Products recommended,” so I leave everything blank and just scribble my name at the bottom.”Eh, worry about that stuff next time,” says Miss Stacy, as she signs off for me.

Every Monday at roll call, Miss Susan announces the prior week’s top upseller and top product mover. I won’t be getting any such gold stars, but I don’t care. I wave Jody out and ten minutes later, Miss Stacy wanders back from reception with five folded singles for me. A 20 percent tip and Jody’s  face didn’t fall off or turn red.

I’m calling this one a win.

[Photo: I already spent my actual five dollars, so this is “Five Dollar Note [macro]” by thefixer via Flickr.]


Filed under Beauty Schooled, Customer Cult, Facials, In Class, week 15

Pretty Price Check (02.19.10)

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

  • $55-58: How much you’ll pay for the new Spanx for Men undergarments line. Dudes, read Broadsheet’s helpful tips on navigating shapewear before you buy, so the extra ten minutes you’ll need getting them off to go to the bathroom don’t take you by surprise.
  • 175,000 New Yorkers are employed in the fashion industry, making clothes and selling them in stores. Bet most of them make a lot less than the 50 deemed “most fascinating” by the New York Daily News. Breaking news — Anna Wintour at #1. Are we still fascinated by her, or can we admit to phoning it in yet?
  • 4: The dress size of model Coco Rocha, who is out of runway work this season because the designers claim she can’t fit into their clothes. But kudos to DoubleX’s Jessica Grose for pointing out that Tyra’s so-called success stories aside, the exploitation of models goes way beyond the weight debate.
  • 25 pounds lost in eight weeks is how fast Playmate Kendra Wilkinson claims to have reclaimed her body (without dieting, duh!) post-pregnancy, for this entirely unrealistic OK! Magazine cover. As my new-mom-friend K. puts it, “This kind of crap makes postpartum women feel like dog poo.”

[Photo via Jezebel.]

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Pretty Price Check, week 14

Selling On Up. And Making It Up as You Go.

Here’s the secret to have a successful salon or spa in one word:


Our goal, as soon as you walk in the door, is to convince you that hey, actually, a more expensive facial would be more beneficial for your skin than the bog-standard European facial you signed up for, or that in fact, you’ll extend the benefits of the facial much longer if you buy a bunch of products for home use, too. And by the by, did you know we also do hair and nails here?

At Beauty U, we’re getting ready to work on real, live clients soon, and learning to fill out a form for every customer where we have to write which treatments we suggest as an upsale, whether they decided to go for it, and which home products we recommend. The part that creeps me out is that we’re then supposed to hand this form to the client at the end of the service. They bring up to the receptionist so she knows what to charge them — which means the client can idly flip it over and see the back where the word “upsell” is printed right there in black and white.

Now I don’t know about you, but if I were the customer and I saw that word on my receipt, it would pretty much make me want to down-sell and never buy anything from that salon ever again.

I first learned about upselling when I worked in retail during high school and college, so it’s not like the beauty industry invented this term. (I worked at a book store and we were encouraged to persuade customers to add on a cute bookmark at the cash register, or maybe consider grabbing a favorite author’s latest in paperback along with the hardcover.) But while I get the bottom-line-business of it, I still feel like it’s nice to protect the customer, just a little bit, from the dollar signs in our eyes. Especially because we’re taught over and over at Beauty U that selling products and services is our responsibility as estheticians — our moral imperative, in fact, because customers need our help. They’re presenting us with “problems” (frizzy hair, acne, age spots) and asking us for “solutions.” And that means giving “tips” on how to take better care of their skin and hair. Every good tip should include a piece of advice about “what to do,” and a piece of advice about “what to use.”

“I hate the idea of upselling because I feel like it makes customers uncomfortable,” says Meg, as we read aloud from tonight’s PowerPoint lecture on making sales. “What if they can’t afford to buy a bunch of products?”

The PowerPoint has an answer for that: “Customers thinking they can’t afford it is the number one reason they’ll give you to avoid buying something,” it explains confidently.

And then: “Customers who think that are delirious.”

This is because customers don’t understand that salon products really cost them less, because the ingredients are more concentrated, meaning you can use less and the bottle will last longer than the drugstore crap you usually buy. (Anyone who has ever bought a salon bottle of hair conditioner knows this is a tremendous lie.)

But whether that’s actually true is irrelevant, as we learn on the next slide, which explains that if we’re not sure what a product really does, we should feel free to follow the MSU rule.

MSU stands for “Make Stuff Up.”

As the PowerPoint explains, “If [the customer] wants softness, your product gives them softness.” Personal testimonies are also strong selling tools, so we’re encouraged to tell customers that any given product we’d like to sell is what we use ourselves. (Again, what we actually use being fully beside the point.)

Now, before you all get in a lather, let me state for the record that Miss Jenny is horrified as I read off this slide. It’s her first time teaching this Business Skills unit, and she wasn’t expecting this kind of advice. “Are they kidding me?” she asks, flipping back and forth through the PowerPoint lecture to see if the MSU rule is some kind of Beauty U practical joke. “You can try that tactic maybe once, but if you make a sale that way, it will be the last time you ever sell to that customer.”

But there it is, in black and white on the screen in front of us. So much for the customer cult I was worrying about last month. Apparently at Beauty U, the customer is always right — but also, as far as we’re concerned, kind of a moron.

[Photo: “Stylist Chair So Chic Salon Dream Dazzlers Play Set,” $74.98 via Amazon. Because “now you’re the stylist with your own stylist chair!”]


Filed under Beauty Schooled, Career Opportunities, Customer Cult, In Class, week 14