Category Archives: Facials

Check Your Own Pretty Price: What’s Your Beauty No-Fly Zone?

Retro Beauty Salon

Over on XOJane, Rachel McPadden says she will never get a pedicure because they completely creep her out.

What I don’t want is someone banished beneath me, scrubbing, dremel-ing and cursing my pompous American feet while I iPhone my pals and read up on celebrity babies. Although damn, I love celebrity babies and would die without my phone.

Ah yes. I feel her, because I wrote this story and it sorta changed my life. (See: This here blog.) But I still get pedicures. Um, a lot. Not to mention, I’ve now been on the business end of all sorts of undignified beauty work. And I don’t push for anyone to give up these beauty rituals — I mostly just want you to make more eye contact, be friendly, and tip really super well. Bonus if you’ve also put some thought into why you’re getting said beauty work and feel good about your choices.

Also, maybe don’t sit on your iPhone while they work on you. That is just bad manners. Would you sit on your iPhone at the dentist? That’s what I thought.

But it got me thinking about how there are a few beauty things that I will not do, the way Rachel will not do pedicures. And that’s cool. Here’s my list:

  • Facials. Because after ten months at Beauty U, I just don’t think they work. They are lovely for taking a nap while someone pets your face, but I don’t want to pay for that.
  • Hair dye. Because I did this whole fake blonde thing in college and I’m still not over it. Plus, carcinogens. 

Check Your Own Pretty Price: Are there any spa/salon services that you just won’t do? And if so, why not? Are you worried they’re too exploitative, uncomfortable with the beauty standard, freaked about chemicals or just cheap? We’re not judging. It’s just interesting. So go! 

[Photo: Typical Hungarian 05 by Huldero via Flickr.]


Filed under Beauty Labor, Check Your Own Pretty Price, Chemical Peels, Facials, Hair, Nails

[Tip Jar] In Which You Discuss Amongst Yourselves

There are a lot of Tip Jar stories that I haven’t told you, either because they seem kind of run of the mill (yet another European facial on yet another middle-aged lady for yet another $5 tip) or because I’m just not quite sure how to explain the encounter or what conclusion we can draw. I’m solving all these problems by giving you this (not at all chronological) list of some of the latest, with the salient facts, but not much else. It’s like Choose Your Own Adventure day, only you can Draw Your Own Conclusions instead.

  • Client Twelve: Is a middle-aged woman with red hair, who comes in for a European facial. I leave her to change and step back in a few minutes later. “Don’t be alarmed — I took my hair off!” she says cheerfully, now wearing the kind of black nylon head wrap I usually associated with a more shall we say urban aesthetic? Tips me $6. Comes back three weeks later for a salt scrub where she tips me $10.
  • Client Thirteen: Tells me she has MS when I ask if she has any health conditions that might contraindicate an eyebrow wax. We agree that’s not really relevant here and proceed. She’s very sweet and gushes over what I do to her brows; “They’ve never looked this great!” I like her a lot. No tip.
  • Client Fourteen: Comes in for a cellulite wrap and spends the whole time telling me about how she volunteers with her church and was called to adopt two children from Ethiopia. Plus she needs to lose weight. Is a size zero. Tips $10.
  • Client Fifteen: Is a very old and deaf man who has come in while his daughter gets a haircut. She asks me to trim his brows. They are crazy old man brows. I do my best. She tips me $3.
  • Client Sixteen: Is an Italian man who has come in for a haircut and wants his brows trimmed. He is very nervous that I not “make him look like girl.” I do my best. He doesn’t tip.
  • Client Seventeen: Turns out to be the daughter of Client Seven, how about that? And here I learn a lesson about assumptions, because while Seven painstakingly tipped me $3 for a heck of a lot of work, Seventeen tips $10 for a European Facial and eyebrow wax, and spends the whole night telling me about her yacht club membership, her son’s fancy private school, and how, when she goes on cruises, she packs her own booze in Listerine bottles so she doesn’t have to pay cruise ship bar prices. The next night, Seventeen comes back with Seven, who tells me all about her latest diet while I give her a European. This time I get $4.
  • Client Eighteen: Comes in with her daughter for European Facials. Are perfectly lovely and enthusiastic and tip Meg and I each $5. After we wave them off, Meg says, “Why can’t they all be like that?” And we go for doughnuts.

Oh and on the subject of tipping: A lot of you have asked me what’s considered an appropriate tip, from the esthetician’s perspective. I’m sure it varies place to place, but at Beauty U, we hope for 20 percent, so $5 on a $25 European Facial. If we get more ($10 tips are not unheard of!), we are completely jazzed. If we get less, we complain.

And if you have a coupon, or the service itself is discounted in some way, it is classy to still tip based off the regular price, especially if you’re in a setting where workers are really tip-dependent. At Beauty U, we don’t get paid anything else and in fact are paying gobs of money for the privilege of working on you. At many “discount” salons, workers are paid a pretty low day rate on the assumption that they’ll make it up in tips. I don’t think that’s happening.

Tip Jar Total: $138-ish. Which keeps me in Diet Coke and Mac Snack Wraps during break. And that’s about all.


Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, Body Treatments, Customer Cult, Facials, In Class, Tip Jar, Waxing, week 33

More Thoughts on Skin (This Time, with Cellulite!)

Thank you, wise readers. You made such good points yesterday. And it’s helping me refine my perspective on pimple popping (because, honestly, if you don’t have an informed and nuanced perspective on that, why do we let you vote?). And skin in general.

So here’s a quick and dirty summation of your very valid points: Sometimes we pop pimples for popping’s sake. This is a hygiene issue; who wants to walk around with a pore full of greasy gunk?And it’s just damn satisfying, like popping (kinda gross) bubble wrap. Or picking your nose. And, if you have a lot of painful acne, extracting that crap makes you feel better. Plus there definitely is a space in which women being comfortable examining the less pristine parts of their bodies (even if it’s with an “ew!” response) is a good thing.

So I am not saying that every time you pick at a spot on your face, you’re hating on yourself.

What I am saying is that it can go there. Because again, skin is the site of so much of our body-related angst. Not necessarily in an anatomically correct sense; if you hate your nose, it’s really the shape of your bones and cartilage that you dislike. But when you think of your nose, you think of the skin-covered version, not the bones. This is because skin is how we see our bodies. And that’s why we spend billions of dollars per year trying to make it tighter, softer, smoother, and in some cases, just go away all together.

And at Beauty U, I see skin hatred in action every single day. We look at scars caused by the kind of obsessive picking that goes well beyond hygiene. We see people take tweezers to their zits. We attack them with lancets, which are basically tiny knives and illegal to use for this purpose in many states including mine. And with the high-frequency machine, which uses a buzzing electric current to kill bacteria. Not to mention microdermabrasion, where we scrape at your skin with tiny rocks, or chemical peels, where we paint you with acid to make pimples dry up and other imperfections melt away.

That’s why I say this isn’t always skin care. A lot of the time, this is skin war.

Now for story time:

Besides pimples, Public Enemy #1 in the skin war is, without a doubt, cellulite. I’ve been in the trenches of this battle for the past few weeks because it’s summer now, which means people are planning to show a lot more skin, which means they’re highly anxious about all of their skin from the neck down.

I’ve written before about how much I like body treatments because I like that I can convey a little bit of body acceptance to clients through my touch. It’s a no I don’t have a problem massaging your stomach, stop sucking it in and just breathe already thing.

But now people are coming in for cellulite detox wraps, which is where we massage you for half an hour with a mysterious blend of essential oils, then wrap you bake potato style in the silver heated blankets until you sweat so much you start to shrink. To prove this shrinkage, we measure your arm, waist, hips and thighs before and after. We could be more exact — sometimes I forget the precise spot I measured in the beginning and worry that skews the results, if I pick a place on your thigh, for example, that is just naturally thinner than where I clocked your before measurement. But even accounting for that margin of error, I have seen people lose an inch or two. (No it’s not permanent. I suppose it’s what people call water weight, though I think that’s kind of a make-y up term. But think the kind of weight wrestlers drop when they work out in those crazy plastic suits right before a match.)

Even though the word cellulite is right there in the treatment’s title, I’m less convinced that our massage or your excessive sweating does anything for erasing or even improving the appearance of your thigh dimples. But that’s what people come in hoping to see, and the placebo effect is a powerful thing.

“I look so much more toned now!” says Client Ten, a tiny blond waitress (who tips me $11, because waitresses get tipping).

“That bloat is gone, thank God!” says Client Eleven, another tiny blond women who spends most of the wrap talking to me about her volunteer work at her church. And tips $9. (Cellulite wraps cost $47 at Beauty U.)

I’ve noticed that tiny people are often the ones who go for the wrap, maybe because losing just an inch doesn’t sound worth it if you’re bigger? And as much as we promote the wrap as relaxing and restorative and all that, it is one of our most hardcore services, so you have to be convinced that losing an inch is worth some suffering. You can’t move much under the heavy blankets. Plastic sticks to you everywhere because we wrap you in a plastic sheet (think big garbage bag) before we put the blankets on.

And you get really, really, really hot. Not ooh I’m in a sauna or a hot tub hot, this feels so good. More like, wow, I’m sitting in a pool of my own sweat while wrapped in garbage bags and it’s starting to smell that way.

Which at first, people crave. 10 minutes in, without fail, every client tells me they’re not sweating enough and maybe we need to turn the heat up because they really, really want this to work so they can lose an inch before their beach vacation/hot date/regular Tuesday activities. I tell them to sit tight, the heat is on all the way. And 15 minutes in, they start to feel it. And proceed to slowly lose their minds.

Some people enter a sort of trance-like state, halfway between awake and sleeping. Others talk to keep themselves going and I hear about medical problems, angry teenage children, unsupportive spouses, mothers who call too much or not enough. They share a lot in the cellulite wrap, and I can’t tell if it’s because lying there in the hot and the dark feels like some kind of confessional or because they’ve gotten so delirious they don’t know what they’re saying.

All I’m saying is, it’s a lot to endure in order to cinch some skin. But cellulite wrap disciples are devoted to it. Client Twelve comes rushing in, asking if we can cut the massage short and get right to the heat because she has to be at a wake by 7 pm. It turns out that her thirteen-year-old daughter’s friend just died in a car accident. Before you judge her (because the implications of keeping your cellulite wrap appointment on the day your daughter has to go see her friend in a funeral home are pretty bleak) let me explain that she just has to get the wrap done because she’s going on a girl’s weekend to the Jersey Shore but she also has to get to the wake because the girls’ weekend means she’s missing the funeral the next day.

Okay now you can judge her.

Actually don’t; she’s a very nice person and I think just caught so blindsided by the tragedy that she’s having trouble processing the idea that life needs to stop for a minute for something so horrible. There are times when we feel so out of control that I guess knowing you can at least take an inch off your hips before you have to get into a bikini is comforting.

Or something.

Meanwhile, Stephanie brings in her airbrush gun so we can practice spray tanning each other. Which I bring up because it is also about skin and cellulite too, since the primary reason for tanning is to make pasty, dimpled flesh look more toned. As estheticians, we’re supposed to be very anti-tanning yet very pro-attractive-skin, so you can see our dilemma and how the invention of the professional spray tan has really helped us out.

Except again, the results are often imagined. Stephanie sprays Meg while we all stand around saying things like, “it’s subtle but you’ve got a really nice glow!” and “it’s good it’s so light because I hate those orange tans.” Then Stephanie starts on me and Miss Stacy realizes we’ve been holding the gun all wrong. Suddenly brown spray shoots out and turns my legs a deep, toasty orange and we realized that Meg hadn’t gotten any color at all, except that which we wanted to see.

Long story short, spray tanning with an airbrush gun is very tricky and I ended up several patchy shades of orange and brown and my original fishbelly white and now look like I have a mild case of vitiligo. Plus it smells gross and you sneeze brown for the next day because you inhale so much crap.

But my cellulite is a lot less noticeable since it’s underneath all that brown paint.

And if you’ll let me conclude by officially beat this whole war metaphor to death: Maybe the biggest problem with Violence Towards Skin is that at least half the time, when we declare victory, nothing has actually changed.

Tip Jar Total: I’ve made a total of $30 in cellulite wrap tips so far, making it definitely one of the most lucrative Beauty U spa offerings, and bringing the grand tip total up for $90.


Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Body Treatments, Chemical Peels, Facials, In Class, Tanning, Tip Jar

Why It’s All About Skin. (Don’t Read This if You’re Squeamish, Part 2)

Salon’s David Marchese has an essay up today about our secret addiction to pimple popping which is worth reading, though I can also summarize it for you in one line: Squeezing your zits is gross, but everyone does it anyway — what’s that about?

So here’s a maybe not shocking answer: It’s because we don’t like our bodies. And more specifically, we don’t like our skin.

Because an awful lot of our body anxieties reside in the epidermis. After all, it’s not your kidneys, lungs, and other internal organs stacking up that make you feel fat, It’s how much skin you can see in the mirror. And whether it’s smooth, or lumpy, or skin you can lift using both hands because it’s got that kind of heft. Skin is also where all of our unwanted hair sprouts from. It’s where we agonize over wrinkles and other signs of aging.

And of course, it’s where our pimples brew. Here’s the best quote in Marchese’s piece:

“Pimple popping offers instant gratification,” seconds Laura Cooksey, who “pops pimples all day long” as an aesthetician* at the Face Reality acne clinic in San Leandro, Calif. “People find it pleasurable the way that having your legs waxed is pleasurable. It can be uncomfortable and sort of nasty — we’ve all been grossed out when the pus hits the mirror — but you’re doing something that can help you toward your goal of clearer skin.”

Yes. I’ve talked about the perverse pride we get from extracting before, but I had a bit of an epiphany when Cooksey compared it to waxing. Both of these skills are still so novel to us at Beauty U, that whenever someone comes in with a really big pimple, several of us will cluster round to watch Miss Stacy go to town on it. (We also watch the gross-out YouTube videos that Marchese references. Which I’m not linking to because, seriously? Don’t.) And when we’re waxing each other, there’s a lot of pausing to admire the evidence. I gave Brooke another Brazilian on Monday and every time she flinched, she’d say, “Wow that hurts! But did you get a lot of hair?” And I’d show her the pellon strip now coated with wrong-side-up hairs, freshly ripped from where the sun don’t shine, and we’d both be like, Damn, you can even see the root balls.

I’ve debated whether to view this as a weird kind of empowerment. We genuinely don’t get grossed out by the site of pimple pus or pubic hair anymore, and I’d like to think that’s a sign that we’re all becoming so sangfroid about the human body; sure, it’s hairy and sometimes oozes stuff, but that’s life.

Except. Our satisfaction is all about getting this stuff out. We want pimples and extraneous hair gone — annihilated!— so we can feel cleaner, smoother, and pretty. Which means our natural state isn’t pretty. It’s gross. And as estheticians, we’re the front line on fighting grossness. The only ones tough enough to face that pimple dead on and take it out in a surgical strike. It’s like the Jack Bauer school of skincare.

This is a pretty violent way of viewing the human body. Of course, that sounds extreme. And when we’re faced with the worst of it — the angry red scars of a recent face lift, for example — we might feel horrified and sad. But we don’t connect that extreme violence to the everyday abuse. Anyone who has ever agonized over acne in the mirror, extracting until you’re red and swollen, knows that violence is the answer. We love popping pimples because it’s a not totally crazy way to punish yourself for failing to meet your beauty criteria. For not loving the skin you’re in.

Now, when you choose to have these things dealt with professionally, you’re paying someone else to inflict that pain on the parts of yourself that you hate. I’m not sure what that says — about how you feel about yourself or how you look at them after. But Brooke did a Brazilian on a client last week who didn’t tip her and at first we were all shocked — who doesn’t tip the person willing to get elbow-deep in their junk? (You know, in a non-sexual/non-gynecological context.)

Then I remembered the shame.

That feeling of how fast can I get dressed and get out of here? that comes after a particularly rough bikini wax, or even a facial when the esthetician extracts so much you’re convinced your face is going to look like Swiss cheese. I understand not feeling entirely friendly towards the person who just beat up on you for an hour.

But you should tip. Because once you stop to think about it, the woman making $11 an hour to excavate your pores is not the person you’re mad at. It’s mostly you, what with all your skin.

*Yes she spells it aesthetician and I always spell it esthetician because that’s how the textbook spells it. I think the A is just for fanciness. We all do the same stuff.


Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Customer Cult, Facials, In Class, Waxing, week 30

[Tip Jar] Client Eight is Fine the Way She Is. So I Try to Sell her a $50 Facial.

Jill Glindermann, winner of the Sun Girl Quest at Suttons Beach, 1953

Client Eight is a shy 16-year-old girl with a small bit of acne around her hairline. (Hair products, people. Hair products.) I ask if she has any concerns about her skin and she immediately starts talking about her break-outs: “I hate them! They never go away! They look so bad!”

Under the magnifying lamp, they do look huge. (Because it’s a mag lamp. But sometimes I forget that. Like when I discover that what a client thinks are blackheads are actually hairs — this happens more often than you’d expect. Not to give you something to be paranoid about. Except I think I just did.)

Plus we’ve been getting the upselling talk. Yes again. If we don’t write down that we tried to upsell a service on the client’s form, then Miss Susan highlights that part of the form and passes it back to whichever teacher is listed at the top as our coach.

I’m not too clear on what “getting highlighted” really means, but Miss Stacey makes it abundantly clear that she does not want it to happen to her. So I suggest our fancy acne fighting facial. Eight asks the price (it’s $50) and then there is an awkward pause while she contemplates paying double what she was expecting.

“It’s totally up to you,” I say, beating a hasty retreat.”The European is also a great facial!” It’s really not. But I’m not about to take a kid’s babysitting money to dodge a yellow marker bullet.

Miss Stacey hears me mention the acne facial and swoops through the curtain to study Eight’s skin. “She definitely doesn’t need that facial,” she says. Miss Stacey is never one to mince words. “It will make her break out even more. Don’t do it.”

Humbled, I perform the regular European facial and make sure to give Nine lots of compliments about her pretty eyes and cute earrings. Because now I’m terrified that I’ve made her more insecure about her (TINY when not under a magnifying lamp! And no, you can’t see those blackhead hairs either in real life!) breakouts than she already was. Plus I’m the schmuck who tried to make money off a minor. With a treatment that would make her “problem” worse.


When I fill out my form, I write that I tried to upsell Eight to the acne fighting facial and she refused. And to be honest, I’m giving Miss Stacey big points for preventing me from upselling a useless (even harmful) service. (I’m subtracting a point for diplomacy, but that’s really between me and my ego.)

But it’s a tricky dance we’re doing.

Because I have to try to upsell something so we don’t get in trouble later. Except some clients don’t need anything more advanced (read: expensive) to solve their problem (read: insecurity). And suggesting something completely unrelated (“by the way, did you know we cut hair here?” or “hey, how about a mud wrap?”) is just transparently pushy.

“You have to write something,” says Miss Stacey, when I ask her about it later. “Otherwise we get highlighted.”

I think that might be code for a new way to use my favorite Beauty U rule: Make Stuff Up.

Tip: $7 (on the $25 European Facial. So I guess she doesn’t hate me.)

Tip Jar Total: $55

[Photo: “Jill Glindermann, winner of the Sun Girl Quest at Suttons Beach, 1953,” via Flickr because she looks like she’s liking what she sees in that mirror and because I am obsessed with old-time-y “bathing beauty” photos.]


Filed under Beauty Schooled, Facials, In Class, Tip Jar, week 27

The Man Facial. (Excuse Me: Skin Treatment.)

Photo of a man getting a facial

A quick but — I think you’ll agree — essential detour back to facials, because I just came across these gems in Milady’s Standard Fundamentals for Estheticians.

Let’s start on page 318:

Male clients can be better clients than women in some ways because they are willing to follow suggestions and want a basic, consistent routine. They tend to be loyal customers. Male clients represent 15 to 20 percent of business and this percentage is expected to grow.

Yup. Dudes are more loyal than us fickle, routine-eschewing ladies. Further down:

The challenge is to induce male clients to come to a salon or spa in the first place. Using the term skin treatment rather than facial is perhaps a better way to promote men’s services. One way to attract male clients is to offer special services designed just for them. Make them feel comfortable and tactfully assure them that it is normal for men to seek spa services and practice good skin care habits.

Translation: Calling your spa “This Won’t Make You Gay” will be good for business. (Never mind if you are gay. Milady’s has nothing to say about you.) Continuing over to page 319:

Be sure the products are basic and the routines simple. Men generally do not want highly fragranced, fluffy products. For example, lotions need to be light, without fragrance, highly absorbent and with a matte finish. Most men do not like the greasy feeling of some products.

Because as a female, I adore smelly, shiny, greasy skin care. (Not even sure what a “fluffy” face cream would entail and I am studying to be a professional.) So it’s important that we clarify this. Men are from Mars, remember? They want beauty products that don’t suck. And aren’t called beauty products.

They also like the soapiness and foaminess of soaps, so a foaming cleanser is a good choice. […When performing facials, keep in mind] Most men love steam and the brush machine. Even if a client’s skin is slightly sensitive, he will prefer the assertiveness of a brush and foamy cleanser. A firmer touch and deeper massage are also needed on male skin.

The brush machine, in case I’ve forgotten to explain that to you already, consists of a soft bristled brush hooked up to a motor. When you turn it on, the brush head spins. You rub it all over the client’s face (usually with some sort of scrub) to exfoliate off dead skin cells, and, in the case of your male clients, fulfill their S&M fantasies.

Here I’ve been spending all these months pondering how the beauty industry restricts/talks down to/degrades women (and also people of color) and I have to admit, for the most part, I’ve been completely ignoring the plight of the modern, foamy cleanser-loving, man. Sorry guys. Apparently, beauty is more equal opportunity than I thought, because we’re just as content to reduce you down to a Clueless Caveman in order to make a buck.

Except, as is so often the way, I’d argue that these marketing stereotypes about men also serve to further reinforce stereotypes about women. That we automatically get the need for skin care services by dint of our extra X chromosome. That we love “fluffy” products. That we’re fragile and can’t handle “a deeper massage.”

Oy. I’ll leave you with my absolute favorite line, perhaps in the entire Milady’s oeuvre. It’s so great, you might consider having it put on a t-shirt.

Tubes are more male-friendly than jars.

Of course they are.

[Photo of a man’s facial via Flickr.]


Filed under Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Facials, In Class, milady's, Muddling Through Milady's, week 22

[Tip Jar] Seven is Not About the Money.

Three Dollar Tip Photo

Seven is the first client that I have to worry I might kill.

She’s 70 and she’s never had a facial before. We ask every client to fill out a consultation form, letting us know any contraindications for their service, like blood pressure medication, asthma, diabetes, and so on. There are a whole slew of reasons why a spa service could be problematic with one of those things, but it usually boils down to either steam (makes them sick) or bleeding (more prone to it).

Seven checks practically every box. I lead her back to our curtained area and show her how the spa wrap works, and she starts undressing before I can even close the curtain. I don’t mind — old women in their bras don’t really faze me — but I feel instantly protective of her, because I’m worried she doesn’t realize the door is open and everyone out on the salon floor can peek in. When she gets the robe on, she looks at the bed doubtfully. “You want me to get in that?” she says.

I’m doing the Spa Voice, which is a kind of super smile-y, impersonal, hushed tone we all adopt when we’re talking to clients. “Absolutely, go on and get under the covers and I’ll be right in,” I call.

“This bed is kinda small,” she replies.

When I come in, she’s sitting on top of the covers. “Should I lie down?”

I decide it’s probably easier to just tuck her in, so I start to pull back the blanket and guide her legs underneath. They don’t move.

“Those are my second knees,” says Seven cheerfully. “They don’t work as well as the first pair.”

We get her settled and I dive in to the facial. Seven doesn’t quite understand the lie back and enjoy it part. “What’s this now?” she asks every time I touch her face. Then she tells me how, at her job, her boss brings his dog in even though she’s allergic. “So I’m always having trouble breathing,” she explains.

She sounds like she’s having trouble breathing now, but when I ask if the steam is too much, she says it feels good. Through the curtain we can hear Seven’s friend, who is receiving a body treatment from Meg, start to snore. That gives Seven more of the idea, and as I move into the massage, she falls asleep too. On the one hand, I’m relieved because it’s actually very hard to give a facial when somebody is talking — you can’t exactly “flow with your hands” as Miss Jenny would say, when their jaw is moving.

On the other hand, as she starts to snore, Seven also starts to wheeze. The kind of scary death rattle wheeze where the person sort of stops breathing, just for a second, just long enough for you to worry that something has gone very wrong.

But don’t you worry, she doesn’t die. Instead, she wakes up when I finish and begins laboriously pulling herself off the bed before I’ve even managed to slip out the curtain. Maybe once you’re 70 and have asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure and fake knees, privacy just isn’t so much of a concern. You’ve had to get used to doctors poking at you, so some esthetics student getting a peek is just more white noise.

As she leaves, Seven pulls open her big, black leather purse and painstakingly picks out three singles for me. I admit, I’m disappointed. She was a lot more work than the average facial, and tipped just a little over ten percent. It barely covers the McDonald’s Snack Wraps that Meg and I run to grab for our 8 pm dinner after we see them off.

On the other hand, I think price is the main draw for Beauty U’s clientele. And a senior citizen who still works part-time for a guy with a smelly dog probably needs affordable skin care. So I end up feeling good about this one. Very “it’s not about the money.” I make things up when I fill out her client form, claiming to have offered our fancy anti-aging facial even though I didn’t because I could tell this lady wouldn’t want to spend another $25 on a fancy facial and would have felt pressured if I pushed it. (This is quite contrary to Beauty U lore, by the way. “Never presuppose what your client can or can’t afford! If you make them want it, they will find a way!” screams the PowerPoint.)

So I’m feeling very Zen about the whole night, Snack Wrap notwithstanding. Except Meg’s client forgot to tip at all, so she pays for her dinner out of quarters she scrounged up from her couch.

Because it also is about the money. So there’s that.

[Photo via my iPhone.]


Filed under Beauty Schooled, Beauty U, Customer Cult, Facials, In Class, Tip Jar, week 22

[Tip Jar] Five and Six are Different Kinds of Difficult

Photo of ten dollar bill, folded up.

On Wednesdays, most of the students at Beauty U sit through their weekly dose of Scott’s Beauty Business Sense, except for a handful of seniors and those of us who abstained. In theory, that means Beauty U doesn’t take many clients on Wednesdays and us abstainers are supposed to work through the People Skills curriculum, where we learn the Make Stuff Up rule, and other fun facts.

Reality of course, can be quite different.

Client Five comes in for a European Facial while her acne-riddled teenage daughter gets our fancier acne-fighting facial from Sue. She’s funny and charming and asks a lot of questions about what products I think she should use, and what other services she might want to try. All in all, a breeze.

I walk her out and immediately jump into Client Six, who has been waiting impatiently for twenty minutes. (She thought her facial was scheduled for 7 PM, Beauty U marked her down for 7:15, and Five was five minutes late on top of that.) Miss Stacy rushes to set me up (grabbing products, refilling the steamer, etc) while I go out to smooth ruffled feathers. We’re told that it’s important to have clients fill out a consultation form at each visit, so we can know if they’ve added any medications, developed any allergies, or have any other issues that impact the way we do the facial. “But I filled that form out last time,” says Six. “Don’t you guys have a computer? Why do I have to do it all over again?”

Fair point. (We do have a computer, but students aren’t allowed to use it.) I smile and say not to worry about the form, then try to cover most of the same ground in casual conversation while she settles in. Very quickly I realize that unlike most of the clients I’ve worked on so far, Six is someone who doesn’t relax easily. When the steam starts unfurling over her face, she gets a coughing fit. When I apply the enzyme peel, she wants to know why it tingles so much. When I remove her mask with a hot towel and accidentally dab her in the eye, she sits up, pressing her palms into her eye sockets like I’ve blinded her.

It’s all a bit much. But it nets me a 20 percent tip ($5 on a $25 facial), and as I walk her out, Six asks if she can book me next time, all smiles.

It’s almost 8:30 PM and I haven’t had dinner yet, so I hop in my car and run over to Subway, wolfing down my sandwich with one hand as I drive back. (Ever since The Crackdown, Miss Stacy has been keeping a close eye on whether our breaks take longer than the allotted 15 minutes.)

When I get back to the classroom, I find Sue storming around.

“That bitch was on some meds or something!” she says as I come in. I think she must be talking about uptight Six, who was maybe rude to the receptionist or something on the way out. But no — it’s Client Five.

As Sue tells it: When she gave Five Jr, age 14, the acne-fighting facial, she also happened to mention that she also reps cosmetics and skin care products for one of those major brands of direct-marketing cosmetics, and they have a cleanser that might really clear up Five Jr.’s problem.  Five Jr. thought that sounded like a grand plan, and wrote down her email and cell phone number so Sue could follow-up later. Sue dispatched her to check-out and ran to have a cigarette. When she came back in, Five was waiting angrily at the receptionist’s desk, wanting to know where Sue gets off trying to “hack your products on my kid.”

On the one hand, I don’t blame Five for being annoyed that Sue took Five Jr.’s contact info without getting mom’s permission. And the fact that Sue mumbled “she should mind her own business” within earshot of Five sure didn’t help matters.

On the other hand, when Five asked me what products I recommended, she mentioned that she was eager to pick some out for her daughter, too. I even gave Sue a little pre-sell help, by showing Five the acne-fighting line we carry at Beauty U. Plus, a lot of Beauty U students rep for Avon, Mary Kay and other direct marketing companies, and there’s a kind of unspoken agreement between students and teachers that it’s okay  if they occasionally let that be known to the clients, as long as they also direct them to Beauty U’s own retail lines. (I have no idea if Mr. G is on board with that, though.)

But here’s what frustrates me about the whole situation: Instead of honing in on where Sue went wrong (taking a 14-year-old’s cell phone number without parental permission), Miss Stacy says she had to write Sue up because “the customer is always right.” Which pretty much makes Sue explode. “How can she be right if I didn’t do anything wrong?!” she yells, slamming out of the classroom into the spa, where the rest of us are now folding laundry and trying to pretend we’re not listening.

Miss Susan intervenes and Sue is sent home early, swearing like a sailor the whole time. “Now she’ll hate me,” says Miss Stacy. “But I did what I had to do.”

It bothers me that nobody tries to explain Sue’s mostly-honest mistake to her — to, you know, teach her how to become a better esthetician. Of course they can’t explain why Sue was in the wrong, because that would mean acknowledging that they’ve been wrong too, by letting these parking lot sales slide so often. So instead, they tell her off and write her up, which results in Sue (a 30-year-old mom who is training to be an esthetician so she can stop working as a bartender and not have to spend nights away from her nine-year-old, asthmatic son) behaving like an angsty teenager towards the parents who give her an unreasonably strict curfew.

And what makes me feel even weirder: After Sue leaves, Five pops back into the spa. She’s been here the whole time, waiting for her other daughter to finish up a hair appointment. “I didn’t forget about you!” she says brightly, tucking a ten-dollar bill into my apron pocket as if nothing ever happened. “Thank you so much, it was wonderful.”

I’m not sure if she means to tip so well (a $10 tip isn’t unheard of for the European — I think some clients over-tip because they know we don’t get paid at Beauty U and the facial is already so cheap) or if she deliberately gives me Sue’s tip as well as my own.

[Photo from my iPhone.]

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, Customer Cult, Facials, In Class, Tip Jar, week 21

[Tip Jar] Just Saying No to Peels with Client Four

Tip Jar: Where you get the back story on every tip I make at Beauty U.

five dollars photo

Now that there’s only one senior student left in Beauty U’s night program, all bets are officially off on that whole “juniors can’t work on clients until they finish book work” business. Per this helpful commenter, I ask Miss Stacy if the spa will just book less clients until we’re done with Milady’s (about four more weeks, people!) and she rolls her eyes. “You would think, but don’t count on it,” she says.

Cut to tonight: We’re supposed to be reading the chapter on waxing, but Sue is rushed off her feet with facials and waxing appointments. To make it fair, Miss Stacy sets up a rotation of us four juniors (Stephanie, Blanche, me, Meg) so we step out of the classroom in order and nobody ends up feeling like they’re missing the most. Our names are written up on the white board, and whenever we take a client, we’re supposed to erase ourselves from the top of the list and rewrite our names at the bottom.

So. Four* is a middle-aged Indian woman who has been coming to Beauty U for haircuts by the cosmetology students and just got referred over to the spa (way to upsell, Cos Girls). I give her the second facial she’s ever received in her life. I’ll be honest, she’s got some troubled skin. Breakouts and redness on her cheeks, dry patches around her nose, and a few dark spots that she absolutely hates. “What can I do to fix these?” she asks. “Should I try a glycolic peel?”

I pause. I hate glycolic peels. I also hate telling people — especially women of color like Four — that they should try to lighten their brown spots. So, stalling for time, I ask, “What are you using on your skin now?”

“Nothing,” says Four. “Just water and sometimes Vaseline if I feel dry.”

Bullet. Dodged.

“Okay, let’s start with the basics,” I say. “You should be using a cleanser, toner and moisturizer at home every day. Otherwise, no matter what we do here in the spa, your skin won’t sustain the results. I’d rather get you started on a good home care regimen than dive into one of our most intense treatments. You might find you don’t need to do anything that drastic.”

I mean, if Miss Jenny were still with us, I think she might have cried. This is a word-perfect Esthetician Speech. And Four eats it right up. We do the facial, and as we walk out, she asks me to show her the products she should buy for home use. I sell her a cleanser and a toner on the spot, and she would have bought a moisturizer too, except we’re out of stock. As she checks out, she asks, “Are you sure I can’t do glycolic?”

“Very sure,” I say. “But if you want to upgrade your next service, you might consider our anti-aging facial. It brightens and lifts and everyone loves it.”

She does consider. And books the anti-aging facial, which costs twice as much as the standard European facial. And tips me $5 (20% of her $25 fee). And leaves with a huge smile on her face.

On the one hand, I’m severely glad it was me giving Four her facial, because somebody else might well have signed her on up for the Battery Acid Deluxe Treatment. And when you don’t even wash your face at home, that’s kind of like scheduling a gastric bypass without trying the whole “eat less, move more” approach first.

On the other hand, I have no idea if the home care products will work for Four, or if the fancier anti-aging facial will give her any results. I don’t even know if she needs results, or if she should just work on making peace with the fact that her skin has a lot more shades of brown in it than some people.

I don’t feel good about playing into her insecurities. And I notice even though she smiles, she never quite looks me in the eye.

Current Tip Total = $25

*I’ve decided to dispense with changing names for all the clients and am just going to number them. Let me know if you hate it and I’ll go get a baby name book or something.


[Photo from over here, thank you random interweb.]


Filed under Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Chemical Peels, Facials, In Class, Tip Jar, week 19

[Tip Jar] Client #3 Likes Me; She Really Likes Me.

Photo of a ten dollar bill

I’ve decided to start a new blog category called “Tip Jar,” where we’ll track how much I make in tips working on clients at Beauty U. And because tips make up such a significant portion of the average salon worker’s income and because they are so entirely subjective and at the whim of the client, we’ll also spend some time exploring what went into each tip — or lack of tip, if/when that happens.

First, let’s get caught up to speed:

Client #1 = $5 on a $25 European Facial.

Client #2 = $5 on a $22 Hand & Foot Paraffin Dip. I actually performed this the same night that Miss Susan came in to tell us that the junior students aren’t allowed to work on real clients anymore. Samantha was waiting on a friend getting her hair styled by one of the cosmetology seniors and decided to pop into the spa for a little pampering in the meantime. The senior girls were already booked solid, so Miss Stacy drafted Meg and I to handle her. (Meg gave her a facial after I paraffined her up.)

So now, Client #3. Yes, the irony continues — despite the “crackdown,” us junior students have been called on to do services almost every night this week. Tonight it happens as I’m doing some last-minute cramming for our big Milady’s Chapter 4 anatomy test; Margo arrives with her friend Denise for a 7 PM facial. Denise has an appointment; Margo does not. But Beauty U has a “walk-ins welcome” policy, so the Powers That Be decide my test-taking can wait.

I like Margo right away because she compliments my shoes as we walk over from reception, which opens up a nice bit of girl bonding over spring flats. She’s a little chattier than Jody, though once we get going with the steam and massage, she drifts off to dreamland while I work. Which, I realize, I really don’t mind now. At first it felt strange to be responsible for someone else’s relaxation while you feel anything but relaxed yourself. But now that I’m getting into a better groove with my facials, I’ve started to enjoy the quiet rhythm of the thing. It creates a space for me to tune out my surroundings and think my own thoughts, just as the client is doing.

Maybe that sounds bad. There’s surely a school of thought that says I should be slavishly devoted to my client at all times, thinking about her every pore. But in this case, at least, it pays off. Margo slips me $10 as I walk her out — a 50 percent tip on her $20 facial! — and tells me that she feels “invigorated and relaxed at the same time.” And she books two more facials before she leaves.

I’m feeling so confident that I take a swing at upselling, telling Margo and Denise that they might consider trying a more expensive facial next time that everyone swears up down and sideways offers tremendous anti-aging benefits.

It’s a little awkward, because they’re chatting about where to go for dinner, and I have to sort of interject with a “I just wanted to mention, before you go…” And I wonder if they’re both thinking “Okay, here comes the sales pitch.” Which makes me feel bad. Margo and I have been bonding over shoes! Now I’m about to tell her to spend more than twice as much the next time she comes to Beauty U.

But we have to get a teacher to sign off on a form saying we tried to upsell something after every single client, so I persevere — and when I say “anti-aging,” they both perk right up.

“How much is that one?” Margo asks.

“Well, it’s $55 here,” I say. “Which is a lot more than the standard European, but I promise, once you get it, you won’t want to go back. The results are amazing. Also that’s still way cheaper than what you’d pay at a regular spa.”

I mean, I pretty much hate myself now.

“Okay, we’ll think about it!” says Denise. “Anti-aging. That’s just what we need!”

I can’t make myself push any harder. It’s just creepy. So I tell them to have a great night and head back to the classroom. There’s no time left for a break — it’s already almost 9 PM, and I have an hour-long anatomy test to take, plus laundry to finish and a facial station to clean.

But I’ve also got ten bucks in my apron pocket. So there’s that.

Current Tip Total: $20

[iPhone photo by me. Careful folding up on the Hamilton by Margo. By the way, all three of these tips came folded the exact same way; what is it about tipping that makes us want to make our money as little as possible?]


Filed under Beauty Schooled, Facials, In Class, Tip Jar, week 17