Reflecting on my 40 years in the industry

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Debbie Allen

It was 40 years ago this Autumn (September 1980) that I first embarked on my journey to becoming a Beauty Therapist. I started my career in this Industry when I enrolled on my 3-year full-time course at Thanet Technical College in Broadstairs.

The 3 years of study flew by. Much of the time I lived there during the week and shared a seafront flat with a fellow student. Living by the sea was a great adventure and I absolutely loved the training I received and learning about all the treatments.

My course covered all the treatments covered by today’s qualifications, level 2 (Beauty specialist) and level 3 in Beauty Therapy (Beauty therapist and cosmetologist), but also so much more. We studied Cosmetology in a science lab and made a whole range of diverse products from scratch. I also qualified as a wigmaker and found this a very therapeutic craft to sit and do, but sadly haven’t touched since leaving college. I did theatrical makeup as an additional course which was great fun.  Part of the training for the Beauty Therapist diploma included teaching exercise for our clients and nutrition to work alongside the Body electrical slimming and toning treatments.

It was expected back in the early 80s and beyond that everyone enrolled on at least a 2-year programme to cover all treatments for face and body, at that time we couldn’t opt-out of treatments we didn’t fancy doing and for that I’m very grateful because I found it very easy to gain employment in prestigious salons and I have always been busy as I offer so many treatment skills.

In the 80s and 90s, Epilation played a huge place in the market. This very precise method of hair removal needed a great deal of skill to get good results for the client. I had a large clientele, and this was (and still is in some salons) a very lucrative treatment to do especially with the many medical referrals I had. Lasers have taken over the market, but not all technicians have good training so sadly many clients don’t see the results they were promised.

Once I was qualified in 1983, I got a job straight away in a hair and Beauty salon owned by a French Beauty therapist who trained in Paris. She sent me on many different courses to learn about products and new treatments. She introduced me to honey waxing with strips. We had seen this at college but mostly used the old-fashioned Bees wax type hot wax, this was heated up in a huge wax pot with a filter one end. The used strips got placed in the filter to sieve out the hairs and be recycled to use again on the next client, yuk! I cannot actually believe now that anyone thought this was a good idea to re-use wax! Thankfully, my new boss was opposed to this idea, but it did take me a while to get the hang of strip wax as I found it a sticky mess at first. I honestly thought it would never catch on! How wrong was I? Now we have many soft waxes that can be removed with strips and for more sensitive areas of the body and the face, we have thankfully gone back to using hot wax made from far kinder ingredients and far more pliable than the original beeswax (and no we don’t recycle anymore).

Over the last 40 years, I have seen so many changes and large well-known product companies rebranding their products and equipment,  we now have so much competition in this field that the consumer has a huge choice and no longer always stay loyal to a brand. Many brands have taken original technology and rebranded it to sound different and more interesting to the client, yet the original technology remains largely the same.

This week I was training my level 3 students in facial Galvanic using both treatment methods of Desincrustation and Iontophoresis. Brilliant results are gained using this treatment as part of a facial. This is the technology behind Guinot’s Hydradermie, originally known in the 80s as Cathiodermie.

The same with microcurrent treatments otherwise known as a non-surgical facelift or by a brand name of Caci. This treatment has been around for decades and there are many different makes of machine, but again the science and technology in these machines is all very similar.

For employers taking on a new therapist, it was easier as they knew exactly what the qualifications covered, and what to expect a college leaver to be capable of, as all qualifications were uniform, nationally recognised and Ofqual regulated. Today it is not so simple.

With so much choice for the consumer now (our clients) it is hard to make an educated decision on what products are best to use and what treatments to choose. One size really does not fit all. Now we have the internet which gives us Facebook and Google and more, this has opened up a whole new avenue for our industry to be able to reach out to clients. It has brought about great changes and made it easier for clients to search for advice online, however, you don’t always get a real “expert” giving you information. A lot of online stuff can be just opinions from people who don’t actually have the background knowledge, training or expertise and experience.

In my long career history as a Beauty therapist and educator my key tips to becoming a good therapist are –

  • To always keep up to date with the latest products and trends without being side-tracked by gimmicks.
  • Success in this industry comes from offering a great service to our clients, always maintaining high standards of professionalism and having the best training and product ranges possible to suit your clients’ needs.

Quick courses undertaken by students with no background in Beauty Therapy do not produce great therapists and therefore do not give the clients a professional service. In the same way, gimmicky treatments are not for a professional therapist. For instance, who remembers fish pedicures all the rage a few years ago? This treatment horrified me on so many levels! Also, teeth whitening treatments done in salons by therapists not dentists, no.

A fully qualified therapist with an Ofqual regulated qualification will have the best grounding in their profession and be the most credible for both employers and clients. Examples of current awarding bodies for Beauty Therapy that have Ofqual regulated qualifications recognised on the government qualification framework are:- City & Guilds, VTCT, ITEC, BTEC and CIBTAC

Other courses from The Guild, Professional Beauty, ABT, CPD and FHT that offer their own diploma courses may be accredited but are not Ofqual regulated, there is a big difference. While these qualifications are not enough on their own, they are great for add on courses once you have already qualified.  For example, once you have already trained and gained experience in massage with a nationally recognised level 3 qualification, then adding on a short accredited course in Deep tissue massage or pregnancy massage is acceptable, but a diploma course in massage instead of holding a nationally recognised qualification is a waste of money.

With all my years of experience for me, this is the area where the Beauty Industry is falling down. Too many unregulated, so-called qualifications leading to poorly trained therapists wanting to gain employment only to find the course that looked so appealing online gave them a certificate that is not recognised in the industry. They then must pay again to retrain and gain the appropriate qualification.

Choosing a college to train at 40 years ago was so simple, you had fewer choices, and all were Ofqual regulated. The downside was most of us who wished to train back then had a long way to travel to college. More choice is a good thing and flexible training is definitely the way forward for adult returners, but we do need to regulate the industry to ensure all new therapists have adequate and appropriate training and ongoing support.

So, to mark my 40 years in this industry I had thought a party to celebrate would be good! But that is sadly not to be, Covid has marked my 40 years by making 2020 the most challenging year so far. Along with so many other industries, we have been hit extremely hard. We ended up having salons shut for 5 long months.

During this time though, many therapists chose to shine and show off their work on social media. They wrote blogs on skincare, did live videos on makeup, showcased amazing nail art designs. Others took to some online study to refresh their skills or update their knowledge of Anatomy and physiology.

I enjoyed doing some product and candle making videos to show my Aromatherapy students and they all made some amazing products. Having the time to be creative was an incredibly positive experience during what was a bleak time for many.

I am very glad to be back up and running again and lucky to be busy training so many lovely, dedicated students. While we are still in a pandemic, and with Covid restrictions in place, I intend during this next six month period to use my time wisely. While I am limited with travel and social activities my mind has no limits. I have enrolled myself on yet more training and look forward to studying something new. You are never too old to learn and education keeps our minds young.

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