Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

The Realities of Being an Esthetician April 2, 2014

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I’ve written different posts about being an esthetician before, but frankly I never posted anything downright negative about the realities of being an esthetician.  I don’t want this post to be negative; I want this post to be real. I got thinking about this post since a few weeks ago when a friend of mine asked me via Facebook why I became an esthetician and if I thought it would be a good profession for her to perhaps consider.  The last week I received the following blog update from celebrity esthetician Renee Rouleau about being an esthetician, and then today I read this.

The “about” section of my blog already explains why I became an esthetician so I won’t go over all of that again here.  Instead I want to focus on the realities of being an esthetician – both the good and the bad.  Let’s start with the not so great things about being an esthetician.  You finish esthetics school excited to start working. You can’t wait to help people feel great about themselves by improving their skin or teaching them how to properly apply make-up or make them feel good by removing unwanted body hair and then reality hits. It can be very hard to find a job after finishing esthetics school since you have no experience and everyone wants to hire someone with experience.  Additionally, finding the right job for you as an esthetician well that is something that sometimes feels impossible.  Simply put – this isn’t an easy profession to break into and it isn’t an easy profession to succeed in.  Estheticians have to be ready to work nights and weekends, to put up with jobs that only pay you per service and have no benefits, to feel pressure to sell products to clients even if you don’t think they need products or they can’t afford them because if you don’t sell what is considered enough product you get harassed by your manager, and to even, in some cases, have the cost of the products you use during treatments deducted from the pay you receive for the service you  just performed.  These are all standard employment practices for estheticians.  So instead you think it would be better to work for yourself – great, right? Where are your clients going to come from?  Are you good at marketing?  Do you have the budget to properly market yourself and to buy all the products and equipment you need to work independently?  And you are still working nights and weekends even when you are self-employed.  And did I mention that you won’t be getting rich being an esthetician?  This isn’t a very high paying profession for the most part (the celebrity esthetician you see quoted in magazines are few in number).   And are you ready for no-show clients?  Late clients?  Rude clients?  Let’s be frank – being an esthetician means being part of an industry that requires hard work, long hours, and paying your dues.  There really isn’t any overnight success to becoming a successful esthetician.  If you want to succeed in this profession you have to love it and put up with a lot in the process.

I had a number of teachers at esthetics school and each of them was very different from the other.  Despite their differences one of the things I appreciated about each of my teachers was their honesty about what it was really like to work as an esthetician since all my teachers worked and taught.  One teacher in particularly was a bit of a “Debbie Downer” when it came to the realities of working at a day spa, but in retrospect her honesty, though brutal at times, was helpful.  For instance I still haven’t forgotten how she told us how much she hated doing facials for pregnant women (when an esthetician has a pregnant client we always lift the head of the bed up so the client is pretty much sitting instead of lying and then you end up doing most of the facial while standing) because of how tiring it was for her stand during an entire facial.  Because of my teachers’ honesty I finished esthetics school knowing that working as an esthetician wasn’t going to be a bed of roses and believe me that is what I found out.  As a matter of fact the worst job I ever had, hands down, was one esthetician job that I had not so long after finishing esthetics school.  I’m about to turn 39 and I’ve been working since I was 16, and have held a lot of jobs in many work environments in two different countries, so believe me when I say that if that job was the worst one I’ve ever had it really was.

I mentioned Renee Rouleau’s blog post, My Tips For Having a Successful Career As An Esthetician on the mark, others irked me greatly.  Some of the good things from her post include the following:

What tips do you have for a new esthetician right out of school?

It is a fact that a large percentage of people who go through the effort and investment of attending and graduating from esthetics school will never end up practicing esthetics or will do so for a short time. I believe this is because they could not find a job or if they did, the job was not the right fit for them. My advice is to explore every option for employment, but be sure to only apply for a position that best suits your style and personality.

This is very true.  Also a lot of esthetics students give up on an esthetics career after school because full-time, well-paying employment as an esthetician is very hard to come by, and they simply cannot support themselves and/or their families working only as an esthetician.

Some of things I don’t entirely agree with from the post:

What jobs are out there for estheticians?

What I love about being an esthetician is that there are many options for places of employment. There are day spas, hair salons that have a skin treatment room (this is where I got my start), skin care spas (like the two I have in Dallas), hotel spas, cruise line spas, medical spas, department store spas associated with a skin care line and resort spas. If you prefer not to be a service provider, there are still many options. You can become a representative for a skin care line that is sold to department stores, medical offices, or spas so you would provide education and training classes to your various accounts, as well as work at trade shows. You can work in a retail environment selling a line at the department store counter (they LOVE hiring estheticians) or other beauty retailers. You can also become an independent contractor and be on-call to work at various spas or even be a freelance esthetician. It is also possible to become an educator and work as a teacher at your local esthetics school. Another option is to become an entrepreneur and develop your own skin care line.

All of the above are valid career paths for estheticians but take the time to think about those jobs.  They are not, by any stretch of the imagination, easy job options.  Being an independent contractor or a freelance esthetician usually means uncertain hours which means uncertain pay and of course no benefits or job security.  How many people can live like that?  If you have a family there is just no way you can support your children with a job like that.  Becoming a skincare line rep is good for someone who is great at sales and doesn’t want to spend their days in the same place, but once again this is a difficult job were you are usually met by a lot of rejection and your salary is mostly (or entirely) paid by commissions.  Lastly, how fabulous to be able to develop your own skincare line, right?  But realistically who has the money for that?

And now for the part of the post that really got me steamed:

I love that a career as an esthetician offers a very flexible schedule. Many places offer both part and full-time schedules so if you have another career or have children, this is ideal. I have employed many estheticians who were once full-time and now work part-time after having children.

Has Rouleau ever had a part-time job?  Does she realize how little a part-time esthetics job actually pays?  And even if you work part-time as an esthetician I can guarantee that you will be asked to work nights and weekends.  Now if you’re a parent - what do you do about childcare?  Finding and then paying for the right babysitter or daycare is one of the hardest things any parent faces.  And of course if you are working part-time forget about getting any benefits with your job.

And now for the great part of the post:

How can an esthetician build a clientele?

It truly takes a long, long time to really build up a good, repeat clientele. The reason is because you will not connect with every client, and not every client will connect with you. Being an esthetician is a relationship-based profession. My best tip for this is to mimic their personality. If they are not much of a talker, then don’t talk their ear off. You have to be a chameleon with every client.

Try paying close attention to body language. Asking specific questions on your client intake form that gives you insight into their expectations will go a long way. One of my favorite questions is “What are you goals for today’s visit?” I then provide various options they can check off on the form ranging from “stress relief” to “I want to learn how to care for my skin.” Depending on all that they select, I will make sure to create an experience that gives them exactly what they ask for. I will also discuss their goals during our consultation to make sure I have complete clarity. Having a client leave getting exactly what they wanted will help build the relationship and ensure they will come back to see you again.

In my opinion this advice is spot-on.  It isn’t always easy to meet clients needs and expectations.  Every esthetician eventually has the experience of thinking that they just bonded with a client and gave them a great facial only to hear back something negative from the client in the end.  It always helps to remember that even if you did give a client the greatest facial of her life she just might not be happy and a lot of time it has nothing at all to do with you.  Not everyone is going to like you.  Period.

Rouleau’s advice continues:

Another way to build a clientele is to give out free skin treatments. When you have an empty schedule, your goal is to fill it with clients. And waiting around for them to shell out money for a skin treatment that is often considered a luxury will leave you with an empty room and time on your hands. Make some really nice gift certificates and gift it to your friends, family, and anyone you come in contact with that you feel would be a good fit for you. Let them experience the services you provide at no charge because the more faces you can get your hands on, the more they can spread the word for you. Many of them may love the results and want to come back as a paying client. At the end of the appointment, give them a few of those free gift certificates and ask them to give it to their friends who they think would be a good client for you. Who would not love giving the gift of beautiful skin? Hands down, word of mouth with a referral will trump any other advertising or marketing opportunity. If you work this strategy long enough, and you give a treatment focused on managing expectations, you will no longer have an empty schedule. I promise.

I do agree that the best possible way to get clients is through word of mouth but giving away services isn’t always the answer to getting more clients, in my opinion.  In my experience once people receive a service for free they do not want to pay for it ever and they rarely refer their friends.  If you give away too many services you are simply losing a lot of money; esthetics products are expensive even with your esthetician discount.  I would recommend instead to give certain services at a discount and to sell products at a discounted rate to a select group of people who hopefully will spread the word about what a great esthetician you are.  Be careful who is in that group.  Unfortunately a lot of people will be more than happy to take advantage of your generosity.

Rouleau’s blog post continues with some more solid advice for the aspiring or struggling esthetician.  It is definitely worth reading even if, like me, you don’t agree with everything she has to say.

So I will readily admit that up until now this post hasn’t been entirely positive.  Of course there are lots of things that I love about being an esthetician- for instance, meeting new and interesting people, getting to know my clients on a personal level (I’ve met some amazing people through my work as an esthetician),  and feeling that I have had a positive impact on people’s lives through helping them care for their skin.  I always wanted to be part of a profession that would allow me to continue to learn and being an esthetician certainly is such a profession – there is always something new and interesting to learn as an esthetician in a variety of related fields from cosmetic science, to dermatology, and make-up innovations.  A lot of the ways I educate myself is through blogs and online magazines (on the right hand side of my blog you’ll find links to my favorite publications, blogs, etc.) and there are numerous courses that estheticians can take.  The problem is that these course usually cost money, a lot of money sometimes, but if you feel that you can eventually make that money back by providing a different or new service to your clients than investing in a course is important.

Another thing I like about being an esthetician are my fellow estheticians.  In my experience nasty estheticians are the exception not the rule.  Most estheticians are more than happy to share tips, ideas, and expertise with their fellow estheticians.  Estheticians truly help one another and to boot we are generally just a nice bunch of people.  There are also numerous groups on Linked In where estheticians help one another so even if you work solo you can be part of a network of estheticians.

I’ve been fortunate to have found a few mentors since becoming an esthetician.  The doctor I worked for in Chicago encouraged me and supported me immensely while I worked for her; she also took a leap of faith with me since I didn’t have much actual esthetics job experience when I applied to work for her.  She gave me a chance which was priceless.  Lately I’ve been encouraged by the advice I am receiving via email from estheticians in the oncology esthetics field in the US about how to market this important branch of esthetics in Israel.

If you are considering becoming an esthetician I encourage you to spend a day shadowing an esthetician to see what she really does during her work day.  In my opinion you really need to have a very strong passion for skincare and beauty in order to last in this profession.  Lastly, look before you leap.  As I already explained this isn’t an easy profession to break into and succeed in so be well aware of the challenges before you sign-up for esthetics school.

Resources and My Related Posts:

 

Wrinkles: What They Are Exactly and What Causes Them March 27, 2014

Filed under: Aging,beauty — askanesthetician @ 12:35 pm
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In anticipation of moving very soon I’ve been trying to go through different parts of my home and get rid of everything I don’t need.  I am a hoarder.  No, not the kind that you see on one of those reality shows that can’t walk through their home because of the vast accumulation of things, but the more subtle kind that saves articles, refuses to donate clothes she hasn’t worn in years, and somehow has collected seven blank, decorative notebooks over the years (in my defense all those blank notebooks were gifts).  It is really time that I move without taking things with me that I will never look at or use again.  So this week I went through all the esthetics related materials that I had at home and discovered articles that I had saved from years ago.  I looked things over, I evaluated if I really needed to save the information, and some of the articles I actually found online so I pinned them onto my skincare board on Pinterest.  Though Pinterest has indeed revolutionized the way I save information for future reference (and no I don’t think using the word revolutionized is too dramatic) not all the esthetics related material I read online can be pinned.  So sad.  So I still have a binder with articles, but at least the binder is now very organized.

One article that I saved was from Dr. Leslie Baumann’s Skin Type Solutions website entitled The Anatomy of a Wrinkle.  The article succinctly explains how wrinkles form and what factors contribute to the formation of wrinkles:

… all wrinkles are caused by the same chain of events within the skin.  Age causes uppermost epidermal cells to get thinner and less sticky, which allows moisture to seep out in turn making skin drier.  Oil glands begin to slow down, which contributes to dryness as well.  A bit deeper in the skin, supportive scaffolding (i.e. collagen and elastin) breaks down, and skin loses its smoothness and tautness – leaving it no other choice than to wrinkle and sag.  In the skin’s lowest layer, the subcutaneous layer, fat cells begin to shrink, so they are less able to “fill in” or plump out damage in the skin’s other layers.

And what factors can contribute to the formation of wrinkles?  Dr. Baumann explains:

Sun exposure:  The damage caused by UV rays does a number on our skin’s supportive matrix, mainly collagen and elastin.  Think about it … wrinkles appear on the face, neck, chest, backs of the hands and forearms – all places that are most frequently exposed to the sun.

Facial expressions: You know what happens when you fold a piece of paper too many times?  A line becomes etched and it’s impossible to smooth out.  That’s exactly what happens in areas of the face that are responsible for facial expressions.  This is why the areas around the eyes and lips and on the forehead are often the first to show wrinkles.

Skin color:  Pigment plays a protective role, so those with lighter skin have less natural defense against damaging UV light.  Conversely, darker skins usually show wrinkling much later in life, and they have their melanin to thank for that.

Genetics:  As with many other beauty and health concerns, your DNA dictates how wrinkly your skin will get.  If your mom looked great well into her 60s, it’s possible you will, too, as long as you’re not baking in the sun every chance you get.

Now what is the best way to prevent wrinkles and/or treat them?  Dr. Baumann recommends the daily use of sunscreen to prevent wrinkles and retinoids if you already have wrinkles.  To those recommendations I would recommend following anti-inflammation diet and incorporating antioxidant serum, such as a Vitamin C serum, into your daily skincare routine.

One more thing – another thing about looking through things you’ve saved is discovering that you have already used the above mentioned article in a post.  I briefly toyed with the idea of just updating the old post (it is almost three years old), but in the spirit of “out with the old, in with the new” I wrote this new post instead.

My Related Posts: 

Image from laserskinsolutions.com

 

Reading Roundup March 17, 2014

It’s time for me to once again share a whole bunch of skincare and beauty related article that I thought you my readers would enjoy:

And now for a few articles for my fellow estheticians (and anyone else for that matter):

Happy Reading!

Image from http://www.theguardian.com

 

Can Make-up Actually Improve Your Skin? March 6, 2014

Filed under: beauty,make-up — askanesthetician @ 8:00 am
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The older I get the more I need make-up.  Though that doesn’t mean that I won’t leave the house without a full face of make-up it does mean that I have realized that a few strategically placed make-up products do make a big difference in my appearance.  Some days I have the time and the inclination to put on eyeshadow, eyeliner, and mascara along with my other essential make-up steps, and other days I just make sure that I fill in my brows with brow powder, use undereye concealer, face powder, face concealer, and a little lip tint.  It’s the little things that can make a big impact.  You don’t have to use a lot of make-up to look polished and put together even if all you are doing is going to the grocery store.  No one has flawless skin; everyone has a beauty feature or two that make-up can help look better.  For instance, my brows are sparse so filling them in with brow powder makes a big impact on my face.  I never seem to get enough sleep so using undereye concealer helps me look more rested.  And no matter how much skincare knowledge I amass my skin still has post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, blackheads, breakouts, and blotchiness so using a foundation (either powder or cream) and a concealer makes me feel like I am putting my best face forward to the world (even if that world is just the grocery store clerks and patrons).  Make-up gives you confidence.  Make-up is fun.

But some people still worry that wearing make-up on a daily basis, particularly foundation, is actually bad for their skin instead of good for it.  There is a persistent skincare myth that our skin needs to “breathe” and by wearing make-up we are preventing that important function from taking place.  I’ve already debunked this myth in a previous post: Does Your Skin Need to Detoxify/Breathe?, but I’ll revisit the topic here briefly. I quoted Discovery Health in that previous post and let me once again share what they had to say about this topic:

Every day, a barrage of advertisements for various cosmetics, oils and ointments assault our eyes and ears, all claiming to “let your skin breathe.” But does your skin actually “breathe”? Does it really take in enough oxygen to keep you alive?

Not unless you’re an amphibian, an earthworm or a Julia Creek dunnart. Although it can’t perform the functions of respiration, your skin can absorb fat-soluble substances, including vitamins A,D, E and K, along with steroid hormones such as estrogen. Many menopausal women, for example, have estrogen patches to thank for their relief from hot flashes, while nicotine patches have relieved cravings for many smokers trying to kick the habit. So, while the skin can’t breathe, it can take substances from the outside and bring them in, including a little oxygen.

The skin and its appendages, such as hair and nails, make up the integumentary system. The word integumentary comes from Latin, meaning “to cover,” and that is the skin’s main purpose — to keep the world out and our internal organs protected. By its very nature, skin does not help us breathe.   …

What does help us breathe is the respiratory system. The respiratory system is responsible for getting oxygen to our blood and removing carbon dioxide from the body. When we inhale, we take in oxygen through our mouth and nose and into the lungs. In the lungs, the oxygen flows into the blood through the arteries, while veins deliver carbon dioxide back to the lungs. From the lungs, we exhale the carbon dioxide back out into the atmosphere, and the process begins again.

So why might we be led to believe that oxygen can pass through the skin?

Misconceptions and Myths

Many people are convinced that we pull in oxygen through our pores, and cosmetic companies capitalize on this belief — at least through unspoken messages — by claiming that their products “let the skin breathe.” If pressed, the manufacturers would probably say what they really mean is that the cosmetics and creams are non-comedogenic, meaning they don’t block pores. This prevents acne from building up, not suffocation. Some companies take it a step further and claim that their products contain oxygen that your skin will absorb. Since your skin doesn’t have the capacity to absorb and use oxygen, dermatologists warn that this is totally bogus. The closest thing to pure oxygen in a skin care product is benzoyl peroxide, which kills acne-causing bacteria by oxidizing fatty acids.

Many people believe the urban legend that Buddy Ebsen, cast as the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz,” nearly died because the aluminum in the makeup that gave him his silvery sheen clogged his pores. In fact, Ebsen did wind up in the hospital and was replaced, but it was attributed to an allergic reaction or an infection in his lungs caused by the aluminum dust. Needless to say, the makeup was modified for new scarecrow Jack Haley, and he danced through the role without incident.

Another famous movie incident involves 1964′s “Goldfinger.” After discovering his secretary has betrayed him, the villain Goldfinger paints her entirely — hair and all — with gold paint. Looking at her lifeless body, James Bond explains that the paint closed the pores she needed for respiration. In 1964, it seems, this was a medically accepted belief. The filmmakers took no chances and were careful to leave a patch of actress’s Shirley Eaton’s skin unpainted when shooting the scene.

Having gotten that issue out of the way, let’s focus again on the actual topic of this post: can using make-up actually help or even improve the appearance of your skin?  Esthetician Renee Rouleau certainly thinks so:

The fact is, wearing makeup (appropriate for your skin type) offers a barrier of protection against harmful UV rays. UV rays from the sun is the #1 reason for skin aging. It’s not genetics, smoking, and believe it or not, even age. The sun is the skin’s WORST enemy. Most types of makeup contain sunscreen and even if they don’t indicate an SPF number, most have UV-protecting ingredients like Titanium Dioxide. Based on this benefit from wearing makeup, I never leave my skin bare and never suggest my clients to do so either. So do your skin a favor and start wearing makeup NOW, to prevent wrinkles in your future.

(From Is Wearing Foundation Makeup Daily Bad for Your Skin?)

And what of make-up that promises anti-aging or the like?  The New York Times explored this topic in the article Promises from the Powder Room:

Light-reflecting. Acne-fighting. Energizing. Face powder, long associated with grandmothers and a dusty, chalky look, has been remade. Some companies say the product is not only a cosmetic, but also a face treatment, and are loading it with SPF, antioxidants and vitamins. …

Marketing hype aside, some doctors agree that powders pack more of a punch these days. “People have seen the utility of BB creams; they like getting many effects from the same products,” said Dr. Neal Schultz, a cosmetic dermatologist in private practice in Manhattan and founder of DermTV.com. “These are great for people who want fewer products to apply, and an oil absorber.”

But others say that the “poof — all gone” effects that these powders promise are basically stardust and mirrors. “I’m increasingly skeptical with products that over-promise,” said Ron Robinson, a Manhattan chemist specializing in the technology of cosmetic ingredients and the founder of BeautyStat.com, which reviews new products. “Where’s the clinical testing that validates their claims?”

“The blurring component is true,” he said, but “claims that it will reshape, sculpt and improve wrinkles are benefits few skin-care creams and serums designed to plump and firm the skin can offer.”  …

“There’s a real science to these products and to the ingredients in them, which help and maintain the skin,” said Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the dermatology department at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. But he pointed out that a powder’s visual effects vanish once the product is removed; its particles are too big to penetrate skin.

As for long-term benefits: “That has yet to be determined,” Dr. Zeichner said. “If you use products like this on a regular basis and take care of your skin, it’s possible these powders can help slow down the aging process.”  …

Dr. Francesca Fusco, a Manhattan dermatologist, says she is firmly pro-powder, at least when it comes to the new modern products. “A powder won’t replace your moisturizer, serum or retinol, but it’s a great added extra,” she said. “For not a lot of money you can get a flawless look. And that’s better than using nothing.”

So when it comes to your make-up should you trust it to transform your skin long after you remove it?  Personally I am still very skeptical that a few extra ingredients mixed into your cream or powder foundation will be your anti-aging or anti-acne answer, but the better you look the better you feel and that is truly transformative.

My Related Posts:

Image from makeupandbeautyblog.com

 

All the Rage: Konjac Sponges February 26, 2014

konjac-sponge-opener

Chances are you’ve probably already heard of or even tried a konjac sponge.  I’m a little late to the game in explaining and reviewing these cleansing sponges.  But better late than never, correct?

What Is A Konjac Sponge and How Do You Use It?

Dr. Jessica Wu explains what a konjac sponge is and how to use it:

What is a konjac sponge? A konjac sponge is made of plant starch that’s extracted from a type of potato plant. The sponge absorb a lot of water, so it has a unique texture, kind of like a thick piece of squishy felt. It’s more nubby than a dish sponge, but softer than a loofah and has a finer texture than a washcloth so it’s safe to use on your face. Because of its bouncy, rubbery texture, it makes a rich lather and requires less cleanser that you would normally need. It dries quickly, so it’s more hygienic than a washcloth. Plus they are affordable (I get mine for less than $2 each), so you can change them frequently without having to worry about ruining your washcloths with makeup.

How do konjac sponges help your skin? They dislodge dirt, oil, makeup, and impurities to deep clean your skin, so they’re helpful for those with acne and large pores. They can help slough off dead, dry skin flakes that are a sign of sun damage. They can also help remove stubborn, water resistant sunscreen.

How do you use a konjac sponge? First, soak your sponge in warm water for at least five minutes to soften the fibers and avoid injuring your skin. Splash your face with warm water and squeeze a few drops of cleanser onto the sponge. Massage in a circular motion, concentrating on trouble areas and avoiding areas with healing pimples, infections, or abrasions. Rinse face with warm water and pat dry. Thoroughly rinse the sponge with warm water, squeeze out excess, and let air dry.

Personal Experience

First off, what Dr. Wu writes above about the sponge only costing about $2 is completely correct.  Buy your konjac sponge on eBay; most sellers also offer free shipping.  I bought a regular konjac sponge via eBay though the next time I buy one I’ll be trying a charcoal one since charcoal has acne fighting properties.  I did not find that I had to soak my sponge in warm water for five minutes in order to soften it; it took me about a minute to soften the sponge in the shower.  It is definitely true that you need less cleanser when using a konjac sponge; a little bit of your cleanser will foam up brilliantly on the sponge.  For me the most interesting thing about the konjac sponge was how much the texture changed once it was wet.  Dry the sponge is rough and hard, but once you’ve soaked it the sponge becomes incredibly soft.  I liked using the sponge and the price can’t be beat, but I didn’t see a difference in the appearance of my skin when using the sponge.  I think for someone like me who has tough, acne prone skin konjac sponges are a lovely addition to my skincare routine but not a necessity.  I do think that a konjac sponge can be an excellent way for someone with sensitive skin to exfoliate their skin without any irritation.  Plus, these sponges are just fun (and cheap).  I will definitely be buying another one and recommending them to clients with sensitive skin or to clients who are exfoliation phobic (unfortunately I meet a lot of those) since by using a konjac sponge you can definitely gently exfoliate while you cleanse.

Sources and Further Reading:

Photo from Refinery29

 

Spas in South Korea February 17, 2014

Filed under: beauty,Spa Services — askanesthetician @ 7:30 am
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Or Why I Desperately Want to Visit South Korea Very Soon

Many of the spa's 22 baths and pools are located outdoors, including this saltwater foot bath and wading pool.

Please allow me to once again indulge my Korean beauty obsession.  I hadn’t been planning on writing another post about Korean skincare or beauty but after reading The New York Times article A Look at Korea’s Culture From the Bathhouse I felt compelled to write yet again about Korea and their beauty culture.  (As sometimes happily happens reading one article takes you to another related article or an interesting website so I’ll be sharing those links here as well.)  Previously I’ve written about Beauty in South Korea and my personal experiences trying a few different Korean skincare products (Korean Skincare Products: Tested).

I actually had an opportunity to go to a Korean spa (or Americanized version of a Korean spa) before moving back to Israel about a year and a half ago.  A branch of King Spa and Sauna opened not so far from my suburban Chicago home before I moved.  I really cannot come up with a good excuse why I never went since the admission is quite reasonable, it is open 24 hours 7 days a week, and a friend even recommended it to me. My loss to say the least.  Now I can only dream of hanging out in the salt room or the base rock room at this spa.  At least I now know one thing I will be doing the next time I visit Chicago (besides eating at my all time favorite restaurant) unless somehow I make it to South Korea first.

Anyhow, before I really digress any further lets talk about Korean spa culture.  The origin and the modern evolution of the Korean bathhouse is very interesting:

When South Koreans evoke the good life, they talk of a “warm back and full stomach.”

Nowhere has the Korean longing to lie on a heated floor (a feature of traditional houses) and eat one’s fill found fuller expression than in the jjimjilbang, the 24-hours-a-day public bathhouse.

But calling the jjimjilbang a bathhouse hardly begins to describe its attractions. …

The jjimjilbang is modeled on the public bathhouses that were popularized early last century by the country’s Japanese occupiers but eventually fell out of favor when showers became a standard feature of Korean homes. In their modern incarnation, the bathhouses are a reflection of South Korea’s relatively newfound wealth, but also a way to satisfy nostalgia.  …

The first public bathhouse was built here in 1925, mostly to cater to Japanese colonialists, but the institution quickly became part of Korean social life. Most urban neighborhoods had a bathhouse, as did small towns. Inside, patrons sat in or around large, sex-segregated baths filled with extremely hot water, gossiping and scooping water on themselves with gourds. Scrubbing other bathers’ backs, even strangers’, was common practice.

Many Korean adults share a childhood memory of being taken to public baths for no-nonsense, sometimes tears-inducing scrubs by their mothers. The bathhouses began adding amenities in recent decades as more people bathed at home. Those included steam rooms and professional body scrubbers, barbershops and hair salons, and communal sleeping rooms, where harried business people — often expected to work long hours and stay out late drinking with colleagues — could come during the day for a nap on a heated floor.

By the late 1990s, many bathhouses had turned into true recreation complexes, and going to one became as much a part of Korean social life as going to the movies. In 2006, there were more than 13,000 in the country, more than 2,500 of them in Seoul. Some can accommodate thousands of people. …

Some jjimjilbang have karaoke rooms, concert halls, swimming pools, even indoor golf ranges, as well as cafeterias and rooms to watch videos.

But a jjimjilbang’s reputation owes much to its saunas.

Some feature heated huts suffused with the aroma of mugwort (important in traditional medicine). Sometimes the walls are studded with jade and amethyst, which many Koreans believe emit healing rays when heated.

(From For All Kinds of Good, Clean Fun Koreans Turn to Bathhouses from The New York Times)

(This is not a political blog is any way, except for my occasional rant about letting everyone define for themselves their own idea of beauty, but I did find it interesting that the Japanese occupation of Korea produced such a positive, lasting effect on Korean culture in the form of bathhouses.  If you know nothing of the history mentioned above see this for more information.)

Unlike American spas which are seen as an indulgence, a special treat, Korean spas or bathhouses are meant for the entire family and as a place to spend the day.  Women (and men) in Korean follow a much more elaborate skincare routines than their American counterparts making skincare and body care a top priority for a large part of the population.  Since many young people live with their parents bathhouses are a place where young couples can spend quality time together outside the confines of their homes.  So if you are a Westerner forget everything you know about spa culture and open yourself up to a new idea of how to spend your day off.

Need more proof?  Frances Cha wrote about her day at a Korean bathhouse for CNN:

Visitors change into cotton shirts and pants handed out at reception. Then they head to communal areas.

There’s a tarot card reading station set up near the entrance, but most people beeline past this and head straight for the outdoor foot bath area.

Here there’s a large heated pool for wading back and forth, as well as private booths where couples often play games on their phones while perched precariously above pools of water.

Theme rooms

Spa Land has dreamed up a variety of themes for its many steam and sauna rooms.

These range from extremely hot (I couldn’t enter this one without yelping in pain) to extremely cold (the Ice Room has a cute, fake jellyfish aquarium) to the gimmicky.

How gimmicky?

The walls of the pyramid room are set at a 52-degree angle, “which has been said to be the easiest angle to collect energies from the universe,” according to the spa.

The SEV room “radiates electrons from SEV” meant to “metabolize your body rapidly.”

The theme rooms are fun to take pictures in.

The downstairs snack bar serves bingsu (a beloved Korean shaved ice dessert) and various vinegar drinks said to be good for the skin.

Customers can take the snacks and eat them all around the bathhouse.

Upstairs there’s a restaurant and cafe run by chefs from the Westin Chosun Hotel.

Alcohol consumption is limited to 500 ml per person, to prevent sauna accidents and overly rambunctious parties from disrupting the austere atmosphere.

Bath time

My favorite spot in the spa is the outdoor rock pool in the women-only bathing area.

I soaked under its sodium bicarbonate waterfall for a good 20 minutes before my appointment with the seshin ajumma (scrub ladies) in the scrub room.

For 25 minutes I beached myself on a plastic slab, and gave myself over to the capable hands of a professional scrubber.

Clad in black bras and panties (standard scrub uniform), she scoured my entire body with two loofahs.

“Young ladies are the most sensitive,” she said in an amused voice when I squeaked a little. “The older ladies always ask for the hardest pressure.”

I emerged red and raw, but wonderfully clean.

It was the best extra ₩20,000 ($18) I’ve ever spent in spa.

(From Korea’s Most Outrageous Sauna: Spa Land Centum City)

Back to The New York Times article  mentioned at the beginning of this post, the article does touch on the “darker” side of Korean beauty culture – conformity.  This takes the of form of plastic surgery, pressure to weigh a certain amount, and a strong need to try to achieve “perfection” as defined by the prevailing culture.  I guess it is always important to remember what an outsider may see as interesting and even “exotic” (I hate that word but sometimes there isn’t a better one to use) is actually a burden for those who are a part of that culture or country you are just visiting.

Bottom Line:  Despite the fact that I am now more aware of the conformity in Korea when it comes to beauty, and that does not sit well with me, I am still very intrigued by Korean bathhouse culture and Korean skincare practices and products. Since I am  “indulging” in Korean culture from afar I can pick and choose the aspects of Korean culture that I want to explore and experience making it easier for me to enjoy the best aspects of that culture.  Perhaps one day I’ll finally make it to South Korea or just visit a Korean bathhouse the next time I am in Chicago.

The original New York Times article that prompted this post lead me to discover two really interesting websites for information about Korea:

  • If I do make it South Korean for a visit I will be sure to read this entire website before going: Seoulist.
  • For reviews of Korean skincare and make-up I’ll be checking out this website: Lady Fox Make-up Blog

Photo from cnn.com

 

Check This Out: What I’ve Been Reading January 30, 2014

Lately I’ve read quite a number of interesting skincare related articles so I thought I would share them with my readers.

First up I wanted to talk about a website not an article, actually.  Caroline Hirons is a well-known esthetician in the UK.  I had actually looked at her website quite some time ago, but I recently rediscovered it through a tip from my loyal reader Rae (be sure to check out Rae’s blog Scatterbraintures!).  There is a lot of skincare information on this website.  I recommend reading the “cheat sheets”  (found on the right side of the home page) for solid, practical skincare advice.  If you do not live in England, I don’t, her product recommendations are not very relevant unfortunately.  While I do think that most of the skincare information that Hirons shares is great, there two things in particular that I disagree with her on.  The first is that Hirons keeps bashing products that contain mineral oil.  I wrote a long post in my blog about how mineral oil isn’t bad for the skin. If you haven’t already read my post (Why Does Mineral Oil Have Such A Bad Reputation?) please give it a look in order to get another perspective on this controversial skincare ingredient.  Secondly, Hirons seems to be a mission against foam cleansers (she claims they are needlessly drying and strip the skin).  I happen to disagree with this opinion as well.  I currently use a foam cleanser and do not find it drying at all.  So as with all skincare advice though I really do think that Hirons has mostly great skincare advice to share, be sure to keep an open mind and don’t think that everything she writes is true.

Now on to the articles I want to share:

If you’ve read any interesting skincare related articles lately please share links below!

Image from awesome-desktop.com

 

 
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