Confessions Of A Facialist

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
As told to Phillip Picardi. 

I was 19 when I became an aesthetician. Like most of us in the business, I always had a passion for caring for my own skin, and that’s how it all started. You find that you’re really interested, and you want to share that passion with other people. There aren’t a ton of professions where you really make people happy and you’re appreciated, though, you know? I like to think I’m changing lives by changing skin and improving what people see when they look in the mirror. I love my job because there’s so much to learn, and this business is always changing — new treatments, new ingredients, and new products. I’m somebody who loves to learn, and that’s what makes a good aesthetician.  

All About The Benjamins
I started out, as most do, working at a salon. My first job, actually, had a sales incentive. They basically set goals to make a certain commission or whatever, and that’s pretty standard. I am super goal-oriented, so just tell me where the finish line is, and I’ll get there. But, the thing was, my spa only had two product lines and it was limited as far as what would really help my clients. I remember winning the Retail Sales of the Year Award, but I definitely remember knowing that I sold things that weren’t necessarily the perfect fit. That’s just all I had to sell, and that can be frustrating. I did eventually convince the owner to bring another line on board, but even then, it could be tricky to find the right thing for every client.      

Working at spas can also be tricky because you’re surrounded by aestheticians. And, let me tell you, aestheticians have a real issue with being competitive about gratuity. If someone gives them a really big tip, they feel good about it because they’re richer, sure, but also they think the client really liked what they did. But, if there’s no tip or there’s barely anything, they take it as a slap in the face. I remember my coworkers keeping notebooks of client names and their tips, and if their client ever ended up with someone else for an appointment, they’d try to find out how much they tipped. People also get jealous of whoever was busiest or had the most requests — that’s especially tricky when you have someone at the company who’s been working there five or six years, but mostly has an open book, and then some new girl comes in and just has this magic with people, and the word gets out and she’s booked every hour. That can cause some real problems.       
Botched Brows
Most of my time there was the typical stuff, but I did have one client who came in a couple of days before her wedding. She was a regular of mine, and I used to dye her eyelashes and eyebrows — she was blonde and fine-haired, so they were so light. Basically, when I was doing the brows, I grabbed the wrong tube of dye — the black. I didn’t even notice until I had finished both brows, and I thought, Oh no! So, I excused myself, went to the kitchen sink, got a little bit of Clorox, mixed it in a bowl with some water, and then took a Q-tip and applied the mixture to her brows, hoping it would lighten the color somewhat. I even put a dab of essential oil under her nose, so she wouldn’t notice the smell. Well, I thought the mix was working, but then all of a sudden, the bleach started to disintegrate her eyebrows right before my eyes. They were disappearing! So, I wiped it all off and moved on, and thank god she didn’t say anything. Needless to say, she never came back.       
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Fake Facial
Later on in my career, I was fortunate enough to start my own business, so those days are long behind me! But, I still have my fair share of crazy clients. One woman was obsessed with skin care. As in, beyond obsessed. She came in regularly, always complaining about clogged pores, saying her blackheads were so gross. I would even give her the mirror, and tell her to show them to me, and she would just point to different areas of her face. The truth is, she didn’t have blackheads! I can’t extract anything if it’s not there. So, I would literally sit there and pretend to pinch her skin. She thought I had done extractions. She’d look in the mirror after and say, “Oh my god, my skin looks so much better!” I guess I just faked it until I made it.       

Tough Love 
Occasionally, there’s that awkward point when you have to fire a client. Usually, it’s people who are chronically late for their appointments, which can mess up your whole schedule and make things difficult for the clients who come afterwards. I’m always very upfront and vocal, and tell my later clients that they need to be on time. We even have the front-desk person call them before their appointments to make sure they’re running on schedule. But, some people are just always late, and you get to a point where you need to send them an email and explain the situation. We tell them, basically, that we can no longer service them anymore. They usually get mad, come up with excuses, or threaten to post mean reviews on Yelp or something. But, we don’t respond to threats, and we don’t tolerate disrespect. However, we’re in a business where we’re there to please people! I find myself constantly repeating that quote from The Help: “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” It’s a good reminder. 

Different Strokes
And then, of course, you always have to be able to go above and beyond the call of duty for your clients. I have had a lot of strippers come to me, so I customized a sort of breast facial for them, with exfoliation and tons of hydration. It’s really helpful! They always pay in cash, of course. I’ve also popped blackheads in very strange areas — people get them on their butts a lot, and one actor I did had some along his bikini line. They also occur in the ears…all sorts of weird places.

I think the most touching thing I did in recent memory, though, was give a cancer patient a scalp facial. You know, she had gone through chemo and had no hair, and she really wanted to project her best self, so I just extended the facial to her head. I used to do makeup and skin care at hospitals, and I always remember how appreciative those patients were to look better. People who think skin and facials is just for vanity…they’re completely wrong. We don’t have enough touch in this world, and we are so busy, so when someone stops and makes you feel good through touch, it’s an incredible thing.

A Breakthrough 
I think my favorite story, though, is about a woman who came in wearing tons of makeup. She told me her husband never saw her without makeup — that nobody saw her without it, she was so self-conscious and ashamed of her skin. And, her complexion did have issues, and we had some things to work on. After her first facial, I remember she ran to the bathroom to put on a full, thick coat of foundation and concealer. I worked with her for months and months, trying to convince her that her skin was getting better, but she never believed me. That happens a lot, you know: People with bad skin are scarred in their perceptions of their faces. Anyways, I worked with this woman for a full year, and she followed my advice and the products I recommended, and her skin totally improved. We took baby steps together to apply less and less, and she cried a lot during those experiences. They were hard, and it was a lot of anxiety for her. Finally, about one year later, she left me with no makeup on. I felt so accomplished — I had helped her embrace her skin, and that part of herself.

And, that’s really why I do what I do. My dream client is someone who comes in and wants to learn. I always think of myself as an aesthetician, but it dawned on me that I also have the opportunity to be a teacher. I help people learn about their skin, their faces, and ingredients and treatments that work. I happen to teach skin care, and that’s really rewarding. 

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