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How to Help Your Esthetician Help You

By Genevieve P. Charet

Originally published in Body Sense, Autumn/Winter 2009.

It’s hardly news anymore that an esthetician is an invaluable partner in the quest for healthy skin, but to get the most from that relationship, you need to do more than just make the appointment.

The Days Before

So you’ve found an esthetician and have an appointment scheduled. What now? Kirsten Peterson, esthetician at Aura Spa at the Metropole in Logan Circle, Washington, D.C., recommends writing down your skin’s issues. “Sometimes clients become so comfortable on the facial bed that they fail to voice the concerns that prompted them to schedule the appointment.”

You should also be thorough in communicating your health history, skin care habits, and any medications you’re taking, especially Retin-A, Renova, or Accutane. Tina Unger, esthetician at Deerfield Spa in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, warns that certain conditions need to be reported well ahead of time. Clients who’ve had cold sores will need to use antiviral drugs for one to two weeks before any stimulating treatment, and Unger has women with allergies to any topical agents come in the day before the visit for a patch test.

Don’t forget that your esthetician also needs to know how you’ve been caring for your skin. Liza Braaten, director of education at Empire Beauty School in Green Bay, Wisconsin, suggests bringing your various skin care products to the appointment. “It can be so enlightening to look over a list of ingredients that you put on your face and learn about those that are helping and those that aren’t,” she says.

You should also scale back your skin’s routine before an appointment. Scott-Vincent Borba, celebrity esthetician in Los Angeles, California, and founder/creator of the Borba line of skin care products, encourages clients to avoid exfoliation as well as hydrate themselves fully for a few days before treatment. “This makes machines, paraffinated fiber wraps, and concentrated treatments’ benefits last longer,” he says. Kerry Elmasry, the esthetician behind Radiant Skin by Kerry, Inc., in Long Island, New York, emphasizes that sun exposure is a no-no prior to laser hair removal and light-based treatments—so wear sunscreen and don’t show up with a tan.

Maintenance Musts

In between regular appointments, the basics still hold true—shun the sun (and wear sunscreen), drink plenty of water, avoid cigarettes and excessive alcohol, and follow your prescribed routine. Monitor your skin and note any irregularities or improvements. Ha M. Ngo, esthetician at La Toretta Del Lago Resort and Spa in Montgomery, Texas, adds that clients should be patient when waiting for improvements. “Skin care takes time, as with anything involving the body. Depending on the product and treatment, it may take anywhere from one to three months to see results.”

Consider the products you use, too. Estheticians generally recommend using a high-quality mineral makeup with built-in SPF. Sarah Hale, esthetician at Glow! Medical Spa in Glendale, Arizona, says it’s best not to buy cosmetic-counter skin care items; the products your esthetician provides are usually stronger, more effective, and comparable in cost.

Your diet can also play a role in how well your skin responds to treatments. For example, Unger warns that spicy food can induce a rosacea flare, and diets that are too low in fat can cause hormonal imbalances, resulting in acne and hyperpigmentation. A high antioxidant diet that includes essential fatty acid-rich foods is best. Borba takes this approach a step further, proposing that you check the special ingredients in your skin care products, such as soy, acai, omega fatty acids, etc., and then mimic them in your diet. “The epidermal and dermal layers communicate, so the more they can synergize, the faster you will look and feel gorgeous,” he says.

When It Can't Wait

Despite the best intentions, there may be occasions when you have a problem between visits—but when is it urgent? The bottom line is that any severe irritation or breakouts that are unusual for you need special attention. “Although we’re not trained to medically diagnose skin disease or cancer cells, a seasoned esthetician can give you excellent advice on when to have an atypical skin condition or potentially dangerous mole checked by a dermatologist,” Elmasry says. “That alone can warrant an ongoing relationship with an esthetician.” Ngo says you should call about side effects that aren’t listed on your skin care products. Of course, it’s always a good idea to come in two days before a special event for an extra hydrating boost, whether or not you’re having a problem.

Minor irritation may occur after a visit “as a result of your esthetician really cleaning your skin out,” but that’s usually not serious, says Judith Mauller, cosmetology instructor at Empire Beauty School in Phoenix, Arizona. Also, remember that flare-ups frequently result from an inconsistent regimen. “If you have a routine schedule with your esthetician, most of the time you won’t need an ‘emergency’ visit,” says Jacquelynn Mapile, spa director and esthetician at M Beauty Spa by Dr. Gary Motykie in West Hollywood.

Esthetician as Educator

Women count on their estheticians to fix problem skin, but few take advantage of their estheticians’ ability to educate them on everything from diet to the right way to pop a pimple. “Half of what we do is teach people how to take care of their skin,” Mauller says. Ngo sees this role as especially important in an age when so many women are misinformed about their skin. “There are people with oily skin who want to wash it three or four times daily, even though that will only make it worse. There are people with darker skin tones who think they don’t need sunscreen. There are parents of teenagers who think their children will ‘grow out’ of their pimple phase,” Ngo says. “Every day I hear something new that the client has heard they should do or buy, and sometimes it’s really shocking.”
All those mixed messages are perhaps the very best reason to have a regular esthetician to rely on for good information. Mapile summed it up best: “Please do not be afraid to ask questions. We’re here to educate you and give you the best results we possibly can. As your esthetician, my goal is to help you achieve all that you desire for your skin.”