Dual practices

A Union of Massage and Skin Care

By Karrie Osborn

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, April/May 2007.

With consumers spending more than $14 billion on facial treatments in 2006,1 and the number of estheticians doubling between 2001 and 2005,2 skin care is becoming more popular than ever for consumers and practitioners alike.

It wasn’t long ago that the worlds of massage and skin care were very distinct, and some in the massage profession scoffed at the idea of the two practices being compatible with one another. Fast forward ten years and we see that not only do massage and skin care coexist, they sometimes depend on, and certainly complement, each other.

“We added skin care therapists to our ranks a decade ago when we learned many massage therapists were gaining additional licensure in esthetics,” says Katie Armitage, vice president of operations for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP). That skin care membership has grown to five thousand and prompted the creation of a new association—of which Armitage is now president—Associated Skin Care Professionals (ASCP).

Armitage says having a dual license takes practitioners out of the gray area in terms of licensure issues. “With both licenses, there is no more concern over whether their scope of practice covers them for body wraps, massage below the neck, waxing, herbal facials, etc.”

Overt or not, there has always been some crossover in the work between esthetics and bodywork. Estheticians typically offer massage to the face, neck, or shoulders as part of their facial services, and massage therapists learn early on that they have an opportunity to “feed” their clients’ skin every time they get their hands on them. Those who seek out dual licenses find the way to bring these practices together.

Integrating Knowledge

For Laureen Magee-Baldi of Exeter, New Hampshire, getting a dual license in skin care and massage has been an evolution that is still in progress. This once stay-at-home mom began her journey in 1995 when she got her license to perform pedicures and manicures. It provided the flexibility Magee-Baldi sought as she was raising her children, and while not her end goal, she says manicuring offered her the easiest and least expensive entree into the wellness professions.

Working at a friend’s spa gave her the opportunity to see the business side of this new world up close, and the working mom made an apprentice of herself, learning everything she could along the way. It wasn’t long before Magee-Baldi knew she wanted to go further.

“I was always interested in doing esthetics—esthetics and wellness and the healing arts,” she says. “I knew what I wanted to do, but I knew I had to just let it flow, and I gave myself time to get properly educated.” Three years later, Magee-Baldi earned her esthetics license and rented space from a local salon to start practicing her new craft.

What she found was yet another calling beckoning her. “I live a holistic lifestyle, and I wanted to get away from the chemicals,” Magee-Baldi says. She explains that many of the spas in her small town were really not spas in the truest sense back then, and were far from what she envisioned on her path. Even in the high-end spa she worked at along the way, her philosophy differed from what they were offering clients at the time. “My esthetics practice was different than most. I wanted to do natural skin care, but back then, esthetics was still more of a beauty-oriented field, while massage was wellness oriented.” Magee-Baldi saw the two skill sets working together and decided to take a break from the esthetics side long enough to pursue her massage therapy education.

With dual licenses in hand, Magee-Baldi hung out her own shingle—Spirit of Place Massage & Holistic Skin Care—as another leg in this journey. By being her own boss, she knew she could maintain the standards she wanted. “I don’t do artificial nails; I do a spa manicure now. I use no chemicals, and I’ve been able to adapt and integrate my skills along the way. I couldn’t have done that if I was not self-employed.” She spent significant time researching which skin care products she would use and sell in her new business, making certain that unlike her previous job, she wouldn’t find her philosophies contradicted by the items she sold or used.

Magee-Baldi says some of her clients left when she lost the “artificial” aspect of her skin care practice, but other clients were happy to see what else she was bringing to the table with her newly-learned massage skills. Her only regret in the process, she says, was putting a complete halt to her esthetics practice while focusing diligently on her massage education. “When I went to school to study massage, I refinanced the house and put all my energies into school. I think it was a mistake because my clients went elsewhere.” Certainly not regretful of her dedication in learning her new craft, Magee-Baldi’s experience is a practical reminder of how competitive the wellness professions can be, even in (or rather, especially in) a small town.

“I have a different clientele now,” Magee-Baldi says of her growing business. “And I’m finding the clients coming in are more educated—not academia-wise, but in what they want for themselves. They don’t come in asking, ‘What can you do for me?’ but are more a partner in the process.”

Magee-Baldi says she’s still a realist when it comes to her business, despite the joy it’s bringing her. “It’s going to be up and down, and there will be weeks when it’s slow.” She says it’s important not to be disillusioned, but to instead “nurture the business, just as you would a new baby.”

The Versatile Variable

For Sonya Miller, from Thomasville, North Carolina, versatility makes for a sound business plan. Starting out, Miller worked part time as a massage therapist while holding on to her full-time office job. It was wanting to break free from the corporate world and needing a greater sense of security that prompted Miller to pursue skin care. “I went back to school for esthetics, thinking the more versatile I am, the more appointments and clientele I can get,” Miller says.

Professionals say Miller is right, and having therapists cross-trained in a variety of skills is critical to a spa’s bottom line. “Being dual-licensed makes them more employable,” Armitage says, “especially in the spa world. Someone who can provide all the services on the menu may be more valuable to a spa owner than an esthetician or massage therapist alone.”

While resort spas typically have no problem keeping their books full, smaller day spas can struggle from time to time booking all their time slots. As a result, massage therapists often find themselves answering phones or doing laundry during slow times. With skin care skills added to their therapeutic toolbox, they’re much more likely to have their slots filled instead with money-making, client-centered tasks.

At the spa setting in which Miller works, having a massage therapy and esthetics license makes her both a valuable commodity and a shrewd business woman. “I am able to accommodate all clients,” Miller says. “Some people prefer massage over skin care, and this way I am able to help them.” And if clients change their mind at the last minute as to the type of service they want, Miller will most likely be able to accommodate the switch without losing the client or the time slot.

Miller says providing a variety of services throughout the day also helps her stay interested in the work. “I do enjoy having the variety of doing both. Sometimes I will get the same client for both a massage and a facial. On those occasions, I get a chance to build rapport.” Working in a resort setting, Miller says most of the clients she sees come from tourist traffic. So when she gets that rare, local client, having both massage and skin care skills gives her a leg up in building a lasting, therapeutic relationship.

Having a license in massage and skin care is not without its challenges, Miller says, but it pales in comparison to the benefits. “I am required by both boards to have a certain amount of continuing education hours per licensing period.” And while she agrees those requirements are vital, the costs can add up. Still, being able to offer clients a variety of therapies is a win-win for everyone.

The Burnout Factor

It’s well known that the massage profession has a high burnout factor, and one of the more commonly heard reasons why is that the body gives out—either through overuse or poor, injury-causing technique. Seeking a dual license in another specialty, such as skin care, brings longevity to what could be an otherwise shortened career.

Being able to offer a facial in between a massage or body treatment will give the therapist a break from the body mechanics that cause repetitive-use injuries. Offering an array of treatments for clients also breaks up the monotony that can lead to burnout or simply, poor work.

Both Magee-Baldi and Miller know this is a huge advantage for them in the long run. “I think that because I began my career a little later in life, I know realistically that my body and joints won’t always be able to handle the hard work of massage, so it’s important for me to have alternatives,” Magee-Baldi says. Trying to read her market, she says the newest alternative in her repertoire will be infant massage. “There are a lot of young families in my area, and I think I need to find a specialty—something unique.”

For Miller, combining massage and skin care not only brings variety to her day, but life to her career. “Going from massage to a facial gives my body a bit of a break and will hopefully prolong my career in massage.”

If longevity and versatility weren’t enough motivation to pursue these two, complementary career paths, then there’s always the love of the work. “I love helping people,” Miller says. “I feel as if I am finally serving a purpose in life and what I am doing means something. Touch is a wonderful and powerful thing, and it’s an honor to be able to do so.”

Karrie Osborn is the contributing editor of Massage & Bodywork.

  • Notes
  • 1. Time. Special Supplement. December 2006.
  • 2. 2006 ASCP surveys of state-licensed estheticians, trade show attendees, school alumni lists, and ASCP membership.