What's it really like?
Mina Hirani qualified as a beauty therapist eight years ago. She is currently self-employed as a beauty therapist and hairdresser. She tells us what the job is really like.
“I wanted to be a hairdresser when I was 16, but my parents wouldn’t let me, so I had to wait until I was older. I spent three years training for my ITEC and NVQ level 3 diplomas in beauty therapy. I have also completed an advanced course in make-up and one in hairdressing. I am fully trained in all aspects of beauty therapy, including massage and electrolysis, but as I now work from home, I am limited in the types of treatments I can offer. The most common treatments I perform are waxing, threading, facials, manicures and pedicures. My busiest times are just before Christmas and in the summer. In a typical day, I might carry out five treatments.
The best thing about this job is the flexibility. I can work the hours I want to work and take time out if I need to. I also like meeting and socialising with clients. Sometimes I feel they come to me not just for a treatment, but for a good chat too. You need to be a good listener.
Some people might think beauty is a glamorous profession, but it’s also very scientific. You need to have basic medical knowledge as you are treating the body. You have to make sure you know the client's medical history before you proceed. If in doubt, ask the client for a doctor’s note before proceeding, or just don’t go ahead.
I’d advise anyone who wants to be a beauty therapist to make sure they are passionate about it. The training is long and hard, so you really have to want to do it to be a success. During my training I met many girls who had spent thousands of pounds on courses, but just weren’t any good. They didn’t have the instinct or the passion or they just weren’t committed. Many dropped out.
For the moment, I’ll continue to work from home, but my dream is to one day own my own salon.”
A beauty therapist’s job is to provide treatments to enhance the physical appearance and, sometimes, health of a client’s face and body.
Beauty therapists are mainly concerned with improving the appearance of their clients. They may be asked to highlight and accentuate existing features, or remove unwanted hair or cover up blemishes. A therapist might also provide treatments that relieve tension and boost mental well-being. A therapist is concerned with making sure their client feels good about themselves, inside and out. As the need to look and feel good has increasingly become more important for both men and women in 21st century Britain, the demand for the services of beauty therapists has steadily increased. New techniques and innovations in beauty treatments and products, as well as advances in medical technologies, are also driving the growth of the industry.
Most beauty therapists work in beauty salons or spas. There are also opportunities to work in hotels, medical clinics, sports injuries clinics, fitness and health clubs. Make-up specialists may also find work in the areas of fashion, media and the performing arts. There are even opportunities to work overseas, in holiday resorts or on cruise ships. Some beauty therapists are self-employed, running their own salon, renting a space in a hairdressing salon, fitness club or related business, working from home or running a ‘mobile’ salon.
Overwhelmingly, beauty therapists tend to be women. This is not surprising, considering the fact that most clients are also women and the work often involves close contact with intimate areas of the body. Women also tend to have more of an interest in beauty, holistic healing and relaxation.
Salary varies according to location, experience, qualifications and the type and range of treatments you offer. Typically, newly-qualified beauty therapists earn around £10,000 pa. A senior therapist with more than 2 years’ experience can earn in the range of £13-17,000. Salon managers and senior therapists offering specialist treatments such as electrolysis can earn over £20,000.
Often, a beauty therapist working in a salon will earn a basic salary, which is boosted by commission earned on products they sell. They might also be rewarded for good service with tips.
The range of treatments and services a therapist can provide varies hugely, depending on training and experience. Most therapists provide facials, make-up, manicures, pedicures and waxing treatments as standard. Many therapists will have other strings to their bows, providing anything from threading, nail art, permanent hair removal through electrolysis or laser treatment, massage, spa treatments (such as body wraps), aromatherapy to hairdressing, Asian henna art (also known as mehndi), electrotherapy facials and even tanning treatments. Some offer full ‘make-over’ packages and specialised bridal hair and beauty services.
Before carrying out a treatment, the therapist will usually have a consultation with the client, explaining the procedure and the expected results. For certain treatments, they will need to do a skin test or take a brief medical history, noting down any allergies, sensitivities, medication or medical conditions that may affect or be affected by the treatment. This is particularly important when a treatment is invasive or involves electrical currents.
A therapist has a duty to keep all equipment clean (to maintain high standards of hygiene) and make sure it is in working order (to ensure procedures are successful and prevent injury to staff and clients). They also need to manage stock, replenishing products when necessary. A junior therapist working in a salon might also be required to greet clients, answer the telephone, make bookings, serve tea or coffee and fulfil other reception duties.
Most employers ask that a beauty therapist be fully qualified, but some employers will take on students who are still training. There is no standard qualification that all therapists must have, but highly recognised qualifications that are accepted by most employers include:
- NVQ diploma, levels 1,2 and 3 in Beauty Therapy.
- BTEC in Beauty Therapy Sciences.
- Comite International d’Esthetique et de Cosmetologie (CIDESCO) diploma in Beauty Therapy.
- Confederation of International Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology (CIBTAC) diploma in Beauty Therapy.
- The International Examination Board (ITEC) diploma in Beauty Therapy.
All courses offer training in the basics, but also run supplementary courses, allowing you to specialise in a particular area or simply broaden your range of skills. NVQ, BTEC and ITEC diploma courses are offered at Further Education colleges across the country. The CIDESCO and CIBTAC courses are more commonly offered at private beauty schools and are more expensive.
Most courses are largely practical but will also have a theoretical element too. Scientific theory is an important part of beauty therapy as a therapist needs to understand the basics of anatomy, physiology and dermatology before they can treat a client.
When choosing a course, it pays to do some research beforehand as the range of courses offered and the quality of instruction can vary hugely.
Some employers prefer therapists to be trained in using a particular brand of products, but many are willing to train on the job.
As well as having the technical knowledge and experience gained through training, a beauty therapist should also:
- Be personable, confident and relaxed. A smile and a friendly chat can go a long way to putting a client at ease (which is essential during a tricky procedure) and enhance the overall experience for the client. However, a therapist should not be too intrusive.
- Be discreet and trustworthy. A therapist should never talk about other clients or reveal confidences .
- Have a steady hand and an eye for detail. Some procedures can be delicate or tricky.
- Have a strong stomach. A therapist’s job involves close contact with intimate parts of a stranger’s body, so they cannot afford to be squeamish.
- Have artistic flair. This is particularly important for therapists specialising in make-up. You need to be creative and have an instinct for what suits a particular client, and what does not.
The working hours of a beauty therapist can vary immensely, and are usually dependent on the quantity of work. Some therapists working in salons are required to be there throughout opening hours, whilst others work on an appointment-only basis, coming in when required. Typical salon opening hours are from 9am-6pm, Monday to Saturday, and some even open on Sundays. There are opportunities to work part-time, particularly in businesses where beauty therapy is not the main service offered. Many therapists also work in the evenings to suit the hours of working clients.
The type of equipment needed to be a beauty therapist depends on the services offered. Typically, a therapist should be well stocked in all the creams, washes, facial masks, facial steamer, cosmetics, applicators, brushes, scissors, nail buffers and other products and tools associated with facial treatments, make-up and nail treatments. They should also have a bed and chair suitable for the client to lie or sit on during treatment. Waxing requires liquid wax and a special wax heater. Procedures such as electrolysis, electrotherapy and laser hair removal require specialist machinery.
Products and equipment used in certain treatments can pose a risk to the therapist and client if not handled correctly. Hot wax can easily burn sensitive skin. Electrolysis, which involves treating each individual hair follicle, should be done with extreme care to prevent bruising the client.
There are many chain and franchise groups across the UK that employ beauty therapists including:
- Champneys Health Resorts – the UK’s largest group of health spas and resorts, employing over 1,000 people.
- Marriot Hotels & Country Clubs – a leading name in spa resorts all over the world with 11 locations in the UK alone.
- Re aqua and Dove Spas – this well-known name in beauty therapy has 29 salons across the UK.
- Saks Hair & Beauty – a chain of franchise salons offering beauty therapy and hairdressing services on the high street and in health clubs.
- Cannons Health Clubs – offers a range of beauty treatments and complimentary therapies at 49 locations across Britain.
Beauty therapists can start working while they are still trainees and should receive a pay increase when they become fully qualified. A therapist can become a senior member of staff or even move into management after only 2-3 years of experience. An experienced therapist with a good client base might wish to start their own business, working alone or employing other therapists. There are also opportunities to specialise in particular areas or train students.