A Lifetime of Learning

The spa industry is expanding worldwide with unstoppable force. According to a recent ISPA study, one in five Americans visited a spa within a 12 month period. And, just as the day-spa boom began in America and quickly crossed both oceans to explode globally, medical spas and full-service salons, which offer facials, nailcare, and other treatments, are now successful American business models with huge international potential as well. How can you stay competitive and keep your staff performing at a world-class level? Education, as always, is the answer.

Getting the Apprentice Advantage

America is the land of the entrepreneur. I, a Brit who relocated to Los Angeles 21 years ago, am the first to say the success of Dermalogica could only have happened in America—specifically in Southern California where the culture is energetic, health-oriented, and youthful. Today, I would like to see this uniquely American sense of enterprise cross-pollinate with a European tradition—apprenticeship.

Although some therapists mentor others, the practice needs to be the rule rather than the exception. Perhaps there should even be a professional society in the tradition of the medieval crafts guilds. Elders should pass on their expertise to promising novices, not out of the goodness of their hearts, but because it is how the craft lives and flourishes. This attitude of sharing a legacy of information strengthens skills, builds morale, and makes our industry stronger.

Seeking Higher Learning

Already, more and more spas and skincare centers of all types are requiring that their therapists possess supplemental training in order to consider them for employment. As international borders become more fluid, and highly skilled therapists from Asia and Europe—including Eastern Europe, known for its history of skincare expertise—flood the worldwide marketplace, standards and guest expectations are likely to rise. All therapists must assess their skills honestly and commit to ongoing training, which will give them a competitive edge with today's increasingly informed and demanding consumer. To this end, The International Dermal Institute offers postgraduate and honors diplomas, which represent 100 and 300 hours of additional education respectively. And the industry as a whole must commit to promoting education and the best educators—dynamic teachers with real-world experience.

Fighting Complacency

Yes, every skincare therapist must learn effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, and frictions, repeating the movements hundreds of times until muscle memory sets in. Once the movements are rote, however, the real journey of learning begins. Michelangelo, shortly before his death, wrote ancora imparo, which translates as, "I am still learning." Estheticians whose mastery of technique leads to complacency become what I call "mechanics"—technically competent but emotionally disconnected therapists.

While a certain degree of professional detachment is healthy, the therapist still needs to connect with the client. Skincare is, after all, about contact. Ongoing education is the best way to stay in touch with this larger purpose and with the vast potential available to therapists willing to make the commitment to stay connected to their craft. Otherwise, it's just a job.

Jane Wurwand founded the first International Dermal Institute in Los Angeles in 1983. Today there are more than 20 Institutes in seven countries. In 1986, Wurwand launched the professional skincare line Dermalogica. Most recently, she opened Dermalogica on Montana, a retail and skincare treatment center, in Santa Monica, CA. She can be reached at [email protected].