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So You Want to Be a Beauty Therapist?

French and Italian women have long considered visits to beauty salons as important as those to hairdressers. Their British cousins, who used to think these the prerogative of the rich are now more accustomed to making appointments whether on a regular basis or before a special occasion. This trend means that prospects for beauty therapists look good.

There is a bewildering number of job titles in the beauty field – beautician, consultant, therapist, aestheticienne – titles often used to denote the range of treatments their holders offer. Generally speaking, beauticians concentrate on facial and skin care while consultants advise on, and primarily sell, cosmetics on behalf of companies. A beauty therapist or aestheticienne, by contrast, is qualified to give a range of treatments to face and body, from facials, manicures and pedicures to massage, waxing and electrology; from make-up advice to treatments designed to correct bad skin conditions, improve muscle tone or lose weight.

Unfortunately, anyone may set up in business as a beauty therapist. The title is not protected, and there are some unscrupulous operators around. Discerning clients however, will expect evidence of qualifications, usually in the form of a framed diploma, and anyone wishing to train is strongly advised to attend a reputable course. Equally unfortunately, diplomas can be quite easily come by. If there are some less than reputable practitioners, there are some schools whose certificates are not worth the paper they are printed on. All this may change soon. There are moves in the profession to press for a national registration system, with only therapists who have followed a rigorous course of training permitted to practice.

In the meantime, it is important for prospective students to shop around carefully when choosing a school, asking questions about the careers of former students (no good school will object), and ensuring that the course leads, in addition to its own diploma, to the qualifications of a recognized examining body.

There are at least five of these: it does not appear to matter which the school is linked with, since all are recognized nationally or internationally. Elisabeth Jones, a qualified physiotherapist, beauty therapist and immediate past chairman of the British Association of Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology, who now runs her own college near Andover in Hampshire says: ‘Look for a school which if not state-run, has its name nailed against a reputable organization. ‘ Liz, naturally enough, has chosen BABTAC, but even with her experience and links with that organization, was not allowed to have her school included on their approved list until she had shown a year’s satisfactory examination results.

Training can be expensive, with fees of pounds 2,500 to pounds 4,500; therefore choice of school is important. Courses are offered in the state sector, and are free to younger students, but usually of two years’ duration, whereas private schools train students in a much shorter period – 10 months, usually leading to the award of a full beauty therapist’s diploma.

Why the time difference, given that courses in both sectors lead to similar qualifications? This is because the technical colleges, with a larger number of younger students, also have an educational role. Students attend general studies classes, may be taking supplementary O-levels, and have college holidays.

The cost of training must be finely calculated. Fees of several thousand pounds sound daunting, but those who can manage it do benefit by entering the employment market a year earlier.

Ellie de Melo, for instance, who has given up a job in finance and is financing her training at the Elisabeth Jones School, from savings, says: ‘I couldn’t afford to keep myself for two years, but the money I am spending now should be more than offset by the income I hope to have next year. ‘Those who cannot afford private tuition – and who have family support for two years – will probably gravitate to the colleges of further education.

No school, state or private, can afford not to select students carefully, since their long-term reputation depends on the caliber of their output, but formal entrance requirements vary widely. State colleges ask for O-levels, and in some cases, A-levels. ‘We expect charismatic personality, outstanding personal presentation, management potential and five O-levels and a science A-level’, says Chichester College of Technology’s Linda Heald, who annually receives 700 applications for 32 Higher Diploma course places.

Lis Jones, while normally requiring two O-levels, will waive this requirement for a highly-motivated student (particularly an older person) if her background suggests that she is able to cope with the theory (BABTAC courses are two-thirds practical in content and one-third theory; the amount of theory being generally regarded as equivalent to that in nurses’ training). In common with all schools, she looks for the right personal qualities: common sense, warmth, sympathy and the ability to relate well to people, putting them at their ease.

Not all clients are confident and may feel uncomfortable discussing personal problems with a well-groomed therapist. The work is also physically tiring and demands stamina: thus good health is important.

Qualified beauty therapists have a range of employment opportunities, but which vary in different parts of the country. Some work in beauty salons, others in health farms, a few in hospitals; and there is a small number of openings in film and TV make-up work. Prospects for self-employment are good. While renting premises is costly, it is possible to start in a small way, using a spare room in one’s home. An outlay of around pounds 500 should buy a good couch, a supply of creams and other equipment, with a further sum required for insurance and advertising.

Tina Prowting has been a mobile beauty therapist since leaving the state sector London College of Fashion with a Higher Diploma and BABTAC qualifications. Finding no jobs available in Winchester, where she lives with her parents, she decided to go it alone. Business is going well.

She visits clients, offering day, evening and weekend appointments, and is popular with working women and young mothers. All the equipment necessary for facials, massage, waxing and depilatory treatments were bought for pounds 300. Moreover, it is compact enough to carry on a bicycle. She is very fit!

She advertises in the local free paper (for which she now writes a column) and initially pushed leaflets through doors herself. Having passed her driving test, she hopes to acquire a car, followed by a folding treatment couch, and expand her services to surrounding villages.

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