After 12 years working as an aesthetician for other spas and skin clinics, Yolanda Porrata realized her dream and opened Vera, her own skin studio in San Francisco, six months before her county issued a shelter-in-place order on March 16 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Vera has now been closed for as long as it was open.
Porrata is not alone. Ninety-eight percent of aestheticians in the U.S. are female and roughly 135,000 aestheticians across 14 states are unable to perform a facial as of now, according to Associated Skin Care Professionals. While restrictions vary state to state ― even county to county, as in California — all have imposed a mask requirement for the client, which means facials are not permitted. This mostly leaves brow and lash services, which generate a fraction of the revenue that facials normally do.
“It’s infuriating that we are state-licensed professionals, schooled in safety standards, and we still can’t give a facial,” she told HuffPost. “A treatment room is a controlled environment: air purifiers, disinfecting every surface between clients, only two people allowed in the room at a time. It’s absurd that we are still at this point.”
Porrata told HuffPost that every day she wakes up to a new skin clinic closing permanently in San Francisco, but she is dedicated to keeping the lights on for at least a year.
“I’m doing virtual skin consultations, virtual facials, virtual brow tutorials, dropping off and mailing out facial kits and products. The hustle is real,” she said. Porrata considers herself lucky to have an accommodating landlord because, as she told him, “Do you know how many creams I would have to sell to make my rent?”
Porrata said her monthly sales goal is around $6,000. “The big difference now is I am working with a retail model, with limited services,” she added. “The margins are tight and I have to consider my monthly product replenishment orders. This number does not include me. This is a keep-the-lights-on number.” Porrata thinks she’s lost roughly $100,000 in revenue during the past six months.
Aestheticians like Porrata are frustrated that their services are not considered essential by government decision-makers. “What we do is essential,” Porrata argued. “Facial massage, tension relief, talk therapy — a facial is not all about getting your skin gorgeous. Dentists are able to clean teeth with their patients’ mouths open the entire time, but I can’t give a facial.”
So who is deciding what is essential on a state level? One could argue that mostly male (roughly 75% of statewide elective officials and state legislators are male) statewide decision-makers may see their gym and dentist as “essential” while facials aren’t exactly on their radar. What these elected officials are missing is that pandemic-related stress combined with wearing an occlusive face mask can create a Molotov cocktail of anxiety for women — and aestheticians in 14 states are powerless to treat it in their clients.
“A lot of aestheticians are asking themselves if they really want to return to a situation where they will be making dramatically less money. Many are leaving the industry completely.”
The list of states not permitting facials was at 15 until Sept, 3, when New York lifted its restrictions, allowing services that require face masks to be removed, as long as the provider wears a face mask and face shield. While aesthetician and Rescue Spa founder Danuta Mieloch and her staff can now give facials in her New York location, she and her team of aestheticians at her Philadelphia spa are limited to performing services that do not require mask removal.
Mieloch got creative during the pandemic to keep her aestheticians working and secure a loyal clientele. “We created targeted treatments for the eyes, forehead and décolleté,” Mieloch explained. “Aestheticians are doing Zoom skin consultations and sending clients skin tips during their usual appointment times. I have aestheticians who always hated waxing now say, ‘Book me waxing appointments.’ They want to work and I want to give them that opportunity.”
Toshiana Baker ― a former aesthetician and the founder of consulting firm SpaWorx, which coaches aestheticians and spa owners on strategy and general business practices ― told HuffPost she is in touch with aestheticians who are in a state of panic.
“I am getting calls from aestheticians who simply cannot understand why their state won’t allow them to work. Aestheticians are trained in safety and sanitation. They were born to do this,” Baker said. But what aestheticians are not trained to do is navigate their business through a pandemic.
“Even once a skin studio opens, it’s going to take a huge financial hit,” she said. “Not being able to service as many customers per day, having additional pandemic-related costs. A lot of aestheticians are asking themselves if they really want to return to a situation where they will be making dramatically less money. Many are leaving the industry completely.”
Tracy Donley ― executive director of Associated Skin Care Professionals, an organization that provides liability insurance and education to about 25,000 licensed, mostly independent aestheticians ― worries that aestheticians who are not permitted to perform facials are given a “Sophie’s choice” by their states. “Aestheticians need to make a living and they have their clients begging them to make an exception. ‘Please come over. I need you to fix my maskne.’ Their licenses are at stake, but they also need to work,” Donley said.
While 135,000 aestheticians are unable to work in some states because their services require mask removal, aestheticians in Texas, Florida and other states have been giving facials for several months without consequence.
Dallas-based aesthetician and founder of her namesake skin studios Joanna Czech, who also has a skin studio in New York, could literally write the book (with the help of her OSHA-certified engineer) on safety and sanitization. After injecting about $50,000 into new safety standards and putting her staff through two days of rehearsing new protocols, Czech opened the doors to her famed skin studio in Dallas in the beginning of June.
Czech runs her skin studio in the age of coronavirus like a Marine general. Following her 19-page safety protocol document, Czech and her staff have thought of every possible detail from replacing cashmere blankets with washable parachute comforters to booking clients 30 to 40 minutes apart for medical-grade disinfection and ultraviolet sanitation. When Czech’s clients arrive (some have flown in from New York and Miami and quarantined for 14 days), she reminds them before they reach the room that due to her strict protocols she cannot perform treatments like cryotherapy and oxygen facials, nor can she chat during their treatment.
“I let them know I cannot tell my usual dirty jokes during their facial,” Czech said. “It actually is a big change for me. My facials are meant to be informative, educational. Now I don’t speak during services.”
Melissa Fox, aesthetician and founder of Flawless by Melissa Fox in Miami, has been open for business since May 10. Like Czech, she has instilled strict safety protocols in her skin studio and she and her team of aestheticians and office staff have remained coronavirus-free.
“We have only had to turn away one client in four months,” Fox told HuffPost. “Before a client crosses our threshold, they have their temperature taken. A client had a 101 temperature a couple months ago and we asked her to wait in our hallway to cool down. This is Miami; she could have walked here. Two minutes later, we took her temperature again and the result was the same. We politely explained the situation and rebooked her for three weeks out. No problem.”
Fox is frustrated that her “sister aestheticians” in other states are unable to return to work and hopes these states can refer to her success as a case study in their decision-making. “Let them open,” she said. “People need us. They need our touch, our comfort, the health we bring their skin. We are proof that if you do what you’re supposed to do, you can stay open.”
You can support your aesthetician by booking virtual consultations and services, replenishing products with them and contacting your state’s elected officials. “Aestheticians have completely been left out of this narrative; our businesses gutted,” Porrata said. “Thank you to my loyal clientele who have literally paid my rent over the past six months.”
UPDATE: Since press time, eight states have opened up allowing aestheticians to perform facials in their treatment rooms. Now, only five states remain as holdouts: California, Connecticut, Maine, Pennsylvania and Virginia, plus District of Columbia.