As a licensed esthetician, proper sanitation and infection prevention is extremely important to me. I go to great lengths to ensure that all precautions are taken to ensure the safety of both my client and myself.
But let's say you are visiting another service provider in another part of the world. What should you look for in the treatment room to ensure the safest procedure possible?
Some estheticians may carry multiple licenses. For example they may have a massage or nail license in addition to their esthetics license. For our purposes, we are going to only look at the services than someone with an esthetics license may perform. They fall into three basic categories.
Make up services
I haven't included lasers in this article because, while estheticians are permitted to perform laser hair removal, in the state of New York there is currently no licensing or required education system in place. There are also so many other specialized facial services that can and are being performed by estheticians such as LED, Microcurrent, Cryotherapy, and Microneedling that it would be hard to cover them all specifically but these are some basic guidelines regarding the most common procedures. I am always available to answer specific questions about any procedure you're considering.
The Good News!
Services with an esthetician are generally quite safe as we are not permitted to penetrate the dermis or blood barrier of the skin. However without a perfectly intact barrier function, pathogens can be introduced by poor sanitation practices. Additionally procedures such as waxing and facial extractions may bring us into contact with blood and fluids. Therefore it's important to make sure that all equipment and products used are safe and there is no cross contamination between clients, and between the client and the provider. Much of the work of sanitation will happen before you arrive but how can you assess the safety of your services? I've divided the topic of sanitation into separate services starting with facial services.
General cleanliness - Upon entering the treatment room you should see no sign that someone was there before you. There should be fresh linens, no open trashcans or hampers, no visible laundry or implements laying about. You should see signs of sanitation supplies such as sterilizers, disinfectants, etc.
During a facial service - Estheticians should start by washing or disinfecting hands. Equipment should be clean! Mag lamps and steamers are often adjusted during the facial. No one should be touching your face, moving a dirty lamp or steamer and then touching your face again! If old product hasn't been cleaned from the equipment, that may be a sign that the room isn't properly cleaned between clients. All implements should come out of a sterile receptacle or you should see them being sterilized before use. Gloves should always be worn during extractions.
Products - Back bar products are usually contained in pumps, tubes or jars. All products in tubes or jars should be dispensed with clean swabs or wooden spatulas to avoid cross contamination of the product. If you see your esthetician dip a finger in a jar of anything that is a bad sign that the product may be contaminated.
Manual scrubs and enzymes - the same care should be taken while dispensing as any other product.
Chemical peels - the nature of the application methods of chemical peels results in very little opportunity for cross contamination as they are typically applied with swabs or wipes. An exception would be applying a layer of peel solution with a wipe and then reloading that same wipe from the bottle of solution.
Microdermabrasion - There are two types of microdermabrasion machines, crystal and crystal free, which is often called diamond microderm. Many crystal free machines are advertised as more sanitary through virtue of the fact that there are no crystals to be left behind on the skin. I personally disagree with this measurement of sanitation and yes, full disclosure, I have a crystal system. First of all, crystal free machines are extremely popular with spas and skincare centers primarily because they are much, much cheaper than a machine that uses crystals because all the diamond machine needs to do is provide suction. The abrasives are in the hand piece and are used to scrape the skin much like sandpaper. They are less complex resulting in fewer repairs. You can pick up a diamond microderm for a little as $400 where an average crystal machine will run in the thousands. To assess which is actually more sanitary, think back to the last time you sanded something. The more you sand, the more material sticks to the sandpaper. In the case of a diamond microderm tip, that material is dead skin cells. These tips must be thoroughly cleaned, disinfected and reused. Back to the sandpaper example, removing every cell from the grit of the diamond tip takes some work and needs to be done meticulously. They are the most expensive part of the machine and so are rarely replaced. When I was choosing which system use I looked at the sanding tips such as the ones below and wondered how I could be positive they were completely free of any dead skin cells.
Crystal microderm tips on the other hand are inexpensive and simple and easy to clean and sterilize. With regard to the crystals themselves, they are part of a closed system where once the crystal strikes the skin, it is sucked back up through a separate tube and deposited to the waste receptacle. I can't imagine anyone who would be unscrupulous enough to attempt to reuse crystals but the material that adheres to the crystal oxidizes quickly giving them a distinctly gray color.
Spa services are meant to be stress free and a major part of an estheticians education and practical examination is sanitation and infection prevention. Armed with a bit of information you can choose a partner in skin care you can trust and who can provide a safe and completely relaxing service.