Their interiors may be seductive, their treatment menus intriguing but be aware: beauty salons can be bad for you looks. Inflamed skin, missing chunks of brow and scorched genitalia are regular occurrences at the hands of some beauticians - or ''butchers'' as their university trained peers like to call them.
''The concept of being professionals is lacking in their professional standards and behaviour,'' says Dr Alicia Teska, a Melbourne cosmetic physician. ''They're not taking responsibility for their own actions and for adverse reactions. They're not following through and taking criticism. If something's not working, they wash their hands of it. They take no personal responsibility. Once they've got the diploma they think they know all they need to know.''
Dr Teska, like many others in the industry, sees firsthand the damage caused by poorly trained and uncommitted beauty therapists, especially those in charge of cheap machinery. ''The equipment's not serviced, there's no insurance coverage. When things go wrong, they go wrong badly.'' A Sydney beauty editor had a bad run-in with a beautician wielding a Fraxel laser last month. The Fraxel was supposed to remove signs of visible ageing. Instead it removed random layers of skin unevenly. ''It's taking weeks to heal properly,'' says the journalist. ''I look a mess. I don't want to go out. I've got no comeback with the salon - I didn't sign anything and I didn't check her credentials. You'd think I would have known better.''
Ilesha Haywood, director of the Paramedical Skin Clinic in Melbourne, says a next-day, follow-up service should be standard with medical-grade treatments. ''The problem at most places is that a proper skin analysis isn't carried out in the first place and clients aren't given the appropriate treatments. The treatments either don't do anything - don't address the problems - or they irritate their skin. It's little wonder women are cynical about beauty therapists.'' Salons endorsed by a single cosmetic company and those selling only one or two lines are prone to spurious product recommendations. ''There's no 'one size fits all' with skin, no 'set menu','' says Haywood.
A hot stone massage at a Balinese-style day retreat almost left a lasting impression on Katie Waggott who, as a former therapist, used to train others in the technique. ''The therapist broke all the rules in one swoop,'' says Waggott, who now owns beautymill.com.au. ''She placed the stone just above my knee directly on my skin and left it there. I had to speak - 'that feels a bit hot' - and she removed the stone and then seemed to put it right back in a minute. It took six hours for the red mark to eventually start to die down. I actually thought I had a law suit on my hands - or leg.''
Grooming treatments are most open to error. We've all heard stories of women going home with half a calf left unwaxed or the wrong bit of the Brazilian removed but brows seem a particular hazard. ''I've seen some incredibly horrifying shapes and tint jobs in my time,'' says brow sculptor Amy-Jean. ''They go to their local 'butcher' for a basic wax and have ended up with Nike ticks, McDonalds arches or lamb chops. They smile, pay and bolt straight to the nearest eyebrow specialist for a repair job.'' One of the worst cases was an unwanted tattoo. ''A client came to me in tears explaining that she had just been to a beautician for a brow wax. She'd pointed out that a decent chunk had been removed from where her arch used to be and the therapist had insisted it was already bald and she must have had a scar there. She then convinced her to tattoo that area and used a harsh black pigment. This poor lady now has a racing stripe over her brow in a not-too-believable shade of grey-blue. And, you guessed it, she was charged for it.''
But clients need to take some responsibility. They need to speak up, says Waggott (who had struggled to find her voice as her flesh sizzled) and, says peeling specialist James Vivian, follow their therapists' advice. ''Patient 'horror stories' are exacerbated when clients begin to self-troubleshoot and this often ends up making matters worse,'' says Vivian. ''Clients should always follow the therapist's instructions. And don't forget that some treatments aim to stimulate the inflammation process within the skin, so a level of downtime and some after-effects should be expected.'' And Dr Teska, of Skin Temple medi-clinic, says medically trained beauty professionals could learn from the garden variety. ''Their presentation's better than medical clinics','' she says. ''Beauty therapists are good at connecting with clients and understanding them; it's personal, one-on-one. The touch factor is very important and sometimes the more highly trained professionals forget that.'' As long as ''the touch'' is in-touch with clients' needs and with the latest developments, there's a place for many types of beauty professionals. Just go to the right place.