It’s laughable to think that you’d allow an untrained person to work on your teeth. But somehow we don’t think about our skin in the same way. This is more than slightly alarming, given that aestheticians regularly use strong chemicals, blades and electric currents when doing treatments.

You could end up with burns, cuts, permanent scarring, skin lifting, infection, gangrene, paralysis… The list goes on and gets worse when the client is pregnant, has diabetes or use medicines that could react to the treatment. It may sound extreme, but it is a terrifying reality. More and more spa and salon injuries have been reported in recent years, and there are now law firms that specialise in these cases.

The reason for this is a lack of qualified practitioners and, in South Africa particularly, a lack of a regulatory body controlling the industry.

Somatologists need to know more than how to tweeze an eyebrow or clip a toenail. They study anatomy and physiology, basic health and safety, and hygiene and sterilisation before they are allowed to begin practical work. Then followed years of practical hours and examinations at a registered tertiary institution, culminating in national and international examinations.

In recent years, the beauty industry has moved towards medical aesthetics. You can now have teeth whitening, botox injections, chemical peels and waxing all done at one venue. Considering these advancements, one would expect the practitioners to be highly trained and confident in their abilities.

South Africa has many good training institutions and several bodies, such as CIDESCO, that provide international accreditation. All of them follow the SAQA (South African Qualifications Authority) guidelines, designed to ensure a high quality of treatments.

Why then do we still have the problem of improperly trained therapists? Mainly because somatology is an expensive course. Many people opt to do a weekend workshop instead, despite the fact that it won’t give them an accredited qualification. Sadly this works well for the industry employers. Unqualified aestheticians earn less than their qualified colleagues, allowing employers to keep their bottom line looking healthy in the context of the current financial climate that has everyone hunting for the most affordable treatment. A R150 pedicure sounds much better than a R250 one and, after all, it is just a pedicure.

In the interest of offering the best-priced treatments, many businesses provide in-house training and leave it at that. The guests will be none the wiser and there is no watchman to enforce standards in the industry.

Does this mean the industry is doomed? Absolutely not. When consumers push back against poor service and demand quality from qualified therapists, the industry will have to up its game.

An aesthetician is in in a position of trust. As the client you should be able to trust your therapist to know what he or she is doing, and that they have your best interests at heart. Ask questions about your treatment, and ask the establishment to give you proof of its certification if you are unsure. You have the right to understand all aspects of your treatment. After all, you aren&t just paying for a treatment- you are paying for quality, and the therapists’ skills, knowledge and expertise.

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