Helping people look their best is now big business. There was a time when people – usually women – only visited beauty salons or clinics before big occasions like weddings. Thanks to more disposable income and advances in cosmetic treatments, people of both sexes now go to their personal beautician or therapist on a regular basis, which means that there is an increasing number of career opportunities in the beauty industry.
Hairdressers and barbers have been around for considerably longer than the beauty therapist. The traditional red-and-white-striped barber’s pole is a reminder that, during medieval times, barbers performed surgery on customers in addition to the usual short-back-and-sides. Nowadays however, they tend to confine themselves to cutting and styling hair.
Most students looking to break into the hair and beauty industry take an introductory course and then work in a salon or clinic to gain experience. If you think you would like to spend your working life making people look and feel good, have a strong interest in different therapies, good communication skills and some creative leanings, then a career as a beauty therapist or hairdresser is well worth considering.
To become a fully qualified beauty therapist you must study towards a qualification approved by CIDESCO, CIBTAC or ITEC, who are the internationally recognised beauty therapy bodies. A number of private and PLC colleges around the country offer recognised full time courses. Course titles include Beauty Care, Beauty & Complimentary Therapies and Beauty & Retail Sales Consultancy. These courses generally take two years to complete.
Typical subjects covered on a beauty therapy course include Cleansing, Skin Analysis, Facial Massage, Electrotherapy, Indian Head Massage, Diet & Nutrition and Depilation. You might also study more general subjects such as business, IT and communications. These courses don’t appear on the CAO system; instead you apply directly to the college. Generally, a full Leaving Cert is required, while for some courses you need to have studied biology – review each college’s prospectus for further details.
There are schools that run full-time PLC hairdressing courses and FÁSoffers traineeships in hairdressing, but perhaps the most lucrative avenue into the profession is to start your training with a major hairdressing chain. This allows you to earn as you learn. You will experience everything from the basics – washing, shampooing and blow-drying – to the more complex skills of cutting and colouring. A full salon training programme takes around four years to complete and involves both on-the-job and offsite instruction.
There is usually a work placement for trainee beauty therapists and hairdressers to gain experience with clients in a salon setting. To be awarded their diploma, students must pass a series of theoretical and practical exams.
The majority of beauty therapists, hairdressers and barbers choose to work in salons or spas, while others take the self-employment route and choose to either visit clients in their own homes or set up a salon themselves.
There are also plenty of opportunities for a beauty therapist or hair stylist to move into different fields. One option is the fashion industry, styling models for photo shoots or the catwalk. Another option is to take a further qualification in alternative therapies such as aromatherapy.
The bread and butter of the beauty therapist’s job are facials, manicures, pedicures, waxing and plucking, while hairdressers and barbers cut and style hair and offer advice on hair care. Beauty therapists and hair stylists can also help with advice on diet, make-up and styling. They can also help customers prepare for important events such as weddings or graduations.
Specialist equipment is ubiquitous in the beauty therapy business – electrolysis and laser hair removal are two of the most popular treatments offered and beauty therapists should be fully trained in how to use the relevant machines. Electrical equipment is also used for certain slimming treatments and the eradication of thread veins and skin blemishes.
Some therapists specialise in a particular area, such as nail technicians. Many beauty therapists and salons also offer additional services in alternative therapies and treatments such as reflexology, henna painting, aromatherapy, holistic massage and body wrapping.
Personal Qualities & Work Environment
Useful personal qualities for a career in this area include creativity, concentration and good business sense, and you should also be ‘well groomed’. Conversation and listening skills are needed as you can often spend an hour or more with a single client, and you have to keep your energy and enthusiasm levels high to ensure the customer’s experience is a positive one.
Most beauty therapists and hair stylists work in a salon environment. Working hours are generally nine-to-five business hours, although sometimes you may have to work evenings and weekends if demand is high. Other environments could include photography studios, cruise ships, health centres and customers’ homes.
Newly qualified beauty therapists and hairdressers don’t rank high on the pay scale, with most starting on minimum wage. However, a salary in the beauty field can rise quickly with promotions and most salons pay their therapists commission for selling beauty products to their clients, which can boost income considerably.
JargonDepilation: The act of removing hair from the surface of the skin
Electrotherapy: The method of using electrical stimulation to treat or heal skin problems
Trichology: The science of the structure, function and diseases of the human hair