August 2008

Lisa Kind - Editor

Esthetic Endeavors | by Judith Culp


Risk Management

Any of us that have been in the industry for a while have heard of the amazing things some estheticians do—the wild, weird and just plain crazy. Like what?

Recently I heard of an esthetician that did a Brazilian wax who applied the wax the wrong direction, didn’t stretch and used the same wax applicator for the entire process. Another incident was a technician who chose to do a peel on a new client, in conjunction with a microdermabrasion. And then there was the new product on the market claiming that estheticians could remove moles, skin tags, tattoos and cholesterol deposits and any other superficial lesions.

So what do these things have in common? Lack of risk management. All of them put the technician and the client at risk for complications, side effects or other consequences of procedures. Some put the technician in the position of perhaps breaking state regulations or working beyond the scope of their insurance liability. All of them are very risky.

What do I mean by saying they’re risky? It means the technician or the client or both are at risk of side effects, complications or consequences of the procedure. It means there is a heightened risk of insurance liability.

Most insurance firms and many states require the technician to collect data from the client pertinent to the procedure they’re performing. They also expect us to inform the client of any special aftercare they need to follow. Why? Risk management.

It only takes one bad client experience to ruin a good career. Bad news travels fast and for most of us estheticians, the thought of marring a client permanently is just inconceivable. We want happy clients, we want successful careers and we don’t want lawsuits.

So what can we do to manage our risks, to reduce them? We must get training, have insurance and get proper client documentation.

It is the responsibility of each salon owner and each esthetician to know their state laws, to know the limits of their insurance coverage and to know the product and treatment guidelines recommended by their suppliers. There is no excuse for a technician to perform a service for which they have not been properly trained.

If we want to perform a new service or our salon owner expects us to perform a service, we absolutely must be trained in that service before performing it on the public. We have to know more than the client does. We, as professionals, are expected to know indications, contraindications and protocols for performing a procedure—in addition to the technical aspects.

There is a lot the client doesn’t know. They won’t know if a treatment is inappropriate for them. That is our responsibility. Anyone not committed to having all the necessary knowledge and informing each of their clients about what is appropriate for them is a danger to our industry.

For most procedures, we need to know the theory to understand the indications and the contraindications. We need to know the procedure to follow when performing the treatment and we need to know the very important how-to’s associated with the treatment. If the manufacturer says a treatment should use certain products or should go a specific way and we alter this, it can void our insurance coverage. If the guidelines say we should not perform a procedure on certain people due to health factors, lifestyle factors or Fitzpatrick type and we do it anyway, we void our insurance coverage.

It is also critical we know application technique, stretch or proper settings as well as methods to prevent cross-contamination. Knowledge protects our clients and us.

Proper insurance coverage is a second important aspect to consider. Are you fully covered under your salon policy? Did you know that even if there is a salon insurance policy, this does not protect you from being one of the people “also named” in a lawsuit? The client can sue not only the salon but can also name any practitioner there. If this sounds out of line to you, check with your insurance carrier. To truly protect yourself you need your own professional coverage or your coverage needs to name you specifically so that you have this type of protection. The fee for appropriate insurance coverage could be a small price to pay to protect your personal property.

While some estheticians use a complete client history, covering both medical and lifestyle information to give them great clues as to how a treatment might turn out, one at least has to check for contraindications. Most manufacturers have recommendations for the information you need to gather with regard to their individual service or treatment procedure.

Certain medications can rule out certain treatments. Certain medical conditions may make a treatment inappropriate. Fitzpatrick skin rating measures how safely you can perform peels on a client without risking hyper-pigmentation.

So to manage our risk factor and minimize our chance of unhappy clients—or those who have a less than satisfactory outcome— we must get educated, get insured and get the pertinent information. If we don’t do this, we are in a risky business and according to Murphy’s Law, the bad stuff will eventually happen.

Judith Culp, a CIDESCO Diplomat has been in the esthetics industry since 1980. A CPCP permanent makeup technician for over 18 years she served a 4-year term as a Director for the Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals, two years as their president. She is president of Culp Enterprises Inc. and CEO of NW Institute of Esthetics. Judy Culp is available for consulting. For more information visit