Confessions of a beauty therapist: Some customers expect miracle cures
Whenever Ms Lily Kew treats pimples, she is extra careful.
Not only to avoid scarring of her client's face, but also to make sure her own does not get hit by flying pus.
Sounds gross? The 44-year-old deadpans: "It's happened before. Once, some of the gunk hit my eyelid and I wiped it away with a cotton bud. It was disgusting, but part of the job."
She adds with a laugh: "Over the years, I have learnt how to siam (stay away)."
Ms Kew also has to contend with clients who break wind when she performs a brazilian wax - down there - on them.
"We secretly pray before the treatment starts that the client won't fart during the process."
Ms Kew, who has been in the beauty industry since she was 28, owns Beaute by Kew, an organic beauty salon in the Everton Park neighbourhood near Tanjong Pagar.
Like many such salons, hers encourages clients to sign up for facial packages.
The industry has earned a poor reputation for hard-selling, she concedes.
"The concept of packages has been abused by therapists who use high-pressure tactics to convince clients to take them up because they get commission for the sign-ups."
The New Paper on Sunday understands that beauticians take a 2 per cent to 10 per cent cut in commission off package prices. A junior therapist has a basic salary of $1,300 to $1,500.
Ms Kew reckons that hard-selling is unnecessary as long as the service provided and results produced are top-notch. Still, she believes that packages are a good idea because clients get discounts when they sign up.
Making a commitment to continue with treatment sessions for a set period of time also yields better results in the end, she adds.
"Once in a while, we get clients who come to us for miracle cures after using a product that caused a bad reaction, such as their face becoming red, puffy, and inflamed.
"They want an instant fix, but these things typically take time," she explains.
The key to achieving great skin is in using proper cleansing products, Ms Kew maintains.
But she is not immune to beauty mistakes too. Indeed, her greatest weakness is wine.
"Drinking too much dehydrates the skin, but I simply love red wine and cheese, and I admit I have a glass too many at times."
Ms Kew began studying beauty therapy because of her own battle with pimples.
She enrolled in a local beauty college for a year before continuing her studies in Vancouver for two years. And before opening her own salon six months ago, she ran the now-defunct Glow Aesthetics with her sister.
While she may share drinks and snacks with clients-turned-friends, there is no avoiding the occasional unreasonable customer.
In one case, a client demanded a refund for her package because a mask was left on her face five minutes longer than usual. "We did that because her skin was mature and dry. We explained to her that it was for her benefit and she did not make a fuss when she left that day," Ms Kew says.
"But a few days later, she came back with her husband, kids, and in-laws in tow, who were aggressive and accused us of being inattentive."
Her job also makes her privy to the quirky fears that women have.
Ms Kew says: "Some of them get uncomfortable and breathless when you cover their eyes with cotton pads. So we always make sure to find out if they have such fears through a form they have to fill out."
She also plays counsellor to clients who pour their hearts out to her about strained relationships. Some of them break into tears, typically when narrating the infidelity of their husbands or worries over their children, she says.
She explains: "I typically try not to say too much. Lending a listening ear is more effective."
Seeing the transformation in her clients is one of the greatest satisfactions of the job.
"Especially when they suffer from large, angry pimples - that's when you can see a change in their confidence and disposition once the skin condition has improved," she says.
"I feel like I have played a part, and that's what keeps me going."
Secrets of the trade
1 Always wear deodorant. Your pits are always in close proximity to the client's nose.
2 To reassure the client, go through each treatment step (extraction, mask, etc) before the facial.
3 Let clients do a patch test on their jawline before they buy a new product. It reduces the chance of bad reactions later.