Like many other Americans I was stoked for the presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney. I'm an esthetician and Wednesdays from 2-8 p.m. are spent working at the spa. The debate began at 9 p.m. so I prayed that my last client wouldn't be late or someone new who would have fifty bazillion questions about their skin. As it turned out my last appointment was a regular client who was on time. I was able to hustle home, prepare dinner and be comfortably seated with my husband in enough time to wage our own little debate about which station we would watch the coverage on. As he channel surfed I caught a glimpse of Michelle Obama looking radiant and of course my first thought was "I wonder who's doing her facials"? (Skin care is how I make my living after all.) I wondered if the FLOTUS sneaks out of the White House to the private treatment room of some master facialist, available only to a select group of socialites. Perhaps her brilliant makeup artist is performing a dual role and is also responsible for her complexion perfection. Or it could be that she's a fan of the relaxing "do it yourself facial", preferring to pamper herself using ingredients from the refrigerator like eggs, mayonnaise, lemon juice, papaya or avocado. That wouldn't be too surprising since she loves to garden and is such a health advocate. I turned my attention to her husband as the debates began but this question stayed in the back of my mind for a very good reason.
A few years ago I had a group of six young African-American female attorneys coming to me every couple of months or so for their facials. They were all single, gorgeous, chic and blessed with skin the color of rich dark chocolate. I used to tease them that they only allowed women of a particular hue into their inner circle. Interestingly, they told me that they had all been drawn together as mutual support in law school due to the snide comments and inequities they'd experienced as a direct result of their dark skin, so to a certain extent I was correct. They were extremely diligent about keeping their complexions as perfect as possible and always asked about the latest skin technology and best products. They were largely the impetus for my blog, Ethnic Skin Aficionado because I never had enough time to answer all of their questions. When President Obama was inaugurated in 2009 they all relocated to Washington, DC to be closer to the action. It was a very exciting time for them and I would receive emails frequently, updating me on their apartment hunting status, love-life or new job. They would also write about the difficulties in finding a new facialist who understood the intricacies of their skin. I knew that they were very particular and assembling a new glam squad can be a daunting task, but at some point they would find the service provider they needed.
About four months later on a Saturday morning when I checked my client schedule for the day I saw that two of my attorneys had booked appointments with me. They had been unable to find anyone in their new city to perform a facial to their satisfaction. I asked them how that was possible, after all our nation's capital is a hotbed of cultural and ethnic diversity. I mentioned three major international hotel chains with fabulous spa facilities. They told me that their group had been to all of them, found them to be visually beautiful yet disappointing in their service and knowledge of darker skin. And, they also informed me, I would be seeing the rest of their crew in the upcoming weeks.
I have to admit that to a certain extent I felt flattered. But a much larger part of me felt frustration, anger and dismay. In 2009, why should African-American women have to get on a train or take a road trip and travel for two hours to have facial services with someone knowledgeable? Partially as justification I told myself that part of my allure is the vast range of international products offered by our spa. An excellent product line can serve to enhance the skills of any good esthetician. But I also had to acknowledge that I personally have been to more "luxury" spas than I care to remember which had fantastic product selections but substandard service. It's perplexing that for years the salon industry and product manufacturers have recognized diversity by offering services and products which address not only ethnic specific but bi-racial hair needs as well. The spa industry remains relentlessly apathetic and unapologetically uneducated in caring for the skin of 80 percent of the world's population.
I believe that in the past, women of color were simply not taken into consideration in the skin care industry. However, in 2011 ethnic beauty sales generated 1.5 trillion dollars in the global market. The First Lady of the free world is a glamorous African-American. New consumer markets are emerging and the fastest growing demographics are bi-racials, Asians and Hispanics. It is essential for all women of color who love going to spas to ask prior to booking an appointment if there is someone there who is knowledgeable about their skin. Luxury hotel groups and spa chains from Dubai to D.C. are long overdue in recognizing their ethnic customer and offering equal skin care by trained qualified professionals. In the not too distant future some forward thinking business owner will recognize the opportunity and capture the ethnic esthetic market. Until then I stand at the ready to do Mrs. Obama's facial. It's my duty as a patriot.
Linda Harding-Bond is President of Moontide Consulting, specializing in ethnic skin & retail training with a global perspective.