Skin care coaches fill a niche

Alix Strauss / New York Times News Service /

Published Dec 5, 2012 at 04:00AM

For the past 2½ years, Marlena Hall, a public relations and marketing professional, has visited Nancy Reagan (not the former first lady, but an aesthetician with about 200 clients) almost weekly.

“I was skeptical at first,” said Hall, 26, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla. “But after a session, I know things are going to be better. I’ve a plan, I’m getting solid advice and I’m setting goals with someone who wants to help me.”

Reagan isn’t a therapist in the clinical sense. But for many of her patients seeking skin care help, that’s exactly what she is.

“I prefer skin care coach,” said Reagan, who has been in the business for 20 years, speaking from her spa in Delray Beach, Fla. “The majority of my work deals with women and self-esteem. That involves their face and their feelings.”

Reagan’s hourlong coaching sessions cost $50 to $250 (the first consultation is free), and might involve creating a strategy, setting goals, lifestyle reviewing, journal keeping or the recommendation of topical products and treatments.

Getting professional advice on skin care outside the dermatologist’s office is nothing new (just think of Clinique’s famous “technicians,” with their white lab coats), but lately the popular and expensive practice of life coaching has been making its way into the beauty industry.

Myskinprescription.com is a two-month-old website with more than 100 clients, each seeking customized skin care help.

Renee Rouleau, who owns two skin care spas in Dallas, developed the site for out-of-state clients who needed one-on-one care, education and counseling. Call it “face coaching.”

A personal relationship

“People are desperate for a personalized connection,” Rouleau said. “This is a competitive industry dominated by products and procedures, and consumers are left to sort things out by themselves. We learn about your life and how skin care interacts in your world. Then we find solutions to your skin problems.”

For Rouleau, coaching is serious business. Clients are asked to do homework, watch educational videos, read newsletters and download articles on their specific needs. She even demands that some sign a promise they will not pick at their skin.

Thirty minutes of Skyping with Rouleau costs $250, and includes $100 worth of her own skin care products. She looks at clients’ diets, edits the list of products in their medicine cabinet and discusses the right way to wear sunscreen (Rouleau believes 90 percent of people apply it incorrectly). They are then placed into one of nine groups, such as dry/tired/aging (No. 7), and a given a daily treatment plan, followed up with regularly scheduled emails containing personalized skin tips and tricks.

Skin care coaches suggest that although many dermatologists and plastic surgeons have their own cosmetics lines, they may be too busy to talk patients through the nuts and bolts of maintenance.

“Dermatologists focus on immediate care and treating skin problems, usually by prescribing medications or professional treatments like lasers and fillers,” Rouleau said. “They don’t focus on the day-to-day home care required for long-term healthy skin.”

Reagan added that skin care coaches consider the whole body, while most aestheticians are focused on topical fixes like extractions or masks and do not consider nutrition or allergies.

Karin Roth, 35, an engineer in Cambridge, Mass., said that she spent years seeing dermatologists. She had her first Skype session with Rouleau last month and was pleased with the experience.

“I wanted what I couldn’t get from my dermatologist,” she said; that is, to be told when to exfoliate, when to do a peel, when she should be moisturizing and how certain products will affect her skin.

“No dermatologist would sit through that,” Roth said. “They’re mostly men interested in medical issues, not in making a woman feel pretty. I needed a different kind of relationship.”

Teresa Munoz, 36, an executive assistant for a health care company in Chicago, agreed: “In terms of skin care, Skyping with Renee and what I learned from her was a lifestyle change for me.”

Defining coaches, doctors

Skin care companies are getting into the game as well. Skin Authority, a company in Carlsbad, Calif., employs 15 such coaches, all trained and licensed aestheticians, to answer questions.

“There’s a coach for every form of self-improvement: exercising, eating, careers,” said Celeste Hilling, the chief executive of Skin Authority. “Why wouldn’t you have a virtual coach for your skin?”

Hilling said that initial conversations averaged 19 minutes and followups about half that, with extensive note-taking. The coaches will email, text, phone and Skype and set up weekly or bimonthly “touch points” to see how people are doing.

She added that this year more than 500,000 coaching questions were answered online; of those, approximately 65,000 have turned into ongoing coaching relationships. Issues range from “I’m getting married and I have a huge pimple” to “I have wrinkles, I don’t want them.”

Her service is not meant to be a replacement for a dermatologist, she said, “but very often your issue is resolved by the time you get the appointment with your doctor.”

Dermatologists worry that patients might be turning to the wrong people for help.

“Some skin coaches have a lot of experience,” said Dr. Diane Berson, a dermatologist in Manhattan. “But how do we know which ones do and which ones have just read a number of magazine articles? There’s no governing board with respect to certification. And how do you define an aesthetician? Many just know how to do facials.”

Berson, who said her office visits run 15 to 30 minutes, also had health concerns.

“Skype has huge limitations as opposed to seeing someone’s skin under a bright light with a magnifying glass,” she said. “You might have rosacea or lupus, which presents with a redness of the cheeks.”

But she admitted that while many of her colleagues are capable of giving more time and advice, “not every dermatologist might want to.”