Finding the Right Machine

Written by: Heather Hickman
May 01, 2018

Results are the bottom line of every good professional skin care service. They are the Holy Grail of the treatment room, the vocational pinnacle of the professional skin therapist and the fundamental expectation of the 21st century client. With all the technological advancements occurring in the skin care industry, estheticians have never been in a stronger position to reach clients’ skin health goals. 

Yet, investing in electrical modalities for a treatment room can be a daunting task. New pieces of “esthetics” equipment are being introduced to the market at an alarming rate, leaving many skin therapists overwhelmed by choices. With so many machines available and so many vendors supplying similar equipment, how do you know what is right for you, your clients and your bottom line? 

Choosing the Machine

Understanding the key factors involved in choosing the right machine functionalities for a treatment room, as outlined below, is imperative to the success of an esthetician and ultimately the spa.

Know the demographic. Knowing the client demographic is an important first step. Purchasing a device based on hype that it is the "next big thing" is never a good plan. Evaluate current bookings and determine the most popular services. From there, hone in on what you want to achieve from the electrical modality. Doing this will narrow the field of choice considerably.

Know the space allotted. Most spas have space challenges in their treatment rooms, especially if they offer multiple services. Being realistic about space limitations to utilize and store equipment will further refine options, and allow spa managers to focus on smaller hand-held devices rather than large cumbersome units.

Increase income. As little fun as it is, it is important to balance profit and loss (P&L) for a successful business. How long will it take to recoup the cost of the device purchased? Will the price of the associated treatments be increasing? Plan a strategy prior to a major investment to help determine how much you can afford to invest, and further determine what type of equipment is right for you.

Check licenses. It is generally assumed that a piece of equipment advertised for esthetic use is appropriate to be used by a skin therapist, but that is not always true. There are many legal ramifications to operating devices that are not covered by a scope of license, and purchasing a device not approved for use by an esthetician in your state can be a costly mistake in more ways than one.

The majority of esthetic modalities are classified as medical devices, and fall into three categories as regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Class I, Class II and Class III. The classification is determined by intended use, the invasiveness and the level of risk the modality may pose. Most esthetic devices such as microcurrent and microdermabrasion fall into Class I, and most Class I devices are exempt from FDA registration due to their noninvasive usage. This makes the majority of Class I medical devices covered by an esthetics license.

Conversely, Class II devices such as laser hair removal and laser resurfacing devices enter a gray zone. They must be FDA registered and used by a “licensed practitioner.” Each individual state determines what and who is considered a licensed practitioner. Devices permitted under an esthetics license in one state may not be allowed in another.

To ensure you are not putting your license at risk, ask the manufacturer for the “intended use” statement and check state board regulations before purchase.

Is equipment Underwriters Laboratories (UL) safety certified? Ensuring equipment has a safety certificate is a vital step before purchase. UL is a trusted source for product compliance. UL certification becomes more important with commonly used Class I devices, as they are exempt from the FDA’s 510K submissions and do not have a mandatory UL safety certificate. However, a good manufacturer should provide the certification regardless.

While the above information help the esthetician or spa owner choose the device needed, finding the right manufacturer involves a different set of guidelines.

Choosing the Manufacturer 

There are just as many factors involved in selecting the right device manufacturer as there are in selecting the right device. The manufacturer should be your partner; an unreliable vendor can leave you high and dry with substandard equipment and no support. Here are some manufacturer fact checks you should review before proceeding with a purchase. 

FDA registration. Regardless of device classification, every manufacturer that is supplying devices in the United States is required by law to be registered with the FDA, declaring what type of devices they manufacture. The statement “We do not make medical claims and therefore we do not have to go through the FDA” is simply not true. Ensure that the device you are considering is manufactured legally under the general controls set forth by the FDA Good Manufacturing Practices.

Education and ongoing training. It cannot be stated strongly enough, but never purchase any kind of esthetics equipment from a company or manufacturer that does not provide training. Check with the manufacturer to determine what training is provided and what educational support pieces will be included.

Warranty, support and repairs. Ensure the manufacturer offers you a warranty and has support available for malfunctioning equipment. Check to see if parts or replacement pieces such as ventouses are easily available for order.

Terms or financing. Investing in equipment for your treatment room can put a strain on your finances.

Many manufacturers will support spa owners by offering terms, or financing options for larger devices. Compare rates between companies, but go for the best support and training over the best financing.

Insurance. Running any type of business without adequate insurance is a risk. Ensure you have at least general and professional liability insurance. It is important to note that not all devices are covered as part of the course. Consult your insurance provider to ensure that the device you wish to purchase is covered by your insurance and if not, ask how it can be added? It is also wise to ensure that insurance covers estheticians using the device anywhere, especially if they are utilizing hand-held devices and support out of-spa events and activities.

Doing your homework, checking your facts and interviewing equipment vendors and manufacturers with well-researched questions will take the fear out of a purchase and leave you confident in the knowledge that, “Yes, this is the right machine for me.”

Photography: Courtesy of Dermalogica

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About The Expert

Heather Hickman
Skin Specialist
Heather Hickman is a fully qualified skin, spa and body care specialist from London, England. She is CIDESCO and IHBC qualified. Heather has 20 years of experience in the skincare and spa industry as a spa manager and senior educator. She has taught extensively throughout the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia specializing in advanced skin care modalities and techniques. Her experience and expertise have led to her contributing to the design and development of curriculum and operations programs for Dermalogica and The International Dermal Institute, including the launch of the Dermalogica Expert Program and D-Streaming. In her current position as Senior Director of USA Education for The International Dermal Institute & Dermalogica at the Corporate Headquarters in Los Angeles, Heather is responsible for the overseeing the US operations, marketing activities and Education Teams for all 18 International Dermal Institute Training Centers. With her extensive knowledge in the dynamics of operation management, skin and body industry, Heather is frequently requested to share her expertise at trade shows and congresses both domestically and internationally and with the various trade publications.

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