Article Published in Stylist Magazine, March 2014

While we beauty professionals focus on working with clients, marketing our salons, learning new skills, socializing with colleagues, etc., we likely neglect the one thing that happens regardless of what we’re doing: aging. Even if we were content to “age gracefully” (a phrase with an indeterminate/flexible meaning), there’s still action required to make the unavoidable more tolerable. No, I don’t mean saving money for a face lift. We should be devising strategies to manage its effects on ourselves and our businesses. Otherwise, we won’t be prepared for this process that will certainly bring changes, some expected, others not.

Within the beauty industry, it would seem that the greatest concern anyone could have about the aging process is his or her appearance. As the media so effectively reinforce, who doesn’t want to be more beautiful and youthful? Undoubtedly, our industry plays a significant role in creating and meeting the demand for “anti-aging” treatments for skin, hair and nails. However, products and services that supposedly target a specific age group or beauty/health concern don’t interest me unless there’s scientific research to support their effectiveness. My professional credibility would suffer if I hyped questionable products/services the way that some do. I’d rather disappoint a client with the truth than mislead with false hope. Clients deserve the truth, even when it hurts.

Speaking truth, if the aging process were limited to looking old, it wouldn’t be so scary. (Apologies to those who are very afraid of wrinkles, age spots and hair loss). There are plenty of beauty fixes available, depending on your resources. It’s unfortunate that the supremacy of beauty distracts from a more important factor in the aging process: overall health. If priorities were different, we’d be obsessed with improving the health of our bodies and minds. Spend anytime around older people and you’ll realize that most of them are more concerned about their physical and mental health than their appearance. For those afflicted with diseases associated with aging (cancer, diabetes, dementia, arthritis, heart disease, osteoporosis, etc.), their quality of life has been severely compromised. No matter how good someone looks, what’s the point of living longer if those years are miserable/painful?

We can take actions now (improve our diet, exercise our bodies and brains, stop smoking, get adequate sleep, invest in health insurance, eliminate toxic relationships, etc.) that will have both immediate and long-term benefits. There’s no reason to wait when we could live better lives now and in the future.

Within our businesses, we need to acknowledge how aging could affect our abilities. Working safely to protect ourselves from injury should take precedence, no matter how old we are. For example, I wear disposable gloves to reduce my exposure to germs and chemicals. Furthermore, I avoid eye strain with suitable lighting and physical strain with good posture and ergonomic movement. When newly licensed and much younger, I filled my schedule to work 60 hours a week, which was neither ideal nor sustainable. I cannot work those hours anymore, either physically or mentally. With time and experience, I learned to limit hours to match my energy. Mastery of my schedule gives me the great advantage of efficiency and organization.

The longer I provide beauty services, the more I’m interested in exploring how to best serve clients and prolong my “quality of life” in the salon. I don’t plan to retire anytime soon, so it’s very important that my clients enjoy their services and I enjoy my clients. I can’t be complacent with the ones I currently have, or obsolete for potential clients in the future.

Thinking about the future raises some important questions for all of us: Do we need to adapt to clients as they age? Imagine having a clientele that was limited to people your age, plus or minus five years. Forget that, I’m bored just thinking about it! In my experience, a more diverse clientele provides greater opportunities for professional growth, meaningful interaction and financial success. At my salon, any “accommodations” for older clients already exist because they’ve always been a consideration. When you treat older clients with respect and kindness, it reassures younger clients that they will be valued later. And they’ll feel comfortable referring their older friends and family to you.

There’s no need to replace my clients when they get older, unless they’re unable to receive beauty services. As long as they want my professional expertise, I’ll do my best to make their nails look beautiful.

What if our clients replaced us with someone younger? We wouldn’t want clients to discriminate against us based on our age. Younger, less experienced manicurists will always be entering our profession. If we don’t stay current with our education and/or our skills diminish, we will lose clients to them. After more than twenty years as a licensed manicurist, I still expect progress in the quality of my work, and greater efficiency in the means (equipment, tools, products, procedures, etc.) of achieving it. When I cannot meet my own expectations, I’ll know the time is right to retire.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.