LIZ JONESFASHION THERAPYCut-price spas run by students are booming. But could an 8 pedicure impress our pampered columnist
06:44 GMT, 8 May 2012
Oh dear. I’m in what looks like an NHS hospital ward on a bed surrounded by floral curtains.
There are no flutes of champagne or Diptyque candles. Instead there are groups of young girls barely out of school, standing around in uniform and looking bored or nervous.
No, I have not finally been committed, though I’m sure that day will come. But I have, surely, lost my mind, given I’m in the South Bristol Skills Academy, about to hand over my body to a group of trainee beauty therapists and hairdressers.
Tried and tested: Liz with some of the first-year students at the South Bristol Skills Academy
You know, the sort of young people the Government loves to trumpet: those who have eschewed university and a student loan and opted for an apprenticeship to learn practical, eminently employable, artisanal techniques.
Community college beauty days are now inundated with volunteer guinea pigs: no surprise, given the cost of spa treatments. In London, I pay 75 for an everlasting gel pedicure, 70 for a root tint and 125 for various waxes. You can see how it all adds up.
No wonder the spa industry is predicted to be worth 4.6 billion in two years’ time. Here in Bristol, a full leg wax from a student is 13, a hair tint 10.95, haircut 4.50, pedicure 8 — and eyelash extensions will be available soon, too.
'I'm in what looks like an NHS hospital ward on a bed surrounded by floral curtains,' says Liz
It’s like being transported back to the Fifties, especially given the rather basic surroundings, which I prefer to think of as delightfully retro.
And so, as someone who has probably had every inch of her body exfoliated, pummelled, plucked, dyed, snipped, hoisted and lasered, I’ve been dispatched to put the next generation of beauty therapists to the test.
The number of nail salons has rocketed by 16.5 per cent in three years
They’re lovely though nervous, as well they might be. My
pedicure is performed by the delightful Paige, who is 18 and wants to
work on a cruise ship. There are up to 20 students, aged 18 or 19, on
this Level 2 course.
It is paid for by the Government, but the girls no longer receive the education maintenance allowance, which was abolished in 2010, so rely on their parents’ support.
They have to buy their own beauty kit costing 160 and their smart black uniform. This is a year-long course, and at the end of it the girls are qualified to work in a spa, giving basic treatments such as waxing, pedicures, massages and so on.
But it is the basics that are essential to get right. My pedicure just doesn’t feel thorough: I’m not asked how short I want my nails, and Paige doesn’t clip them — there are just a few desultory swipes with an emery board.
Tough customer: Liz says her underarm wax goes 'fine' although she would have preferred hot wax
Things don't go well for Liz at the hair salon where she is told she has 'white' hair
My feet are soaked, but the hospital bed makes it awkward (pedicure thrones would be a good investment). There’s no cuticle oil, no pushing cuticles back with a rubber hoof, no cleaning under the nail tips.
Rule No 1: use old-fashioned sweat. The exfoliating is done with a pumice stone (I’d have preferred a disposable foot file) and is far too gentle. Put your back into it, girl!
The polish is applied after cream but the nail isn’t swiped with varnish remover first, so it won’t go on smoothly. It’s applied too thickly, and wrinkles almost immediately. ‘I hate that brand,’ says Paige. I could teach someone how to perform an excellent pedicure in a week.
Unimpressed: The results of Liz's pedicure
Next up is the waxing. ‘Can I have a Hollywood [everything south of my navel], or at least a Brazilian [a small landing strip remains]’ I ask the tutor, Tracey Tylee. ‘I’m afraid not,’ is the reply. ‘A Brazilian is “advanced waxing” and won’t be covered until Level 3.’
My underarm wax, performed by Laura, uses strip wax, where a lollipop stick is dipped in warm wax and used only once, making it more hygienic. But I’d have preferred hot wax for my underarm and bikini as I find it more effective. Still, it’s fine.
The hair salon doesn’t go well, however. I want my roots retouched, but there is no time for a patch test so I have to opt for a semi-permanent colour. This is normally OK and lasts a week.
My colour is done by Ellie, who can offer only a soft-colour mousse. It takes an hour to put on, plus 15 minutes under heat but doesn’t cover the grey at all.
‘That was pointless,’ I tell her. ‘Oh, it won’t cover white,’ she says, with the guilelessness of the young and the innocent.
Rule No 2: never say the word ‘white’ to any woman who is vaguely menopausal. But, of course, it’s mostly the post-menopausal who come here: lovely old ladies who want a perm, a cup of tea and company. And nothing wrong with that.
I don’t worry about the service: what do you expect for a beauty treatment that is so cheap and performed by trainees But I do worry at the lack of discipline, which is why these young girls will go to work in so-called spas (merely a plastic bath at the back of a hairdresser’s) for long hours and little pay.
Why aren’t these Skills Academies centres of excellence, of rigour It all feels too amateur to me. The likes of Paige and Ellie should be getting real skills that will give them options, independence and a future.
Never mind, really, that the cheap beauty treatments for cash-strapped working mums do not pass high-end muster. I think the disservice being done is to the students.
There are up to 20 students, aged 18 or 19, on the Level 2 course for trainee beauty therapists and hairdressers at the South Bristol Skills Academy
To book an appointment at the City of Bristol College, call 0117 3125544, or email [email protected] ac.uk. Contact your council for details of similar schemes in your area.