Back in 2006 and early 2007, when the Las Vegas housing market was near its manic peak and Bentleys with blacked out windows shat hundred dollar bills from their tailpipes whilst cruising down nondescript suburban streets, the Las Vegas spa industry reached a corresponding crescendo.
Caesars Palace upgraded their outdated spa to the 55,000 square foot, 51 treatment room Qua, complete with a mineral water infinity pool with integrated light therapy, and an Arctic Ice room that shed faux snow precipitate from a ceiling vent. The wheels were already in motion for the opening of the Canyon Ranch Spa Club expansion at Palazzo, the opulent spa at Steve Wynn’s Encore, diamond-infused massages at Trump, and the Mandarin Oriental’s 5-star spa facility at City Center when 2008’s economic outlook knocked the wind out of Vegas’ sails. As new properties rolled out on The Strip, a to-die-for spa was a non-negotiable amenity for any high-end resort with a desire to compete for precious tourist dollars.
I was working as a full-time massage therapist at an unofficially 3-star, off-Strip Las Vegas resort spa in 2008. Economic times were tough across the country, and especially tough in the Las Vegas valley, where unemployment exploded and still hovers between 11% and 13% to this day. Construction, sales, real estate, and tourism folk were feeling the pinch as homes sank underwater, homeowners gasped for air, and visitors to the land of sun and sin clutched at their wallets with death’s grip. I went from $400 and $500 days of doing 5, 6, and 7 massages per work day in early 2007, to $50 and $150 days of doing 1, 2, and sometimes no massages per work day throughout the following year. I was lucky to have maintained full-time employee status with health care benefits, as many massage therapists at different properties were downgraded to part-time and on-call status during this time. Believe it or not, it was a stressful time to be a spa employee.
With nothing but time on my hands, and in light of Qua’s reputation for hiring massage therapists who were also licensed estheticians (skin care professionals), I decided to pursue an education in skin care, so that I too could become “dual-licensed”.
I continued to work full-time at the resort spa while I attended esti class in a beauty school facility that also trained hairstylists and nail technicians. Thanks to the intelligence of my instructor, and the mature yet fun personalities of my classmates, I really enjoyed myself. I almost didn’t mind dragging my ass through 10-hour days of all things spa, 7 days per week, for 8 months straight.
After I graduated and passed my licensing exam, one of the fabulous estheticians at work took me under her wing and gave me some much appreciated on-the-job training. With the support of my management team, I was now performing facials, waxing, makeup applications, and body treatments, in addition to our full repertoire of massage services. I was making extra money selling skin care products to our guests, and the added service variety was giving my anatomical massage tools a well deserved break. This was fun!
What? Do I have something on my face?
Time warp with me…through 2009, when I went to work at a brand new 4-star resort spa as a massage therapist, but kept my dual-licensed position at the original spa…through 2010, when I worked two jobs like a mad woman, but saved enough to put some cash toward buying a house…through 2011, when the tourist dollars started to come back to Vegas and a damn shoulder injury forced me to scale back, allowing me to publish my first ebook as it sadly relegated my esti career to the back burner…through 2012, when I dedicated myself to working on continuing education projects, creative outlets, and the birth of a new dream involving my beauty school license, hope, and a funky business plan unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s way too soon to predict how 2013 will play out, but I’m always almost irritatingly optimistic for the future.
Have you ever considered adding esthetics training to your massage therapy toolbox?
Let me start by stating that everyone’s dual-licensed experience will be entirely unique.
As far as training goes, it’s up to you to measure the ROI on dedicating 6 to 12 months of your life, and between $8,000 and $12,000 on a second license (not to mention recurring licensing fees and any applicable continuing education.)
Finding spa employment as an esti, at least in Las Vegas, is generally tougher than finding massage employment. When money is tight, I’ve found that people are usually more likely to splurge on a massage over a facial or body treatment. That being said, there are waxing boutiques here that specialize in bikini and Brazilian waxing, and they seem to be doing really well for themselves. Waxing clients tend to be very loyal once they find someone who gives them just what they’re looking for. Research your local market before you commit.
If you work for someone else as an esti, you usually can’t pick and choose the services you’re down with performing. You’ll likely be expected to do facials and different kinds of waxing, and sometimes body treatments and makeup applications, regardless of whether you enjoy doing them or not. Again, do your research locally.
A few of the single-licensed estis (and a handful of massage therapists) that I’ve worked with over the years appear to harbor a certain level of resentment toward dual-licensed individuals. Maybe these single-licensed spa personnel fear that dual-licensed therapists are threatening their usefulness, or are making them appear to be less motivated, or are taking appointments that should (in their eyes) belong to them. I’m not sure, but haters, look: I’m really not that special. If I can go to school for two different things and maintain two different licenses, so can you. That being said, some spa management folk prefer to avoid rocking the boat, and forbid departmental crossover. You shouldn’t assume that getting hired as a massage therapist necessarily means you’ll be able to whip out your wax sticks just because you’re dual-licensed. If you have a dream spa job in mind, it can’t hurt to book a service there and politely interview your service provider about these things as a preemptive strike.
If you’re working on your own and you’re interested in becoming dual-licensed, I’d recommend pursuing it. It’s likely to give you more flexibility in the services and packages you can provide. You’ll also enrich your knowledge base with skin care skills and product ingredient prowess, and your focus on facial massage techniques will no doubt lead to marriage proposals and gifts of delicious pastry.
If you’re a guy and you don’t think this applies to you, think again! Male estis are the minority, but becoming an esti and rocking the Y chromosome is not unheard of. (FYI: It also doesn’t necessarily mean you’re gay. And you’re probably already a male massage therapist, so you should be used to any and all client assumptions regarding your every waking moment.)
In addition to variety and cash, one of the best things that my esti license has given me has been a sense of freedom. I’m less worried that I’ll suffer a career-ending injury, and I’m less concerned that antiquated local massage establishment laws (that still associate therapeutic massage with sex work) will keep me from opening a business of my own if I choose to do so.
According to many financial planning gurus of our time, diversification is an important concept to bear in mind when planning for the future. In a similar fashion, it’s not unwise to keep learning and adding skills to our massage therapy portfolios if we plan on making a living doing what we do for years to come.
Andrea Lipomi is a licensed massage therapist and esthetician who lives and works in Las Vegas, Nevada. She also peddles massage therapy ebooks and NCBTMB-approved continuing education courses at ConfidentMassage.com, will travel hundreds of miles for a fantastic spa experience, and craves dark chocolate and Depeche Mode’s upcoming tour dates on an almost daily basis.