What does Ergonomic mean?
It’s been said that as an Esthetician the most important investments you will make are your education, your self care, and your equipment. In our careers it is easy to know that the comfort of the client is of major importance; however, the comfort of the practitioner is perhaps even more important. An Estheticians ability to create a setup where they can use proper body mechanics instead of excessive slouching and reaching is imperative to the longevity of their career. Knowing this I feel it would be foolish for anyone not to consider improving the massage table they are using, the chair they are sitting at or the position they decide to stand in during services. Thankfully there are many actions that can be taken to keep our bodies healthy such as stretching, massage, yoga and using the proper equipment. I’m sure every Esthetician is familiar with that subtle ache in the mid back after a long glorious day of work. The slight burn in your shoulders, or the touch of numbness in your legs. Every occupation has some physical hazards whether your an electrician or a computer desk worker. As Estheticians we have a rather unique career and in order to stay at our best for ourselves and our clients we need to learn about ergonomics.
Ergonomics is defined as: ‘an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely’. In other words the science behind working smarter and not always harder with your own well being in mind. Generally the first thing that comes to people's minds when thinking about ergonomics are the well known saddle stools. Saddle stools were specifically designed to reduce the pressure we as estheticians put on our back often without even realizing it. These stools were a breakthrough when they first hit the market because for many the stool assisted in properly aligning their hips during the work day, cushioned the spine and reduced slouching assisting with proper posture. Who doesn’t want to leave work feeling much better and knowing that physically their body is in a better state than it was in the past
Often our career is performed bending forward, reaching over and angled downward. Just think of leaning over your client applying lash extensions. Medical experts say leaning the head downward at a 45 degree angle puts 40 pounds worth of stress on your neck alone! We all already get enough of that just reading our phones.
Think of your shoulder muscles, reaching forward stretches the Trapezius muscles that cover our back and start to create the base of our neck. Generally a stretched muscle seems to be a good thing however, over usage and the complementary front muscles are what we need to worry about. A study in 2013 found that 85% of Estheticians had shortened or condensed subclavius muscles and 80% had shortened pectoralis majors. In essence this means our chests are tighter, Estheticians are more likely to lean their shoulders inward creating a slouch in the neck and back. The fact that majority of Estheticians are female and have a bit of extra weight through the chest only catalyzes these effects. This position can affect the basic mechanics of our body such as how our body processes the stress hormone cortisol, or in advanced cases, how well our body processes dopamine.
Be aware but don’t be too concerned, there are plenty of ways counteract these effects. The easiest prevention technique to start with is proper stretching. Opening up the chest muscles will be the main goal with this one. A standing chest stretch is one of the best stretches to hold and allow muscles to loosen. Create a consistent time to add these stretches to your daily routine whether it be an early morning ritual, an arrived at the spa task or a nightly wind down. This is just one of many ways you can extend your career as an Esthetician by implementing proper ergonomics.
Importance of ergonomics for clients
The need for proper ergonomics isn’t just for us but our clients too! Traditionally when a client comes in for a service they are laying upon some sort of massage table. Many of us who offer facials know that laying in the same position for so long can take a toll on the body, thus we use wonderful head supporting pillows and a bolster beneath the knees to assist with blood flow. But what else can be done to improve the ergonomic flow for our clients? As a newer Esthetician when I first opened my small treatment room I would start with a mild stretching session before my client even laid down. I’d go over their intake form, discuss how their skin was currently feeling, and create a basic layout of what products and goals I planned for their treatment. We’d do this all while stretching our arms up, to the sides, touch our toes and just limber ourselves up for some relaxation. I let clients know this assisted in opening up blood flow through the muscles assisting in lymphatic drainage. Many clients to this day immediately start stretching when they enter my treatment room engaging their bodies basic mechanics and relaxing before we even get started.
One of the most beneficial pieces of equipment in an Estheticians treatment room is the massage table. The table sets the stage of our treatment. How warm the client is, is there adequate cushioning, is their spine aligned in a proper and comfortable manner? What’s more important, is the table a proper height and size for you as a practitioner. Proper table height reduces the amount of pressure on your back and can improve your fluidity of movements offering clients a more satisfying treatment. Many massage table warehouses who specifically target ergonomic design will often suggest petite practitioners purchase a smaller width table than others in order to reach all sides of the table without struggle. Nowadays with the evolving technology I find in a situation where a massage table has the ability to be permanently placed in a treatment room. (As in it doesn’t need to move for homecare services). It is worth the investment to get an electric hydraulic table. Such as something similar to most current dentist offices. Having an electronically adjustable table makes for ease of adjusting so clients are not afraid to ask to be better positioned. You can set the table to a certain height to meet your needs while clients can feel more cradled as if they were in their favorite living room chair. This adjustability also makes is easier to go from a sitting service to a standing service. In my facials I sit for cleansing, stand for extractions, sit for masques, and stand for massage. My goal is never to be too sedentary and the changing of my position brings variation to my services.
Client comfort is key. When a client feels comfortable in their surroundings they will relax more easily. When they relax our treatments are reaching more than just the skin it is reaching their hearts because they know we have their best interests and ergonomic comfort in mind. So when it comes time to choose or upgrade equipment investment in your longevity and clients comfort, don’t be afraid to reach for the more expensive, it may be the very thing that prolongs your career and in the future your body will be glad you did.
Implementing Ergonomics Now
If anyone has something to say about ergonomics it is our massage therapist friends. From day one of their training they are considering many risk factors they must be knowledgeable about such as; awkward postures, force, repetitive motion, and mechanical stress. Now Estheticians may not be applying as much force as a massage therapist working out a tight muscle would; however, we should absolutely be cautious of all these factors as potential risks to our career as well. Massage Therapist are taught the proper way to position their bodies to get the most productive use out of them while also preserving their longevity as much as possible. Within my Esthetics schooling I feel like this subject was one small paragraph within the Milady textbooks that went along the lines of: don’t slouch, stretch your hands, and exercise. Even this small amount of direction was mostly overlooked in order to make time for a different teaching. The longevity of our careers is far too important to just overlook, thankfully our massage therapist friends have created an ergonomic study that helps give us direction in what to do for our line of work.
First off, the equipment and environment. We already discussed the importance of massage tables and their height settings. Along with equipment is the environment, if you are standing majority of the day good cushioned floors are vital for the health of your legs and feet. If you’ve ever worked at a retail store with just concrete floors I’m sure you remember how your calves and feet would ache at the end of the day. Wear shoe inserts for arch support if they are needed and don't compromise the health of extremities. Sit when possible, if you offer a foot or arm massage portion of your facial have a stool of chair available to use if your body needs that rest, conserving standing energy can give you more ability to focus strength into the massage.
Second, learn how much is too much and set a barrier. Pace yourself. If you have a day completely filled with clients it’s joyus! We are all excited to have people in the door and knowing we are making a difference and getting paid to do so. On the contrary it is important to set your maximum of what you can do and don’t push over that amount too often. Over scheduling will make your services quality suffer too. I always say facial number one of the day will be just as good as facial six. No one deserves any less out of their appointment than anyone else.
Lastly, know what is going on with your own body. Selfcare is a part of the job. Not only should our skin be our own billboard and look clear and beautiful but we should be taking care of ourselves! We should be aware of how we are leaning over our clients during services, we need to lean in a way that activates our core and not just our upper body. We should be varying positions to avoid being stagnant. Stretching to keep our bodies loose and ready. Estheticians should make it a priority to receive massage treatments. We need it to target specific muscles, we need it for lymphatic drainage and we need it to remember we are more than just the beauty guru, we can be clients too! When it comes down to it, beauty is really health in disguise, working out is really one of the best ways to prolong vitality. Perhaps the most recommended workout to spa professionals is yoga! Yoga encompasses so many spa skills into one, stretching, balance, meditation, and of coarse personal relaxation. Yoga is a practice that in a way encompasses the building blocks of the spa world, who wouldn’t want to have a repertoire of these skills readily available to them.
Ergonomic studies are continuing to make more progress in order to increase the longevity of workers in the workforce. Afterall for many Estheticians our job is more than just a 9 to 5 paycheck, for majority of us this is our dream we have built from the ground up. We desire to continue to build our beauty empire or we desire to become a renowned expert in our favorite modality. Don’t let your success be cut short because your bodies vitality and motivation isn’t able to keep up with your hearts. Be sure to take care of your clients and yourself. Remember when it comes to being an Esthetician the most important investments you will make are your education, your equipment, and your self care.