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Salon Services, Especially Facials, Are Starting to Surge

After a year of closures and virtual consultations for the professional services channel, experts are finally seeing signs of life.

After a year of skin care shopping and DIY facials, consumers are ready for spas again. 

Professional services — especially facials — have seen a rapid pickup in bookings in the past few weeks, providers say, as mask requirements loosen and vaccines roll out in the U.S. People are looking for professional-level technology and hands-on relaxation. 

Hampered by spa closures and client weariness toward mask-free services, aestheticians spent much of the past year virtually consulting with clients, directing them to at-home skin care products and treatments. But now that spas are open again, consumers are showing serious interest. 

Search volume for facials has grown 12.1 percent to more than 1.7 monthly searches, according to a new report from Spate, which tracks trends via Google search data. Consumers are also searching for Botox, cryotherapy, microneedling and dermaplaning, Spate data shows. Other terms, such as virtual consultations and face steaming, grew triple digits.

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“The last couple of months, we’ve been seeing that searches for beauty products and skin care products have been plateauing,” said Yarden Horwitz, cofounder of Spate. “There are obviously still areas of growth within the skin care category and other categories like makeup and hair, but overall, beauty from a product perspective is beginning to plateau.”

Horwitz sees the growing interest in services as a reaction to a year of DIY treatments and growing interest in beauty as self-care. “There has been such an increase in engagement and awareness in beauty this past year, during time spent at home,” Horwitz said. “We saw a dip in interest for services in the early stages of lockdown, but interest has only grown after that.”

Social media — and the advent of new platforms like TikTok — has also played a role. “Influencers are more open about services, which is also why consumers are becoming more educated on them,” Horwitz said. “They’re learning that these treatments and procedures exist, and so they’re researching them, and then they’re going to get them done.”

Spa bookings are also skyrocketing where clients can be fully vaccinated, experts said.

Joanna Vargas, celebrity aesthetician and brand founder, said her devotees are coming back in droves to her spa in midtown Manhattan. “At the beginning of having uncovered faces, there were a lot of people that felt nervous about it or unsure,” Vargas said. “We were open for body treatments only in New York City for two months before we were allowed to have masks off the clients in October. We reopened in Los Angeles about four weeks ago and we are fully booked months ahead on both coasts, for the first time since the pandemic began.”

Joanna Vargas
Joanna Vargas Weston Wells/WWD

“This is something that was really normal pre-pandemic, but we haven’t had it in the months following our reopening until the last two months,” Vargas continued. “I’m actually hiring now in both locations.”

Clients coming in are also looking to come back to spas regularly, Vargas said. “People are looking to book appointments for multiple services on the same day,” she said. “Everybody needs an oxygen purifying facial because they haven’t had extractions in a year, but they want to follow that with a second hour. They want the biggest bang for their buck in the shortest period of time. Also, no client leaves my salon without booking at least six more appointments.” 

Vargas’ most popular treatment is also her most expensive. Dubbed the Twilight Facial, the $1,200 treatment includes radio frequency, cryotherapy, microneedling and LED light therapy for instant results. “I’ve never done more of them than in the past six months,” Vargas said. “It’s really reflective of people not having had facials in a year, and instead of booking the Forever Facial or Triple Crown facials, they want to do something that really boosts the foundation of their skin and helps them moving forward,” she said.

Technology-driven treatments that promise quick results are driving bookings in other businesses, too. Georgia Louise, the aesthetician and founder of her eponymous skin care and devices range, has tracked heightening interest from her clients. 

“We just got the green lights to reopen Los Angeles four weeks ago. When we opened up in California, a lot of people were still getting the second shot [of the vaccine]. Now, they’re all ready to come back again, and that demand has been growing off the charts for the last two weeks. Their level of confidence and the level of people just wanting to get on with their lives and routines has totally escalated,” Louise said.

“People realized how important it is to have their skin attended to as well as their skin therapist,” Louise continued. “You can’t get the same results at home. You can do a virtual consultation with beautiful products, but the reality is you can’t do a deep clean. You’re never going to get the same results at home, and that’s why people come back to us time and time again.”

Marius Morariu, cofounder and chief executive officer of Tracie Martyn, said the proprietary technology available at the brand’s spa is keeping interest high. “The demand has increased with the vaccination, and with people feeling more secure about it,” he said. “The sentiment is unbelievable. People are so enthusiastic, and they appreciate all of the contact we’ve kept with them during the pandemic, from virtual consultations and skin care tips. The technology here, though, is completely different.”

Tracie Martyn had a steady client-base pre-pandemic, and Morariu said burgeoning requests for treatments happened organically. “We didn’t even need to introduce anything new to incentivize people to come back. There was maybe some fatigue about spas or professional services, and I think people were tired of new procedures working or not working. People want to come back to a place with a good reputation and technology that they miss,” he said.

Morariu pointed to the Resculptor, a proprietary machine that contours the face, as a motivator for clients to come back into the spa more regularly. “It emits a current that lifts, firms and contours your face to give you a mini-face lift,” Morariu said. “That is something they really missed. People were coming in regularly for it, and they have monthly routines with it.”

Tammy Fender, whose Palm Beach, Fla., spa was less encumbered by government restrictions, noticed her usual customers being more desperate for face-to-face interactions. “Our business is completely by referral, and by appointment only, so many of our clients have been with us over 20 years,” Fender said. “We have this really long trust with our clients, and they were craving getting back to some form of deep relaxation.”

Even internationally, spas are gaining more traction as more countries reopen. 111Skin, the London-based skin care brand cofounded by Dr. Yannis Alexandrides, a board-certified plastic surgeon, and wife Eva Alexandridis, introduced 111Spa/Clinic in 2017, which has since expanded to 42 locations. Even with the pandemic, the business grew 115 percent year-over-year, and is expected to double its portion of the business’ total revenues in 2021. To keep up with demand, it is opening new locations at Ireland’s Adare Manor and Wilderness Retreat, an estate in the U.K.

“We are expanding very much as a request from the market,” Alexandridis, the brand’s chief executive officer, said. “People are much more interested more clinical performance, and it’s a complete change of the consumer’s mind-set after the coronavirus.”

The brand’s ‘clean-ical,’ performance-driven philosophy and in-office technologies are catching the eyes of both consumers and spas looking to partner with the brand. “For us, it’s a combination of tech and skin care. We marry our treatments with either cryotherapy or LED technology,” said Tom Macpherson Le Maire, head of global spa at 111Skin.

For many spa businesses, sales of skin-care products kept the lights on during the pandemic. But going forward, some are rethinking the balance between spa and skin care sales. 

“We have our e-commerce platform and we also have our educational part of the brand, which is advising corporate accounts like La Mer and Charlotte Tilbury,” said Louise. “You’re going to see an increase in both [spa and skin care businesses]. You’re going to see an increase in devices, because people just love the fact that they can get better results with devices at home, but equally, we’re going to have our busiest summer because people didn’t spend money on self-care for a whole year.”

At Tracie Martyn, Morariu sees the business as a skin care brand with a single spa, not a spa business with a namesake line. “We did see this boom on the skin care side, as clean skin care has taken on a whole different meaning during the pandemic, because people want to be healthy and well,” he said. “We doubled our sales on d-to-c. We see ourselves as a skin care brand, even if the services side is where it all started,” he said.

Vargas, whose skin care sales grew fivefold during the pandemic, also launched her first device in the throes of the pandemic. Called the Magic Glow Wand, it mimics massage, cryotherapy and heat therapy and retails for $285. “I happened, by luck, to launch my first device last May, and I can’t even keep it in stock with my retailers. It’s the first thing that goes out of stock in my line now, which was an interesting twist,” she said.

“Pre-pandemic, we were really focused on the salons because they were always so successful and jam-packed. But a silver lining of the pandemic was to refocus attention fully on the skin care line, which really has exploded,” she said.

Part of Vargas’ recipe for success, like many a spa brand, included virtual consultations. “The virtual consultation business has exploded for everybody,” she said. “In terms of really customizing, even if you don’t have your own skin care line, reaching out to your clients and having that one-on-one time is a great way to give them a routine at home. I’ve always done a bit of virtual facial things, typically if an actress is on location somewhere,” she said.

At Tracie Martyn, too, virtual consultations remain another touch point with clients. 

“We feel they’re not an alternative to professional treatments, but a great addition to keep the connection with the customer and follow up with them,” Morariu said. “It’s more of a bridge — I don’t see it as an alternative. The spa experience is never going to go away.”

For 111Skin’s clients, the in-person, high-touch experiences have drawn in consumers, Alexandridis said. “One piece is the application of skin care products by experts who have really worked to see results,” she said. “The second is human touch — to be able to be in a room with someone who’s dedicated themselves to you, and to be able to talk to them about your skin concerns and know that they’re listening to you.”

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