Esthetician Talk: Lexli Interviews Melissa Bivelacque

Lexli’s “Esthetician Talk” series features interviews with standout estheticians to learn about their take on industry trends, their favorite treatments, advice for those entering the esthetic field and more. Packed with great skin care advice and unique perspectives on the industry, the “Esthetician Talk” series is a fantastic read for professionals and consumers alike.

Meet Melissa Bivelacque.

A veteran esthetician and owner of The Nail & Wax Room in Wallingford, Connecticut, Melissa is a recognized face within the esthetic industry. She is the owner of The Skin & Body Network, where she and her team of instructors offer advanced virtual and in-person training to established beauty professionals. Additionally, she is a moderator with The Esthetician Connection.

Melissa has been a two-time participant in the Skin Games, where she documented her approach to compromised skin, acne, aging skin, pigmentation and more.

Lexli: We’re so happy to be talking with you today, Melissa! Your name will be familiar to many professionals, given your work with The Esthetician Connection and as a trainer. How did you find your way to a career in esthetics?

Melissa: I come from a family of entrepreneurs so I always knew that business ownership would be in my future. My grandmother was a hairdresser and owned a salon that I would visit as a child. I would hang out in the salon while her customers were getting their hair permed, washed or set. I have good memories of that time - the ladies would endlessly pinch my cheeks and tell me I was cute while I would struggle to breathe among the smell of chemicals!

While that experience was impactful, it didn’t immediately lead me to the beauty industry. Rather, I built a career within the hospitality industry but by the time I reached my mid-twenties, it became evident that I needed a change. A friend of mine was going to esthetics school and encouraged me to join her. At that point, I didn’t even know what an esthetician was. Little did I know how much my life was about to change.

L: Your hunch about becoming a business owner was correct, as you’ve had several esthetic businesses. Tell us about your business pursuits and the practices that have helped you grow to where you are today.

M: After completing my esthetics coursework, I landed my first job as an esthetician. While I loved the work, the industry proved difficult for me. I found it challenging to build a clientele and, frankly, the business I worked for wasn’t a great fit for me. Like so many other beauty professionals, I got discouraged and left the industry for a short period of time to take a “desk job” that offered vacation time, health insurance and paid holidays. I absolutely hated it. With my passion for esthetics made clear, I committed to building a successful career as an esthetician.

Since that time, I’ve owned five businesses. The first was an esthetic practice that I opened within a massage therapy facility. Three years later I purchased the same spa where I landed my first job out of school. I ran both of those businesses simultaneously while also working as a full-time educator. When I became pregnant with my first child, I made a decision to take a step back. I combined and later sold my businesses and cut my hours at the school.

After maternity leave I returned to teaching and took a challenging position as operations manager with a waxing business that was eager to grow. After opening seven locations with that company in just two years, I realized that I was working more hours in that position than I was while owning my own business! I wanted more time with my daughter and so, I went back out on my own. During this time, I also started a school for continued beauty education where I taught advanced classes in waxing. Two years later, I was presented with an opportunity to purchase another business. Business ownership was something I thought I would never do again, simply because managing employees can be difficult and exhausting. However, this opportunity was unique. I had a relationship with the seller and the business just felt right.

Most recently, in the middle of 2020, I purchased space to expand my training center, which today is called The Skin & Body Network. Covid has led to many new restrictions and requirements in our industry and having the extra space ensures we can continue to serve students while adhering to social distancing guidance and capacity limitations.

From all of these experiences I can tell you that two things were essential: 1) networking and 2) not burning bridges.

Attending local networking events, especially those put on by women’s organizations, played a huge role in my success. I volunteer when I can at these events and make a point of getting involved. I’ve not only made friends through these channels but earned clients through them, as well. Additionally, by going to esthetic trade shows and industry events I’ve made countless “estie besties” from around the United States and other countries.

So many good things have come to me from people who were a part of my past, which is why not burning bridges is key. Remember that the second business I owned was the spa where I started my career and didn’t like my job. If I wouldn’t have parted on good terms with the previous owner, I wouldn’t have been able to buy that gorgeous facility. And the business I bought after having my daughter? The seller was a former beauty school student of mine.

L: On the topic of training, you spend a large portion of your time teaching established professionals. Tell us why you believe that advanced training is essential throughout one’s esthetic career.

M: In 2010 I quit my “day job” to teach esthetics at a local beauty school. This is when I really fell in love with my craft. Today, I teach alongside other outstanding professionals at my training center, The Skin & Body Network.

Teaching has never felt like a job. I love sharing my knowledge and helping existing professionals become better and better at what they do. The field of esthetics is ever-evolving as new techniques and technologies become available. It’s vital that professionals stay up to date to remain relevant and, most importantly, ensure that they are capable of providing their clients with the best results possible.

I practice what I preach and regularly attend classes. In fact, most recently, I’ve taken oncology esthetics training and intend to use that knowledge when I begin taking on oncology patients as clients later this year.

L: You’ve been vocal about the importance of licensing and even created an organization to lobby for licensing in your home state of Connecticut. Why was that important to you?

M: I am, indeed, passionate about this topic! For the longest time, Connecticut was the only state that did not require licensing for estheticians, a situation that presented a health and safety concern to consumers and untrained professionals. Additionally, the lack of licensing and regulation limited the ability of trained professionals to grow their businesses - not only due to competition from untrained workers but also because of the difficulty in finding trained professionals to hire.

Together with another professional in the beauty industry, I created the Connecticut Coalition of Esthetics to fight for licensing. In July of 2020 we finally achieved our goal! Today, our organization continues its work to elevate the esthetics industry in our state. Because Connecticut was unlicensed for so long, the medical industry has excluded many of the common esthetic services from our scope of practice. We are actively working to change that.

L: Let’s talk now about your work with clients. How do you approach that first visit with a new client?

M: I request that all new clients schedule a “customizable facial” with me during the first appointment. After they complete a health questionnaire and liability waiver, I perform a thorough consultation. During the facial I typically offer a gentle cleanser, enzyme, massage, treatment serum, mask, moisturizer and sunscreen. Everyone is different so I sometimes omit certain steps and add others. Long gone are the days of “cookie cutter” facials.

I have adjusted my skin care menu to include a limited number of services. This is because I don’t want to encourage the client to essentially “place an order” for the services they want me to perform on their skin. Rather, it is my job as the professional to evaluate my client’s skin and recommend what services should be performed in the treatment room and the skin care regimen they should implement at home.

Before a client leaves, I suggest the products that should be used at home and rebook the next appointment according to their desired results. It is at this next appointment that I begin to customize treatments and give suggestions for other services and modalities.

L: What is your favorite treatment or modality?

M: As I mentioned, in Connecticut, we’re limited in the services that are included in our scope of practice. Therefore, as we continue to work to improve that situation, I focus on the few modalities we can use. One of my favorites is the Rezenerate Nano infusion device. I can use this on every type of client with the exception of inflamed rosacea or those undergoing cancer treatment. I love this device because it pairs with any product line and makes their treatment serum work 60 times more effectively. Generally, I pair it with a hyaluronic acid-based serum and it will immediately plump up fine lines and wrinkles. It’s the perfect red carpet treatment before a big event or a night on the town.

L: From your vantage point, what are the most important or innovative trends in esthetics today?

M: There are so many options for devices and machines on the market today. While many of them are useful and assist today’s esthetician in achieving desired results, I feel the most overlooked ones are the professional’s two hands. At the end of the day, the power of touch is what makes clients come back for more. Back to that topic of education, it’s important for professionals to invest in themselves and learn the different massage techniques. Don’t let your massage get stale!

L: What would you say is the biggest skin care mistake consumers make when it comes to their skin?

M: In my opinion, the biggest mistake is following all the “fly by night” social media stars. Most of these influencers are not trained professionals. They are given free products and services and are typically paid to talk about them on their platforms. Certain products and devices could be great for me and my skin but very harmful to you - and vice versa. It is vital for consumers to get a customized plan based on their specific skin type and condition.

L: If a client were limited by budget or time, what is the most essential service they could receive from an esthetician, in your opinion.

M: If a client was limited on budget and time, I would have them come in for a complimentary consultation and encourage them to use their money for a personalized home care regimen. What I do in the treatment room needs to be followed with proper home care to be most effective. I would not feel right taking a client’s money for a one-time luxury service if they couldn’t continue to do the work at home. The consistency of a home care line would get them closer to their goals.

L: You’ve already been recognized by the esthetics industry with awards and seem tireless in your desire to continue advancing your career. What drives you to keep innovating and pushing yourself?

M: The people I have met in this amazing industry are what really keeps me going. Opportunities are in front of me and, while I want to say yes to every one of them, I’m at the point where I need to be intentional with where I put my time. I’m not very good at saying no.

Another motivating factor is my family. I want my kids to see how hard I work and to understand that I am not afraid to take chances. If they see that, they will realize that they, too, can achieve their dreams.

L: What is your advice for new estheticians who are just starting their careers?

M: I already mentioned the importance of continuous education. I have three additional tips. First, work for someone else for at least a year before going out on your own. You will learn a lot from that business and the other estheticians in the practice. So many of today’s new graduates give up on their job search and jump into room rental, which isn’t as easy as one thinks.

Second, when you do land your first job, remember that it isn’t the salon’s responsibility to fill your book. Network, promote yourself on social media, leave business cards around town.

Finally, do not be afraid of retailing. So many estheticians say, “I’m not good at selling.” However, you aren’t selling your client a product. You are advising them on how to invest in their skin’s health. I love the gym analogy: You cannot go to the gym for a day and expect results. It works the same for skin. Clients need to continue the work at home to see a difference.

L: Finally, what does your personal skin care routine look like?

M: Morning and evening I cleanse, apply serum and moisturize, adding in a broad-spectrum sunscreen in the morning. At least once each week I do a professional enzyme mask in the evening. That helps to accelerate my skin’s cellular turnover and regeneration, which helps it to appear younger.

My products are ever-changing and I like to mix and match brands depending on my mood. That’s the joy of being an esthetician - you always have access to amazing products!

Learn more about Melissa by visiting her on Instagram.