Avoiding Skin Allergies During Spa Treatments

Expert advice for circumventing ingredient sensitivities.


Soothing-allergies-skin[Image: levkr/istock]

What are the most common skin allergies you encounter with clients?

Christie Fox Lavigne, director of skincare, Oasis Day Spa in New York City: We see a range, but the most common are lactose intolerance and allergies to nuts or specific medications. Thankfully, most reputable skincare brands have done away with artificial fragrance, parabens and other harsh ingredients, but we still see people suffering from some sort of irritation; many of them say they have ‘sensitive skin,’ but oftentimes we uncover that their skin is in fact ‘sensitized.’ Sensitive skin is a condition you’re born with, while sensitized skin is caused by something you’re doing—perhaps exfoliating too much, using harsh products (retinols are a huge culprit) or not properly hydrating the complexion. So, educating guests about best practices is an important part of our job.

Sharetta Richard, LME, certified laser technician, Urban Skin Solutions in Charlotte, North Carolina: Across the board, when my clients have a reaction to a product, it contains either hydroquinone, citric acid or retinal. All three are highly effective ingredients, but they can be too strong for people with skin allergies or sensitivities. The issues vary, but sure signs include tiny, rash-like bumps and an itching, burning sensation.

Clara Yu, MD, founder and medical director, Beauty Cult in Redondo Beach, California: Allergies to fragrance, acids and certain fruit extracts tend to be some of the more common ones, with symptoms including a red rash or bumps; itchy, dry skin; or pimples.

  • Dermalogica-Calm-Water-Gel
    Dermalogica Calm Water Gel


What services or substitutions do you provide if a guest has a specific sensitivity?

Richard: We offer a Custom Facial (50 min./$100) that includes the IMAGE Skincare Ormedic Masque, which is good for all skin types and helps address dryness, acne, redness and dull skin. It also contains key ingredients for sensitive skin like aloe, cucumber and meadowsweet extract. In addition, our Sensi Peel (45 min./$90) is a gentle chemical peel with only 6 percent TCA, so it’s a great option. However, it still contains vitamin C, so we won’t administer this to clients who are allergic to citric acids.

Dr. Yu: All of our signature facials include cryotherapy, which is one of the best protocols for calming inflammation and soothing sensitivity. Our most popular facial is the Beauty Cult Devotion (60 min./$119), which includes cryotherapy and an O2 mask that increases oxygen to boost hydration. Also, our AquaGold Microinfusion Facial (20-40 min./$600) combines Botox, hyaluronic acid, vitamins and more to help reduce redness, improve fine lines, shrink pores and give guests brighter skin. Finally, Beauty Cult’s medical grade line is developed with all skin types in mind. Some of our top products are C to Believe, which has lilac stem cells to help prevent wrinkles, brighten and even skin tone, calm redness and rosacea, and hydrate the complexion; and Mighty Matcha, a serum containing the equivalent of 1,500 green tea bags that helps reduce redness and fight free radicals.

Lavigne: All of the lines we carry offer calming options, depending on individual needs; some ingredients we use to soothe the skin include arnica, chamomile, lavender, rose and horse chestnut.

RELATED: Spa Treatments for Sensitive Skin

How do you screen for skin allergies and guide clients in the right direction?

Dr. Yu: All of our guests fill out a health history questionnaire that we review prior to starting any services, and we also verbally ask if they’re aware of any allergies they might have. Staff members know what ingredients are in each of our product lines and they go through rigorous training, which involves skin anatomy, recognizing possible sensitivities and how to treat them. There’s always a doctor in house to provide medical treatment or recommendations as needed.

Lavigne: We conduct a brief interview to determine whether or not our clients suffer from allergies, have medical conditions or take medications that might interfere with their treatment. If someone expresses concern about a potential reaction, we take a look and try to determine the cause. In situations where we may be worried about a reaction, we’ll try something new using a patch test. During intake, if our guest says they’ve tried everything, but nothing seems to be helping, we do what we can to address their concerns and heal the skin. There may be times when someone doesn’t get better after trying our recommendations, in which case we may suggest that they see a dermatologist, allergist or nutritionist—oftentimes, something in their diet may be causing the reaction.

Richard: We can’t do allergy testing, but we do go over a client’s medical history and do a swab test on the inner arm or back of the neck. Different types of services are also an option. For example, if a client comes in wanting a chemical peel to reduce hyperpigmentation but can’t handle the ingredients, a laser treatment is an extremely beneficial alternative. If they want to know exactly what’s causing a reaction, isolating the use of one product at a time could help—but directing them to their doctor for testing is the quickest, surest solution.

—Alexa Joy Sherman

This story first appeared in the September issue of DAYSPA Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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