To dispose or reuse? That's the dilemma
While reduce, re-use and re-cycle may be the mantra in many walks of life today, its, opposite can apply. In the last five years use of disposables has grown across a wide range of treatments, as clinic owners and managers realise it’s never been more important to ensure the tools, and the products used, in no way compromise the safety of either clients or staff.
But who’s driving it – clients or therapists? And, when it comes to purchasing those single-use products, what’s most important – cost, or the quality of treatment?
While clients can quickly assess the standards of general cleanliness in a clinic they may not realise how poor hygiene practices during treatment, either via products and tools or the environment, can result in cross-contamination and leave them vulnerable to infection. The bad old days when hot wax was reused may be long gone but even a simple treatment like a pedicure can result in unpleasant after effects if single-use equipment is not used.
Opinions are mixed as to the reasons for the increase in use of disposables. Some clinics report client demand is responsible... “Use of disposables is a benchmark for the salon as it quickly shows clients how professional the salon is, that they take their hygiene practices seriously,” says Kim Buckley at Tonic in Glen Eden. Others don’t believe hygiene is a big issue for clients with one salon owner saying in all her 20 years in the industry she’s never once been asked about the use of disposables.
There are also clinics who say clients don’t ask about it but will know, via their service menu, that for the safety of clients, they place a good deal of importance on the use of disposables.
The balancing act, says Buckley, is using disposables in a treatment and still being able to cover your costs. “Clients don’t always understand the full costing of all the little incidentals. This can be a concern when some of the less professional clinics under-price treatments and people have an expectation that treatment prices should be low without realising important hygiene services are not being followed.”
Disposables have been used in waxing and hair removal treatments for many years – clinics like Waxnlaser, use mind-boggling quantities of them. “We currently get through 24,000 spatulas per clinic per month,” says Roger Thomas. And they’re supporting local industry, buying in bulk from a South Island manufacturer.
But it’s about a whole lot more than spatulas and gloves. The selection of single-use products available to clinics today is huge – partly due to the number of spas offering body treatments, and to the popularity of artificial tanning treatments, says Steve Arthur at House of Camille. “We now have disposable bras and probably ten different types of pants including G-strings, men’s boxers and pouches, so that side is growing considerably.”
And it doesn’t stop there. With everything from pillow cases to mascara wands and eyelash tint brushes available, disposables now ensure head to toe hygiene and client comfort.  Arthur says there’s a growing demand for disposable footwear, including spa slippers and pedicure thongs or flip-flops that clients can wear out the door – good news for those whose immaculate nail enamel suffered when they were forced to leave a clinic wearing day shoes after a pedicure!
Beauty Care has also introduced disposables that improve hygiene during hand and nail treatments. Its Callus Peel range now includes replacement ‘paddle’ pads which clients see being unpacked for use then thrown away on completion of the treatment. And Thermasoft wax scores on two fronts, says Olivia Jeffrey. “It’s a 100% sanitary, single-use wax containing Soyaffin, a totally natural, soy based serum.” It’s individually sealed and it’s disposable, leaving nothing to clean or store. “Clients don’t need to wonder how long it’s been sitting there or how many other hands and feet have dipped into it!”
It’s important disposables are seen to be fresh and clean and straight out of the pack, says Peter Willis at Arrow Beauty. “There’s a trend for disposables to be individually wrapped so that the product is then unwrapped in front of the client.” Disposable knickers, head bands, crinkle caps and make-up tools are just some of the products now available in single packs as well as the traditional ‘tissue-box’ pull-out packs. “Clinics want the option and while it may affect the economics, it leads to greater customer satisfaction and repeat business.” And at the top end of the market, underwear comes not just individually packaged but also in a choice of colours that can be matched to a spa or clinic’s theme, says Jeffrey.
So, is cost the deciding factor when choosing disposables? While clinics claim they would never compromise the quality of treatments by choosing cheap and nasty, many are also happy to buy cotton wool balls and buds from the local supermarket and wooden spatulas from the $2 shop. “There are always alternatives,” says Arrow’s Willis. But buyer beware. “When we sell a product to the professional beauty market, we stand behind it. If you have problems with a cheap spatula that splinters or breaks, may not collect wax or be too absorbent, what do you do?”
Amanda Brewer at Waiwera Infinity Day Spa has worked as a beauty therapist around the world and finds when it comes to use of disposables, New Zealand clinics compare favourably to those in the UK and northern Europe. “I know that in countries like Spain and Portugal there’s not so much emphasis on hygiene so the use of disposables is much less. Wooden spatulas are not used for waxing; they use metal ones instead and use them from client to client.”
Finding and choosing the right disposables can take time, she says. “The cost varies so much it takes a considerable amount of time to look at the range available, the quality and the cost. Larger companies seem to have had a monopoly in the past and it was easier and quicker to order them alongside other items. Then along came the smaller companies who are able to supply items more cheaply and it makes sense to separate the order. I use a company that provides all the disposables I need at a third of the cost. No other company can match them and the quality of the disposables is great.” And it has to be, says Brewer. “There’s nothing worse than waxing a client’s legs and the strips not coming off in one piece!”

Tonic’s Buckley also keeps a look-out for a better price on disposables. She too refuses to compromise on quality. “Sometimes you can find a bargain but often the quality is not as good and you end up using more of them anyway or they just don’t work as well. If I believe the treatment requires a higher quality disposable, such as underwear for body wrapping, I’ll go for the higher cost item.” She usually manages to cover the cost within the price of the treatment.
“We’re probably always looking for the best deal so as not to affect our margins too much, however professional salons will also look for items that speak for quality of treatment and service. This means our supply companies have to work hard to keep that edge on a good deal and not have their salons shopping around – even on the Internet.”
With no ‘watch-dogs’ monitoring use of disposables it’s very much up to individual clinics to set their own standards. It’s a matter of course for many. “It’s just how we work,” says Jocelyn Nixon at Images Medispa in Pukekohe. ”There’s no place for re-using products or tools in a professional salon. Where possible everything’s used just once, not sterilised and reused.”
Graduates enter the beauty therapy industry trained in the use of disposables and aware of heir place in maintaining standards of hygiene. Some, says Amanda Brewer, are almost too enthusiastic about using them.”I find after a time they settle into their own routine, keeping hygienic without using too many.” Others don’t fully appreciate how important disposables are, says Colleen Sharp at The Villa Beauty Therapy in Masterton. “We have a strict in-clinic policy that they must be used and we check to see it’s happening.”
However, industry insiders suggest some older therapists don’t always see the need. Fifteen or twenty years ago there wasn’t the same emphasis on hygiene, and use of disposables was limited – nor were there the same number of hygiene-related threats. The perception is that the use of disposables simply adds to the cost of treatment. “It’s a good point,” says Steve Arthur. “They’ve never used disposables so why should they start now? Clients understand students are taught what to do, perhaps we need to re-educate therapists who’ve been in the industry longer; bring their standards up to date and introduce them to the wider use of disposables.”
Those ‘older’ therapists who, like Kim Buckley, came into beauty therapy from nursing, have a different attitude. “Attention to hygiene and the use of disposables and sterile procedures was the norm. I really believe the beauty industry needs to be sharper on hygiene, anyway.”
And wider use of disposables doesn’t sit well with clinic owners concerned about the environmental impact of waste matter. Anecdotal reports suggest that while there are many who want to see standards of hygiene improved across the industry, they would also like to see less refuse heading for the tip on a regular basis.  It’s a concern at Waxnlaser, says Roger Thomas, who believes there must be a better way to deal with the amount of wax they dispose of every month. “We don’t want to reuse it but there must be some way that top quality beeswax and olive oil can be recycled.”
Therapists would also like know that the disposable products they’re using are from sustainable sources and manufactured responsibly. As the public becomes more aware of the debate around sustainability, the challenge for the beauty therapy industry – suppliers and therapists – will be to ensure they’re managing these issues in the best possible way. 










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