What Every Esthetician Student Needs to Know about Infection Control



Practicing good infection control techniques ensures that every part of the spa experience you create for your clients supports their overall health and wellbeing. It also ensures that you avoid fines from the health department – or worse yet, lawsuits. Developing a reputation by word-of-mouth for having a very clean and hygienic facility can do a lot for your business.

Take Ma’ati Spa in Winston-Salem North Carolina for example. They offer a facial treatment for $80; a price their customers are glad to pay knowing the spa places a strong emphasis on using the proper infection control techniques. Ma’ati has even gone so far as to advertise this as an attribute.

In the grand scheme of things, fines and embarrassment are insignificant compared to the worst-case scenario, and there’s no better example of this than the case of Jo Gilchrist. In 2015, at 27-years-old, Jo was hospitalized with a staph infection she caught from a makeup brush. After waking up from emergency surgery doctors told her she would never walk again as the bacteria had attacked her spinal chord…

You asked for it. There’s no way to have a serious discussion about infection control without hearing about the worst case scenario. Don’t let this sobering example get you down. Instead, keep in mind that the established methods and protocols for infection control are widely practiced, covered in the national esthetics exam, and reinforced by state boards of cosmetology for a good reason: They work.

Understanding the Vocabulary of Infection Control

When speaking of infection control, these are the important terms you need to be aware of:

Enter Zip:

Microbes, microorganisms, bacteria, yeast, fungi, and viruses – living creatures that you cannot see with your naked eye, which are contagious and can make people sick

Disinfect – application of an antibacterial substance to an inanimate object to destroy microorganisms living on that object; examples of disinfectants/antimicrobial substances include alcohol, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, and iodine

Antiseptic – antiseptics are antimicrobial substances that are applied to the skin to reduce the chances of infection; examples of antiseptics are alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and iodine

Sanitize – use of products that both cleanse and disinfect

Cleanse – use of soap to remove oil and dirt from the skin

Infection control procedure – these procedures ensure that each activity you perform as an esthetician is done in a way to minimize the risk of infection to your clients and yourself and to avoid any contamination of your tools/products

Proper infection control practices will be a part of your work as an esthetician for your entire career. While you need to have these concepts and practices down by the time you take your esthetician licensing exam, you will always be accountable to your clients – and your state’s department of health – to maintain good hygiene and sanitation practices.

Infection Control and Your State’s Health Department

Your clients will be happy to work with you on a repeated basis if they know you have good habits when it comes to practicing infection control. By using proper infection control techniques, you can focus on what you love doing best – skin care.

Your state’s department of public health will also give you reasons to abide by the proper infection control techniques. A 2008 article in the San Diego Union Tribune found that over a five-year period, California’s health inspectors cited local salons in the San Diego area with a combined total of $1.35 million in fines. Investigators found the most common problems were not disposing of soiled items correctly, and not storing disinfected materials in clean, covered, labeled containers.

When you are cited with a fine for a health or safety violation, details about your violation are permanently available in the public record.

Unfortunately there will always be a percentage of estheticians who are sloppy, negligent, or irresponsible when it comes to following infection control procedures. Fortunately for you, however, this gives you a great opportunity to distinguish your business, and set yourself apart as an outstanding esthetician.

What the Experts Have to Say

Cathy Christensen, the Executive Director of Operations and Communications at the American Med Spa Association (AmSpa), writes in an article for Skin Inc. magazine (where she also served as the editor) that as someone who works in a salon you must make a concerted effort to maintain a sanitary environment. She details, “The combination of the growing popularity of spas and recent press reports about illness – even death – resulting from unclean facilities has magnified the issue of sanitation, resulting in a make-or-break situation for all spas in the industry, from large destination spas to entrepreneurial one-room facilities.”

This holds true whether you’re working in a spa or making house calls with your makeup kit. Later in her article Christensen points out that your clients will be happy to pay more to see you knowing that you hold yourself to the highest hygienic standards.

Christensen advises the following methods as being the best routine things you can do to avoid making the most common infection control mistakes:

  • Clean all your tools in warm water/hot water and soap before disinfecting them
  • Only use disinfectants that are EPA-approved and kill tuberculosis and Polio – these two infectious diseases are some of the most resistant out there, so if your disinfectant kills these it will also kill most everything else
  • Absolutely do not reuse single-use items; throw them away properly after one use
  • When waxing, never double-dip
  • Always remember to clean your work surfaces between each client, as well as at the end of the day
  • Always read the directions on your disinfectant products, and make sure you follow these directions

Infection Control Techniques and Protocols Tested for on the NIC Esthetics Exam

Chances are that your state uses the NIC’s National Advanced Esthetics theory and practical examinations as the qualifying tests for licensure, or that your state models its own tests on the NIC’s examinations. Infection control topics are featured on the theory/written exam, and are always one of the main areas of evaluation on the practical exam.

Most infection control practices are pretty intuitive: As you perform any of the following procedures you must sanitize your hands before you get started. When you take off latex gloves do so in a way that turns them inside-out as you peel them off starting at the wrist. If you sanitize your hands in the bathroom, use a clean paper towel to open the door when you finish so your clean hands don’t touch the door handle.

The following are the core domain services covered on the NIC’s national esthetic exam, listed here with the infection control procedures you will be evaluated on:

Setup and Client Protection

  • Disinfect work area or place a protective covering over it
  • Apply body and hair drapes
  • Re-sanitize hands after touching the client’s hair

Cleansing and Steaming the Face

  • Cleanse client’s lips and eye areas
  • Distribute cleanser over entire face safely

Massaging the Face

  • Use infection control techniques while completing this procedure
  • Dispose of soiled materials using the proper infection control technique

Manual Extraction on the Forehead

  • Apply eye protection to the client
  • Wear gloves
  • Maintain work area in a sanitary way, and dispose of soiled items using infection control techniques

Hair Removal of the Eyebrows

  • Wear gloves
  • Use implements that have been disinfected (disposable implements that are assumed to be disinfected should still be in their original packaging)
  • Apply antiseptic to the eyebrow area safely – before and after performing this procedure

Facial Mask

  • Remove mask product using the proper infection control technique
  • Apply mask product safely
  • Remove mask product and apply toner or astringent, and moisturizer safely
  • Dispose of soiled items appropriately

Facial Makeup

  • Cover client’s shoulders with a protective covering
  • Secure client’s hair off their face
  • Sanitize hands after performing these procedures
  • Dispose of soiled materials appropriately, and maintain proper infection control throughout the procedures

Hair Removal with Hard Wax on Upper Lip Area (some states include this procedure)

  • Wear gloves
  • Apply antiseptic to the client’s upper lip area before and after this procedure
  • Use implements that have been disinfected (disposable implements that are assumed to be disinfected should still be in their original packaging)
  • Dispose of soiled items appropriately and use proper infection control procedures throughout the procedure

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