When I meet Debbie Thomas, she’s not long returned from a trip to LA for The Oscars, where she was asked to provide pre- and postceremony facials to some of Hollywood’s elite. But anyone expecting an ego from Thomas, who is regularly touted in the consumer press as a “celebrity superfacialist”, would be disappointed. Far from just riding off PR and celebrity endorsements, Thomas has worked her way to the top through conviction and hard work.
In her first therapist job in a salon in Portsmouth she’d planned on taking a more holistic route. “When I was 21, I started suffering from acne, which sparked my interest more in skincare.” she says. She began researching the causes of problem skin, and found that there was a way to incorporate the healing principles of holistic therapy with the science of treating the skin.
She then trained with Danish skincare expert Ole Henriksen, who believed in mixing up products and equipment to create bespoke facials. “When training with other brands prior to that I’d be told to do either the sensitive or the acne regime, for example; there was no leniency to tailor the treatment for someone with both,” she says.
Seeing the light
Lasers first entered the picture when Thomas started working at longstanding Harley Street business The Body Clinic. While watching a demo of an IPL treatment, she says, “I thought, it doesn’t matter how good I am at doing facials – even though I was starting to get great press coverage – I decided I had to work with lasers and lights.”
Thomas is big on training, especially when working with equipment that “can be seriously dangerous in inexperienced hands”, and she spent her time at the clinic fastidiously learning her trade. A therapist at heart, Thomas felt the aesthetics industry was missing a trick. “Everything is very clinical and customer service isn’t really the number-one thing; there’s no TLC,” she says. And so her ethos of effective bespoke treatments delivered with a therapist’s touch started to take hold.
To give her busy clients results without serious downtime, Thomas developed a technique of combining several components within one session, “so that each thing I did improved the results of the others,” she says. Advanced peels and light therapy are also stars of Thomas’s toolkit, and it was at this point that she worked out how much more potential there would be if tools like these were incorporated into a course of laser facials: “If I did a peel my lasers would work better, and if I did light therapy we’d be triggering even more collagen production, for example,” she says.
Thomas achieves NVQ Level 3 in Applied Sciences and Beauty Therapy at Bournemouth College
Begins working as head trainer for distributor Strawberry and Cream, which distributed Ole Henriksen in the UK and Europe
Joins The Body Clinic on Harley Street, London
Thomas has since established D.Thomas Clinic within the Chelsea Private Clinic in London, and has named her bespoke treatments DNA. “We’re saying the treatments are as unique as your DNA; made for your own needs,” she explains. “Clients pay for my time rather than a specific treatment, so in each session I look at their skin on the day and create the treatment they need.”
Thomas has plans to make it the “best laser skin clinic in the UK” but will stay to true to what she does best. “I specialise in effective laser skin facials. I think a lot of people make mistakes by trying to be everything to everyone,” she says. Thomas is working towards opening a standalone clinic and is looking for the right property to purchase.
In the meantime she’s focusing on her newest venture D.Thomas Illuminate, which opened in December last year and is a “skin bar type concept” within high-end department store Harvey Nichols’s London flagship. The 11 treatments on offer are 20-minute express versions of Thomas’s signature facials. “My clients wanted something they could do in between seeing me that still gives a boost but at a lower price point,” she says.
The treatments still use advanced components such as laser, peels, microneedling, ultrasound, microdermabrasion and radiofrequency, but on a gentler level. To help clients navigate the options, Thomas and her team developed a system that numbers each treatment from one to four to indicate strength and how much downtime to plan for, plus an idea of when skin will look best after treatment.
Thomas has big plans for the concept: “We want to grow it to a point where we potentially franchise it out and have a product range to go with it,” she says.
Despite her success as an aesthetic therapist, Thomas hasn’t been immune from the ongoing industry disputes over which treatments therapists should and shouldn’t carry out. “The negative things being said by all parties are harmful for everyone,” she says. “Every time a scandalous story comes out about something a therapist has done, it tarnishes the whole industry and suggests to everyone that we’re a bunch of idiots.”
In her view, it’s simple: “If you’re good at what you do you’ll be busy and make money. If you’re rubbish, it doesn’t matter if you stop a therapist down the road doing a certain treatment, you’re still not going to be busy,” she says, adding: “I find it disappointing that the whole industry is so unsupportive of each other when we should all be working together.” PB
Hires a treatment room in hairstylist Daniel Hersheson’s salon in Harvey Nichols
Purchases her first laser, the Fotona SP Dynamis
Opens D.Thomas Clinic within the Chelsea Private Clinic on King’s Road, London
Launches D.Thomas Illuminate in Harvey Nichols, with plans to franchise the concept