Known to many as the “queen of skin”, facialistAbigail James has well and truly earned her reputation as one of the leading skincare specialists in the industry. Not only has she helped set up luxury spas such as private members’ club Grace Belgravia in London and the Oskia Spa in Covent Garden, but she’s also worked as a global treatment ambassador for Liz Earle Skincare, as well as creating signature treatments for the likes of Bamford Haybarn and Rituals.
Big names in the sector have sought out James’s expertise due to her unique approach to treating skin, focusing on results-driven treatments that include elements like facial massage, nutrition, and wellbeing-focused techniques such as breathwork, taking a 360-degree approach to every issue.
“When I first started out in the industry, the word ‘facialist’ didn’t exist. There was just a handful of us – Debbie Thomas, Nichola Joss, Sarah Chapman – who were working in this niche, but all with our own unique selling point,” she says. “I never set out to treat famous people, that was never my goal. I was just nerdy about being the best I could be and I was continually training. I think that’s what made me stand out from other therapists.”
However, it’s also James’s realness that catapulted her to success, using many methods in her treatments that she herself swears by. She’s never shied away from the fact that her personal life has shaped her professional skill set, with the challenges she’s faced over the years influencing her approach to skin health.
“After I had my first child, I suffered with severe postnatal depression. At the time, I was working in my family’s food business, and I just wasn’t in a mental position to go back to that kind of work,” James explains.
“I had a friend who was a beauty therapist who would do treatments on me, and I benefited a lot from what she did – so much so that I took myself off to night school for two years to get my NVQ in Beauty Therapy. I realised I’d found my calling.”
The personal touch
When figuring out where she wanted to focus as a therapist, James realised she wanted to incorporate the things she had found supportive during her journey, such as supplements and meditation, to name a few –“just that holistic way of doing things. I dotted those into my clients’ treatment programmes,” she says.
“It became apparent early on that I needed to address all these other angles with clients to help them get the results they wanted. I also designed juices that clients could drink to help with their skin issues, and this is influenced by my upbringing – my grandparents were vegetarian, and my dad was organic farming before it was even a thing.”
The industry today is so different to when James first started in 2003, with wellness now incorporated into many facets of beauty treatments. As such, it’s now a crowded marketplace, making it even harder to stand out. James’s top advice for those who want to become a leading facialist? “Focus on being the best at your therapy because it’s competitive out there, but there are enough faces to go around,” she says.
Changing with the times
“Invest in your training as that has been the key throughout my career. I’m still educating myself now because we can never know enough. This is what will make you stand out from the therapist down the road,” she adds.
You also need to be adaptable to changes in the industry and the wider economic market, as she explains.
“Covid-19 caused me to reassess my business model –I closed my London space and opened a room in my home in Surrey. It made me reassess my work-life balance as I realised that I was serving my clients but almost killing myself in the process.
“Now, I’m being more bespoke, private, and exclusive with my treatments. I think many of us have had to do that. My clients are now willing to travel to see me in Surrey, whereas before the pandemic London was the place to be.”
There’s also a lot of hope as we move into a post-pandemic world, with James predicting a surge of new beauty businesses opening to boost the industry. “There’s now space and opportunity for younger therapists to take the leap to going self-employed, opening mobile and home-based businesses,” she says.
“That market was always there but it’s growing exponentially now as there’s been a big shift from the consumer point of view. Clients are now much more open about where they experience their treatments than before. Instead of thinking they need to go to a certain brand, they now want to build a relationship with a certain therapist who will get to know their skin. It doesn’t matter where they are based, they want that trust.”
Knowing your worth
Looking to the future, James says her biggest challenge will be validating her price point, and she feels this is an issue that will be felt across the sector. “There’s new technology and brands coming out all the time, and you want to be able to offer the best service for your clients, so for me as a practitioner, investment is a big cost,” she says.
“If I look at my overheads to do a facial now compared to 10 years ago, it’s off the scale. There are chains of clinics cropping up now that want to sell these services cheap and in volume, so it’s about being able to hold on to your value and integrity. The service you offer is going to be 100 times better than that mass market rollout, but it will be a challenge holding on to those values while you compete.”
"Focus on being
THE BEST AT YOUR THERAPY
because it’s competitive out there, but there
ARE ENOUGH FACES TO GO AROUND"
As well having as a roster of loyal clients and working with some of the best professional brands in the market, James also shared her sacred skin tips in her first book Love Your Skin, which was published in 2017. It was a huge success.
So, it will come as no surprise to learn the facialist is launching her second book this month – The Glow Plan: Face Massage for Happy, Healthy Skin in Four Weeks. It’s aimed at those who want to dial up their wellbeing and get glowing skin. It focuses on facial massage, with a step-by-step daily plan over four weeks, ranging from lymphatic drainage to inner-mouth massage.