Talking to… Corinna Tolan |

7 mins

Talking to… Corinna Tolan

The chief executive of Monica Tolan The Skin Experts tells Eve Oxberry how she achieves exceptional skin health results and how she juggles three salons with content creation and family life

You could say that Corinna Tolan was born into the beauty industry. Although she now runs three successful salons as chief executive of Monica Tolan The Skin Experts, she made her debut in the business back in the ’80s as a small child watching her mum, Monica, work her magic in the original salon.

“I used to love watching how she connected with her clients, how she made them feel and how they’d smile after their treatments. So, for me it was almost addictive, and I wanted to be that person,” says Tolan.

Fast forward to today and Tolan has 27 years’ experience as a skin therapist and runs two salons in Dublin and a third in London, all specialising in advanced skincare.

“In 2011, my mum wanted to retire, so my sister and I bought the business from her,” says Tolan. “I’d worked for her since 2000 and my sister Rhona had joined in 2006 in a facilities management capacity.”

With the two at the helm, the business gradually expanded, with a second salon opening in nearby Malahide in 2015, then a third in London in 2021. “We did look to move over to the UK about five years before we actually did but the timing wasn’t right for us with our young families,” explains Tolan. “But then Brexit happened and buying from us was becoming very difficult for our UK-based clientele; we needed a UK address and a website.”

Luckily, an established London salon was looking to sell, and Tolan had a trusted salon manager based in Ireland who was keen to move and head up the UK arm. “Everything just aligned,” she says. “Initially I went there every four weeks too and now I go every eight – Ihave a team there I really trust.”

Social strategies

As well as overseeing all three salons and still regularly treating clients, Tolan also has an enviable social media presence, with almost 40k Instagram followers and even her own podcast.

While she admits it’s a lot to fit in, Tolan says that putting in the extra hours to grow the business’s social media presence – and ultimately its revenue as a result – has never felt like a chore. “It obviously takes up a lot of my out-of-clinic hours, but I’m so passionate about our industry,” she says. “Just like when I was that little girl watching my mum do it, my content is about connecting with people.”

One of the keys to Tolan’s success on social media has been putting herself front and centre as the face of the business and sharing her expertise as an advanced skin therapist. “People do buy into people as there’s that level of trust,” she says. “You know that saying, ‘you are you and that’s your superpower’? Being the face of the business and doing all this has definitely exposed us to a lot more people and that’s much harder for a business page without that personality.”

For those therapists and salon owners who are not so confident putting themselves out there or struggle to find the time, Tolan advises, “Maybe focus not on how you look or what you’re saying, but more on trying to literally connect with that one person who lives alone and is listening to you and learning. Look to do it to connect as opposed to sell; if you’re going on there to sell something there’s a huge pressure, but just do it to connect and you’ll always attract your vibe.”

Skin science

Of course, connecting and being trusted online has to stem from an authentic expert knowledge and Tolan has built up strong trust through sharing her expertise on skin health. Again, turning traditional sales tactics on their head, Tolan says, “I’m a great believer in giving the client as much knowledge as possible so they can take control of their life. I’ll give them the tools and then my goal is that they don’t need me in their life anymore.” In fact, she says, “I could work with a client for three months and never recommend a skincare product.” Instead, and particularly with compromised skins, she first works with skin-specific food supplements. “Then there is absolutely no chance of irritation, so it may be the long game but you will start to see those improvements come in the skin,” she adds.

A particular passion for Tolan is helping people transform their skin – particularly those who have been struggling. “I’ve gained a reputation for being a skin problem solver. A lot of people reach out to me having exhausted other modalities and not getting results,” she says. “I have a real understanding of the physiology of the skin and I get phenomenal results. I feel like it’s a gift because people often reach out to me so distressed. Inflammatory skin conditions like acne can affect a person’s whole life and their mental health.”

While she takes a bespoke approach to treating each client, Tolan says that for her, a skin health programme will usually start with supplements. “I work with Advanced Nutrition Programme and I would always look at Skin Omegas,” she says.

“People don’t shout loud enough about the incredible effects that essential fatty acids have on the skin, how antiinflammatory they are, and how important they are for a compacted and healthy outer layer of skin, which of course is going to protect you from transepidermal water loss, irritation and inflammation. So, essential fatty acids would always be my go-to, as well as probiotics. I always try to start from as far in as I can, with the gut brain axis.”

The effect of the brain on the skin is an area Tolan believes more skin therapists should dedicate time to. “Some clients, particularly my problem skin clients, can feel so let down and disillusioned with their skin that I sometimes have to say to them, ‘I need you to have a mindset change because if you always look for negatives, that’s all you’ll ever see’,” she says. “They’ll report into me weekly, and I’ll say, ‘you’re only allowed to tell me three positive things’ because it makes them look deeper within themselves to find those positives and then gradually the weekly texts come around and they’ll be so filled with positive things, they won’t even have to try to see it.”

That weekly client management, she says, is also important itself because sometimes clients have previously been given a prescription then forgotten about it. “When they’re regularly managed with me, they’re compliant with their supplements and skincare, but also any little worries they have, they can reserve it for that weekly meeting,” she adds.

"I’m a great believer in giving the client as MUCH KNOWLEDGE as possible so they can TAKE CONTROL OF THEIR LIFE. I’ll GIVE THEM THE TOOLS and then my goal is that they don’t need me in their life anymore"

When it comes to choosing which skin products and treatments to include in a programme, Tolan says the delivery is as important as the product. “One of our biggest difficulties as skincare practitioners is getting product into the skin so anything that enhances that is always an absolute yes,” she says. As well as skin needling using Environ rollers, Tolan uses Lutronic LaseMD. “It actually has two modalities because we have that wound-healing response just like with needling, but because there’s no bleeding, we can use those channels created to feed so there’s a transdermal drug delivery system built into it as well,” she says.

As a lot of her work is focused on skin health, Tolan says she can lean more heavily on trauma treatments because the skin is healthy enough to withstand that. “That’s really important to understand with trauma treatments,” she adds. “I describe it like raising children; you can’t constantly shout at them. So, you can’t constantly traumatise the skin because it will ultimately collapse into a dermatitis state but if you’ve built it up that won’t happen, so I say ‘daily whispers and the occasional shout’ and that is the secret, particularly as you’re ageing, because everything becomes so sluggish and slow as we age, so a trauma treatment is really good for igniting it.”

Future focus

Looking to the future, Tolan admits she has a lot on her plate, but is still keen to do more. “I made a goal this year to get a lot more busy outside of my clinic hours and now we’re halfway through the year, I can tell you that was probably a mistake, I took on too much,” she says. “I do have a yearning to write a skincare book though. I want to do something for me because I work under my mum’s name with the clinics. I’m so proud to do that because my mum passed away four years ago and it’s lovely for me and my sister to continue her business but I have two daughters so I want to do something for them and to leave my footprint on the industry too.”

This article appears in August 2023

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August 2023
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