With a small budget and a large list of beauty complaints, I decided to trial being a guinea pig at a local beauty college. I tried a chemical peel, derma-rolling, IPL for my acne scarring, and laser hair removal. No pain, no gain, right? Many colleges, in London and throughout the UK offer this service—so if you’re wondering what it’s like to receive a beauty treatment in a learning environment rather than at a spa, keep reading.
IPL Skin Rejuvination
Average Salon Price: £150+ for the face (other areas are available)
Average College Price: £30 for the face
Whilst all beauty colleges I researched offered “regular” beauty treatments at handsomely discounted prices, (facials from £14, spray tans from £10 and full body massages from £15), I was in the market for something a little more specialist-oriented. After bouts of severe acne, I was left with red pigmentation marks and pitted scars on my cheeks. They both bothered me greatly, given that they’re highly visible and not easily covered with makeup.
I was on a budget, and whilst some late-night googling told me IPL skin rejuvenation would help, it was costly. IPL (short for “intense pulsed light”) works by providing short bursts of high-intensity light to the skin, stimulating collagen and plumping the skin. The laser heats the deeper dermal tissue without harming the outer layers of the skin. Then the body’s natural processes work to break down imperfections, including sun spots, acne scars, rosacea, birthmarks, thread veins and age spots.
A course of treatment (usually six sessions) is required in order to give the skin time to fully rejuvenate.
Before IPL skin rejuvenation and glycolic acid peels.
My local college offered IPL at about 70% less than an average salon. It was the first treatment I’d receive there, and whilst I was nervous, the students were at a Level 3 (meaning they’ve been in school for three years) and were also supervised by a fully trained tutor. This put me at ease; everyone has to learn sometime, right? The environment felt more clinical than a usual spa—there was more of an appointment vibe than your usual relaxing dark room.
Treatments are advertised as taking longer than usual— the students need to check your history beforehand and are slightly slower at administering treatments. I didn’t mind this because of the money saved, though it did mean setting more than an hour aside each time I visited. My appointment felt thorough: I was asked a number of questions at a consultation beforehand and had a patch test with the IPL laser. Treatment rooms were pleasant—with comfy beds, a sink and products neatly organised. If you didn’t know you were inside a college, you could easily be in a city spa.
The students performing my IPL told me they were on placement in a beauty salon one day a week, so they were pretty clued up on client etiquette. The tutor was also friendly—I didn’t mind her being in the room or checking over my skin if needed. We all chatted during the treatment, which created a relaxed atmosphere. The laser process wasn’t painful, and afterwards my skin felt slightly hot, but only temporarily.
I had six treatments with four weeks in between and have seen the red marks on my skin fade by up to 60%. The marks were quite dark so I think with time my skin will continue to heal and refresh. I do have an uneven skin tone and freckles, so I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll never have the flawless, perfect skin I want—but I have seen a marked improvement
Average Salon Prices: £245 for the full face; £245 for the décolletage; £200 for stretch marks
Average College Prices: £45 for the first treatment; £30 for subsequent treatments
I was advised that a combination of derma-rolling, IPL skin rejuvenation and glycolic peels would be the best course of treatment for my acne scarring. Usually I couldn’t afford to have these treatments together, but the huge savings made as a “skincare model” meant I could budget for each treatment (especially as they were spread over four-week intervals).
A derma-roller is a tool covered in micro-needles that can reach the skin’s inner surface (the dermis). This stimulates the body’s natural production of elastin and collagen, leading to smoother, healthier, younger-looking skin. It can take up to six weeks to see results, but the regeneration process also continues over the following months after treatments.
My aversion for needles (no matter how small) meant I was especially nervous about this treatment. I told my student beautician this, and she was able to reassure me by telling me exactly what it felt like. Each treatment offered at the college was practiced by the students on each other). This means each student has received every treatment they perform. They all had glowing skin, so I was quickly back on board.
Before dermarolling, IPL skin rejuvination and glycolic acid peels.
A numbing cream was applied to my face slightly before my treatment, though I was told many choose not to take this option. It still felt slightly prickly even with the cream, but not painful. Different areas are sensitive for different people; my jawline was where I felt it most. It was a speedy treatment—a few “rolls” in different directions. I would have completely forgotten I was in a learning environment, other than a few little prompts from the tutor to the student. I liked finding out that after derma-rolling, any skincare product you apply is extra-effective, as it sinks into the skin at a deeper level.
For simple skin rejuvenation, three treatments of derma-rolling are suggested. For acne scarring or stretch marks, five are required. There are approximately six weeks between treatments to allow the skin to heal. I had five treatments and can report my scars are almost completely gone. My skin is smoother and healthier looking, and my makeup sits so much better without settling into the pitted scares. Whilst I was happy with my treatments, I’ve actually purchased a derma-roller at home, mainly to save money and time.
I don’t think the needles are as long as the ones used professionally, but as I intend to use it long-term, it’s a worthwhile buy at £35.
Average Salon Prices: £125 for a single treatment; £562 for a course of six
Average College Prices: £35 for a single treatment
The tutor who performed my skin consultation advised a three-step approach to making over my acne-damaged skin. Glycolic peels were suggested as the final stage in a trio of skin-refreshing treatments. Facial peels are an accelerated form of exfoliation—ridding the skin of of dead cells to revitalise the tone and improve the texture. They can help a number of skin complaints, including skin damage, fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and liver spots.
Peels come in varying strengths, your skin should always be assessed prior to an appointment to determine which is best for you. I began with two light peels; then my student beautician (advised by her tutor) increased the strength for the following two treatments. To be honest, the word “peel” made me think of a more severe treatment (a glycolic peel will rarely actually peel the skin, unlike the skin-shedding chemical peels that sprung to my mind). Whilst it felt like I’d had a nice facial, I didn’t feel tingling or tightening during the treatment.
To my disappointment, my skin wasn’t even red afterwards. I think I was so keen to see a big change as I had with my previous treatments. I was advised to come back and they would increase the strength, but I concentrated on my skincare routine at home instead, armed with my derma-roller and The Ordinary’s Salicylic Acid and Alpha Arbutin. I would have been disappointed, had I paid full price for the peels, but at £35, I considered them in-depth facials.
My skin without makeup after a course of derma-rolling, IPL skin rejuvenation and glycolic peels.
LASER HAIR REMOVAL
Average Salon Prices: £60 for the underarm area; £115 for the bikini line; £230 for half a leg; £345 for a full leg
Average College Prices: £20 for the upper lip, chin, neck and cheekbones; £50 for the full face; £30 for the underarm area; £70 for full arms; £50 for the bikini line; £100 for a full leg
Laser hair removal wasn’t on my list of cut-price beauty treatments to try. I was asked if I wanted to be a “test client” and receive three treatments for free (perhaps they’d cottoned onto just how frequently I was at the college). Why not? I thought. When you consider that the average woman spends 72 days shaving unwanted hair in her lifetime, any hair removed would mean time gifted back to me. Because the treatment was free, we only treated a small area—the underarm.
Statistics show as much as 95% of the hair targeted by a course of laser hair treatments is permanently removed. It’s also an effective treatment for ingrown hairs, and it’s suitable for suntanned skin. Whilst they say any area is possible to treat, the college advised that laser hair removal is most effective on darker hair, as the lasers are attracted to the pigment. Red, grey and blonde hair is harder to treat—a consultation is advised where a therapist will tell you if laser treatment would be effective.
The process itself was pretty painless; I felt a tiny pinch. A course of four to eight treatments is suggested, and you have wait four to eight weeks between appointments, as the hair growth cycle occurs in three stages (growing, resting and transitional). The hair can only be targeted by the laser if it’s in the growing stage. As I had three free treatments, I only noticed a small change, so I meant to continue—it was going to cost £20 per single session for the underarm (usually £58 at salons).
But I kept forgetting—this one was hard to squeeze in. I don’t think my hair is as thick as before, and I do intend to pick it up again. The dream would be to have my legs lasered, too (no more shaving!). At these prices, that is a possibility.
I had a resoundingly positive experience as a beauty treatment tester. If you’re looking for a saving, I’d recommend it. However, if you’re tight on time, I could see why a regular salon appointment may suit. It was tricky to get an appointment at my college, services were in demand and they only had one evening available for advanced treatments like mine.
Reactions from my friends and family have differed. Many weren’t aware such a service existed, whilst some were shocked at my willingness to be a guinea pig. “I can’t believe you’d allow students to operate a laser on your face in the name of a bargain,” they’d say. On showing them the before-and-after images, however, this quickly changed to “So, how do I get an appointment?”
FYI, UK colleges offering student treatments include London College of Beauty Therapy, South Thames College London, Lancaster & Morecambe College, Buckinghamshire College Group, Leicester College, The Manchester College, Leeds City College, Newcastle College, City of Glasgow College and Edinburgh College.