Providing products to protect the skin and keep it healthy is a complicated business, which involves in-depth training and much more than a passing knowledge of the sciences of physiology and dermatology.
Proper treatment and specialist advice may be needed to ensure the skin remains as healthy as possible and, to accompany this, an increasing range of derma-cosmetic products is now on the market to give consumers the choice they need to take care of particular skin types.
"Such products must be safe and in compliance with international standards," says Karen Cheung, pharmacist for VICHY Laboratoires, L'Oréal Hong Kong. "There also has to be clinical data to support their efficacy because, nowadays, the general public is very aware of product contents and the need for high safety standards."
Before a new skincare product goes on sale in a store or boutique, a qualified pharmacist prepares training materials for frontline dermo-advisers. This includes essential information about the active ingredients, their features or effect, and the safety records derived from scientific research. It also covers information about the bio-mechanics of skin, the micro-relief of tissues, and the reconstruction of cells.
The pharmacist will also provide training in how to conduct various skin diagnoses requiring different professional equipment. This will include use of a UV camera to examine the inner structure of the skin and pigmentation disorders, as well as the seven-step skin diagnosis machine which checks the overall condition, hydration level and sensitivity.
Besides that, there are other sessions focusing on basic aspects of biology and physiology to explain how the skin "works" and how to keep it healthy. A comprehensive training manual distributed by the company's headquarters in Paris summarises all the key data. To remain fully up-to-date, the pharmacist must also read scientific journals and articles on advances in dermatology and attend regular training course held in Paris.
Working in the world's first VICHY concept store, good customer service skills are essential. The first step is to understand a customer's needs, and this often means knowing about their physiological or even psychological condition before being able to recommend the most suitable products. "The first question our advisers would ask customers is how many glasses of water they drink every day," says Ms Cheung. "Real beauty is a reflection of the body's well-being, and customers have to be reminded to actively preserve their own skin's health at its source."
Whenever derma-cosmetic products are on sale in a drug store, they can be found on shelves behind the pharmacy counter, or near the prescription counter. "We always insist that the store has a pharmacist fully trained in the brand, the products, skin diagnosis, and the cosmetics industry as a whole," Ms Cheung explains. "The beauty advisers in the drug store can then consult the pharmacist about product recommendations and also pick up a lot of other useful advice."
According to Kitty Yip, human resources director of L'Oréal Hong Kong, the company looks for people who have a passion for the beauty business, since the best advisers are those who obviously enjoy what they do. That is a matter of getting a real sense of achievement from helping a customer choose a product that suits their needs, not just reciting various product information as if by rote. It requires excellent communication, interpersonal and marketing skills plus an understanding of the latest styles or trends, which comes from having the necessary experience. The company offers a supportive working atmosphere, which is conducive to learning and where colleagues take the initiative and are happy to share ideas and the latest information with one another.
The outlook for promotions is good for frontline staff who perform well. They can expect to move up to a position as a senior dermo-adviser or counter manager, or perhaps take up a back-office role, such as management trainee. This can lead to other career opportunities in sales management or different areas of the business.
To attract talent, the group's strategic recruitment tools such as e-Strat Challenge and the Brandstorm marketing game help to promote the corporate image and to identify students with the potential and ability to succeed in the business. "We aim to develop people who match the corporate culture and have a long-term vision," Ms Yip says.