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Let’s talk about tips. Tips have a somewhat complicated history here in America. And today, tipping is still controversial even in the beauty industry. Some people refuse to leave gratuity for beauty professionals while others will only tip $5 no matter what service they receive. Of course, there are people who follow the general suggested American tipping custom between 15%-20% of the service cost. Service industry workers, however, are encouraging their employers and their customers to tip between 18%-25% more recently due to rising costs in healthcare and other expenses that aren’t fully covered or offered as benefits as they would be in a non-service job. Some salons and spas include gratuity in the service price but most don’t. I recently visited On&On spa in Hanalei, Kauai (which I highly recommend!) and they have a “no tip culture”. To put things simply, there is no universal tipping system in place.

As an esthetician who has been blessed to serve an international clientele thanks to the melting pot of talent Silicon Valley has become, I get a lot of questions around tipping. Tipping is not that big of a deal outside of the U.S. and a lot of people just don’t know. The main question I get is “Should I leave a tip?” or “How much should I tip?”.  I’m going to answer both of those questions as best as I can keeping in mind that tipping is always a personal preference. There are some things to consider before taking my advice below as the final say on tipping. First, I live and work in California where the cost of living is exorbitant and my service prices may not reflect the service prices of an esthetician in your state. Secondly, I’m using data from all services offered from the past year (shout out to those Microsoft Excel classes in college), so you’ll see real numbers below. One interesting thing I found is that the quicker the service was, the smaller the tip amount ended up being. For example, for most services, it appears that I was tipped between 18%-20% on average, but for something like a brow wax the gratuity ended up being somewhere between 10%-12% of the service cost. Alternatively, Brazilian/bikini waxes (which also go by relatively quickly) averaged a tip between 20%-25%.

Should I even leave a tip for my esthetician?

Yes. Why? Because the pay structure for estheticians is usually not so amazing. Allow me to explain.

Most estheticians who work in a salon/spa setting are paid hourly and the hourly rate is usually at or hovering just above minimum wage. In California, the average hourly wage for estheticians is somewhere between $12-$15. However, in addition to an hourly wage, many estheticians are also paid a commission but the commission structure varies wildly. There are two main types of commission structures I see in the industry: service-based and performance-based. A service-based commission structure usually pays the esthetician a percentage of the service cost when they perform a service. A performance-based commission structure pays the esthetician based on the number of services they perform within a pay period. Usually, the performance-based structure is a mix between productivity (# of services performed) and the length of the service.

So here’s an example:

SERVICE-BASED: I work at a spa and get paid $14/hour + 30% commission on all services. Let’s say I work 30 hours per week, my average service price is $85, and I perform an average of 6 services per day. At the end of my two-week pay period, I should receive $840 in hourly wages + $1,530 in commission on services (commission pay out was $25.50 per service). My net pay will be $2,370 every two weeks. But, taxes. So the sad reality of take home pay is about $1,717.13 per pay period or $3,434.26 per month.

The average cost for a one-bedroom apartment in the Bay Area is $2,900. So in this example, without tips, the esthetician is barely getting by with $534.26 left over for food, utilities, bills, life.

PERFORMANCE-BASED: I work at a spa and get paid $14/hour on top of a service commission tier where I receive an additional $5 per service if I do 5 or less services in a pay period, $9 per service if I do 6-10 services in a pay period, $11 per service if I do 11-16 services in a pay period, and $22 per service if I do more than 17 services in a pay period. Let’s say I work 30 hours per week and perform an average of 15 services where 10 services are 1 hour and 5 are 30 minutes or less. Because the 30 minute or less services are counted as half a service, I will have a total of 12.5 services for the pay period. So my total commission is $137.50.

On my paycheck, I’ll receive $840 in hourly wages + $137.50 in commission to receive a gross pay of $977.50. But, again, taxes. So the take home pay is $784.16 per pay period or $1,568.32 per month. Whew, chile! Without tips, the esthetician is REALLY struggling.

As you can see, getting paid in the beauty industry can be pretty ugly. Many beauty professional actually rely on tips to make ends meet. The example of the service-based commission is usually offered to seasoned estheticians. Most estheticians just starting out will either receive payment similar to the performance-based structure or be offered a much lower commission on a service-based structure.

Tipping is crucial in this industry and if you like your service and your esthetician, I’d encourage you to tip. In general, estheticians should probably be paid a bit more hourly too but that’s another blog post for another time.

How Much Should I Tip My Esthetician?

Okay, now we’re at the fun part! Below is an actual breakdown of the tips I received on services from the past year. The dollar amount range is the lowest tip I received and the highest tip I received. The percentage range represents the percent of service cost the tip amounts to.

50-minute or less: $20-$25 dollars (16%-20%) | my average tip on this service was $24
70-minute: $25-$30 (16.5%-20%) | my average tip on this service was $28
Chemical Peels/Microdermabrasion: $16-$20 (12%-14%) | my average tip on this service was $18.50

Brows: $2-$7 (7%-23%) | my average tip on this service was $5
Lip/chin: $2-$5 (10%-23%) | my average tip on this service was $2
Bikini: $9-$15 (20%-33%) | my average tip on this service was $10
Brazilians: $10-$25 (15%-30%) | my average tip on this service was $20
Back: $10-$20 (15%-30%) | my average tip on this service was $20
Half Legs: $5-$12 (11%-25%) | my average tip on this service was $8
Full Legs: $10-$12 (12%-15%) | my average tip on this service was $10
Half Arms: $2-$10 (7%-30%) | my average tip on this service was $5
Full Arms: $5-$12 (10%-25%) | my average tip on this service was $10
Underarms: $2-$7 (7%-23%) | my average tip on this service was $5

On average, I was tipped between 18%-21% on services.

What’s The Best Way To Tip My Esthetician: Cash, Credit/Debit, or in-kind?

Great question! Cash is the best way to provide a tip not only to your esthetician but anyone working in a service industry. As illustrated in the examples above, the paychecks aren’t lavish. Paying your service provider in cash helps with the cashflow in-between pay periods and alleviates a bit of money-related stress. There’s a lot of money-related stress in this industry because you’re only guaranteed your hourly. Remember: your tips more often than not are what helps many beauty service providers make ends meet. If you don’t have cash on you, ask your esthetician for their Venmo/Square Cash/PayPal name and send it that way.

When you leave a tip on your credit/debit card, your esthetician has to wait to receive it on their paycheck. And that tip immediately gets taxed. Which means those little $2 and $5 tips I got were more like $1.25 and $3.50. So if you do end up tipping on your card, keep that in mind.

There are also many estheticians who accept “in-kind” gifts as a tip. This can be a gift card to Starbucks or tickets to a concert or, well, anything really. This isn’t something I see often but usually will receive some nice gift around the holidays or my birthday.

Well, that’s the skinny on tipping in the beauty industry. How much do you usually tip? Let me know in the comments below.