Feeling “haggard as f*** with two kids home,” Caitlin Kelly, founder of the public relations firm Caitlin Kelly Agency, visited Ject, a cosmetic “beauty bar” with locations in the West Village, the Upper East Side and Bridgehampton, in October. She’s returned eight times since for services like a Botox-infused “AquaGold” facial, a skin tightening treatment and intense pulsed light (IPL), a light therapy said to reduce dark spots and wrinkles.

Kelly is one of many. Devon Nagelberg, Ject’s co-founder and head of brand at Ject said it has seen a 300 percent increase in new clients since December, while Amy Shecter, chief executive of Ever/Body, said overall revenue tripled from December 2020 to May 2021.

After steadily gaining momentum over the past five years — and despite closures at the start of the pandemic — direct-to-consumer-style beauty bars and medical spas (often referred to as med spas, which bring medical procedures such as Botox into a spa environment) are seeing new attention as an increasingly digital world is embracing aesthetic tweaks like never before.

These beauty bars began as an attempt to replicate the “Drybar” model for the world of injectables and other cosmetic services. In addition to Ject and Ever/Body, there is Botox Labb, Alchemy 43, GoodSkin and Peachy, to name a few. Founders say their businesses democratise aesthetic treatments once only performed in doctor’s offices for a certain echelon of clientele. These beauty bars use “branding, creative and content” to achieve a “warm, personalised” experience, said Nagelberg, who added that doctors’ offices can often be “cold and clinical.”

The model isn’t new — Botox Labb and Alchemy 43 have been around since 2016 — but the aforementioned growth numbers show that behaviours and attitudes around cosmetic procedures have shifted dramatically since early last year, as people spent more time communicating over Zoom, and it’s continued as they restart their social lives.

“There is just so much focus on the face, on the hair,” Shecter said of video calls. She noted that there’s been a significant increase in multiple-service visits with a transition to working from home and staring at yourself on a screen all day, as well as an influx of clients who have never done injectables before. “As people are starting to interact, there’s just a lot more focus on the way I look.”

Focus on the Face

Shecter likens Ever/Body to “The One Medical” of cosmetic services, since the med spa offers a number of treatments, including plasma hair restoration and body treatments Emsculpt and truSculpt ID. It’s also digitally-inclined, operating an online patient portal, which allows clients to book appointments, see treatment history and more.

The portal is set to get a refresh in the coming months, thanks to a $38 million Series B Ever/Body raised in May, led by Tiger Global Management, to open more than 10 new locations over the next year and enhance its digital experience.

Like most DTCs, these businesses benefit from online word-of-mouth. “I was staring at myself in the mirror all day long. I could only see my forehead,” said Ashley Overholt, 33, hairstylist and owner of Rose Point Studio in Greenpoint, who got Botox for the first time in February. She thought about going to a dermatologist, but an Instagram influencer changed her mind.

“She posted about Ject and she looked good,” said Overholt.

Fans find the model makes non-invasive treatments like neurotoxin injections and filler more accessible. Though locations are primarily in the Los Angeles and New York areas, brands are meeting customers where they are: Ject, for example, has a Bridgehampton location and GoodSkin will open a Southampton pop-up in August.

They’re also often less intimidating than a doctor’s office. Overholt said the “high anxiety” she feels when going to the doctor keeps her coming back to beauty bars.

Still, don’t expect to get a deal at Ject or Ever/Body. While these med spas claim to be more affordable than a high-end dermatologist, they may be pricier than the average doctor. Wrinkle relaxers are priced at approximately $250 to $325 per area at Ject (the forehead, between the eyebrows and around the eyes, commonly treated togetherhttps://businessoffashion.arcpublishing.com/composer/#, would cost about $750) and $375 (for the three areas combined) at New York-based Peachy. At Ever/Body, the average wrinkle reducer treatment costs $460 and filler usually around $900, with lip and cheek filler priced at $725 and $825, respectively.

“We’re not looking to be the Groupon of wrinkle relaxers,” Shecter said.

Establishment Scepticism

Despite consumer enthusiasm, the medical community’s reaction to the model remains less than warm. Dermatologists and plastic surgeons have long voiced concern over med spas that offer many of the same treatments they perform in their offices, asserting that only a board-certified doctor should administer injectables.

Founders of med spas disagree.

At Alchemy43, Ject and Ever/Body, only licensed medical providers — registered nurses, nurse practitioners or physician assistants — inject clients. Each location has at least one medical director as well as their own training program. At Ever/Body, a doctor is also available at each location, which will remain true as the company scales, according to Shecter.

“There has been a perception in the medical community that some of these more experientially-driven medical spa experiences are not prioritising patient safety … It’s easy to clump a med spa [and say] ‘It’s not safe, it’s too pretty,’” said Nicci Levy, founder and chief executive of Alchemy 43, which has four locations in New York City and Calif. and plans to expand to Texas and south Florida. “No one can argue that when you do something day in and day out, you are going to be an expert. It’s about the amount of training.”

And medical offices can’t compete on ambience and digital savvy, both increasingly important in today’s marketplace. “Doctors are not leaders in customer experience,” said Kevin Campos, a partner at Fifth Wall, an investor in Ever/Body. “You have to check-in at the front desk and fill out 12 forms.”

Offering a better experience is what drives these med spas, as consumers increasingly look to spend their money on enviable experiences, rather than goods, according to Campos. That includes decor reminiscent of a luxe spa, memberships with perks and discounts and practitioners that specialise in injectables.

“Once I figured out you can sit in a big comfy chair and they can bring you cold brew, [I realised] you’re essentially in a salon. It made me feel comfortable even though I was getting a semi-medical treatment,” Overholt said. “One woman was injecting me and the other was putting ice on me. I was like, ‘Thank you, that was the experience I needed.’”

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