Meet Nicola Russell: The Skin Geek

Meet Nicola Russell: The Skin Geek
Nicola Russell’s skin clinic business Skin Geek, based in Falkirk, has only gone from strength to strength after she brought the dermaplaning treatment to the UK around seven years ago. Hosting a roster of celebrity regulars, Nicola’s 18 years of beauty industry experience have resulted in an award-winning brand with a holistic approach.


The Brand Basics

Why are you passionate about the skincare industry?

I’m passionate about this industry as its all I’ve ever known. I left school at 15 and didn’t particularly excel academically, I thought I was stupid when I was at school so I didn’t really try.  I learned years later that I have ADHD and I’m actually quite bright…. But only with things that interest me. And the skin interests me!

In general, this industry is about making clients feel more confident. I know that there’s a lot of people that can go too far and become obsessive with changing how they look, and beauty therapists get a bad rap for feeding into this “seeking perfection” mentality by taking advantage of it. But most of my day is helping people look the best version of themselves and that’s what I’m passionate about – making improvements to skin “concerns” and helping people to feel happier. If you have a job that brings joy to people, then that’s something to be passionate about.


As a microneedling expert and one of the first people to introduce dermaplaning to the UK, what are your sources of innovation and inspiration?

I’m not sure if I’ve just been lucky – I’ve been in the right place at the right time for most treatments.  With Microneedling, I had read about it in a medical journal and was discussing it with my friend, she knew a trainer coming over from Italy to teach it in London, so I booked onto the course.  I struggled for months to get anyone to book in for it, as no one had heard of it before, and it seemed pretty nuts to most of them!

With Dermaplaning, I was working on the cruise ships as a facialist and lots of American passengers were telling me about this new treatment in the US, at the time it blew my mind that everyone was shaving their faces.  This was way before social media was a thing, but a few years later when Facebook launched I started connecting again with all my past cruise ship colleagues and noticed the American therapists were all promoting this new innovative treatment.

I couldn’t find anyone offering or teaching Dermaplaning in the UK so I thought this was definitely something to jump onto, a gap in the market – I trained and partnered up with the biggest American Dermaplaning company and eventually developed my own teaching style, as well as my course and products for it, and the rest is history. Sometimes it’s just about networking, keeping up with peers, attending the industry shows and also listening to clients. I’ve developed some great treatments from just listening to the needs of my clients.


What are your personal favourite treatments?

I love combining treatments to make it a more tailored experience, and my personal favourite just now is combining Laser Genesis (a laser toning facial using Nd:YAG) and Microneedling.  Separately, these treatments are amazing, but combining the 2 gives phenomenal results in the texture of the skin.  This is my go-to treatment for acne scarring for sure.


Some salons face criticism for creating a need for repeat treatments by damaging the skin’s natural barrier and pH in the long-term – how do you avoid this?

It’s a synergy of things that work…. Repeat treatments, internal health and a skincare routine tailored to your specific skin type and needs. It’s about having knowledge in the skin, knowing your limitations as a therapist and ensuring your client is putting some work in too, using the correct skincare and diet at home.

If a client has an unhealthy barrier then I wouldn’t be performing half the treatments I offer until their skin is functioning healthily as you will just cause more issues. Healthy skin will get a much better result.

I am honest, transparent and want the best for my clients, and for needing repeat treatments, this is just unfortunately a fact for most of the time.  You will get a better overall result from repeat treatments, as it’s a cumulative effect. You can’t go to the gym for 1 session and expect to having amazing results. And you also can’t expect great results from attending the gym but eating unhealthy pot noodles and chocolate every day.

So in the end it comes down to client selection and really asking yourself “will I cause this clients skin more harm?” if the answer is yes, then do the right thing and don’t offer repeat treatments that will damage the skin.


What are some of your favourite brands to work with?

I’ve formulated some of my own products, so I need to be biased and say mine are my favourite! The Skin Geek line of beauty skincare products and at-home gadgets launched with a tightly targeted range of skincare products such as the ‘in demand’ Glycolic Cream Cleanser, the ‘must have’ Skin Refining Polish and range of Hydra Gel Face, Neck and Eye Masks.

Beauty gadgets such as the Microneedling Roller, Cryo Roller and Cleansing Mitts complete the offering. I created Skin Geek so that clients could afford luxury facials and treatments and be able to experience a great, accessible ‘at home’ routine to maintain and improve skin health. But my other favourites are ZO Skin Health, this is a prescription skincare range which is my go-to for specific skin concerns like acne, pigmentation and rosacea etc.

I also love BIOEFFECT, which is an Icelandic brand, it’s a pure and sustainable range created by 3 scientists who developed a method to create epidermal growth factors using plant biotechnology techniques. If your skin is dehydrated, like most people, this is an amazing hydrating and anti-aging brand. The BIOEFFECT Power Fusion Facial is an available treatment I do, using the amazing Power Serum with microneedling and electroporation.

Finally, I also love SkinCeuticals – they have the best Vitamin C products on the market! I feel I’ve got a real mix of ranges in my clinic, so no matter what skin type or concern my client has then I’ve got something that will meet their needs.


What are your top holistic skincare tips or myth busters?

I really believe it’s a synergy of tactics that help the skin, so its not all about topical treatments, you need to look into internal issues as well.  Its true that you “are what you eat”. When we consume more junk food, sugary treats and alcohol, all this is bad news for our skin.

Refined carbohydrates trigger a surge of insulin and this can lead to hormonal imbalances that can exacerbate breakouts and inflammation in the skin. Excess alcohol dehydrates you and reduces the blood flow to the skin, leaving you with a dull and unhealthy complexion.

Drink plenty of water!! you read this in every skincare advice article, but it is true…. plus, its free! A specific skincare tip is – you don’t need to spend a lot on moisturisers. Spend your budget on a good serum, and lock it in place with a basic moisturiser or oil, its pretty much acting like an occlusive barrier and this step doesn’t need to cost the earth.


The Business Of Skin

How did you expand from being a practitioner to a business owner?

I’ve never been great at being told what to do haha, especially when I’ve genuinely felt that there are better ways to do things. I’ve never been a bossy person, but I’ve always felt like a bit of a leader, so I have always enjoyed being the person that makes the decisions and the one that people can rely on.

On a personal note, my oldest son has quite severe ADHD and I always had issues with him in childcare when he was young, I would get phone calls asking me to go and collect him. This situation was really the deciding factor for me to be my own boss so that I could decide on my own hours and work around my mother and mother-in-law for childcare. I worked very specific hours when my kids were little and it worked for me. Now that they are older my work life is much easier and my oldest son is now the babysitter!


What are your long-term goals?

I’d love to retire at 55. Not sure if this is possible but it’s definitely something I am focusing on. And if my kids have kids then I can help with the childcare in the same way I was helped.


What unforeseen challenges and opportunities have arisen?

I guess covid was both a challenge and an opportunity. It made me revaluate my business, I had more time to look into my own skincare brand and it’s the reason I started working in London once a month.  When Scotland was still all shut for close contact treatments, the opportunity to work in London came up as it’s where the clinics were all back up and running, so I jumped at the chance.


How do most of your clients find you?

Word of mouth and personal recommendations.


What’s the smallest change that’s given the biggest return?

I shortened my treatment times instead of increasing my prices. I added treatments that have “pampering” elements to them if clients have the budget for it. But giving the same results-driven laser treatments in slightly less time has kept my regular clients coming to me during this difficult financial period.


Founder Features

What motivates you?

Most people would be lying if they said that money doesn’t motivate them, people just don’t want to admit it. I have a bucket list of things I want to do and places I want to see, and unfortunately these things cost money, none of these things I want to do alone, I want to do it with my family, so it’s bringing joy and happiness to them.

I want to look after my mum financially, make sure she doesn’t have any financial stresses in her retirement. Being happy motivates me, everything I do has an intention of bringing happiness. I don’t work weekends, haven’t done it in years and people would question it all the time “what sort of a salon doesn’t open on a Saturday?” I congratulated them on meeting the first salon owner that closes at the weekend.

I chose skincare as my speciality as it brought me so much happiness every day, at the time it was unheard of that someone would just do facials all day and nothing else, especially in my area. Waxing and manicures would instantly spoil my mood, so I just decided one day not to do anything that didn’t bring me joy. I worked hard to get to a place that I could make a living out of doing JUST facials and I am pretty happy about it!


What has been your biggest lesson, fear, or failure?

The biggest lesson is realising not everyone is sitting around and thinking about you as much as you think.  I used to worry about what people thought about me too much when I was younger and would shy away from making difficult business decisions, I’m a little more ruthless now.

I don’t have a lot of business fears, just personal ones.  I’m not scared of taking risks as money can always be made again, you can always start from scratch, like I did after the pandemic, so I don’t fear things for my business. I have had lots of failures, but these usually turn into something great!


Do you have a mentor or people you ask for advice?

Yes I have a few.

I’m good friends with one of the biggest laser experts in the UK Kevin Williams, I often message him with things like “tell me this is a terrible idea….” And he tells me if I am nuts or a genius.

My good friend Amy Irving is the MD of BIOEFFECT in the UK and she has the best business mind of anyone I know. I can message her a question any time and even when she is manically busy she will reply with an 8 minute voice note while (probably) running to a meeting.

And finally one of my best friends Barbara McIntosh, she is a Director of a medical spa in Glasgow, a trailblazer and ruthless with her advice. So if I want the absolute truth then I ask her, I cry for a day then get back on the saddle!


If you were not working in this industry, what would you be doing?

Something in the travel industry, not quite sure exactly what though!


How has what you do changed you as a person?

I am much more confident than when I was younger, I still hate public speaking, but one-to-one and in small groups I can definitely hold my own! When I was younger I had to see a therapist as I would blush so badly if anyone even gave me eye contact.


What does spirituality mean to you?

I’ve never actually really thought about it in a way that I can put into words, but for me it’s like feeling a sense of peace in my life and having a connection with something more than just a job or the material things that I have. Feeling fulfilled in everything that I do.


If time and money were no object – what would be on your to do and to see list?

When I was 19 I went backpacking around Australia for a year. I covered as much of the country as I could, but I would love to go back and see more. I stayed for months in certain cities to work, but I would love to just keep travelling and cram as much as possible in.

I’ve also got an obsession with Bora Bora, I would love to go. Sometimes I go online and pretend to plan my trip: I would fly to Los Angeles, spend a few days there, then from there to Tahiti for a few days, and finally onto Bora Bora. I would stay in the Four Seasons and just chill for a fortnight!  I obviously don’t enter my card details when it comes to completing my booking! Not yet anyway 🙂