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Small Steps Advised for Climb to the Rank of Authority in a Field Career Make-Over


Establishing oneself as an authority in an industry overflowing with experts is no easy task, but that's Kari Comstock Feder's quest.

After 15 years in the cosmetics industry, she's experiencing the "been there, done that" blues. She has trained beauty advisors, worked as a cosmetics sales rep, managed a skin-care salon and written a few articles about the trade. She's also a state-licensed aesthetician. Aestheticians are trained skin-care specialists who may work in day spas, salons and, in some cases, dermatology offices.

Now she has loftier aspirations: She wants to establish herself as a renowned skin-care authority, which would offer more challenge, status and financial reward. To make this happen, she hopes to educate consumers about skin care, write books and perhaps launch a skin-care Web site.

But the 38-year-old Sherman Oaks resident knows that the $20-billion skin-care market is awash with experts--from laypeople claiming to have manufactured "youth in a bottle" to nationally recognized board-certified dermatologists and plastic surgeons seeking ways to bolster their incomes.

Aestheticians such as Comstock Feder also are struggling to position themselves as skin-care gurus.

"It's incredibly glutted," said Frances Palmer, a Beverly Hills board-certified facial plastic surgeon who has released his own skin-care product line. "Aestheticians have always been in competition with us per se because the fields overlap. But clearly, the competition is not going to get better; it's only going to get worse."

For advice, Comstock Feder met with Bobbi Brown, founder of New York-based Bobbi Brown Essentials and beauty editor of NBC's "Today" show. Other skin-care experts also offered tips for Comstock Feder.

Brown said she believed that Comstock Feder had the education and professional experience to eventually realize her long-term goal. But, to achieve it, Comstock Feder will have to break the goal into much smaller steps.

First, she'll have to keep up with industry developments, Brown said.

"Every six months, there are big changes," said Rebecca James Gadberry, president of YG Laboratories in Huntington Beach and a cosmetic sciences lecturer at UCLA Extension who taught Comstock Feder. "If you're not keeping up, you might as well leave the industry."

Gadberry recommended that Comstock Feder become an associate member of professional organizations such as the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons.

She also should subscribe to their trade journals, read textbooks, attend seminars and seek advice from consultants and professionals in related fields, such as chemistry, where she has little knowledge, said Kay Del Shelton, founder of the Myrtle Leaf, a skin-care firm in Kalispell, Mont.

" 'Expert' is an uncomfortable word," Del Shelton said. "Because it's a learning process always."

To set herself apart from the myriad skin-care authorities who have already established themselves, Comstock Feder should look for an untapped niche--perhaps a newly introduced category of skin-care products or a group whose skin care needs are not being met--and, after extensive research and education, begin writing and lecturing about the topic, said Victoria Jackson, founder of Victoria Jackson Cosmetics and author of "Make Up Your Life: Every Woman's Guide to the Power of Makeup" (Cliff Street Books, 2000).

She also can offer skin-care classes to the public to build credibility, Jackson said.

"Start with what you know," Jackson said. "Make your philosophies and point of view known, and try to make your message unique. It takes time. I've been in this business 20 years and only recently have regarded myself as an expert."

She'll have to build name recognition in the media, Brown said. To do so, she could write articles about newsworthy skin-care topics for consumer beauty magazines and newspapers, write "how-to" articles about proper skin care and lecture on local television shows.

Once she's amassed a collection of article credits, she can assemble a professional news kit that includes her biography, photo, mission statement, clippings and a listing of her media appearances, Brown said.

"It's obvious that Kari has a lot of experience in her field, and it's important that she presents what she's done in a clear and organized way," Brown said, adding that Comstock Feder should condense her resume to one page, "using a simple font and clear layout."

Comstock Feder should take additional classes in anatomy, physiology and basic chemistry, Gadberry said.

She also should seek mentors who can help build her journalism skills and further educate her about the industry.

"Kari has great energy and the right attitude," Brown said. "With patience, hard work and a little luck, she should be able to meet all her goals. Good things happen over time, and it's important that she realize things won't happen overnight."


Time for a Change

Name: Kari Comstock Feder

Occupation: Cosmetics industry trainer and educator

Desired occupation: Skin-care authority

Quote: "If I had all the money in the world, if I could live a dream, it would be to be a skin-care authority and write my book, because I'm passionate about it."

Meet the Coach

Bobbi Brown is founder of Bobbi Brown Essentials. She also is beauty editor for NBC's "Today" show and co-author of "Bobbi Brown Beauty: The Ultimate Beauty Resource" (HarperCollins, 1997).

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