Beyond Skin-Deep: Social and Emotional Work in the Beauty Industry

This project aims to produce a nation-wide qualitative study of the role that salon workers play in the emotional lives of their clients.

Beyond Skin-Deep

Despite rapid and sustained growth in the sector, there is a scarcity of research on the beauty industry in Australia. In 2017 over 35,000 people were employed in hair and beauty work in Australia, yet the role of these workers in the emotional lives of their hundreds of thousands of clients is greatly under-researched.

This project aims to answer three key research questions relating to social and emotional work in the beauty industry:

  1. What role do salon workers play in the emotional lives of their clients?
  2. How can salon workers best be trained and supported in the social and emotional work of their profession?
  3. What best practice solutions can be implemented to connect community services with salon professionals?

This project employs an interdisciplinary approach to address the research questions, drawing insights from sociology, cultural studies, and gender studies, and using a range of qualitative methods including ethnographic fieldwork, interviews, and focus groups. It aims to focus on beauty salons in a broad sense – hair and beauty – and will include salons where non-invasive “aesthetic” treatments are offered, such as manicures, spray tans, haircuts, waxing, and makeup services.

Though hair and beauty salon workers are seen to maintain beauty ideals and “treat” problems of surface appearance, this project proposes a rethinking of the double meaning of “treatment” in salons and questions the effects and affective (emotional) potentials of sites of beauty culture more broadly. This project will contribute a deeper understanding of and reflection on the social and emotional aspects of salon work but will also offer practical outcomes that benefit the beauty industry, community services, and community at large.

Outcomes / activities

Through a variety of qualitative methods this research will:

  • Explore the social and emotional nature of salon work and worker-client relations
  • Examine how to best prepare and support workers in the industry; and
  • Design solutions for community work with salon professionals

Project details


Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award

Project team

Dr Hannah McCann


Dr Hannah McCann