When Maria Schur and her dad were looking for the perfect party place to celebrate her ninth birthday, they settled on Girl Talk at the Spa in Newton, Mass.
Maria and her friends giggled their way through getting some mini mani-pedis ("No pink polish, please, that's SO yuck"), making their own lip gloss and transforming heads of limp, straight hair into glittery fashionable up-dos. After 15 minutes in a salon chair, Maria presented her new hairdo to the group and got a suitably stunned reaction.
"Oh, my gosh, you look so different," one 10-year-old partygoer said. "Different in an awesome way."
Maria and her friends may not know it but they are smack dab in the middle of a trend — the billion-dollar beauty industry is reaching out to the tween and pre-teen market in a big way. It seems just about every corner salon these days offers a "Little Diva 'Do" package. And a hot seller at Toys R Us is the Hannah Montana Backstage Makeover Set — targeting the 3-7 age group. Not to mention services for teens and kids is the hottest growing trend in the spa market.
Spas like the Pinehurst Resort in Pinehurst, N.C., offer a "Twinkle Toes and Fancy Fingers" manicure/pedicure service for 6- to 11-year-olds and a facial for the same age group. Both services cost a piggy-bank, breaking at $70. At the kid-focused — and phenomenally popular — SPAhhht in San Antonio, Texas, they offer treatments for 3- to 17-year-olds including a "Girlie Girl Facial Perfect" for pre-teen skin.
You won't hear the soothing sounds of the ocean in the treatment rooms either. Hannah Montana is pumping through the sound system as girls leaf through American Girl magazines while sitting on beanbag chairs, awaiting a treatment.
At the Seventeen Studio Spa Salon in Plano, Texas, business is so good that owner Susan Tierney is looking at licensing franchises next year. Her location pulls in about $1.5 million a year. The bulk of Tierney's clientele is in the range of 12- to 24-year-olds.
"Maybe at seventh grade, they're starting to highlight their hair with their mom's OK," Tierney said. "They'll get manicures and pedicures and that starts the age they will get a facial. We have acne treatments for that age group."
And then there's waxing. "Eyebrows are a huge business and that does start in middle school," she said. "Moms bring them in for the first time because maybe they have a unibrow … but we will only do bikini waxing on ages 18 plus."
While Tierney sets age limits on her treatments, other salons apparently do not. A recent Philadelphia Magazine story, "Pretty Babies," profiled an esthetician who claimed moms were bringing in their middle-schoolers for bikini waxes.
The story caused outrage among the mommy blogger-set. On Silicon Valley Moms, the comments ranged from, "Are you XX@# kidding me?" to "I am positively mortified at the thought of waxing becoming a trend for the pre-pubescent crowd."
The Ohio-based cosmetics company Bonne Bell also came under fire last year for teaming up with Mattel's Barbie to launch a cosmetic line of makeup for 6- to 9-year-olds, leading some critics to ask what's next, "baby's first blush?"
But what little girl hasn't begged to have her toes painted pink or asked to try on her mom's lipstick "just this once." What's the harm in that?