May 19, 2008 -- The simple mother-daughter stress-reducing day at the spa — complete with perfect manicures and pedicures — has morphed into a full-fledged booming beauty business.
Some spas now are giving their tween clients resort-type treatments and pint-size pampering. The offerings go beyond the typical painted nails.
Catering to a kid's every possible desire, some spas have stepped up their tween care by offering hair highlights, microdermabrasion and bikini waxes for girls as young as 11 and 12.
"I feel it's part of hygiene. When it's appropriate and they need to, they'll be doing it," said Kelly Burrus, mother of 11-year-old Bella Burrus.
Spas like Simon Says in Skokie, Ill., as well as Sothy's and Salon Ouidad, which are both in New York City, have seen an increase in the number of younger clients coming in to attain that polished look.
"We do a coconut and lemon facial. We have seasonal facials that we offer to the tween market," said Trena Ross, Sothy's director.
All of the primping and pampering equal big bucks for the salons. A surprising 20 percent of Ouidad's clientele comes from the tween market.
"I have 9-year-olds coming in for chemical treatments," said salon owner Ouidad, who only uses one name. "I have [children] as young as 6 and 7 [come into the salon]. They do a chemical treatment."
The Search for the Perfect Polished Look
The young girls after Hollywood style admittedly take their cues from shows like "Gossip Girl" and tween sensation Miley Cyrus of the uber-popular television show "Hannah Montana." The fans pick up on even the most subtle differences in their idols' appearances.
"When I saw her first episode of 'Hannah Montana' her eyebrows weren't the same way as they are now when I see her in pictures. I like how it's much cleaner and thinner now because it makes her look more mature," said 11-year-old Danielle Gallagher.
Ouidad said it's clear "moms are under a lot of pressure" to make sure their girls look their best. But the tweens seeking the grown-up treatments clearly are under peer pressure too.
"I do feel a lot of pressure. It's very nerve-wracking. Everyone is like, 'Your hair is messy.' Or, 'You look ugly,'" said 11-year-old Evelyn O'Byrne. "Sometimes I feel sad."
The fifth-grader added that having her hair done at a salon gives her confidence.
Fellow salon-goers Danielle and Bella said the spa treatments make them feel good about themselves too. Danielle said perfectly plucked eyebrows are the must-have accessory for her first dance and Bella said facials help her unwind.
Too Much Too Soon?
But at least one critic believes the kiddie spas are too much too soon.
Combined with the shrinking clothes popular with many youths today, it can contribute to tweens' sexualization and loss of self-confidence, said Roni Cohen-Sandler, author of "Stressed Out Girls."
"By focusing so much on their appearance, kids today are being asked today to grow up so much sooner than they should be," Cohen-Sandler said.
"The earlier that girls begin to see themselves as objects that are appealing to the opposite sex and worry about how they look — that is harming them psychologically. They're not able to feel good about themselves."
Cohen-Sandler said glossy, photo-shopped Tinseltown images are only partially to blame. Often the girls are taking cues from their mothers.
"I hear girls tell me that boys are giving them ratings. 'You're a two. You're an eight.' So if they also have mothers who are very focused on their looks by saying they need facials, that's reinforcing that message that their looks are very important and mothers need to de-emphasize that," Cohen-Sandler said.
The author advised mothers to treat spa days as a luxury and enjoy the time bonding with their daughters.
"Mother needs to be very mindful of the messages she's giving her daughter," Cohen-Sandler said. "If she's telling her daughter, 'This is something we need routinely,' that's a message that will be harmful."
But some mothers insist mom does know best when it comes to learning about proper skin-care habits.
"I do all these types of things myself and I think they're better off starting young," Kelly Burrus said. "It will teach them to take care of themselves and have pride."