Manicures, pedicures, bikini waxing? Today's tots and tweens are getting primped and polished before puberty. But is it safe?
Five-year-old Lexie Hall is lounging on a rounded couch with her toes immersed in a miniature basin of warm, sudsy water. As High School Musical blasts from a nearby flat-screen TV, she peruses a selection of nail lacquers, eventually settling on a glittering shade of hot pink. Lexie is a customer at the Ballantyne children's spa Sweet & Sassy, where the bright neon walls, mini-modeling catwalk, and pint-size beauty equipment epitomize luxury for the prepubescent set. Like Lexie, many young girls are trading in pigtails for paraffin waxes, as Charlotte spas increasingly cater to customers under twelve.
Sam Lane, co-owner of Shapes Salon & Day Spa, noticed more children signing up for spa services, like facials and hair coloring. As a result, Shapes will soon offer a full children's menu, with lower-priced facials, manicures, and hair styling services. From birthday parties to mommy-and-me afternoons, Lane hopes the burgeoning trend continues to grow.
"Recently a dad brought nine little girls in a limo. I gave them little flip-flops so they wouldn't mess up their pedicures," gushes Lane, who thinks spa treatments provide a healthful way for kids to unwind.
The trend is driven in part by busy moms, who want to fit bonding time into tightly packed work schedules and trips to the gym. Lane also sees mothers rewarding their children with a day of pampering after they earn good grades or perform well in athletics.
Despite potential benefits, young spa clients are raising a few manicured brows. Lane says clients as young as twelve are getting bikini waxes. And Beth Solomon, an aesthetician at Charles Grayson European Spa Salon, admits she began waxing her daughter's underarms and eyebrows when she was just eleven.
"There are benefits to waxing young," she explains. "The hair grows in softer and less thick. And my daughter likes it. I wax her friends' eyebrows, too."
Tracy Latz, a Mooresville psychiatrist who treats young patients (a third of her clientele are children) says the trend can be damaging. "It has the potential to send a terrible message," she says. "If you take a ten-year-old to get a bikini wax, that signals to her that sex is next." To keep it healthful, Latz suggests sticking to gentle, nurturing treatments (yes to pedicures and facials, no to harsh waxing or microdermabrasion). "It needs to be a special place for nurturing, to promote a better self image," she explains.
Like Latz, many spa-goers feel uncomfortable when kids begin beauty regimes before they ever strap on a training bra. Others resent relaxation time being interrupted by noisy children. In light of the phenomenon, The Spa at Ballantyne Resort implemented an age restriction of sixteen. Spa director Bill Toth says the age limit is a direct result of guest feedback and customer comment cards.
Yet for Lexie's mom, Stephanie, an occasional trip to Sweet & Sassy is harmless and relaxing. "It's not a diva thing," she says, adding that Lexie enjoys the special time with her mom, away from little brother Joey.
"This is something we both enjoy," says Hall. "But it's just one thing we do. We go to the library together, too."