- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sisters Kylie and Brooklyn Sweringen pick out polish colors for their pedicures. They’ve been to Le Papillon Day Resort in Winchester, Va., before, and they loved the process, from the attentive technicians to the high-design soaking tubs to the way their nails look in their sparkly flip-flops.

Kylie and Brooklyn, who live in Front Royal, are 8 and 6 years old. Le Papillon opens its doors to the younger set the last Wednesday of the month, and business for manicures and massages, hair styling and other services is good, says spa owner Carolyn Webber.

“Kids can really get the full spa experience,” says Ms. Webber, who opened the spa a little more than a year ago. “We use the same products we do for the adults.”

Kids at the spa is part of a nationwide trend, says Lynne McNees, president of the International Spa Association, a trade group. She says nearly 4 million teens have visited a spa, with manicures, pedicures and massages as the most-requested services.

“Our stats show that 70 percent of spas offer educational services,” Ms. McNees says. “It is a great environment to learn about how to manage stress and how to take care of yourselves.”

Locally, Eclips salons in Ashburn and McLean have opened stores that are just for children. They are popular spots for beauty birthday parties. Nationally, many large hotels with spas offer kids’ treatments.

That is just good business planning, Ms. McNees says.

“We are all running in a million different directions,” she says. “Being able to bring your children allows you to go.”

At Le Papillon, many of the parents who bring children in for spa services are customers themselves. Aimee Anderson, Kylie and Brooklyn’s mom, sat right between her daughters as all three got pedicures. Jessica Bowman, of Winchester, is a regular customer who brought her 9-year-old daughter, Alea, by to get her hair done before performing in a play last week.

“It’s a nice break for us to get together,” Ms. Bowman says. “If they start going to a spa young, they’ll become lifelong customers. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

On children’s day, the spa services at Le Papillon are very kid-friendly, both in substance and price — at least compared to the adult menu. Among the offerings: a cotton candy massage ($33), which uses a sugar scrub; a floral facial ($60), which features rose petal essential oils; a bubble gum pedicure ($22), which uses “ice cream scoop” soaking solution; and a sparkle-and-glow manicure ($55), which uses sparkly exfoliant cream.

Also available on children’s day: a parent and child lunch or dinner date in the spa’s private kitchen and dining room. Katie Butler of Winchester and her son, Trevor, 8, enjoyed a three-course lunch on a recent Wednesday. Chef Adam Policinski made spa cuisine that also would appeal to the younger set: celery sorbet, pancakes with apricot honey butter, and a chicken terrine in broth with black truffle surrounded by dry ice, to give it a sort of science-based “wow factor.”

Sparkly nail polish and hair highlights aside, some are concerned about the trend of spa services for kids.

Diane Levin, a professor of education at Wheelock College in Massachusetts and co-author of the book “So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do To Protect Their Kids,” says there is already too much emphasis on how girls look.

“When we say, ‘This is how you feel special, and this is what you can buy to make yourself look good,’ it can be a problem,” she says. “Sure, going to the spa is a nice thing, but we are saying to girls to focus on how you look, not who you are or what you can do.”

She says if parents are seeking bonding time with their children, perhaps enjoying an outdoor activity or doing charity work might be more meaningful.

Still, spa services for children are growing because of consumer demand, Ms. McNees says. Ms. Webber says one needs to look past the well-moisturized surface toward the big picture.

“It is not just about the spa, necessarily,” she says. “Coming here together is a great way for parents and children to spend time together. For the tweens and teens, it is also a great way to learn about nutrition, skin care and body image.”

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