Spa Kids

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Taking a Break: Allison Bereswill,12, awaits her treatment at SPAhhhT

Many hands have been wrung about the plight of overextended kids. In their attempts to become well rounded as individuals and well liked by college admissions officers, youngsters from grammar school to high school barely have time for play, let alone relaxation. But between homework and music lessons, soccer practice and SAT prep, some parents and their kids are scheduling a new set of appointments. These commitments, however, are less likely to be monitored by coaches and instructors than by the aestheticians, masseurs and nutritionists at the growing number of day spas and resorts that cater to young people. "Kids are under such stress now at school with life the way it is," says Marla Rohwer of Highland, N.Y., who recently accompanied her daughter Sarah, 15, to a massage at SPAhhhT, a facility for those 17 and younger at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa outside San Antonio, Texas. "It's a lot of money, but for a special treat for a birthday, or if you're in pain, why not?"

Why not, indeed. Formerly the domain of overstressed or overpampered adults, spas have begun aggressively wooing the under-18 set. Offering specially designed massages, facials, hair braiding and glitter manicures for teens, they are hoping to cash in on adolescents' disposable income and limitless ability to obsess about their appearance. "So much of the media is filled with beautiful girls who have beautiful skin," says Breanna Ellis, 15, who gets a facial at the Belle Visage Day Spa in Studio City, Calif., every six weeks. "Young girls like myself are pressured to be beautiful in society or we don't feel like we belong."

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There are currently 33 million teens in this country, and last year, according to Teenage Research Unlimited, they spent a total of almost $20 billion on health-and-beauty products. The nearly 10,000 spas operating in the U.S. are determined not to let all that money be squandered on Clearasil or do-it-yourself hair dye.

Vacation resorts, mindful of the increased desire for family excursions, are also adding services for children and teens. "People used to come alone, but that's really changed since 9/11. Now they want to bring the whole family," says Suzanne Holbrook, executive spa director at the newly opened Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Orlando, Fla., where the spa offers acne-treatment facials, fizzing salt manicures and other teencentric services. "There's been a real boom, and it's being felt throughout the hotel industry." Over Memorial Day weekend, the San Antonio Hyatt Regency opened SPAhhhT after being deluged by requests from parents. Since then, nearly 700 kids have visited, indulging in 25-minute facials at $40 a session and henna tattoos ranging from $4 to $20, depending on the design. As opposed to the Zen-like calm of the resort's adult spa, SPAhhhT's treatment rooms are tricked out in psychedelic colors and play disco music. Hyatt has started similar programs at eight of its other hotels.

When the 10,000-sq.-ft. Loews Coronado Bay Resort opens in San Diego next January, it will feature a spa for teenagers offering temporary hair coloring, body jewelry and fitness classes. If such services prove popular, they will probably be replicated at the chain's other 18 locations. Spa director Michael Santonino says the San Diego resort will sell organic skin-care products created for teens. The amenities have been tailored on the basis of information gleaned from a survey of 9,000 teenagers administered in conjunction with Seventeen magazine.

Seventeen itself has already entered the spa market. Last year it licensed its name to help launch the Seventeen, a day spa in Plano, Texas, which offers facials, massages, waxing and an Internet cafe; additional outlets are planned for other cities. Whereas Seventeen's spa was designed with teens in mind, most day spas have been able to welcome young people without sacrificing a sophisticated aura and clientele; they merely modify the treatments they offer to adolescents. At the Tiffani Kim Institute in Chicago, Hannah Song, 17, is receiving a Growing Pains Relief massage. "I'm stressed," says Song. "I'm in the middle of SATs." At Tiffani Kim, as at many spas that service youngsters, those under 18 must have a parent present during a massage. At Belle Visage, where 30% of the clients are between the ages of 11 and 20, owner Tina Keshishian has created Teen Clean, a 45-minute deep facial, seaweed mask and skin-care education program for $55, which is $25 less than a similar package for adults.

As is the case at most spas, the majority of teens who visit Belle Visage are the daughters and sons (18% of the spa's teen clients are boys seeking help for acne or massage for muscle aches) of longtime clients. Some moms even throw spa parties at which their daughters and friends can spend an afternoon getting manicures, pedicures, minifacials and makeup instruction. "I laugh because it took me until I was 30 to have my first massage, and certainly until I was 40 to have a facial," says Dave Phillips, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Hill Country spa. "These's another era."

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