Handled With Care : New Products and Procedures Put the Future of Skin Treatments in One's Hands

IT SEEMS THAT perfect hands--smooth and youthful-looking--are becoming as important to women as a beautiful face, figure and hair. Indeed, so many hand- and nail-care products have been introduced that the category has become one of the three top income-generating lines in the cosmetics industry, according to Ann Mincey, manager of corporate relations for Redken in Canoga Park.

"The female body has gotten more active; that includes the hands," she says. "Women are willing to invest in products that will keep them feeling and looking good."

Redken, for example, which has mainly been thought of as a hair-care specialist, recently introduced Amino Pon Moisture Balance for Hands and Body. The product was formulated to balance pH levels in the skin. And tennis star Chris Evert has joined forces with skin-care specialist Vera Brown, owner of Vera's Natural Beauty Retreats in Tarzana and Bel-Air, to produce the Active Life line. "I've treated Chris' hands for 11 years," Brown says. "In her business, she knows the benefits of consistent hand care."

Salon hand care has been limited to a bit of pre-manicure massage, but now women are requesting full-scale treatments. Last year, the Elizabeth Arden Salon in Beverly Hills introduced a treatment in which deep massage is followed by exfoliation. Then the hands are lubricated and dipped in a small tub of warm paraffin wax. The theory is that as the wax hardens, it helps seal in moisture. A 90-minute treatment, including manicure, costs $40. Brown offers a similar 30-minute treatment (without manicure) for $30.

Brown also has devised a peel, made with vegetables, for $45. Its purpose is to remove rough skin and soften wrinkles. This is not the same as the chemical peels, performed by dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons, that remove several layers of skin, Brown says. Recovery takes several weeks, and the surgery can be painful. Costs range from $500 to more than $1,000.

Ila Hirsch and her mother, Beatrice Kaye, are manicurists to the stars and film executives of MGM. "Every star is panic-stricken when it comes to a close-up on her hands," Hirsch says. Some even demand hand stand-ins, she adds. Hirsch prescribes exercises and massage and suggests that anyone who wants beautiful hands avoid exposure to soap, detergent and harsh chemicals.

Mary Theresa Zazzera, who hired the 10 hand models represented by Ford Models, describes picture-perfect hands as "veinless, poreless and porcelain-like, with longer fingers and excellent nails."

Zazzera says it's easy to identify hand models during the summer--"they're the ones wearing gloves." Dr. Steven Weiss, a clinical instructor of dermatology at the UCLA School of Medicine, says these models know how to preserve the hands that earn them as much as $300 an hour. "Keep the hands out of the sun," he says. "Age spots and liver spots are actually dark pigmentation caused by overexposure to the sun," he explains. He suggests that sunscreen be used on the hands (and face) daily as a regular part of grooming.

There's hope for hands plagued with lentingenes, as such spots are called. They can be bleached "reasonably effectively," Weiss says, with products such as Porcelana or Esoterica--over-the-counter creams that contain hydroquinones. More effective, he says, are medical procedures such as chemical peels, laser treatments and freezing with liquid nitrogen.

Just as Scarlett O'Hara's callused hands told Rhett Butler that she'd been working like a field hand, hands can reveal much more than a person's age. "Hands are as expressive as our faces," Brown says. "We use them to gesture, to greet people, to express love. Why wouldn't we take special care of them?"

styling: Wendy Osmundson/Cloutier; manicure by Jessica's Nail Clinic, Los Angeles; jewelry from Tallarico, Beverly Hills.

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