NOT LONG AGO, the typical American woman with some discretionary income considered a massage or a body "facial" an occasional luxury. But now, for many women, these treatments--in addition to regular hair styling, facials, waxings, manicures and pedicures--are a once- or twice-a-month habit. Full-service salons are increasing in numbers, and salons that once just tended to the hair and nails are expanding to include facials, massages and other forms of full-body care.
Aida Thibiant, owner of one of the first European-style skin and body-care salons in Beverly Hills, maintains that cleansing the entire body surface is as essential to health and good looks as caring for the face. Her body facials, administered on a massage table, begin with an all-over steaming and exfoliation with a honey-almond scrub. This deep cleansing is followed by a massage and a head-to-toe moisturizing masque, removed with warm, moist towels. Her salon also has a Panthermal machine, the only one of its kind in California, Thibiant says.
In it, the client reclines on a wood-slat bed while a fine mist steams open the pores; then the body is spritzed with a moisturizing oil and rinsed lightly.
"More and more American women are turning to full-body care as they turn away from heavy exposure to the sun," Thibiant says.
Leonard Lauder, chief executive officer of Estee Lauder, calls this new pursuit of complete grooming the "Europeanization of the American woman." He sees it as one of the most important beauty trends of the late '80s.
Lauder says that women in Europe have always taken special care of the skin below the neck, keeping it supple, toned and soft, not simply showered and deodorized.
It's no coincidence that the spa concept comes from Europe, he says. "Skin care is a way of life in Europe. Now people in the United States are genuinely concerned with the quality of their skin--not just the look of it."
Home-use products that promise all-over care are experiencing a surge of sales, and price appears to be no barrier. Princess Marcella Borghese's Contorno Herbal Body Contour Wraps--which are separate products that are claimed to "firm and contour" the throat, breasts and "trouble spots" such as the stomach, derriere and thighs--have sold successfully in department stores despite a $50 price tag. That means that each individual treatment costs $10. Bust creams, cellulite preparations and body-toning products sell for at least $25 each. Prescriptives' Body Conscious Anti-Stretch Treatment is a $45 body lotion. A cosmetics buyer for one Los Angeles department store says: "Body products that carry the higher prices seem to instill the most confidence these days."
Margaret Sharkey, vice president and general manager of Biotherm, the France-based maker of a line of full-body-care products, explains the phenomenon demographically: "Baby boomers, the age group with the most disposable income, are getting older. They are realistic about aging, but they also want to look their very best as they age. We've watched them exercise as one preventive measure. Now they're taking a more holistic approach," she says.
In November, Clarins will open a skin-care salon at Le Meridien San Diego hotel on Coronado Island. Although several Clarins Institut de Beaute salons exist in Europe, the San Diego location is the first to offer face, bust and body treatments to Americans. As with Biotherm, the Clarins body-care products were developed and sold in France before being distributed in the United States. Both lines feature creams that are said to firm the skin on breasts, thighs, derriere and stomach; reduce cellulite, and deep-cleanse the skin.
While some American medical researchers say that such products do little more than moisturize, Sharkey disagrees.
"Women come back to buy more because they see and feel a difference. No, they're not going to have thin thighs or a flat stomach (just by using the product), but the skin will look and feel firmer. That's a healthier-looking result, and that's what people are after today."
Healthy is indeed the key word, Lauder says. "People want to look healthy and cared for. Americans took the lead from the Europeans about skin care."
In the past decade, fashion magazines such as Vogue and Elle have tastefully shown bare bodies as examples of healthy beauty, perhaps eliminating some of the taboos associated with all-over skin care. For most women, it's no longer unthinkable to disrobe for a salon or spa treatment. Now even more women are investing in Euro care at home.
Styling: Karen O'Neil; model: Jane Woolfrey / Metro