This fall, 11-year-old Shayna Slatkin will start middle school. Before her first class, she and her mother will cover all the usual bases: shopping for new notebooks, pencils and erasers — and visiting a spa for a new look.
Shayna, who lives in Baltimore, is a client at Salon & Spa Kids, a Pikesville hair salon and day spa that caters to the youthful set. With bright colors and scaled-down furniture, the salon provides a welcoming environment for preschool to high school-age kids, who can relax with a DVD as they get a haircut or lounge in a butterfly pedicure chair during spa treatments.
"My daughter feels really special there," says Rivka Slatkin. "It's always a special treat to get her hair straightened. It's nice to be pampered. I love to be pampered and I think I'm passing it down without even talking about it!"
For owner Laura Campbell, the process is just as enjoyable. "It's really fun to see the kids," she says. "They get so excited and happy. They feel like grownups in their own salon."
The spa industry is undergoing a transformation that would befit its clients — it's getting younger. A study showed the percentage of U.S. spas offering services for children younger than 13 doubled in 2013.
Salon & Spa Kids has been open for eight years; earlier this year, it underwent a remodel after Campbell purchased it from the previous owners. The salon offers hair cuts for children as well as several spa services, including manicures, pedicures and facials. The products used are candy-scented and kid-friendly and treatments are gentler than the adult versions.
Services available vary from spa to spa but most offer a roster similar to Salon & Spa Kids, with manicures and pedicures the most popular. Birthday parties at kid-oriented spas are also a hit, with some spas incorporating activities like fashion shows into the party agenda.
"We do spa parties with princess themes for girls and pirates for boys," says Campbell. "We do nails and hair and dress up and do a fashion show."
The spa experience can go beyond just a treatment. At KupCake Spa for Gurlz in Pikesville, every service includes a cupcake; at Salon & Spa Kids, an end-of-summer camp from Aug. 12-16 will include stories, songs and, for older kids, a make-your-own treatment activity, where campers will learn to make a simple product like an oatmeal or sugar facial scrub.
Owner Pat Leslie, says that when she opened KupCake Spa in early 2013, her goal was not just to provide beauty treatments, but to create a place where young girls would want to spend time.
"They're happy! They want to come back – and don't want to leave," she says. "They come in and put on a little makeup. We have some who fall asleep in the pedicure chair."
Leslie wants to let her young clients know that even at their young age, they should enjoy a little pampering. "I know how I feel when I get a massage or have my nails done," she says. "I feel like I can conquer the world. I hope we inspire them to feel that way."
Booking services at a child-oriented spa gives kids the chance to relax but it can be a stress-reliever for parents, too, says Campbell.
"A lot of adults go to salons to relax or read a magazine," she notes. "They don't necessarily want children in the salon. That's why I think a lot of parents look for a place designed for children, so they can be at ease. It's just like looking for a family-style restaurant, so you won't worry about disturbing another table."
Parents say they use spa visits as a reward for a child's good behavior, like getting great grades or breaking bad habits. Khadijah Bronson, owner of Spoiled Rotten Kids Spa, which has three locations, including one on Belair Road, offers special programs for good behavior.
"We have an incentive program set up for honor roll students, back to school, graduations," Bronson explains. "They come in to get their hair or nails done. We do a free manicure if they get honor roll."
Bronson's mission is educational, as well, teaching children about grooming, hygiene and taking care of themselves. "I was surprised by how many children bite their nails," she says. "We have incentive programs that work for that. I tell them not to bite their nails for at least two weeks then tell your mom you're ready to go see Miss K."
Elisha Saunders, of Upper Marlboro, has seen what the promise of a free manicure can do. Her daughters, 13-year-old Laniah and 8-year-old Savannah Rae, are "girly girls" who love the services at Spoiled Rotten Kids.
"My youngest used to bite her nails all the time," says Saunders. "The owner said if she'd stop, she'd do her nails next time she came in." And it worked.