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.
Saunders says she has also noticed that since starting treatments at Spoiled Rotten Kids, her girls are less shy than they were in the past. "It's really helped with their self-esteem," she says.
At KupCake Spa, Leslie ties grooming in with overall health. She works with a Zumba instructor, offering a dual exercise and spa service class.
"The kids come in, we do a Zumba class then they can get a service after – a manicure, pedicure or chocolate facial. With this, you get a healthy fruit and unlimited bottled water."
Spas that typically cater to adults are also offering child-oriented treatments. According to the International SPA Association 2013 Spa Industry Study, 28 percent of U.S. spas offer treatments specifically designed for children under 13; 46 percent offer treatments designed for teenagers. Those numbers represent an increase over the previous year, when only 12 percent offered children's treatments and 29 percent had treatments for teens.
Local spa owners say parents take advantage of treatments for children and teens during treatments of their own, or for special occasions.
In July, Babylon Nail and Spa in Belvedere Square added two child-sized pedicure chairs: one Hello Kitty-themed and one that looks like a cuddly tiger.
John Tran, CEO of Babylon, said that after two years of business at Belvedere Square, he realized that many of the women who belonged to nearby Lynne Brick's Fitness brought their children with them when they worked out, taking advantage of an in-gym day care facility. Tran decided that catering to children would be a good business move for the salon, as well.
"We've been giving kids munchies to eat while they're getting pedicures," he explains. "And since the chairs are too big for the kids, we decided to get the small ones that fit."
Babylon customer and Rodgers Forge resident Alicia Barger was pleasantly surprised to see the chairs when she stopped in for a pedicure with her 4-year-old daughter Maggie. "She loved it! It was $5 for her to get her toenails polished and she sat in the chair the whole time I was getting my pedicure. She was enthralled by it."
At About Faces Day Spa & Salon, the majority of the clientele is adult but younger clients are welcome, says Jackie German, vice president of the salons. She says youngsters first come to the salon with their parents or grandparents but then, especially as they enter their teens, they start to come on their own or in groups of friends.
"They come in for ring dance or prom," says German, often for manicures or makeup. For back to school, she expects to see teens freshening their highlights and scheduling teen facials.
To develop teen-appropriate treatments, German consults with a "focus group" of young clients.
"They say they are the 'non-fluff' generation and don't have a lot of need to be in a spa or salon," she says. "But when I ask them what that means, they say they want their hair highlighted, but they will pull it back. Or they want a facial but don't wear a lot of makeup."
Carol St. Leger, a stylist at Salon & Spa Kids, believes the popularity of spa treatments geared toward young people is in line with other trends related to health.
"I think children are more aware of nutrition and hygiene – and their hair," she says, speculating that the surge in kid spas ties to an overall uptick in healthy living among society as a whole. "There are more yoga studios and everywhere I turn, there's a new gym opening," she laughs.
5 questions to ask before choosing a kids' spa
Parents seeking children's spas and treatments have numerous local options. Experts suggest parents ask specific questions about services, staff and products.
What services do they offer? Service options vary from spa to spa, so if you have something specific in mind, call ahead to make sure the spa offers the services you'd like.
What are the hours? Many youth-oriented day spas have limited hours, focusing on times when children are not in school (like weekends and evenings). Though some accept walk-in customers, it's best to call ahead to make sure the spa will be open and able to accommodate your little one.
Are they licensed? Laura Campbell of Salon & Spa Kids suggests asking if employees administering treatments are licensed cosmetologists, especially when booking more involved treatments, like facials or full pedicures (vs. a straightforward polish).
What products do they use? "Inquire about non-toxic products," says Pat Leslie, owner of KupCake Spa for Gurlz in Pikesville. Certain chemicals that may be acceptable in adult products are not appropriate for young skin.
Do they have any deals or promotions? Kid-oriented day spas offer frequent specials and deals tied to the season, including end-of-summer camps and back-to-school coupons and promotions. During the school year, spas often have rewards deals tied to honor roll or other school milestones.
About Faces, aboutfacesdayspa.com. Multiple locations, including Annapolis, Baltimore and Towson.
Babylon Nail and Spa, Belvedere Square, 529 E. Belvedere Ave., Baltimore, 410-464-1090; babylonnailsandspa.com
KupCake Spa for Gurlz, 1116 Reisterstown Road, Suite 204, Pikesville, 410-484-1980; kupcakespaforgurlz.com
Salon & Spa Kids, Club Centre, 1500 Reisterstown Road, Suite 219, Pikesville, 410-580-5437; salonandspakids.com