Child’s Play

For years, the spa industry has experienced rapid growth. And as consumers have become more aware of wellness, the scope and the client base have also expanded. Among the most promising—and sometimes controversial—potential spa consumers can be found within the under-18 set. In fact, according to the 2014 International Spa Association (ISPA) U.S. Spa Industry Study, 51 percent of spas offer treatments for teens, while 25 percent of spas offer treatments for children under 13, numbers that have experienced steady growth over the years. From destination and resort spas to day spas, spa experiences for kids of all ages are certainly making a splash. “Spas have always been nimble in meeting the demand of the consumer,” says Lynne McNees, president of ISPA. “Parents are looking to build good, early habits in their children, and spas open the door for that.”


Spanning the Spa Scene

Long the domain of adults, destination spas are starting to recognize the appeal of underage spa-goers and offering specialty weeks. This month marks the eighth annual Mom & Teen Week at Cal-a-Vie Health Spa (Vista, CA). Hosted by teen celebrity Ryan Newman, the current star of Nickelodeon’s “See Dad Run,” this special multi-generational program, which takes place June 14 to 20, focuses on fitness and nutrition for all ages. Moms and teens can enjoy evening fireside chats with the celebrity host, as well as specialized group fitness classes and hikes, communal dining, and other fun interactive activities. Rancho La Puerta (Tecate, Mexico) also caters to kids with its Camp Kuchumaa Family Week, which returns for the fourth time August 1 to 8. During the seven-day stay, families can take part in a vast array of events and outdoor recreation run by Rancho La Puerta’s expert staff and a lineup of acclaimed artists, musicians, photographers, and teachers. “Parents can take part in the Family Week programming or leave it to the kids to explore at their own pace while they use the Ranch’s world-class facilities,” says Roberto Arjona, chief executive and general manager. “Either way, families will thrive as a unit and create memories that will last a lifetime.”

Resort spas are also recognizing the value of offering services for kids. Ascent Spa at Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite (Fish Camp, CA) offers a Kid’s Spa program on Tuesday and Friday afternoons. There, children create a custom sugar scrub using Salt of the Earth products, sample a green tea mask from Taste of Tea, participate in discussions about the importance of hand washing and caring for the skin, and receive a spa tour. Beaches Resorts in the Caribbean recently partnered with FarmHouse Fresh to create a menu of teen- and kid-friendly spa treatments that include manis and pedis, body treatments, and massage services for the entire family. The Ginger Lily services, including the Dads and Dudes Citrus Grass ($95, 45 minutes) foot treatment and the Scrub-A-Dub-Dub ($95, 45 minutes) body treatments, are currently available at Red Lane Spas in Negril and Ochos Rios, Jamaica, and Turks & Caicos. Spa Oceana at The Loews Don Cesar (St. Petersburg, FL), meanwhile, appeals to youngsters with the Oceana Teen Scene menu and services like the Sherbet Splash Mani/Pedi ($60, 60 minutes) that comes with a sherbet treat for spa-goers ages five to 12. Eva Kerschbaumer, founder of ESSpa Kozmetika Organic Skincare (Pittsburgh and State College, PA) and eDry Brow and Blow Dry Bar (Aspinwall, PA), has also been a longtime proponent of teen and kid spas. Her spas offer a range of services, including facials for clients of all ages, massages for infants with colic, sports massages for child athletes, manicures and pedicures, and makeup application and grooming technique lessons.

Even babies can achieve bliss. At Float Baby (Houston), beginning as early as two weeks after birth, babies experience a float session followed by infant massage instruction for parents by a certified infant massage instructor. “Floating is not swimming,” says founder and owner Kristi S. Ison. “Floatation is freedom for these tiny clients. By floating, the baby is able to thrive in an already familiar water environment. It allows the baby to achieve major physical and cognitive developmental milestones by as much as 50 percent ahead of non-water peers.” The benefits continue with the infant massage, which Ison says can improve the immune system, stimulate growth hormones, and help with constipation and muscle tone. “Parents tell us that their babies sleep longer and more soundly after a Float Baby session, and this is the main reason they return,” she says.


Big Benefits

The advantages of spa treatments for kids and teens are many, the first of which is the creation of a new generation of potential spa-goers. “It creates a desire to experience treatments and spas in a much more extensive way, especially when they first associate it with fun,” says Heidi Clark, spa director at Ascent Spa. “It helps develop a mindset that spas are accessible.” Jennifer Lak, spa director of Spa Oceana, agrees. “When kids are introduced to the spa early on, they are more apt to keep visiting throughout their lives and as they grow older,” she says. “With the spa industry shifting focus and embracing wellness as a central focus, the more important it is that we educate kids early.” 

Plus, spa-going is fun and can be a great bonding experience. At Beaches properties, vacationing guests are looking to spend as much time as possible with their kids while forging lasting memories, and the Ginger Lily spa treatments are an ideal way to do so, according to Patrick Huey, corporate director of spa, fitness, and tennis for Sandals Resorts International. “What has really worked for us is that the parents and the children are having the services together,” he says. “It gives them the chance to spend time together in a unique way. Since we launched these services, we’ve done more than 2,500 Ginger Lily treatments. I am also surprised to see the number of dads who are coming in with their sons to do the Dads and Dudes services. It truly is a new day in spa when a dad spas with his son.”

Treatment Tips

Depending on the age of the spa-goer, there are certain services that better lend themselves to kids and teens. For pre-teens and children, nail services are an ideal option, as are hand and foot massages or mini-chair massages. “When kids are taught early on about the health and wellness benefits of massage—and spa in general—it carries through as a lifestyle,” says Clark. “Just like teaching your child to run and play and be active, teaching them to get foot massages and pedicures to care for the health of their feet is just as important.”

Huey says that his spas avoid deep tissue massage, full-body massage, and intensive body scrubs for younger clients. “More aggressive services do not work on teens or children in a spa setting,” he says. “Quite frankly, their bodies are more resilient than an adult’s body, so the stresses and strains that we address with services for adults are not always appropriate for children.”

One thing that several experts agree is appropriate is starter facials and sessions to instruct children about the benefits of proper skincare as they head into their teenage years, a time that can be fraught with hormonally induced acne battles. “They are entering that pubescent stage where changes are happening daily, and they need to understand their skin will change, as well,” says Clark. “Basic knowledge of skincare started early will really assist them as they mature.” Adds Kerschbaumer, “Most kids have no idea how to properly care for their faces (or their skin overall). If we can get an individual in our spa and on our table when he or she is young, then that person may have significantly fewer skincare problems as he or she grows older.”

Indeed, skincare service can be a godsend for teens battling hormonal breakouts. “Forget being pretty—regular visits to an esthetic professional will create long-term benefits,” says Kerschbaumer, who offers comprehensive skincare services for teens, including a holistic consultation and guidance on diet, exercise, sleep habits, and other personal activities in addition to scheduling a regular series of Hungarian facials. “If you can get a guest on your table and in your hands before they have hormonal breakouts, you can help that person have a much happier childhood (no chronic acne, no unibrow, less stress, etc). Beyond that, they will most likely be more comfortable in their own skin.”


Ideal Ingredients

Along with offering services that appeal to younger clients, it’s also vital to select appropriate products, both for use in the treatment room and for retail. The most important thing to remember is that products designed for adults are not necessarily ideal for kids. “Children’s skin is different than adult’s skin,” says Jennifer Utter, product development for Little Green and Mother. “It is much more sensitive and needs to be treated as such.”

Instead, products for kids and teens should be effective, healthy, and non-toxic while appealing to them with fun packaging and enticing scents, says Gabriel De Santino, president and CEO of Clean Kids Naturally by Gabriel Cosmetics. She says ingredients that are gentle and nourishing, like aloe or seaweed, are ideal for children’s products, pointing out that they should also be formulated to be alkaline so that they are tear free. She believes parabens, sulfates, the antimicrobial formaldehyde DMDM, diethanolamine (DEA), monoethanolamine (MEA), and triethanolamine (TEA), should be avoided, and products without high-allergen ingredients, such as coconut, gluten, and soy, are also a better choice. Utter adds that while the products should also do what they promise—shampoos should cleanse, conditioners should hydrate and remove knots, and lotions should moisturize—the utmost concern needs to be given to children’s delicate and sensitive skin. “The combinations of ingredients chosen to achieve those tasks must be taken into consideration,” she says. “The quality of ingredients varies, and gentle alternatives exist.” 


Legal and Logistical Issues

There are also important legal issues to consider when offering services for kids and teens. A good rule of thumb is to keep the parent in the room for any child under 18, which is the policy for all of the Ginger Lily spa services at Beaches. It’s also smart to avoid having younger clients completely disrobe, which is another Beaches rule. “The kids are not fully undressed,” says Huey. “Most are in bathing suits or shorts so that their modesty is always maintained.”

ESSpa Kozmetika Organic Skincare requires signed parental permission to treat anyone under the age of 18 and requires a legal guardian to be on site for any treatment of a guest under 16 and for that guardian to be in the room for facials and massage treatments. Ascent Spa also requires that a parent or guardian be present at all times and that they also sign a release that tasks them with full responsibility for the child within the facility. “It goes beyond the treatment room,” says Clark. “You never know what other guests are in the facility. They need to be aware of strangers dressed in nothing but a robe and how things like steam and sauna—extreme heat for longer periods of time—can affect smaller children detrimentally.”


Courting Controversy

Beyond the legal issues, offering services for kids and teens has been a source of debate and can raise potential issues for a spa. For one, child-free guests may not appreciate the presence of children in their spa space, so there is often a struggle between being family friendly and respecting the privacy and serenity of all of your clients. A solution is to offer these services during off hours or during a time when you can reserve the spa solely for underage guests.

Still others wonder if offering spa services to children is over-indulgent and contributes to a generation of spoiled kids with unrealistic expectations. “It is a struggling balance in the industry as a whole, I think, that we try to provide this wellness component into people’s lives, but in many facilities, we strive to add new luxuries and extras that do make it an indulgence,” says Clark. “Does a 13-year-old understand that? Can they appreciate that perhaps this isn’t an everyday expectation outside the spa? Can we introduce it so they can grow into adults that can find that balance and incorporate both pieces—health and indulgence—into their lifestyle?”

Most spa experts say the answer is “yes” and believe that offering these services can be beneficial for a spa’s bottom line and for the future of the spa industry. “I would point to the mission of Ginger Lily, which is to teach teens and kids about health and hygiene and the importance of taking time to nurture their bodies and their relationships with their parents,” says Huey. “We build our experiences around time shared with parent and child. If that is what we have come to, I think that is a pretty wonderful destination.”

When it comes down to it, adds McNees, “it’s all in your perspective.” Her advice to parents of small spa-goers? “Do your homework, and do what’s right for your family.” That’s advice that translates well into the spa and can help guide you in your quest to appeal to current and future guests of all ages.

Check out these products created specifically for kids and teens.—J.K.C.

1. Bomm The Miracle: The pain of sunburn is soothed with this patented topical product that is made with natural ingredients like blueberry, green tea, lemon, turmeric, proteins, and vitamins.

2. Clean Kids Naturally Personal Care System: Naturally scented with kid-friendly fragrances, this all-natural and certified gluten-free children’s kit is perfect for fun bathtime pampering.

3. Dermalogica Clear Start 3-Step Starter Kit: Tough on breakouts but gentle on the skin, this trial-sized kit features products made with potent active ingredients and naturally gentle botanicals, which deliver clear, healthy skin.

4. Eco.Kid Organics Shampoo: Rich in Australian and wild harvested Amazon rainforest seeds and butters, these haircare products are part of a line of shampoos, conditioners, and body products certified by EcoCert Greenlife.

5. Little Green Collection: This all-natural assortment of safe, gentle, and pure body washes and shampoos for babies and children is free of allergens, parabens, and sulfates.

6. Nature Pure Labs Hippophae Baby Cream: Ideal for babies’ skin, this delicate fast-absorbing moisturizer is infused with soothing hippophae berries and a vitamin A and C complex that helps nourish and soften skin. It is an excellent source of calcium and phosphorus necessary for proper skin development and growth.       

7. Noodle & Boo Baby Balm: A favorite of celebrity moms like Drew Barrymore and Sarah Michelle Gellar, this calendula-rich balm for the face and body provides long-lasting moisture and intensive care for extra dry skin.

8. Shea Terra Organics Bananas & Monkey Bread Baby Butter: Created by a mom of 14, this soothing eco-friendly cream is made with emollient monkey bread oil and two types of organic shea butters. The West African shea butter supports a hippo conservation project and a Ugandan women’s group, and the monkey bread oil is made by a small group of women in Tanzania.

9. The Jojoba Company Australia 100% Natural Baby Oil: Made exclusively with all-natural Australian jojoba, this oil absorbs deep into a child’s skin to soften, soothe, and moisturize. It contains no potential irritants and can be used as a massage or bath oil, as well as for cradle cap and diaper rash.