Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but its origin is in the wallets of the millions of women spurring a billion-dollar industry that grows more demanding every day. Television commercials, magazines, billboards even your friendly local "healthcare provider" wield images of youthful women who've attained a level of physical perfection previously reserved for Aphrodite alone. And the source of this beauty is the latest and greatest cosmetic product or procedure, an item that, however effective, must be used in conjunction with an everyday beauty routine.
# For every commercial promoting the beauty industry, there's some horror tale of beauty gone awry: According to the California Department of Consumer Affairs, two laser clinics in San Luis Obispo closed after their owner was arrested on suspicion of practicing medicine without a license. Elsewhere, in San Jose, a woman recently died of an infection after her foot was cut during a pedicure.
Most of these tales while grounded in truth are circulated as myth by wide-eyed women who don't know how much or who to believe.
For most women, the pursuit of beauty is a unique, individualized, and intimate process that involves a significant investment of both time and money. It starts with daily rites at home like brushing and styling hair and applying make-up and extends to hundreds of county day spas, tanning booths, and salons, occasionally branching into a dental or medical office.
In many cases, the providers of "clockwork services," like hair care, waxing, and manicures and pedicures, become friends with their customers, blurring the lines between pampering services like massages and maintaining physical standards of attractiveness. To some people, beauty-industry workers are important members of the community, providing women with the keys to empowerment and self-confidence. To others, they are profiteers, promoting an industry that feeds on women's inadequacies.
In either case, the beauty industry has a degree of staying power that few other industries can boast. For better or worse, it's here to stay, and whether you're already a regular at the local day spa or someone who breaks out in hives at the mere thought of makeup, it's important to remain educated about the industry's newest offerings and to get to know the local beauty industry experts willing to offer an honest assessment of their services.
A beauty regimen requires a commitment of both finances and time. The list of available cosmetic procedures and services grows daily, and selecting, budgeting, and assessing the physical risks of these products may seem overwhelming. Don't like your skin quality? Consider microdermabrasion or one of the hundreds of skin care lotions and solvents. You can also wax your eyebrows and upper lip, dye your eyebrows and eyelashes, pin your ears back, apply lipstick, reshape or size your nose with rhinoplasty, lighten your teeth, apply fake eyelashes, and rid yourself of those crow's feet with Botox. And that's just a minute sampling of the ways to consider altering your appearance from the neck up.
From the neck down, anything goes. Consider buttock augmentation for a larger behind, tanning for a darker skin tone, a thigh lift, waxing for smoother skin, a pedicure for prettier feet, or a tummy tuck. You can even reshape your belly button with navel surgery. The boundary between just enough and becoming another person altogether varies from person to person. For some, it's all worth it. For others, the barrage of new products creates a vicious cycle of upping the ante until consumers are drawn into a beauty competition they neither have time for nor can afford.
How do you know how much is enough for you?
Unless you're using do-it-yourself products like spray-on tans and at-home waxing kits, many decisions regarding what parts of your body require enhancement, darkening, lightening, or shaping will be made in conjunction with a trained specialist. Legitimate specialists are quick to point out that even the most seemingly simple procedures, like a manicure or haircut, require specialized training and licensing.
"In a lot of ways, these people are artists," said Jessica Taylor, manager of BladeRunner Salon and Day Spa, which has received numerous Best of SLO awards in the past few years. "They tend to really love what they do and they go to school for it."
According to Taylor, women utilize BladeRunner's services which include hair care, nail care, massage therapy, waxing, facials, and a variety of body treatments both as an opportunity to relax and a resource for physical enhancement. Like many women, she's perfected her own beauty regimen, down to the exact amount of time required to apply her make-up and style her hair each day. She sees customers of all ages, from girls as young as 10 coming in to get their hair colored, to women in their 70s and 80s getting their nails and hair styled, paying homage to a physical ideal that crosses boundaries of race, political and religious affiliation, and, increasingly, gender.
"Today's society is very image-focused, and I think that has a major influence on people," Taylor explained. "With all the magazines, television shows, and models, women see that and they want to look their best."
Sometimes, women come in with unrealistic expectations, carrying pictures of models or celebrities and expecting to receive a hair treatment that makes them look the same. Taylor explained that BladeRunner can be a positive influence on these women, because the spa's employees are dedicated to helping customers find a look and style that suits them as individuals rather than reproducing a celebrity's hair on a customer who might not be suited for that look. Society may be image-obsessed, but the industry itself can be fun for a woman with realistic expectations and a sense of herself as an individual.
Kim & Co. Salon, another day spa that's taken honors in Best of SLO, focuses on the significance of pursuing beauty in a safe environment. Obtaining a manicure or tan may not sound like skydiving, but assessing the physical risks of any procedure, service, or product is important.
In the past few months, a handful of serious infections resulting in hospitalization across California have been linked to unsanitary manicure and pedicure procedures.
Closer to home, in San Luis Obispo, the California Department of Consumer Affairs recently concluded an investigation that resulted in the reported arrest of Jeff Lemoine, the owner of Central Coast Laser Center and San Luis Obispo Med Spa, due to suspicion that he practiced medicine without a license.
Lemoine is apparently not in custody, but both of his laser-treatment facilities are currently closed: No one answered calls and the web sites were down. His attorney was unavailable for comment as of press time.
According to California Department of Consumer Affairs Spokesman Russ Heimerich, there's an increasing problem with spas providing services that legally require a medical license. The problem has not yet elevated to the status of crisis, but Heimerich urged people to consult a licensed physician before getting any serious cosmetic procedures.
Specialists at Kim & Co. noted that the tools and chemicals used by nail experts have the potential to seriously injure a customer if the services aren't provided by a trained and licensed specialist. Even a procedure like waxing, which doesn't have the potential for serious physical complications, is a service that Kim & Co.'s esthetician takes very seriously, advising customers about ways to minimize skin sensitivity and offering a topical anesthetic called No Scream Cream to customers with extremely sensitive skin. According to Kim & Co. Salon owner Kim Brown, customers with sensitive skin also receive a skin patch test before getting their hair dyed a treatment so common that few women bother to examine the chemicals that comprise the dye, some of which are skin irritants that can cause chemical burns in high concentrations.
The lesson? Be savvy. It's easy for less-than-ethical businesses to trivialize the potential hazards of cosmetic procedures and products they're trying to sell, glossing over warnings that should receive greater emphasis. And it's just as easy for a visitor to sign a waiver claiming that a procedure or product might cause physical complications without seriously considering what those complications might be.
Many women, for example, turn to tanning booths for an authentic, sun-kissed glow. In an effort to alleviate concerns of skin cancer, those booths often advertise beds that filter out UVB rays, which are most commonly associated with skin burns. However, according to the American Association of Dermatology (AAD), UVA rays have a stronger link to skin cancer, particularly melanoma, which is the most serious type of skin cancer. The AAD recommended that indoor tanning facilities be forced to follow regulations that prohibit them from advertising the use of any tanning device involving UVA or UVB rays as "safe," "safe tanning," or with "no harmful rays." The only method of tanning without a significant risk of developing cancer seems to be purchasing a bottle of do-it-yourself lotion or spray from the drug store.
Of course, when it comes to pursuit-of-beauty horror stories, everyone's heard tales of botched cosmetic procedures, ruptured breast implants, or Botox injections that paralyzed a patient's entire face. According to SLO-based plastic surgeon Wally Hosn, the actual physical risks associated with plastic surgery aren't that significant again, provided the doctor is knowledgeable and the environment is safe. The most common service that Hosn provides is Botox, which is an injection of a small dose of purified botulism into the facial muscles that cause wrinkles. He performs thousands of these injections each year, primarily from his San Luis Obispo-based office.
"Botox done properly in a well-supervised facility can be done with minimal complications," he said.
Botox has become so common, many women consider it a "lunchtime" procedure, due to the fact that it takes only half an hour to administer. Patients can call for an appointment and have the injection the same day, and there's no recovery time. Botox patients may suffer from light bruising, but they can immediately return to normal activities following a visit to the plastic surgeon.
Though Botox's accessibility has made it popular with women looking for a quick-fix wrinkle reducer, it's also caused many women to forget that it's a medical procedure, albeit elective, with potentially lethal consequences. The increasing frequency of "Botox parties" where women attend cocktail gatherings with a doctor who administers Botox injections in the hostess's living room caused the FDA to issue a statement warning that Botox should only be administered in a controlled medical environment. Nonetheless, Botox parties remain popular, raising serious questions about the fact that the same people willing to fork over several hundred dollars to look better aren't taking cosmetic procedures very seriously.
Ninety percent of Hosn's customers are women, though men are the fastest growing demographic receiving elective medical procedures. Most women who decide to receive plastic surgery choose more than one procedure. Aside from Botox, the three procedures that Hosn performs most are facelifts, breast augmentations, and tummy tucks. Why are so many women willing to pay for these procedures, which generally run from $3,000 to $10,000 for the surgeon's fee alone and require two to six weeks of recovery time?
Hosn said that there are good and bad reasons to receive plastic surgery. Women choosing cosmetic surgery at someone else's bidding or recovering from a traumatic event are much less likely to be satisfied with the result. Additionally, Hosn said that young women are not the best candidates for cosmetic surgery, though people younger than 18 comprise one percent of customers for elective surgery. Again, the moral seems to be: Do your homework and take a realistic assess-ment of yourself when considering one of these procedures.
Hosn is only one of hundreds of local medical professionals using their training to provide cosmetic services. It's difficult to locate a dermatologist, among the dozens of phone-book listings, who doesn't specialize in cosmetic dermatology. There are plenty of offices within the county that offer microdermabrasion, but you have to wonder where people can turn for a consultation about a serious medical condition. And it's not just dermatology.
"Dental practice has really changed over the past few years to the point that now people can get what they want instead of what they need," said Jason Leroux, DDS, of Palm Dental Care in SLO.
One of the more popular procedures that Leroux offers his patients is three different types of teeth-whitening services, from Crest strips, to a dentist-supervised take-home gel tray, to an in-office whitening with Zoom, which whitens teeth at least six to 10 shades. Palm Dental Care still offers dental treatment that people need, but an increasing number of people are turning to dentists for elective procedures. With teeth whitening, as with many cosmetic procedures, customers have a lot of choice about everything from price which runs from $60 to $500 to shade, which can be controlled by the amount of time teeth are exposed to the hydrogen peroxide-based gel.
Whatever the procedure or product, it's important to remember that people aren't documents with multiple versions of themselves that can be tucked safely away. Many of these processes cannot be reversed overnight, and some can't be reversed at all.
After you've colored your skin to a sun-kissed gold tone, ripped all the hair from every region of your body (excepting eyebrows and scalp), dyed the few hairs that survived the waxing and plucking apocalypse, covered your facial blemishes with foundation and blush, painted your lips, darkened and expanded your eyelashes with mascara, shaped and painted all 20 nails, peeled away the top layer of your face with acid, and replaced your A-cup breasts with saline C-cups, is there anything left of the person you were before? In other words, how much does physical appearance shape an identity?
Money before honeys
Standards of beauty have varied among different cultures and time periods, but each of the trends indicates an overriding theme: Wealth is attractive. Today, women and men alike strive to be thin, a pursuit that often involves expensive diet foods, pills, and gym memberships. A trim physique implies that a person has time and resources that can be focused toward physical appearance. However, for many pre-industrial societies, being thin meant not having enough to eat a shortage of money. Consequentially, excess weight was considered attractive. In a similar beauty trend, many modern societies prize tans. Bronzed skin implies that someone can afford to visit a tanning booth or has time to relax in the sun. The pre-industrial societies that prized excess weight also considered fair skin an ideal, based on the idea that manual laborers would have darker skin from working outside. During the Renaissance, sugar was an expensive luxury in Europe. Women began to blacken their teeth, indicating that they could afford enough sweet stuff to rot their smiles.
Not every beauty regimen involves the services of trained professionals. Various businesses have released countless products and kits for do-it-yourself tanning, waxing, hair coloring, manicures, and pedicures. The products may be cheaper than the services of licensed beauticians and estheticians, but the maxim "you get what you pay for" often comes back to haunt women with orange tans and poorly colored hair. Of course, everyday products like make-up are more likely to be used at home, because even the most beauty-conscious women don't have the resources to visit a salon every day.
Hair Dryer: $23.50
Hair Straightener: $30
Hair Spray: $7
Clairol Hydrience Hair Color: $10
Bain de Soleil Sunless Tanner: $13.99
Botanical Hair Removal Kit: $19.95
Burt's Bees Cuticle Creme: $4.99
Revlon Nail Whitener Pencil: $1.79
Nail Envy Nail Strengthener: $15
Samoan Sand Nail Lacquer: $7
Revlon Cuticle Groomer: $3.99
Revlon Deluxe Nail Clip: $2.39
Nail File: $2.50
Freeman Peppermint and Plum Pumice Scrub: $4.50
L'Oreal Lash Out Mascara: $6.99
Maybelline Expert Wear Eyeliner: $5.50
Teak Rose Max Factor Lipfinity: $10.89
Wild Orchid Revlon Illuminance Eye Shadow: $5.99
Spending $150 to look naturally beautiful: Priceless
288 - (waking hours in a given month available to a woman working full time)
$2,287.50 - (average monthly income for a woman living in San Luis Obispo County)
47 - (hours spent per month pursuing beautification)
$773.33 - (monthly financial investment in beautification)
These numbers are based on information from the 2000 US Census Bureau, local day spas, tanning booths, dentists, cosmetic surgeons, and women. For certain procedures and categories, monthly averages were taken. The prices for all specific services vary from business to business.
These figures also don't take into account financial investments in clothing or physical fitness, but are based solely on products and services that solely enhance physical appearance.
Arts Editor Ashley Schwellenbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org