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An Industry of Progress, Part III

By: Mario Montalvo
Posted: December 1, 2011, from the December 2011 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
Rancho La Puerta in its early days.

Rancho La Puerta in its early days.

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The concept of the spa kur, given to destination spas, was familiar, but was limited to the affluent who could afford it. Elizabeth Arden had already modeled their concept by converting her farm in Maine, and naming it Main Chance. During the 1940s and 1950s, many glamorous clients visited the spa, but unlike its European counterparts, Arden introduced more rigorous standards. Pampering existed, but was balanced with daily exercise, stringent caloric restrictions and post-spa itineraries, which included a reformation of dietary lifestyle away from the spa. Arden felt that these were integral components in extending and prolonging the goals achieved during the spa visits. At the time, Arden’s establishment and others like hers were derisively referred to as “fat farms.”

An exhausted nation looked in new directions for help and relief. The destination spa became more mainstream, and in 1958, Deborah Szekely founded the now-legendary Golden Door Spa in Escondido, California, and later Rancho la Puerta in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico. The fitness craze seized national attention, but it focused primarily on exercise; however destination spas added wellness and pampering to the equation, and these became more popular, spurring new growth, and attendance at destination spas skyrocketed. Names such as Canyon Ranch, La Costa, Cal-a-Vie and Saratoga Springs became readily recognizable to consumers. New magazines solely devoted to health and wellness entered the marketplace and gave further credibility to the importance of exercise, health, nutrition, meditation, skin care treatments and massage.

Day spas

With the example of these early destination spas and their newfound popularity, the skin care profession took a quantum leap with the birth to the day spa phenomenon in the 1990s. Day spas sprouted with lightning speed throughout the country, opening new doors for thousands and providing the skin care industry with renewed vigor. Wellness and beauty therapy coalesced. New associations, publications and conferences that were specific to the day spa concept abounded, helping further the growth, which seemed almost endless.

Their emergence was both epic and timely. They replenished the industry and also provided new career opportunities, and forged another avenue whereby esthetic salon procedures were expanded to include an abundant menu of complete face and body services. More importantly, day spas were in step with the new consumer, the aging baby boomer who was more health- and fitness-inclined, and sought out more sophisticated approaches, all with an emphasis on wellness.

Knowledge was amplified, service revenues increased, and the skin care industry became a self-contained entity where all beauty services could be accomplished within one establishment. Symbiotically, other therapies were being rediscovered, taught anew and augmented to complement existing treatments. Holistic algorithms were introduced and soon caught the attention of the mainstream media and new clients. The most popular among them were ayurveda, aromatherapy and hydrotherapy.