Every year, as February comes to a close, my answering machine fills with urgent messages. Help me, please! come the anxious voices. The Oscars are a month away and Ive got four new wrinkles on my forehead! Working in Los Angeles, Ive learned to anticipate the needs of entertainment professionals. They, in turn, have learned to appreciate Oriental Medicine. While they may rely on their M.D.s for certain services, they rely on their acupuncturists for others. Increasingly, patients are turning to Oriental Medicine for help in retaining a youthful appearance. The reason for the shift is simple: patients have discovered a downside to plastic surgery. Side effects and complications may include heavy scarring, chronic bruising, an unnatural pixie-ish appearance and the need for secondary procedures. In 2003, the wife of a well-known producer sued her doctor and a drug company, claiming she suffered nerve damage from Botox injections. While her claim was ultimately dismissed, its effect has nevertheless been profound. How, consumers wonder, can they escape the knife and the syringe?
Angelenos understand the importance of a youthful appearance. It isnt vanity; its the survival instinct in a competitive town and it has created a booming spa industry. Local day spas compete eagerly for consumer dollars, offering ever-more outlandish and questionable enticements. One spa may offer a five-layer hydrating mask with Burmese saffron glaze (uh, do fries come with that?) while another spa, working the spiritual angle, may tout the nine Tibetan monks who blessed the establishment (now thats a sacred retail outlet!). Despite the foolishness that runs rampant in segments of the spa industry, one fact remains: youthfulness and attractiveness matter and not just in Hollywood. In 1999, psychologists Yolanda McKay and Sarah Stevenage designed a mock recruitment study at Southampton University. They found that recruiters hired 100% of applicants with normal appearance, yet hired only 55% with facial disfigurement. The implications of this prejudice are enormous. Not surprisingly, the spa industry has become the fourth largest entertainment industry in America, with revenues of more than eleven billion dollars in 2003.
A Beautiful History
Well before the current spa craze, Chinese women understood the social value of beauty. In the Tang Dynasty, theatrical performers used pearl powder when applying makeup, a practice that was quickly adopted by royalty and women in high society. It was discovered that, taken internally, pearl powder could improve the complexion and increase radiance.