The business of beauty

Every woman's dream is to look beautiful and beauty parlours are cashing in on this need. But how safe are the creams, potions and lotions used to give you a facelift? CHITRA SWAMINATHAN surveys the beauty scene.

IN THE strong colours of the make-up, her dreams faded. It was her wedding day but Meera Rajagopal couldn't put her best face forward. "Like most brides, I too went to a beautician and came back feeling like Cinderalla. But, within a few hours, I felt my skin burning and rushed to wash off the make-up. I looked into the mirror and was horrified to find ugly red patches on my face," recalls the newly-married with disgust.

This is a story heard often, says Dr Vidya Ramapradeep, a dermatologist. Her state-of-the-art Krishna's Skin and Cosmetology Centre on Luz Church Road, offers therapeutic treatment for all types of skin and hair problems.

"People who visit me are mostly victims of the beauticians' callousness. What's more dangerous is that some of the beauticians without the requisite knowhow have been prescribing antibiotics and steriods to treat problem skin and hair," says Dr. Vidya, the annoyance writ large on her face.

The success of the Indian models in the international arena has boosted the fashion and beauty industry so much that every woman now dreams of a perfect face and figure. And the burgeoning beauty parlours have been cashing in on the trend.

"Going to parlours is not a crime. But people tend to expect wonders from the beauticians," says Dr. Vidya. "People generally are not aware of a dermatologist's role in beauty treatment. They realise the need to visit a skin specialist only when the problem aggravates and after wasting enough time and money in the parlours".

Agrees Dr Jayaraman, also a dermatologist. The lotions and potions used in the parlours are the major cause of skin allergies. Besides, the 'herbal hype' is also proving to be a trouble in disguise as few of the so-called 'natural' products are genuine, he points out.

Cosmetics Unmasked, a book recently published in London by Dr. Stephen Antczak, is an eye-opener. It says that behind the marketing veneer, the ugly truth is that for years, we could well have been dousing ourselves with products containing everything from formaldehyde to caustic soda.

A chemist for 30 years, the chemicals that Dr. Antczak found in common bathroom products are actually marked dangerous in laboratories.

His book contains an index and explanation of ingredients that can cause problems. "The lipstick may also contain gender-benders properties that interfere with hormones and have been linked to falling sperm levels and testicular cancer. But the real nasties are the hair dyes."

Talking about a beautician's job, Madhu Mohan of the Kanya chain of beauty parlours, a franchisee of Shahnaz Hussain Herbal, says they basically help people maintain a healthy skin and hair and when required, offer cosmetic remedies. "Treatments are recommended only after studying the problem and the clients who require therapeutic remedies are referred to a dermatologist or a trichologist".

However, an ideal beauty treatment, according to Rani Rao, should be holistic - a perfect combination of the cosmetic, medical and psychological aspects. And aromatherapy has proved to be so, she says. A professional aromatherapist, Rani Rao practises at Lavendor beauty parlour in Gopalapuram. "Going by the adage, 'Beauty is not skin deep', this therapy uses essential oils extracted from plants with medicinal properties that act on the body, mind and soul to balance, stimulate and regulate," she explains. "Whatever be the problem - acne, pigmentation, hairfall or dandruff, first a tongue diagnosis is done to assess the client's general health. Accordingly, varied blends of the essential oils are recommended".

But the common complaint among parlour-goers is the absence of beauty consultants even in established parlours. Young girls, usually school dropouts, with just a working knowledge of beauty, are left to handle the clients, avers Rama Maheshwaran.

"Besides, the services seldom match the cost. Everytime I go to a parlour, I feel guilty about throwing away so much money," she adds. Ramya Swami, in her late thirties and working for a multi- national bank, used to frequent a reputed parlour in the city but has now turned to grandma's remedies at home. "One can hardly relax in the crowded and noisy parlours. Many a times, despite an appointment for a facial, I was given a quick massage and moved to a chair with the pack on my face to oblige the waiting clients".

"For sure results, cosmetic remedies should be backed by a health and exercise routine," emphasises Madhu Mohan. "We never had our clients complaining of skin allergies as enough precautions are taken. For instance, before applying a hair dye or bleach, we do a test patch. If the client still develops rashes, we give half a tablet of Avil," she explains. The girls working in Kanya are trained in-house and start with pedicure and manicure before graduating to facials and hair treatments.

It is not always the creams and lotions, lack of hygiene too can cause skin infections, says Dr. Vidya. Parlours, like hospitals, should be calm, cool and clean. The combs, scissors and even the beauticians' hands moist with cream and water can transmit viral infection. She also strongly recommends youngsters to keep off harsh treatments like bleaching, hair colouring, electrolysis and chemical peeling. At an young age, it is better to leave the skin natural, she adds. The effect of any treatment depends much on the quality of the ingredients the beautician uses, feels Rani Rao. Hence, she buys oils used in aromatherapy from an established company run by a foreign couple in Auroville. "I personally visited the factory before placing the orders. And the few that I import, I check the quality certificate first".

Zarina Godrej, a beauty and cosmetic consultant with Hindustan Lever, who was in Chennai sometime back to launch the well-known international beauty product, Elizabeth Arden, feels awareness is the key. "Try to know yourself before dreaming about a new self," she advises. "People lack the discerning capacity because they are not aware of basic things like knowing their skin type and hair texture before consulting a beautician. One can even get handy tips from articles and beauty columns in newspapers and magazines".

There are no short cuts to beauty, asserts Eric Lander, a hair stylist from the U.K. Eric has trained the staff of many leading salons in Britain and visited Chennai recently to launch the Lakme-City and Guilds International tie-up. Through this association, Lakme salons offer certified courses and training in hairstyling and make-up.

Qualifications make a beautician think, feels Eric. For instance, hair styling is not just about cutting hair, it is also about knowing the client's lifestyle, personality, hair texture and face structure. Beauty is no more the bored housewives' favourite pastime. With professionals entering the field, it has grown into a full-fledged and vibrant industry, he concludes.

For that well-groomed look

GONE ARE the days when men entered salons only for a haircut. Now, there are exclusive parlours for men who wish to look well- groomed. Apart from facials, pedicure, hairstyling etc., the parlours offer a wide range of skin and hair care treatment.

"The brisk business at our men's salon proves that men have become as conscious of their appearance as women," says Lily Madhok, director of Salon 2000, a L'Oreal prestige parlour and a Shahnaz franchisee.

"As men travel more in the sun, they generally suffer from hyper pigmentation, sun burns, acne and blocked pores. Realising the damage it can do to the face, they come to us for suitable treatment. The latest craze, however, is for Shahnaz pearl facial which has a whitening effect," she says.

Basically a nutritionist, Lily also suggests a healthy diet for men who go in for beauty treatment.

The treatments for men are usually different, says Usha, a cosmetologist at the Sanjeevani beauty clinic for men and women, on Greenways Road. Usha uses only herbal products prepared by her or the branded ones like Shahnaz and Biotique, depending on the individul skin and hair type and the seriousness of the problem. Besides various herbal remedies, she also makes use of electrical gadgets like vacuum suction, high frequency, vibrators, galvanic etc. for curing hairfall, dandruff, balding, acne, pigmentation and wrinkles.

So, with men too joining the race for a perfect face, it is prosperity time for parlours.