There are certainly enough to choose from: body sugaring (a variation on waxing), sports pedicures, thermal seaweed wraps, scalp facials, full body mud masques and watsu massage, a form of shiatsu performed in a swimming pool that is supposed to make you feel like you returned to the womb (how would you know?). My vote for most eccentric is Nail Art (whose patron saint, according to the remarkably thick and informative Nails magazine, is Olympic track star Florence Griffith Joyner). For $30, a nail artist will paint Elvis, or your grandchild, or a scene from "Star Trek" on your nail.
Then there's aromatherapy, which, depending on your olfactory nerves, is the greatest healing force or biggest gimmick of the '90s. Proponents claim that a whiff of oils--mimosa, patchouli, peppermint, rose--can do everything from opening the heart chakra to sharpening the wits to aiding sleep. A person wishing to inhale her way to greater health and happiness can indulge in aromatherapy facials, massages, pedicures, scalp treatments, even Aroma Tanning, where you lie on an air-cooled UV bed and are basted with lavender.
"The body responds to scent without any intellectual barriers," said Susan Dworski, export manager for Aroma Vera, which claims to be the nation's largest manufacturer of essential-oil-based products. Last year, the L.A. company sold 660 pounds of lavender, 1,100 pounds of eucalyptus, 660 pounds of ylang-ylang, and a ton of petit grain, an oil obtained from the bitter orange tree. They have yet to market the smell of money, though perhaps they should. She told me the Las Vegas Hilton recently pumped a blend of essential oils into the slot machine area of the casino. Fragrant one-armed bandits collected 45% more.
But who am I to judge what's beneficial? Recently, I indulged in a "Salt Glo" treatment at Burke Williams, a lavish day spa in Santa Monica. I was nonplussed when Frank, a hunk with a towel around his waist, led me to a "wet room," a large shower with a massage table. He instructed me to lie face down, stark naked, with just a teensy towel for modesty, then tossed sea salt on me as if I were an icy driveway. "The Egyptians called this aura polishing," Frank explained as he scraped my hull. He claimed to be exfoliating and detoxifying, two of the many beauty verbs I view with suspicion. Whatever, it was fun.
"You wouldn't believe the people I've salted," Frank said as he turned on the shower to rinse me off. When pressed for specifics, he named cast members of "Sister Act II."
Name dropping is rarely accidental. Salons boast of movie star patronage the way English businesses flaunt the Royal Warrant (By Appointment to Her Majesty, etc.). Almost every establishment I visited offered me a list of celebrity clients, all the while insisting that they provide complete discretion.
Franco has even decorated his Beverly Hills salon with huge photos of clients such as Tony Curtis and Iman that were taken by "my childhood friend and business partner, Mickey Rourke." But he assured me, with a straight face, "I don't brag about them. You know how many TV shows don't accept me unless I go on and gossip? I lose a show a month. I've done Montel Williams, Vicki Lawrence, this is my fifth time. But I don't say, 'So and so's hair is so thin.' So I can't do 'Arsenio' and 'A Current Affair.' " (Not to worry. Barbra Streisand is also a client. And look where her former hairdresser, Jon Peters, wound up.)
The Beauty Barons don't just do stars, they \o7 are \f7 stars, who endlessly promote with books, talk shows and infomercials. Superstylist Jose Eber got his big break when he created Farrah Fawcett's widely copied shag in the late '70s. Today, his star client is Elizabeth Taylor but not, as the tabloids recently suggested, Sugar, Taylor's Maltese. "You know how that got started?" Eber laughed. "We were shooting a commercial. Elizabeth was on camera and she asked, 'How's Sugar's hair?' I said, 'It looks fine.' Maybe I took the brush and ran through it. But I didn't tease. Sugar isn't coming to me on a monthly basis."
Just give her time. "The one thing women are looking for is to feel good about themselves, to like what they see," said Eber. "I make them feel good and that gives them great confidence. That's what it's all about, the beauty business. It's not as superficial as people think."
Barbara Cadow, a USC psychology instructor, agreed. "It's actually a cheap way to do therapy," she said. "Women have a constant complaint: They're not getting attention from the men in their life. They go have a facial, have a massage, get their hair colored. In the excitement of having someone pay attention to you, gushing over you, you feel better. It's all about taking care of yourself."