I didn’t have my first manicure until I was in my twenties, but by age seven, Carys Prosser of New Westminster, BC, has already had three. When Carys finished her first day of grade one, her mom rewarded her with a trip to the spa for a mani-pedi. “She loved being pampered and having everyone make a big fuss over her,” recalls Carys’s mom, Sarah.
It’s not unusual today. Many girls have been to the spa at least once to get their nails done by the time they’re eight years old. And while I love a day of pampering as much as the next frazzled mom, when my daughter, Sophie, was invited to a friend’s spa-themed birthday party at a local salon in grade two, I had concerns. I worried there may be health risks, but I also wondered if a manicure was too mature an activity for a girl who’d just mastered tying her shoelaces.
Read more: How to get your kids to stop nail-biting>
According to Calgary dermatologist Janis Campbell, there are steps parents can take to ensure the experience is safe, including choosing a reputable location that sterilizes metal instruments in an autoclave and cleans tubs with an antiviral/antibacterial solution. “I’d suggest doing nail filing and polishing only,” says Campbell. Pass on cuticle trimming, which can lead to small cuts that leave your child more susceptible to a bacterial infection, and make sure the nail polish products you choose are free of the harsh chemicals (formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate) that are under investigation for their link to cancer and reproductive problems. Foot and hand soaks are fine for kids, but since they’re normally used to soften the skin before trimming cuticles or removing calluses, they aren’t necessary.
Even if a spa manicure is safe for a young child, is there a chance it’s sending her an inappropriate message? Yes, according to Toronto psychologist Sara Dimerman, author of Character Is the Key. “You’re teaching your child that her hands aren’t beautiful without adornment,” says Dimerman. In her opinion, it’s too much, too soon. “When you expose children to things that are perceived to be for adults, you’re rushing them to grow up, taking away something they can look forward to when they’re older.”
For parents, the key is to be mindful about these kinds of activities. “Taking your child for an occasional spa visit as a mother-daughter outing is not going to lower a child’s self-esteem or make her feel less than perfect,” says Dimerman. But if beauty treatments happen regularly—say weekly or monthly—she thinks it’s more of a concern. “Then a child may start to believe that the skin she’s born in is not good enough.”
Sarah Prosser isn’t worried she’s sending her daughter a harmful message. But to ensure that Carys doesn’t see nail treatments as anything other than a special time out with her mom, she has set some boundaries to keep things kid-friendly. “I don’t let her wear black or red polish—only fluorescent colours and rainbow nail art—which in my mind, are appropriate,” she says. “And I save the outings for celebrating special occasions. I don’t want her to grow up too fast, but I think it’s just a fun, girly thing that we both enjoy doing together.”
As for my daughter? I did let Sophie attend that spa party, but it turned out it wasn’t her thing. A bit of a tomboy, she relented to getting her nails painted but drew the line at the hair styling and professional makeup. Two years later, she’d still rather hit the movies or the bookstore than don a dress or do her hair. So I’m happy to continue enjoying my beauty treatments solo—maybe until she’s old enough to treat me.
A version of this article appeared in our February 2014 issue with the headline “Trip to the salon,” p. 44.