Pioneers of the spa age

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NOT that long ago the notion of a few precious hours of pampering and beauty treatments involved a messy mud face pack, a quick file of the nails and a bubble bath –preferably before the kids had been in.

Brazilians were the folks from a South American country. Microdermabrasion was quite probably related to sandblasting a grimy building but no-one really knew for sure.

And a spa? Wasn’t that something medicinal the Romans used at places like Bath?

Of course, these days the world of beauty and pampering is huge business – there’s a day spa or beauty salon lurking around almost every corner.

And there’s no shortage of demand either. One recent survey suggested the average woman spends around £1000 every year on beauty and body treatments to keep them looking good.

That sum is likely to rise this weekend as Edinburgh beauty salons and spas gear up for a final Mother’s Day dash for gift vouchers to trade for spa days, beauty therapies, relaxing massage treatments and skin smoothing facials.

It’s a gift that’s likely to earn precious brownie points with mum too – spa and beauty treatments have now overtaken traditional Mother’s Day offerings of flowers and chocolates, with one survey last year ranking a “me time” spa day treat as top of most mums’ wishlists.

Barnton mum-of-two, Becky Woodhouse, clearly appreciates how important a spot of “me time” is – after all she is newly-crowned “queen” of the UK’s burgeoning day spa industry. Earlier this week PURE, the Edinburgh-based business she launched ten years ago – at a time when the idea of lunch break beauty therapies and shopping centre spa treatments were largely unheard of – beat off competition from the likes of The Dorchester and The Sanctuary Spa in London to scoop Day Spa of the Year at the prestigious Professional Beauty Awards.

It was a major achievement for the business, launched from a former shop in Lothian Road after Becky became so frustrated in her bid to find a salon to accommodate her own busy life that she decided to set up her own.

“I was working as a chartered accountant with Price Water- house Coopers, flying to and from London a lot,” recalls Becky, 37, mum to Morgan, ten and Tate, three. “I found that most beauty salons shut at five and were so busy I’d have to book weeks in advance. If you fancied a spa, you had to book into a big hotel or head off to a country house in the middle of nowhere.”

She opened PURE in Lothian Road and made a point of extending opening times until 9pm, following it up with a spa in the unlikely setting of the Ocean Terminal shopping complex in Leith. Now PURE has two further outlets – in Aberdeen and Glasgow – and an impressive annual turnover of £1.9 million.

It’s a booming industry which, according to Keiran Fowler – who launched Zen Lifestyle with his wife Fiona 12 years ago – is fuelled by a new breed of customer with money to burn to help them look and feel better.

“People don’t feel guilty any more about looking after themselves,” he says. “There’s a group of professional women who have disposable income to spend on themselves, and the products and treatments on offer are remarkable. Ten or fifteen years ago people went to a beauty salon and all that was on offer was a manicure, a facial and maybe a massage.

“Now there are very specialised skin therapies, Botox is very common and the beauty industry is a massive, fast evolving industry with so many fascinating developments – there are treatments for fat reduction that used to be achieved only through liposuction.

“People want to make sure they look good for as long as they can.”

Zen Lifestyle, which has three Edinburgh salons – at Teviot Place, Hanover Street and Brunstfield – recently scooped the coveted UK Salon of the Year title, pictured above, after organisers praised it for its “incredible array of treatments” and being “truly innovative in the market”.

Keiran added: “The award means a lot of us, it’s a high accolade in the industry – and it’s the third time we’ve won it.”

• PURE Spa and Zen Lifestyle both offer special discount treatments as part of Mother’s Day packages. Go to www.zen-lifestyle.com and www.purespauk.com for details.