Two years ago, no one had ever heard of lash extensions. Then a few celebrities -- Allison Janney of "The West Wing"; Joy Lauren, who plays Danielle Van de Kamp on "Desperate Housewives" -- wore them to last year's Emmys. Their photos were featured in OK magazine, which claimed that stars loved fluttering the extra-long fringe. Gwen Stefani, Lucy Liu and Naomi Campbell were among those reported to have ditched mascara in favor of these newfangled falsies.
Having lash extensions applied is a daunting process: It takes anywhere from one to three hours and requires maintenance every two to four weeks. An entirely new set needs to be applied every two months. Still, it's not a surprise that such notoriously appearance-obsessed cities as New York and Los Angeles offer this service for a cool $250 to $500 a pop. What may be surprising is that dozens of salons in the Washington area do, too.
"D.C. is one of our hottest locations for training," says Jo Mousselli, the president of Xtreme Lashes, a company that trains aestheticians and cosmetologists to provide the service in salons and spas. There are seven Xtreme Lashes-certified locations in the District, 78 in Maryland and 36 in Virginia.
Many people may think life inside the Beltway is all about parsing the Scooter Libby trial and logging on to Wonkette. Surprise! Some Washingtonians are just as obsessed with Britney and Brangelina.
"It's the trickle-down effect," says Elizabeth Tanzi, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Dermatology and co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery. Although Tanzi says it's rare for Washingtonians to want to look as plasticized as some stars do, she thinks that celeb beauty practices have definitely made their mark. "Celebrities have had procedures that are covered by the media," she says. "And because of that, cosmetic procedures have gotten wider acceptance."
The demystification of celebrity beauty started with the launch of In Style magazine in 1994, then went into high gear with tell-all publications such as Us Weekly and Star. Now we're at the point when even the most out-there procedures are beginning to seem . . . normal. Botox? Teeth whitening? Hair extensions? For some image-conscious office workers, they are almost as necessary as a venti latte and a Metro pass.
"Botox takes 10 years off of a movie star's face. Fans want the same thing," says Sandra Read, another spokeswoman for the dermatology academy who has a private practice in the District.
Botox is an injectable substance that works by freezing facial muscles to temporarily erase wrinkles; Teri Hatcher infamously acknowledged once getting the shots on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." She's in good company: More than 3 million people received Botox treatments in 2005, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
With celebrity exposure has come consumer demand, and more services at lower prices now exist. "It's not one of those things anymore where you couldn't get what so-and-so has," says Sasha Charnin Morrison, the fashion director at Us Weekly. "You can."
Even if what so-and-so has is Botox injections in her foot for extra cushioning -- one of the newer treatment requests at Georgetown's Hela Spa, which also injects the substance into clients' underarms to prevent sweating.
Other celeb favorites being embraced by Washingtonians? Teeth whitening -- the top procedure requested by patients ages 40 to 60 in past American Dental Association surveys -- and hair extensions.
Great Lengths, one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of hair extensions, says its sales to U.S. salons have increased 35 to 50 percent each year since 2000. Demian Isla buys extensions for his eponymous salon in the District -- all the better to give clients a more subdued version of the down-to-there tresses popularized by Jessica Simpson and Paris Hilton.
Clear skin unsullied by freckles or age spots is another perennial client request. "A lot of friends asked how celebrities have such white skin. It looks like they've never been out in the sun," says Helle Jeppsson, owner of Hela Spa. The secret, she says, is intense pulsed light technology, which aims to erase pigmentation. It's a celebrity-touted treatment with a celebrity price tag: $350 to $400 per treatment at Hela, and most spas recommend a series of three.
Jeppsson, who splits her time between New York and Washington, says that in the past five or six years, "D.C. has evolved so much. It's much more of a fashion city than it used to be."
It's also a notoriously career-obsessed city. And people in all professions are finding that it pays -- literally -- to be attractive. Economists Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle began studying hiring bias in 1994; their research indicated that an unwrinkled brow and puffy lips could indeed trump a stellar résumé. A person with below-average looks makes 9 percent less an hour than an average-looking person, they found, while a real looker can expect to earn about 5 percent more.
"It's not just celebrities who have to look good. Everyone has an image they need to uphold. If you're a receptionist, an investment broker, in big business, a certain look is expected," Read says. "People come to me and say, 'I'm a single parent and I have a financial obligation.' This isn't frivolity -- this is about keeping jobs."
Still, D.C. folk often dial down their celebrity-inspired procedures.
Eugene Giannini, a spokesman for the D.C. Dental Society, says less than 1 percent of his clients asks for the kind of neon-white teeth regularly blinding viewers of awards shows. Most of his patients simply want to go a few shades lighter.
Says Tanzi: "The interesting thing about Washingtonians -- and I've worked in New York as well -- is that they're a very discreet group, particular about what they want, and they want things to look natural."
And so, she says, although celebrities raise the profiles of certain dermatological procedures, her patients often come in and say, "I don't know what so-and-so celebrity had done, but it looks like too much," Tanzi notes. They'll say, "I don't want to look like the woman on 'Desperate Housewives' or Nicole Kidman; I don't want the mannequin look."
On the other hand, some patients have their hearts set on certain celebrity-approved procedures that aren't right for them, Giannini says. "People ask for procedures, [and they] don't even know what the procedure is," he says. Some patients request veneers -- perfect-looking fake teeth, which are usually bonded over real teeth after they've been drilled down -- when they really need orthodontics.
Not to mention, getting veneers hurts. There are the injections, the uncomfortable drilling, the post-op sensitivity, all the stuff Us Weekly doesn't tell you about. "People are surprised," Giannini says. "Nothing is easy just because they are celebrities. They are real."