There’s a fine line between personal care (your health and well being) and what could be considered personal pampering. That $100 luxury massage could be viewed as a much needed muscle relaxing exercise to help your back. And, if looks are important to your career, you might be able to write off that anti-aging skin cream as a business expense, even though there are some that cost $400 per ounce. The fact is that people will go to remarkable lengths to take care of themselves, even if what they are trying does more for their mind than for the rest of their body.

Beauty and youth are concepts that have always been closely tied to the personal care industry. With a market in the hundreds of billions of dollars, nobody doubts the demand; although the question of whether the market has driven the industry or the industry has driven the market remains to be settled. Much of it centers around topical creams for anti-aging, anti-wrinkle, and anti almost anything you want. You might want to throw in anti-money, because there’s almost no limit to how much you can spend if you’re so inclined. Olay’s Age-Defying Daily Renewal Cream can be more expensive than caviar. But that’s a bargain compared to ReVive Intensite Volumizing Serum, a facial application designed to rid wrinkles through volume enhancement, available for $600 per ounce.

And personal convenience is now being emphasized as much as the ingredients, allowing you to use the products anytime and anywhere. The idea is that the more convenient it is, the faster it will be used up, and the more the companies will be able to sell. A case in point is Olay’s new Regenerist Derma-pods, a resurfacing and wrinkle filling treatment for around the eyes that comes in individual pods for easy use on-the-go.

Below are the top ranked publicly traded companies, along with their beauty product annual sales, according to the most recent list put out by Beauty Packaging Magazine.

• Proctor & Gamble (NYSE: PG) – $27.8 billion (Olay, Pantene, Nice’n Easy, etc.)
• L’Oreal (PAR: OR) – $24.7 billion (L’Oreal , Helena Rubinstein, etc.)
• Unilever (NYSE: UN) – $15.5 billion (Dove, Caress, Lux, Pond’s, etc.)
• Estee Lauder (NYSE: EL) – $7.9 billion (Estee Lauder, Clinique, etc.)
• Avon (NYSE: AVP) – $6.9 billion (Avon, Skin So Soft, etc.)

Of course, personal care and pampering is not just about skin creams. With tens of thousands of independent health food and health supplement stores in the U.S. alone, and with virtually all major food chains having a major health food and supplement component, it’s clear that there is money to be made in ingesting as well as applying. Add to this everything that is spent on yoga and exercise classes and related equipment, and a picture begins to emerge. Investing in personal care/pampering companies is essentially like buying into a well that never goes dry.

And yet one of the fastest growing and most interesting examples of the personal care/pampering market has nothing to do with putting chemicals, natural or otherwise, on your skin or in your mouth. Nor does it have anything to do with twisting your body or burning energy. It’s the amazing new world of hydro massage, those iron-lung type devices you may have seen in shopping malls, where people pay good money for a few minutes of hydro heaven.

The hydro-massage industry itself is still very new, and there are few companies currently involved. The only publicly traded of these, and the one with the most sophisticated system, is a Florida based company, Simulated Environment Concepts (PINKSHEETS: SMEV). The company’s system, called SpaCapsule, is truly state-of-the-art, skillfully integrating an advanced computer controlled hydro-massage with audio, video, and even aroma-therapy stimulation. It completely encloses the user, making the experience less like getting a massage than stepping into another dimension. The space-age device is now being sold all over the world, to spas, hotels, and even doctors looking for extra income. They’ve even become something of a status symbol to individual owners. And if that doesn’t qualify as personal pampering, nothing does.

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