Turn any corner in this wealthy, tiny island and you're likely to find a spa, a slimming or manicure parlor, a hair salon or a waxing joint -- or all five next to each other.

SINGAPORE,  (Reuters Life!) - Would you let skin-eating fish nibble at your toes? Or how about shaving your eyebrows and then re-painting them back on?

Beauty is big business in Singapore, where looking good is something of a national obsession.

Turn any corner in this wealthy, tiny island and you're likely to find a spa, a slimming or manicure parlor, a hair salon or a waxing joint -- or all five next to each other.

The emphasis on vitality is prevalent in many countries across Asia, but it appears to be most pressing in Singapore.

"Focusing on the body and looking good is very prominent in Singapore for men and women," Saroja Dorairajoo, sociology professor at the National University of Singapore, told Reuters.

"This is a society that depends on people skills more than any other, so it's not only what you have but how you present it, and the emphasis on that is quite amazing."

There are no official figures on the number of beauty outlets in this country of 4.4 million people, but a quick glance through the telephone directory yields at least 3,000 listings.

Manicure counters are a familiar sight in Singapore's ubiquitous shopping malls, which also boast at least one beauty salon each. On weekends, some nail "technicians" can be seen filing, polishing and pounding the hands and feet of customers on the sidewalks of Orchard Road, the city's main shopping street.

Singapore is Southeast Asia's fourth biggest economy and enjoys one of the highest per-capita incomes in the region. That means more people have more cash to spend, a factor that has spurred the beauty boom.


Industry researcher Intelligent Spas says the number of spas in Singapore grew by about 63 percent between 2003 and 2006, with an 11 percent growth rate forecast for the next two years.

"The outlook for the Singapore spa industry is positive as Singaporeans continue to visit spas," Julie Garrow, Intelligent Spas managing director, said in an email to Reuters.

"Spas are now customizing treatments to incorporate relaxation and to cater for the growing male market."

To satisfy an increasingly sophisticated clientele in a competitive market -- and in line with the national penchant for the bizarre -- Singapore's beauty providers often go to extremes.

At Fish Reflexology, clients' feet are exfoliated by tiny fish that nibble off dead skin -- a method used in Turkey for decades to treat diseases. The treatment is also available in some areas of China and Japan.

The spa opened in December on Singapore's Sentosa island and more than 2,000 customers have fed their feet to the fish.

"We wanted an initiative experience," said Jezzamine Lee, communications manager of the Haw Par Corporation that brought the concept to Singapore.

"It also fits in nicely with beauty-mad Singapore."

Another popular beauty treatment is eyebrow embroidery, an industry the local Straits Times newspaper estimated to be worth 5 million Singapore dollars ($3.25 million) a year.

It entails plucking out your natural brows and then drawing strands of hair back using a pen-like device that injects ink under the skin. The result, patrons say, looks more natural than a tattoo and better than Mother Nature.

And if that sounds painful, several hair-removal salons in Singapore offer services for men including "boyzilians" -- the male equivalent of the "Brazilian," where almost all the hair is removed from the pubic area using strips daubed in warm wax.


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