Workshop teaches teens the science of beauty, products

July 13, 1999|By SUSAN REIMER

IF YOU ARE raising a state-of-the-art teen-age girl, she probably owns enough nail polish to touch up the Sistine Chapel and she goes through more polish remover than she does milk. If your daughter is between the ages of 12 and 17, she is combing everything from mayonnaise to lemon juice through her hair and the sides of the bathtub are lined with dozens of pastel tubes, bottles and jars, each named for an ingredient in a Hawaiian fruit salad.

If you don't keep an eye on this girl, she's going to come home with tiny dolphins swimming in a circle around her navel or delicate flowers drawn around her ankle.

And your heart will only start beating again when she tells you, "Mom, chill. It's henna."

The Maryland Science Center is going where those girls are this Saturday with a one-day workshop called "Bad Girl Science," a nonjudgmental look at the ingredient label of teen life.

"We don't want to preach. We really try to stay away from the hazard implications," says Stephanie Ratcliffe, director of exhibits at the Science Center. "We never say, 'You shouldn't.'

"We want the girls to have fun, to get lots of information and then go home and reflect."

The workshop, part of "The Changing Face of Women's Health" exhibit, has a twofold purpose. Like their mothers, girls need to learn more so they can take charge of their physical health.

But the Science Center staff also wants teen girls to learn that there is real science in beauty. There are jobs behind those pretty faces.

"Traditionally, teen-aged girls don't consider the Science Center a destination," says Bella Meghani, education specialist.

"We want to hook them into the science of these products -- the chemistry of nail polish, chemical relaxers or hair dye. We don't want to lecture them on disease."

The girls will learn what causes one hair dye to be more harsh than others, what makes nail polish stick to your nails, the nature of calcium and how it is absorbed and used by the body.

They also will learn the impact of high heels on the spine, what a chemical relaxer does to a strand of hair, how a makeup manufacturer develops new colors and why lemon and sugar make a henna tattoo last longer.

"These are all fields of science, careers in science," says Meghani. "Girls may not have thought about that."

If the girls happen to learn that there are fumes from nail polish remover that they should not be inhaling, all the better.

And this is a girlfriend thing, says Ratcliffe, not a family field trip or mom's idea of how to keep the brain working during summer vacation.

But behind the make-up and the hair color and the henna tattooing is power.

"We want young women to understand that there are health implications in everything they do. Our message is 'Be aware. Be in control. Think about what you are doing. If you don't like milk, fine. What are other ways your body can get the calcium it needs?'

"Part of adolescence is playing around with your appearance," says Ratcliffe. "If you tell them it is bad for them, they are likely to do it anyway. Warning them is not an effective way to get a message out.

"But if you give them information -- in a hands-on, fun way -- then they can go home and reflect on what they've learned. And the choices they make will be informed choices."

"Bad Girl Science" has been developed in cooperation with nine other science museums and will travel to those museums, along with "The Changing Faces of Women's Health Exhibit," which leaves Aug. 31.

Parents can drop their teens off for the one-day workshop Saturday at 11 a.m. and pick them up at 4 p.m. The cost is $15 for non-members, $12 for members.

It is cheaper than a day at the mall. And it's better for them. But you don't have to mention that.

Pub Date: 07/13/99

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