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These viral L.A. 'head spas' will show you what's been hiding in your scalp (Ew!)

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These viral L.A. 'head spas' will show you what's been hiding in your scalp (Ew!)

I’ve never given much thought to my scalp. Aside from the occasional subconscious scritch-scratch or vigorous shampooing, it’s kind of just … there. A necessary but often-overlooked cranium cover.

But the humble scalp is the focus of an increasingly popular wellness trend: elaborate Chinese and Japanese-inspired treatments at so-called head spas. At these businesses, visitors receive a scalp analysis followed by head and neck massages and repeated deep cleanses. Ogling the inner workings of the scalp, an otherwise forgotten body part — and addressing its needs through blissful hydrotherapy treatments — has driven the hashtag #headspa to draw attention on Tiktok for more than a year now. In one viral video of an L.A.-area head spa, a towel-clad influencer claims it will “change your life.”

I was intrigued. Which is how I came to find myself sitting in a salon chair at Cai Xiang Ge, or “CXG,” in San Gabriel, with a practitioner weaving a tiny digital camera through my hair. I faced a 250-times-magnified view of my scalp on a nearby screen. And what I saw resembled an eerie underwater kelp forest, with dark, swaying stalks growing out of a glistening, spongy field dotted with red patches. It looked like something out of a sci-fi film. Ew.

San Gabriel, CA - February 05: Reporter Deborah Vankin receives a scalp exam to determine the direction of treatment for her scalp from Cai Xiang Ge on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 in San Gabriel, CA. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Deborah Vankin undergoes a scalp exam to determine the direction of her treatment at Cai Xiang Ge head spa.

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The process was embarrassingly revealing. Turns out I have an oily scalp with bits of dandruff, CXG owner Ning Chen told me. “And see these red parts? You’re not getting enough sleep. Stress,” she said.

But there’s also a strange delight in examining your dirty scalp up close. As humans, we are nothing if not fascinated by our own bodies, whether that’s picking a scab, prodding a canker sore or popping a pimple. (You know you’ve done it.) The shock factor of scalp treatments is integral to its appeal, according to Sara Hallajian, a Santa Monica-based trichologist and hair loss and scalp specialist at Âme Salon.

“It’s about: ‘Oh, let’s look at your dandruff up close and how dirty your scalp is before and how clean after,’ because it’s not something you see with the naked eye,” Hallajian said.

After my scalp’s close-up, Chen led me into a dimly lighted room with multiple spa beds and traditional Chinese harp music. Birds chirped on the soundtrack as I changed into a robe and reclined on the bed. On one end was a shampoo basin, at the other a foot bath, filled with warm water steeped with Chinese herbs. It was early February, and I generally appreciate rituals around renewal this time of year, cliche as it may seem.

The $135 Royal Treatment scratched that itch. For 90 minutes, CXG’s Alyssa Nevins repeatedly scrubbed my scalp and washed my hair as part of a six-step process. The aromatherapy head massage was a dry one, in which Nevins rubbed tingly feeling tea tree oil into my scalp and then applied an electronic, cephalopod-like device, its multiple arms whirling away tension. That was followed by four shampooings, each with a head and neck massage.

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The highlight: Nevins left me lying there for 10 minutes with a circular, waterfall-like device bathing my head and neck in herb-treated water. I wore a heated eye mask, my head was tilted backward and my face was immersed in plumes of steam. Thin jets of water massaged my neck and shoulders. It was heavenly; I nearly fell asleep. I also got a hydrating, collagen-boosting facial, an herbal hair steam and a conditioning hair masque.

A woman gets a hydrating, collagen-boosting facial during her 90-minute Chinese scalp treatment at Cai Xiang Ge.

Deborah Vankin receives a hydrating, collagen-boosting facial during her 90-minute Chinese scalp treatment at Cai Xiang Ge.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

The experience ended in the salon, with tea and sweets and an “antihair loss treatment.” Nevins sprayed an herbal serum all over my scalp. She then used a high frequency scalp therapy device to disinfect my pores, a treatment the spa said would fortify hair follicles.

Head spas claim that scalp treatments promote circulation and detoxify, calm and hydrate skin, all of which help prevent dandruff, itchiness, dryness, inflammation and hair loss. I wasn’t sure whether that was true or not, but it sure beats injecting my own plasma into my scalp at $1,500 per session, another recently en vogue beauty treatment aimed at promoting hair growth.

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Tea and light snacks are offered after the cleanse, and before the blowout, at Cai Xiang Ge.

Tea and light snacks are offered after the cleanse, and before the blowout, at Cai Xiang Ge.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

The claims that head spas make are “fundamentally correct,” said Dr. Carolyn Goh, a dermatologist at UCLA Health. “A deep clean and massage can help with circulation and reduce inflammation. My first recommendation to anyone suffering from hair loss is to make your scalp clean. But if you have psoriasis or eczema, it’s not going to help. I’d also caution if you’re sensitive and using essential oils — you can develop an allergy.”

The treatment stimulates acupressure points in the head, particularly one called bai hui, where the so-called meridians meet, according to Dr. Ka-Kit Hui, director of the UCLA Health Center for East-West Medicine. “That may help people with insomnia, anxiety, headaches. It’s costly, but it’s relaxing.”

Scalp treatments have been an integral part of wellness culture for centuries in many parts of Asia, including in China, Japan, Vietnam and Korea.

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In China, head spas are so common that “there’s one on every street,” Chen said. They caught on here in L.A. around 2020 and have proliferated in the last year and a half. Now, Chen says, there are about two dozen in the L.A. area, with “about four new ones opening nearby in the past two months alone.” Most of them are in San Gabriel, Temple City, Arcadia and Rosemead — hubs for Asian communities. In addition to CXG, other popular local head spas include Yang Si Guan in San Gabriel, Tou Dao Tang in Temple City and M Head Spa in Rosemead, all of which have opened within the last year and a half.

A woman stands at the front desk of a head spa.

Cai Xiang Ge owner Ning Chen at the front desk of her head spa.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Chen said her head spa helped kick off the trend in L.A. when CXG opened in mid-2021. CXG plans to expand into Beverly Hills within the next year.

Like many head spas, CXG serves one-timers as well as members who visit weekly or biweekly to relax and maintain scalp health. Chen’s clientele was initially 70% Asian and 30% non-Asian; by summer 2023, it was the opposite, which she said is due to social media promotion.

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Videos of Chinese scalp treatments on social media are popular among seekers of ASMR — autonomous sensory meridian response — in which certain sounds promote tingling, goosebumps and other relaxing sensations.

In person, the ASMR experience is even more pronounced. Throughout the treatment, there are the sounds of repeated brush swooshes, shampoo lathering and sloshing water. This was especially evident at Tou Dao Tang when I visited.

Tou Dao Tang originated in China, where it has more than 9,000 locations. But in fall 2022, the company launched its first U.S. outlet in Temple City. It has plans to expand into Glendale later this year. Openings are also in the works for Tustin, Las Vegas, San Francisco and New York.

“It’s the new thing,” manager Hannah Lin says of scalp treatment’s growing popularity. “And people want to try the new thing.”

My scalp analysis, conducted by Tou Dao Tang’s Sherry Zhu, again suggested oily skin, dandruff and sleep deprivation as well as a possible nutrition deficiency, Zhu said. The latter was suggested by a few pale-colored hairs.

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The subsequent $108 Classic Scalp treatment was a five-step process. It was especially massage-oriented, with repeated scalp kneading, hair combing and cleansing over 90 minutes, and involved five teas, or “herbal soups,” each infused with different organic herbs. The rounds of tea-washing focused, respectively, on detoxification, rejuvenation and stress relief, nourishment and calming, repairing PH balance and hair loss prevention.

These treatments have become so essential for some patrons of Tou Dao Tang that members often keep their own combs and brushes at the spa, labeled with their names, for practitioners to use when they visit.

A masked woman receives a Chinese scalp treatment from Tou Dao Tang head spa.

Deborah Vankin receives a Chinese scalp treatment from Tou Dao Tang head spa.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

A follow-up exam shows a squeaky clean scalp after a treatment at Cai Xiang Ge.

A close-up of Deborah Vankin’s squeaky clean scalp after her treatment at Cai Xiang Ge.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

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A smiling woman after her Cai Xiang Ge treatment, which ended with a blowout and styling.

Deborah Vankin after her Cai Xiang Ge treatment, which ended with a blowout and styling.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

“In China, the head spa is so popular,” Lin said. “We wanted to bring it to the U.S. and let people know about our culture.”

The head spas I visited were very different experiences. CXG’s environs were especially luxurious, complete with multicolored lights, aromatherapy and a warm foot bath, while Tou Dao Tang’s home-brewed, organic “tea bath” washings felt more down to earth. They both left me feeling squeaky clean and relaxed — so much so that at Tou Dao Tang, I accidentally floated out the door without paying. (I called back later and took care of the bill.)

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After both treatments, my hair was shiny and extra-soft for days.

Needless to say, the itch I had for a feeling of renewal was sufficiently scratched.

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Conductor Andrew Davis, who headed orchestras on 3 continents, dies at 80

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Conductor Andrew Davis, who headed orchestras on 3 continents, dies at 80

Conductor Andrew Davis, right, raises his arms as he takes a bow, accompanied by Renee Fleming, and Peter Rose, center, during the final dress rehearsal of Richard Strauss’s Capriccio in the Metropolitan Opera at New York’s Lincoln Center, March 25, 2011.

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Conductor Andrew Davis, right, raises his arms as he takes a bow, accompanied by Renee Fleming, and Peter Rose, center, during the final dress rehearsal of Richard Strauss’s Capriccio in the Metropolitan Opera at New York’s Lincoln Center, March 25, 2011.

Richard Drew/AP

Andrew Davis, an acclaimed British conductor who was music director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago and orchestras on three continents, has died. He was 80.

Davis died Saturday at Rusk Institute in Chicago from leukemia, his manager, Jonathan Brill of Opus 3 Artists, said Sunday.

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Davis had been managing the disease for between 1 1/2 and 2 years, but it became acute shortly after his 80th birthday on Feb. 2. He had conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra last December in the U.S. premiere of his own orchestration of Handel’s “Messiah.”

“A consummate musician, incredibly versatile and a phenomenal colleague, as well,” soprano Renée Fleming said in an email to The Associated Press. “It takes a special kind of command to be a great conductor, the power to make close to a hundred musicians (each one, at heart, a diva or divo) hang on your tiniest gesture. So it is remarkable that even with that strength, Andrew’s primary quality was his innate happiness. He was gifted with an infectious joy that somehow came through in every bar of music he made.”

As his 80th birthday approached, Davis was invigorated by the challenge of molding an orchestra, especially young players.

“Harnessing all that energy and that enthusiasm and that passion, and galvanizing it into a totally, totally unified conception and not just conception but — what’s the word? — realization,” he said during an interview with the AP last July after rehearsing the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America in workshops and then at New York’s Carnegie Hall. “I berate them more than I would, but I hope always with a twinkle in my eye.”

Davis was music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1975-88 and Britain’s Glyndebourne Festival from 1988-2000; chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1989-2000 and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra from 2013-19; then music director of the Lyric Opera from 2000-21.

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Davis made his Lyric Opera debut in 1987 and led about 700 performances of 62 operas by 22 composers.

“He was a true artistic partner to me and a shining light for so many of us,” Lyric Opera general director Anthony Freud said in a statement. “We will miss his incredible artistry, his extraordinary wisdom, his irrepressible humor, his unfettered zest for life and his devotion to the arts and the humanities.”

Davis conducted a dozen Last Night of the Proms concerts, an annual celebration of Britain at London’s Royal Albert Hall. He twice gave the customary speech in the patter of the Major General’s song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.”

Born in Ashridge, in the Hertfordshire county of England, Andrew Frank Davis played organ for his parish choir and joined the choir at the Watford Grammar School for Boys. He studied piano at London’s Royal Academy of Music in London, became an organ student at King’s College Cambridge, and played piano, harpsichord and organ with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields from 1966-70.

He made his conducting debut with the BBC Symphony in 1970, became an assistant conductor with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonia Orchestra, then in 1971 made his North American debut with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

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“One of the finest conductors of his generation,” Carnegie Hall executive and artistic director Clive Gillinson said. “I worked with him on an ongoing basis at the London Symphony Orchestra, and the players and I were always totally engaged by his superb musicianship.”

Davis made his opera-conducting debut in Strauss’ “Capriccio” at the Glyndebourne in 1973 and the following year met his future wife, soprano Gianna Rolandi, when she sang Zerbinetta in performances of Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” that he led at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. They got married in 1989 and had a son, composer Edward Frazier Davis.

Davis became a Commander of the British Empire in 1992 and a Knight Bachelor in 1999. The family moved to Chicago when he was hired by the Lyric Opera.

During the pandemic, Davis translated Virgil’s “Aeneid” from Latin into English verse.

“I took an entrance exam in classics in New College, Oxford,” he told NPR, “but then a couple of weeks later I took the organ scholarship trials at King’s College, Cambridge, which much to my surprise I won, so that was the end of classics for me.”

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His wife died in 2021. In addition to his son, he is survived by a sister, Jill Atkins, and brothers Martin Davis and Tim Davis. Funeral services will be private.

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Classic film lovers: See James Dean's apartment and more on new TCM tour at Warner Bros.

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Classic film lovers: See James Dean's apartment and more on new TCM tour at Warner Bros.

In 2021, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour created new interactive exhibits focused on the company’s recent history, unveiling areas dedicated to the DC Comics universe and the “Harry Potter” franchise.

This week, the popular Studio Tour in Burbank is doubling down on its more distant past.

Warner Bros. is now offering a Turner Classic Movies-branded version of its studio tour that will bring guests to previously off-limit areas of the lot, including vintage animation buildings, a mini rose garden and an apartment that once housed James Dean. The 90-minute tram portion of the jaunt — about 30 minutes longer than the studio’s standard tram excursion — will allow guides to go deeper into the history of the studio’s catalog to deliver factoids related to such films as “Casablanca,” “My Fair Lady,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Auntie Mame” and many more.

“We’re off the leash,” says Brad Taylor, a 15-year tour guide veteran with Warner Bros., noting that the TCM excursion will include time for guides to chat with visitors about their favorite films.

The Warner Bros. Studio Tour will now offer a TCM-branded trek to focus on classic films. TCM hosts — from left, Eddie Muller, Jacqueline Stewart, Ben Mankiewicz, Alicia Malone and Dave Karger — recorded segments for the outing.

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(The Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood)

“We get to talk to the guests and really hang out with people who have the same passion that we do,” Taylor says. “I find that ‘classics’ guests are less about behind-the-scenes and more, ‘I can’t believe this is where we are.’ It’s just the look on their faces when they realize ‘Casablanca’ filmed here, or James Dean stood right here.”

The launch of the TCM tour arrives during the network’s 30th anniversary and close to 12 months after classic film fans were given a scare. In June, Warner Bros. announced that layoffs would hit TCM, including some of the network’s top executives, prompting concern from prestige directors such as Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson and Martin Scorsese. After garnering national attention, key cuts were reversed and Warner Bros. sought to assure fans that TCM would continue to be handled with care.

TCM network hosts — Eddie Muller, Jacqueline Stewart, Ben Mankiewicz, Alicia Malone and Dave Karger — recorded new video segments for the outing. The tour will take guests into the lot’s Property House, an area not visited by the standard tour. Here, visitors can get glimpses of materials for a full set, including items for a complete Oval Office setting, but expect guides to highlight vintage items, such as a throne from the Errol Flynn pirate film “Captain Blood.”

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Danny Kahn, vice president-general manager of the studio tour, says there have been numerous requests over the years from guests to delve a little deeper into the studio’s animation history. That’s why the TCM tour will for the first time take visitors to an area of the lot once known as “Termite Terrace,” which from 1955 to 1964, says Taylor, housed the animation department, a building with a sloped roof designed to capture sunlight. Animation legend Chuck Jones, says Kahn, had an office in the Termite Terrace area in the 1990s despite Warner’s moving animation production elsewhere.

Another unique tour locale is the exterior of the Dean apartment. When Dean resided there during filming of “East of Eden,” it was actually across the street from the lot, the apartment nesting above a pharmacy. But gradual studio expansion has led to the area now being on Warner Bros. property.

“That was an actual drugstore with apartments, and the studio rented it for him,” Kahn says. “I think it was to keep an eye on him and keep him on a short leash.”

The tour will also give tram riders a look at executive life at the studio, allowing them to briefly walk around a rose garden. The manicured spaces once held a tennis court as well as offices and personal screening rooms for the likes of studio mogul Jack Warner, with many of the structures dating to the 1920s. “It’s a really historic area of the lot that hasn’t really changed a lot in all these years,” says Kahn, noting the area is still in use by studio principals. “Jack Warner, when he ran the studio, privatized the first floor. That was a massage parlor that he had beneath his office.”

Staples of the tour, such as a journey around the backlot city streets, a visit to the “Friends” set and cafe and recent additions highlighting the studio’s modern franchise films are included in the TCM trek, as is a pre-tour reception with beverages and pastries. All told, expect the tour to last about 3½ hours. A tour spokesperson says the first TCM-branded outing is scheduled for Wednesday, with trams expected to depart daily after that date. Adult tickets are $95, but there is a Southern California resident discount available for $75.

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“It feels so good to have TCM here,” Kahn says. “People understand that the TCM brand is synonymous with classic film.”

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USC cancels filmmaker's keynote amid controversy over canceled valedictorian speech

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USC cancels filmmaker's keynote amid controversy over canceled valedictorian speech

Students carrying signs on April 18, 2024 on the campus of USC protest a canceled commencement speech by its 2024 valedictorian who has publicly supported Palestinians.

Damian Dovarganes/AP


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Students carrying signs on April 18, 2024 on the campus of USC protest a canceled commencement speech by its 2024 valedictorian who has publicly supported Palestinians.

Damian Dovarganes/AP

LOS ANGELES — The University of Southern California further shook up its commencement plans Friday, announcing the cancellation of a keynote speech by filmmaker Jon M. Chu just days after making the controversial choice to disallow the student valedictorian from speaking.

The private university in Los Angeles on Monday said it was canceling valedictorian Asna Tabassum’s speech at the May 10 ceremony because of safety concerns. Tabassum, who is Muslim, has expressed support for Palestinians in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, and university officials said the response to her selection as valedictorian had “taken on an alarming tenor.” They did not cite any specific threats.

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The university’s decision was met with praise from pro-Israel organizations but condemnation from free speech groups and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Students and faculty marched across campus Thursday in silent protest of the university’s decision.

Now, university officials say they are “redesigning” the entire commencement program.

“Given the highly publicized circumstances surrounding our main-stage commencement program, university leadership has decided it is best to release our outside speakers and honorees from attending this year’s ceremony,” the university said in an unsigned statement posted Friday. “We’ve been talking to this exceptional group and hope to confer these honorary degrees at a future commencement or other academic ceremonies.”

Chu was slated to deliver the keynote address at the May 10 ceremony. He is a 2003 graduate of the university who has since directed films like “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Wicked,” an adaptation for the Broadway musical set for release last this year.

More than 65,000 people are expected to gather on campus for commencement, including 19,000 graduates.

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“Although this should have been a time of celebration for my family, friends, professors, and classmates, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian voices have subjected me to a campaign of racist hatred because of my uncompromising belief in human rights for all,” Tabassum said in a statement earlier this week.

The Israel-Hamas war has presented a challenge for colleges under pressure to preserve free speech and open debate, and campuses are expected to be further tested as commencement speeches get underway in the coming weeks.

At Columbia University on Thursday, New York police removed a pro-Palestinian protest encampment and arrested more than 100 demonstrators. Most of them were charged with trespassing at the Ivy League-institution.

Several students involved in the protest said they also were suspended from Columbia and nearby Barnard College. The school said it was still identifying students involved in the protest and added more suspensions would be forthcoming.

“Students have a right to free speech but do not have a right to violate university policies and disrupt learning on campus,” said New York Mayor Eric Adams, who said the city was asked by university officials to remove the encampment.

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