The essence of cedar and patchouli soothes your senses. As you lie tranquilly, your hands, feet and body are rubbed with neem oil, and you feel the day's stresses melt into the massage table. In the background, flute and sitar music plays softly.
While you don't have to be an Indian princess to receive the royal treatment, you may feel like one after a few hours of pampering at a day spa. As they grow in popularity, day spas are expanding their menu of services beyond the standard fare of manicures, pedicures and facials, to exotic offerings like Reiki massage or coconut body wraps, as well as to treatments once found only in the dermatologist's office.
To help you sort through the options, we've created a primer on some of the most popular treatments.
This queen bee of spa treatments has hundreds of variations, from the hangover herbie facial at Bliss London, which includes an anti-migraine massage and rejuvenating oxygen spray, to the fruitopia facial with a pumpkin enzyme peel at Metamorphosis in New York.
Despite having so many variations, the basics of a facial remain the same: cleansing, toning, steaming, exfoliating, moisturizing and removing blackheads and whiteheads. Some also include a few minutes of facial massage and a customized mask. Expect to pay $50 to $75 for a 30-minute basic treatment and $120 to $200 for an hour or longer.
Wraps and Scrubs
These body treatments marry pampering with healing. Scrubs, also called polishes, exfoliate dry, calloused skin. Wraps detoxify the skin by absorbing toxins and improving circulation.
Chances are you're familiar with the traditional seaweed wrap or salt scrub, but in today's day spa you'll have many other options, as well. Try the hydrating coconut wrap, a nourishing cocoon of passionflower extracts and the oils of coconut and macadamia nuts, at Spa Tiki in San Diego, or slough off dead skin with a bamboo lemongrass body polish treatment at Heaven Spa in Philadelphia. Most treatments last 45 minutes to an hour and cost $70 to more than $100.
Still the number one day spa treatment, massages now include varieties that target specific conditions. Pregnant? Opt for a prenatal massage, which gives special attention to stressed areas such as the ankles, lower back and pelvis. Knotted up? During a deep-tissue massage, the masseuse uses slow strokes and heavy pressure to work out the achy kinks in deeper muscles and connective tissue.
Or try one of the many Eastern forms of massage. The Urban Oasis Day Spa in Chicago offers treatments from Thai massage, where the masseuse uses her hands, elbows, knees and feet to apply pressure, to Reiki massage, a Tibetan practice said to bring a feeling of deep relaxation and destroy energy blockages. Most massages last 30 minutes to an hour and cost $30 to $150, or roughly one dollar per minute. And remember, after a massage drink plenty of water to help flush out toxins.
Mind and Spirit
True beauty comes from within, and some alternative day spa treatments go beyond the body to rejuvenate the mind and spirit. Treatments range from Bach flower essence treatments at Eviama Spa in Philadelphia to energy-building music therapy sessions at Circle of Life Spa in Reno. Mind and spirit treatments vary greatly in type, as well as price, and usually last 30 minutes to an hour.
Some spas provide clinical treatments, often using products available only by prescription. "Med spas give clients the medical services they want in the environment they love," says Nanette Barrows, a medical esthetician at Esteem Medspa in Tampa, Fla.
Often referred to as "microderm," this skin-resurfacing technique removes the first few layers of the epidermis, expelling dead skin cells and minor surface imperfections.
Microderm is often recommended for sun damaged, scarred or acne-prone skin and can help soften age spots, blemishes, scars and fine lines. A handheld device in the shape of a wand sprays fine crystals across the face and then removes the dead skin cells as they flake off. If a diamond wand is used instead of crystals, a diamond-encrusted tip sands and smoothes the face. A series of treatments is often required. A 30-minute basic microderm costs $100 to $120. An hour-long session runs about $150 to $225.
Chemical peels can help with acne, wrinkles and uneven skin pigmentation. During the procedure alphahydroxy acids, or fruit acids, are applied to the face in various concentrations. If you have acne, salicylic acid may be used. The solution remains on the face for 10 to 15 minutes and is then removed with a cleanser.
Following treatment, skin may be irritated or red for a few hours and peel for a few days. Olive- or dark-skinned women may want to avoid chemical peels because they could experience bleaching or scarring. As with microderm, a series of treatments probably will be needed. For mild peels, cost is $75 to $150.
There are many different kinds of light therapy, or phototherapy. The most common, LED therapy, uses blue- and red-light-emitting diodes. The blue light kills acne-causing bacteria and helps reduce skin inflammation. The red aids in healing wounds and scars. LED lights can also reduce the appearance of broken capillaries and stimulate cellular renewal. A series of treatments may be needed. Most sessions last 15 to 30 minutes and cost $125 to $300.
Laser Hair Removal
This evolving technology uses a pulsating beam of light to zap hair. Unlike waxing, the procedure is usually permanent, although the area may require six to eight treatments. "This is becoming very popular with athletes, who want to be hair-free for competitions," says Barrows. The laser pulses can feel like the snapping of a rubber band or warm pinpricks against the skin. Time and cost vary greatly. Some spas charge a flat fee for as many sessions as necessary.
- Make an appointment. Many spas don't accept walk-ins.
- Don't bring children with you.
- Arrive a few minutes early.
- For some treatments you'll need to undress. But keep your underwear on if you prefer.
- Tell the therapist if you've had an injury so she can avoid the area or if you simply don't want a certain part of your body worked on.
- Give honest feedback (too hard, too soft) to get the most from your treatment.
- Feel free to talk or remain silent during your treatment.
- Ask if the tip is included in the price. If not, 10 to 15 percent is appropriate.