Wizards of Ahhhs

Spa services have evolved from the simple shoulder rub followed by some time in the sauna. Now, the feel-good set travels thousands of miles to destination spas to cleanse their bodies for days at a time or to purchase a day-spa package and choose from a menu of exotic treatments.

Regardless of your preferences, a spa will relax and rejuvenate you — if you select the most appropriate of spas and services to suit your needs. Palm Springs Life helps eliminate the headache — and backache and muscle tension — of the research with this introduction to spas in Coachella Valley.

What’s Your Pleasure?

An early step in exploring spas is determining what you want from the experience. Do you want a basic massage? Are you willing to travel for the ideal treatment? Do you want Botox following a facial? You can have as much or as little as you want. The best place to start is determining the type of spa that best meets your goals. Most spas will have similar amenities, including a soothing atmosphere, robes and slippers, separate changing rooms, professional massage therapists and estheticians, private treatment rooms, a “relaxation room” (often where you wait for or between services), aromatherapy in conjunction with all treatments, and steam rooms/saunas.

There are four basic spa categories: day spa, destination spa, resort spa, and medical spa.

A day spa offers massages, facials, and body treatments on a per-service or per-package basis. That is, you can choose one service that will last you an hour or a package of services that will last you the day.

A destination spa caters to guests who want to immerse themselves in the spa lifestyle, which offers fitness, meditation, and educational programs. Package prices typically include some spa services, spa cuisine (low-calorie, low-fat, organic meals), and accommodations. Most luxury destination spas require a minimum two-night stay.

For a less rigid spa experience, consider a resort spa. Resort spas are attached to luxury hotels and offer services a la carte. Restaurants within spa resorts serve spa cuisine, but also traditional meals. Other recreational activities — such as golfing, swimming, tennis, horseback riding, and yoga classes — are also available at resort spas, usually for an additional price.

If you want a little lift with your spa service, medical spas (also called “medspas” or “medi-spas”) are ideal. A physician or registered nurse typically oversees the facility, which provides treatments such as laser skin tightening and Botox in addition to the traditional services found at day spas. Despite the word “medical” in its title, these spas are far from clinical. In fact, medical spas tout aromatherapy, soft lighting and music, and private rooms just as any other spa would.

What Do You Need?

Once you’ve selected a spa, the next step is to determine what treatments a particular spa offers. The four categories into which treatments fall are massages, facials, spa manicures and pedicures, and body treatments.

Massages are the most popular treatment — perhaps because guests can choose from so many varieties. Swedish massage might the best-known massage; its use of long, gliding strokes, kneading of the muscles, and friction techniques are hallmarks of massage therapy. Other deep-tissue massages include sports massage and Rolfing. Lighter-touch treatments include hot-stone therapy, Reiki (a gentle placement of hands on the body designed to provide a healing energy), and shiatsu and reflexology (two kinds of pressure-point massage).

A facial is a deep-cleansing treatment whose goal is to rejuvenate, smoothen, and hydrate the skin. Facials usually involve exfoliation (sloughing off dead skin cells), extraction (unclogging pores), massage, a mask, and moisturizing. Specialty facials abound at spas, such as oxygen facials (which use a mist of pure oxygen) and anti-aging (where vitamin C and alpha-hydroxy acids are used to plump up the skin).

Many spa-goers also request the spa manicure and/or pedicure. This is no strip-mall manicure or pedicure; most people pay extra for the especially relaxing experience and added amenities such as aromatherapy, paraffin dip, peppermint foot scrub, or a rose-petal foot bath.

Perhaps the most impressive part of any spa menu worth its salt scrub is the body treatment section. Think of a body treatment as a facial for your entire body. Body scrubs and body masks or wraps make their way onto most lists of spa services.

A body scrub, also called a salt scrub or salt glow, involves a massage therapist rubbing your body with coarse salt soaked in oil to exfoliate dead skin cells. (Some spas offer a sugar scrub option.) The massage-like strokes enhance circulation. Plastic drapes over you as the sea salt and oil penetrate the skin, followed by a shower rinse.

A body mask or wrap uses products such as mud, algae, and/or seaweed that encompass the whole body, which is then covered by heated linens or blanket. This detoxifies the body of pollutants. Certain body wraps are also used for their diuretic properties that can lead to temporary weight loss.

Choose Your Pleasure

The only thing left to do is find a spa with the ambiance, staff, and treatments you desire. Regardless of whether you choose a day spa or an exotic destination retreat, the environment can make or break your experience. Choices range from the quaint mom-and-pop shop to the over-the-top getaway.

Ask to tour the facility. Staff should be welcoming, nurturing, and informative. Well-trained estheticians and massage therapists will answer any questions you have and will ask you questions as well. For example, they should always ask if you have any allergies and discuss your skin type to pick the most appropriate treatments, and check in with you periodically during the session to ensure your comfort. A reference from a friend or trusted colleague is the best way to choose a therapist.

Arrive at least 15 minutes before your scheduled treatment so you have time to change into a robe and unwind. Also, drink plenty of water before you go; this will make your treatment even more effective.

The most important thing to remember about going to the spa is this: Some basic knowledge, along with an open mind, will create an enriching, healthy experience.

Be Spa Savvy

If you see any of these red flags, gracefully excuse yourself from the spa:

  • Anyone who balks at your questions (which should include inquiries about staff training, health certifications, and cleanliness).
  • Reluctance to give you a tour before you purchase services. It’s your right to see the facilities.
  • Salons that call themselves spas. A salon that has one massage table and a manicurist on staff does not a spa make.
  • Spas that have dirty linens strewn about or stacked up in piles.
  • Children. If spas do allow little ones, they should be out of sight in a designated childcare area. However, most spas claim to be childfree zones.
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