Ahhh! How To Spa

What woman doesn't deserve a little relaxation? When we spend our days -- and nights -- taking care of the needs of everyone else, our own wells run dry. A perfect antidote is an afternoon, or even an hour, at a luscious spa, being pampered and petted like Ivana Trump. Lain Chroust Ehmann shows what you can expect from a day at the spa.

Do a little research

How to spaFortunately, you don't have to travel to Beverly Hills -- or have finances like Britney Spears -- to enjoy such luxury. Day spas have been springing up around the country as fast as smoothie stands and iPhones. Women everywhere are tapping into the revitalizing benefits of an afternoon getaway.

But not all day spas are created equal. Do your homework before plopping down your hard-earned money for a salt-glow rub or an aromatherapy facial. The last thing you want to do is plan for a relaxing hour, and end up fearing for your health, your safety or your pocketbook.

What is a spa?

Many spas in this country grew up around the hot springs in areas like Calistoga, California. Originally known for treatment such as mineral water soaks and mud baths, spas expanded their offerings to include massages, facials and other body and skin treatments. There are many famous overnight spas, such as La Costa, Canyon Ranch and the Golden Door -- many of which cater to the rich and famous looking to relax and lose a few pounds.

As you'll soon discover, "day spas" come in all sizes, shapes, styles and price ranges. Many hair and nail salons are jumping on the bandwagon and rechristening themselves as "day spas," when in actuality they offer little more than a massage table in what used to be the storage room.

At the other end of the spectrum are full-service spas created specifically to address the pampering needs of their clientele. These spas have separate treatment rooms, often provide amenities such as lockers, robes and slippers, and offer a full range of skin, hair, nail and body treatments. The price can be 10 to 25 percent higher than that at a salon-type establishment, but if you're looking for true relaxation, it's well worth the price. When it comes to spas, accoutrements count. After all, you want to be totally spoiled.

How do I choose?

It can be nearly impossible to determine which category an establishment falls in, solely by the name. There are plenty of self-purported "European day spas" with names like "Claudette's Maison de Beaute," where the only thing European is the French fries the receptionist is eating with her Big Mac.

As a result, check out your selection before making a reservation. One of the best ways to find a great spa is through word of mouth. Ask your friends or the lady at the pool with the perfect pedicure if they know of any places in the area.

If you must resort to the Yellow Pages, do so with a good helping of skepticism -- and well before your target Day of Beauty. Look for the larger, more expensive ads. The more treatment options they list, the better (popular ones include massages, facials and body contouring). Then make a few phone calls. Ask if lockers are available, how many treatment rooms the facility has, and what other amenities they provide. Then ask them to send you a brochure or give you their website address; both offer a good sense of their ambience.

If you still have doubts, there's nothing like a drive-by or a walk-in to confirm your suspicions or allay your fears. If the spa is in a strip mall, chances are good that it's not the ultimate in relaxation - though there are exceptions. My secret device is a good noseful of the air. If the place smells like perming solution or acrylic nail powder, go somewhere else. True day spas, in my opinion, should offer a lovely aromatherapeutic odor of candles and lavender that tells you the moment you open the door that you are entering another realm -- one where you are Queen for the Day.

Getting ready

Based on the descriptions and prices from the web or the spa's brochure, you can select which services you want to arrange for.

Most day spas book up at least a week in advance, though it is possible to find last-minute cancellations. But because the spa schedules its rooms and staffers based on demand, be prepared to wait up to a month for an appointment. Although that may seem like a long time, you'll be able to anticipate the happy event and perform other logistical details -- like finding a sitter (no children, please!) and arranging for a friend to drive you home after you emerge, jelly-like, from your full body massage or seaweed wrap.

When choosing a spa, the key to having a good spa experience is relaxation -- total and complete surrender. So don't be afraid to be picky. After all, this is all about you and what makes you happy!

Read on for more about facials, massages and more!

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