The Ultimate Spa Guide

The Skinny

For a complete rundown of the spas our editors visited, click here.

To Bare or Not to Bare

You have a choice: You can wear a bathing suit or your birthday suit to spa body treatments. Or, if your personality falls somewhere between exhibitionist and prude, you can opt for the flimsy disposable paper panties provided by the spa.

Before committing, we thought you'd want to know which option most folks choose when getting a body wrap or scrub. And do aestheticians care one way or the other? We wanted honest answers, so we promised not to identify by name the people we interviewed.

"Very, very few people go naked," says one West Side aesthetician. "When I lived in California, a lot more people went naked. Here, most people wear the disposable underwear."

An East Side aesthetician agreed that most clients opt for the disposable undergarments. If they go bare, the bikini area is covered using towels and "modesty draping." Towels are always provided to cover the chest area. If you do opt to wear your own bathing suit, it's best just to put on the bottom half, so that your back, shoulders and stomach can be exfoliated. Also, be warned that many of the products used can discolor your suit.

As for what to expect, aestheticians never touch your breasts or bikini area, but some might surprise you with a quick swipe up the back of the legs and over the buttocks (if you wear your own bathing-suit bottom, aestheticians will usually either avoid the area or ask your permission before moving your suit over).

As long as their clients are comfortable, the aestheticians we spoke with say they don't care what the client wears. "It's basically what the client wants," says the West Side aesthetician. "A lot of us will read our client's body language."

As for men, they have no choice at the spas where we interviewed but to cover up. "Men really want to go naked," one aesthetician tells us. "But we require the bathing-suit bottom now. Some seemed to feel it wasn't just a detoxifying treatment."

-- Colleen Mytnick

Detox Debate

Cleanse your body with our customized seaweed wrap."

"Let our soothing facial detoxify your skin."

Today's spas bombard us with lofty promises that go more than skin deep, including assurances of a healthy body, physical rejuvenation and even weight loss. But what does "detoxification" even mean? Can a spa treatment really cleanse your body or is it just a nice way to relax?

Detoxification is generally considered by spas to be any treatment that purges the body of impurities, such as lactic acid, excess minerals and water weight. Spas utilize massages, wraps and aromatherapy in an attempt to rid the body of these toxins, often relying upon herbal remedies such as the eucalyptus or peppermint oils used in massages. ?claim that inhaling the scents of certain oils detoxifies the body by improving breathing and opening up one's pores, thus allowing the outward movement of impurities. Others say mud treatments reduce pain and relax muscles, thus improving blood circulation.

But Dr. Holly Thacker, director of the women's health center at The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, says the only medicinal benefit associated with detoxifying spa treatments is the hands-on touch therapy, which heightens relaxation and calms the mind.

Detoxification, she states, "is not a treatment that is going to change your kidney or liver function. Those are the two major organs that actually detoxify.

"If a person has the means and they find it relaxing and helpful, then I don't see any medical reason not to," she adds. "If you smoke and drink and you think a wrap will detoxify your body, then that is not the case."

But Martha Vucsko, owner of Martha's La Look Medi-Spa, is a staunch supporter of what she deems effective detoxifying treatments. She cites the long tradition of herbal remedies and argues that body wraps detoxify by improving circulation and promoting perspiration, especially for those who have a high level of toxins from unhealthy eating, smoking or drinking. Additionally, Vucsko says her

spa's Herbal Stimulating Body Wrap, an almost two-hour process, helps clients lose inches, not weight, by shrinking the body's tissues.

Likewise, Ramona Desmone, an aesthetician at Ichiban Salon and Day Spa in Westlake, says spas have tradition on their side: Many of these treatments, such as the seaweed and mud wraps, have been used for thousands of years. Yet she asserts that detoxification will only take place when used in conjunction with diet and exercise. "If someone is expecting an amazing miracle, a lot more comes into play," she says. "It's very important to have good nutrition and good exercise. This isn't a miracle treatment. When it works together with these other factors, it does help."

Though often debated, many other spa representatives hail the benefits of aromatherapy as detoxifying. The idea behind aromatherapy, Desmone explains, is that inhaling certain essential oils such as eucalyptus, peppermint, lavender and jasmine will have specific medicinal effects on the body, such as increasing energy, improving your skin or calming the mind. Like many herbal remedies, she adds, aromatherapy's benefits cannot be scientifically explained within the context of modern medicine.

While Samantha McCabe, a massotherapist from Charles Scott Salons & Spa in Rocky River, says she believes many spa treatments detoxify by increasing circulation and opening pores, she concedes that most customers view them primarily as a relaxing treat. "It's a good motivation if they are doing diet and exercise," McCabe says. "A lot of people come looking for weight loss and cellulite treatments. That's not going to work."

Denise Thompson, marketing director for John Roberts Signature Studio & Spa in Mayfield Heights, echoes this outlook when commenting on her company's facials, which advertise their detoxifying benefits. "You see a difference and feel a difference," she notes. "But it's not like you're coming in for colon cleansing."

-- Erin Ward

Extraction Action

Not all facials are created equal. In the course of reporting this story, in fact, we found a great divide: About half of the facials we experienced culminated in a round of deep cleansing with a tool called an extractor that is used to manually clean blocked pores. The other half involved nothing more painful than a vigorous neck massage.

It turns out that the difference is by design. While spas that embrace traditional European facials consider deep pore cleansing to be a must for those with oily skin, other spas are skipping the extractions altogether, based on the theory that they are not needed and can lead to scarring. Who's right?

"To really do a good facial you need to do the extractions," says Heather Janesz, owner of Chardonnay's Day Spa & Salon in Concord. "You're removing bacteria that are built up underneath the skin. The bacteria can further spread ? possibly resulting in imperfections. If you don't do extractions, it's just going to stay there and you're not going to help solve anything,"

That warning is nothing new to European women who visit their aestheticians the way they visit their dentists. For them, it's about skin care, not luxury. Extractions may pinch a bit, but they're accepted as part of the routine.

If extractions are so critical, why isn't everyone doing them? "If you clean the skin the right way, you don't have to irritate it," says Joyce Fennell, an aesthetician at Studio Taylor on Fairmount in Cleveland Heights. Cleaning may take more than one visit, but Fennell insists extractions are not necessary for clear skin. Rather, she argues they can cause more problems than they solve. "You have to be careful not to break capillaries and avoid scarring," she says.

Several other aestheticians we visited told us that, with all the great products available, extractions are becoming a thing of the past. In fact, today's cosmetology students are not even taught how to do them ? at least in this country.

Milana Tabachnik, an aesthetician at Dawn Nicole Salon & Spa in Bainbridge, disagrees. She says that no matter how much time you spend with cleansers and exfoliants, they won't clear up blackheads. "They may remove facial debris that looks like a dark spot or even a hair, but you have to remove blackheads manually," she insists.

As for the risk of scarring, Claudia Lupsa, an aesthetician at Charles Scott Salon & Spa in Rocky River, says it won't happen if the skin is properly prepared first. Before extracting her clients' skin, she applies enzymes, steam and massage to make the skin relaxed and receptive. This process also helps lessen any pain, she adds.

But what about those of us who can't afford to drop $50 to $100 a month on facials? Are we doomed to bad skin?

It depends on your skin type, according to Lupsa. If your skin is dry, extractions may not be necessary in the first place (though regular facials are still beneficial in promoting cell turnover and nourishing the skin). If, however, your skin is oily, clogged pores will lead to breakouts. In that case, Lupsa advises developing a good skin-care routine at home and getting facials as often as you can afford them. "At least at the change of the seasons," she says.

-- Jennifer Bowen

A Man At the Spa

I consider myself just an average guy. A baseball-loving, bacon-eating, beer-drinking guy.

But I must admit, I'm also a guy with a pretty-boy streak hidden beneath my obsession with the barbecue grill.

Not quite metrosexual, mind you. I don't possess the kind of commitment necessary to be a full-fledged member of this increasingly trendy lifestyle -- the softer-but-straight, urban male who enjoys shopping, designer clothes and a good dose of pampering.

Let's just say I have metrosexual tendencies -- and I'm willing to experiment.

So, for our anniversary, my wife and I went for a couple's day at Martha's La Look Medi-Spa. Such an occasion is the perfect male introduction to the spa experience: a gift designed especially for her with the appearance of sacrifice from you. (It's sheer genius!)

But trust me, you can learn to love this kind of sacrifice.

Take the spa facial, for example. Sure, there's cleansing, botanical exfoliation, soothing music, gentle aromas and a painted-on mask of some sort (all of which my wife thought were great). Relaxing, but not easy to fully appreciate for a guy who doesn't think twice about washing his face with (gasp!) regular soap.

Guys will certainly enjoy the massage and maybe even the oven-mitt-style hand warmers that were a part of the facial. But the real pleasure is in the 10-minute steam treatment, which seems to caress your face in rolling waves of misty warmth. You can't help but imagine waking up to such pampering every morning before shaving. (Which, by the way, does have its advantages, according to my aesthetician. With every twin-bladed swipe, we're sloughing off dead cells and promoting healthier skin.)

The facial was followed by a manicure. Though I can't explain it, I'd always been impressed by the corporate execs with expertly cared-for hands (though my wife claims not to trust any man with nails better than hers). For me, the manicure was an exercise in pure vanity. It felt great: nails well shaped and buffed, cuticles trimmed, hands wrapped in warm towels, then moisturized and exfoliated. I even took a clear coat of paint as a statement that I was self-assured about the entire process. I'd happily do it again (though probably without the shiny top coat).

I finished with a deep-tissue massage -- a man's spa treatment if ever there was one. The name alone conjures a grimace of pain brought on by the ham-hock hands of a giantess named Olga. But not here. My masseuse took great care -- not great pains -- to relieve the trouble spots around my neck and shoulders caused by working all day hunched over a computer. And unlike some other massages, I felt just as good the next day as I did when she finished.

Would I go to the spa alone? Probably not. But Valentine's Day is right around the corner?

-- Steve Gleydura

When Good Spas Make You Feel Bad

You think spas are supposed to make you feel good? Not always. In the course of visiting spas to write this story, Cleveland Magazine editors have been told we have heavy skin damage, cellulite, wrinkles and need to have our hair colored. We've been told never to use Aveda products, to use only Aveda products and that to really get the benefits of a facial we need to use the products at home. Despite the fact that we'd been receiving weekly facials for nearly two months for the purpose of this story, we all were told that our skin looked like it really needed a facial.

What we learned: Don't take any single bad piece of news too seriously. While one aesthetician told us we had heavy skin damage, another told us we had none. The truth is, we probably all have a little skin damage and more than likely a little cellulite, too.

But we also learned to take good advice when it's offered: Wear sunscreen daily (even in winter), drink plenty of water, use a good cleanser (never soap), exfoliate your skin once a week with a gentle scrub and, if your budget permits and you enjoy the treatment, find an aesthetician who suits your style and get a facial at least four times a year. 

-- CM

Pregnant Pause

If there's ever a time when a woman deserves a little extra indulging, it's when she's living for two. And with wine off the menu, that leaves pretty much one thing: the spa. But what's safe?

The first rule is that it's not enough to merely tell the receptionist who's scheduling you that you're pregnant and trust her to figure out what services are OK. For advice on what to ask, we turned to Dr. Jean S. Reinhold, an ob/gyn with West Shore Women's Health Associates in Westlake.

First off, recognize that anything which overheats your body is out. That includes saunas, whirlpools, steam rooms and body wraps. Beyond that, however, the spa is yours to enjoy -- if you follow a few simple guidelines.

Beginning in your fourth month, you should no longer lie on your back. Therefore, if you're getting a facial, ask when you make the appointment if the back of the treatment bed can be elevated slightly. If not, try putting a pillow under your hips. "Just so you're not flat on your back," Reinhold advises. The same goes for body scrubs. While you can lie on your stomach as long as it's still comfortable for you, four months is the cut-off for lying on your back.

Happily, many spas now have custom tables to accommodate second- and third-trimester women who want to unwind. And though some spas boast "pregnancy massages," Reinhold says no special technique is called for, but concedes that it's probably a good marketing idea. "Pregnant women," she observes, " are probably more in need of a massage."

As for the products used for wraps and facials, scented lotions and creams -- as long as they don't make you queasy -- are fine. Just avoid the same substances you do at home, including retinal products and salicylic acid.

Lastly, Reinhold stresses that your hair-care routine is one thing pregnancy need not affect. "There's been a long-term myth that you can't color your hair," she says. "That's perfectly safe." So while highballs are out, the highlights can stay. 

-- CM

Share this story: