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THE STYLE FILES / Special Fashion Issue : The Pleasures : Day Tripping : An abbreviated spa experience takes less time and money

March 18, 1994|CINDY LaFAVRE YORKS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After days of pounding my bones and muscles on the snow-dusted slopes of Vail, my body and mind were ready for serious pampering. So I decided to trade in moguls for mud masks and other hedonistic pleasures.

Day spas feature an abbreviated spa experience. The best of the lot offer the same services as resort-caliber spas. And because time commitment is shorter, cash layout is a lot less.

At five spas from Encino to Laguna Niguel, four- to five-hour packages (including lunch) range from $185 to $491. But an investment of one hour and $85 affords a mini spa experience that is both soothing and energizing.

Fair warning, though: Being pampered can be habit-forming. Start saving now.

AMADEUS SPA SALON

First stop is the Amadeus Spa Salon, adjacent to the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel in Pasadena. On arrival, I'm given a cappuccino, thongs and the requisite white terry-cloth robe. My afternoon begins with the Spa Facial. Esthetician Sally Pierson begins the treatment by ushering my hands, one at a time, into a vat of warm, melted wax. Although the idea is unnerving at first, it feels nice. My coated hands are then topped with plastic and slipped into heated mitts.

Pierson leads me into a private room dimly lit with a scented aromatherapy candle. She cleanses my face twice, steams it with a stationary wand-type instrument and then inspects it under the overhead light. Pierson applies several preparations from the Dermalogica line, some designed to exfoliate, others designed to calm.

Then come the extractions--the most unpleasant part of the treatment--squeezing clogged pores until they come clean. I endure it. Soon it's over, and the soothing facial massage begins. A masque follows. My skin feels soft.

I move to a tiled wet room where esthetician Ingrid Marone Thompson gives me a modesty towel--a sort of expanded fig leaf--and I lie face down on the table. She gives my body the once-over with a dry brush. This is supposed to stimulate the lymphatic system, which will be cleansed during the upcoming hydrotherapy.

A scrub with loofah mitts feels surprisingly nice. But what follows is the nicest of all: Thompson centers a large overhead pipe fitted with five shower heads--called a Vichy shower--over my head and turns it on.

Massage therapist Ron Smith then leads me into a room filled with candlelight and the music of Enya. This massage proves to be the most relaxing of the half a dozen I eventually sample. As he firmly presses with his palms against my flesh, my tight muscles vibrate with such an intensity I wonder if he uses a machine (he doesn't) and if his talent attracts groupies (it does). After 90 blissful minutes, I shuffle off to the hydrotherapy tub.

Hydrotherapy, I am told, increases blood circulation, reduces fluid retention and eliminates toxins. Sixty water and air jets target areas such as lumbar and spinal column, waist, hips, arms and legs. Essential oils, French seawater and seaweed compounds are mixed with good old H2O. After climbing in, I relax and sip water while Smith massages my neck.

Smith then takes a water wand and runs it over the lymph node areas of the body to purify the body of toxins. Afterward, I relax alone for a few minutes and am again rinsed off with the shower system.

For the finale, Smith rubs eucalyptus oil into my body, invigorating me for the drive home.

Total cost of treatment: $285

Ambience: Good

Service: Excellent

BELLEZZA SALON / DAY SPA

Bellezza Salon / Day Spa in Laguna Niguel, publishes a 30-page brochure (including ads) that is tempting on several counts. I decide to try the Seaweed Body Treatment.

In the women's changing room--outfitted with wet and dry sauna and Swiss-style shower--I slip into a terry wrap, matching robe and plastic thongs. I relax in the steam room for as long as I can stand it.

Robin Stout leads me to a chair near the water treatment room. While she's busy with last-minute preparations, I peek into the other treatment rooms. In one is a hydrotherapy tub. The massage rooms contain illuminated plants and aromatic candles. The wet room--where I'm headed--is lined from ceiling to floor with spotless tiles.

Ten minutes later, Stout ushers me into the wet room, now dimly lit by three candles. I lie down on a table outfitted with a heating element and lined with a special type of Mylar. First, Stout applies toning and mineral ointments. Then she slathers me with a seaweed mixture that has been warmed to just above body temperature. It is soothing and fresh-smelling.

Once I'm coated, she wraps the Mylar around me, followed by a body-sized heating pad. Yet another cover tops the many layers. I'm brought a glass of juice with a straw--a final beverage for a woman about to be mummified. In case of fire, will Stout save me? She nods and laughs, leaving me to cook under the pads. I feel a bit like a pig-in-a-blanket.

Once I'm nice and toasty, it's time to rinse off in the shower. I slip on my robe and head for the dry sauna while Stout prepares for the second half of the wrap.

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