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You're Invited to . . . a Spa

November 20, 1998|KATHRYN BOLD

Have you ever resisted a potentially intimidating situation because you didn't know what to wear, say or do? Here's help.

What's up?: The continued push to be physically fit, combined with beefed-up workloads, has spawned a new trend--power relaxation--say social sentinels.

The Bellezza Salon/Day Spa in Laguna Niguel has seen a 20% increase in clients in the last year.

Some people seek alternative health treatments to ease tension in tight shoulders and stiff necks. Weekend warriors ask for sports massages to heal strained muscles. Many seek spa treatments for skin care, indulging in glycolic peels, facials and exfoliating scrubs to reduce stress pimples. Some overworked executives are rewarded by their managers with spa days.

Initial intimidation factor: High. Some people avoid spas because they associate them with massage parlors or are put off by the aura of exclusivity. Many simply fear the unknown.

Still, with growing awareness of the mind-body connection and the mental and physical benefits of spa treatments, more people are overcoming their anxieties and taking the spa plunge. Often someone is pushed into the pool by receiving a spa gift certificate.

What's to like: Soothing Italian mud treatments, whirlpool foot baths and other stress busters.

Some day spas have luxuries such as whirlpool baths, saunas, steam rooms, private showers and vanities well-stocked with body and hair products.

A Bellezza guest may wander the marble floors, past Grecian columns, to a private room for immersion in the hydrotherapy tub, where a therapist administers an underwater massage. Or relax under the slow, steady rain of mineral water in a Vichy shower.

The Spa at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa has a lap pool and a workout room that includes stationary bikes and weights.

What to wear: The question on the minds of most first-time spa users has nothing to do with salt glows or algae wraps. Most newcomers' initial query is of a more practical nature: "Do I have to walk around naked?"

Well, you can; however, most guests use the robes provided.

Shy types don't have to disrobe for a massage, but most people do. Massage therapists have been trained to keep clients professionally draped so most of the body is under wraps at all times. Private areas aren't exposed.

Spa guests should arrive dressed comfortably, such as in cotton T's and sweatpants, with a change of underwear for after the end-of-the-day shower.

Anyone splurging on a pedicure needs open-toe shoes to avoid smudging the polish.

Co-ed considerations: Spas have separate locker rooms for men and women. Massage rooms are private. When making an appointment, one may specify a masseur or a masseuse.

Step one: Make an appointment.

On arrival, guests receive a robe, sandals and locker for changing and are escorted to a treatment room.

Massage therapists at the Spa begin each session by obtaining a brief medical history from the guest, outlining aches and pains. They knead sore leg muscles and stiff necks until one can feel almost weightless.

What it may cost--timewise and dollarwise: Day spa escapes last anywhere from 20 minutes to a full day.

A 50-minute massage costs about $80. Choices at the Spa include a relaxing Swedish massage, a sports massage (a more rigorous option involving compressions and stretches), aromatherapy massage using eucalyptus and other calming oils, Japanese acupressure or Shiatsu, and a gentle pregnancy massage.

The top-of-the-line treatment at Belle Daphne in Yorba Linda is a full-body "facial" for $170. In two hours, the entire body undergoes a gentle scrub with a luffa, a Swedish massage and a moisturizing wrap.

"It all leaves the skin very silky at the end," says owner Sylva Minassian.

At the Spa, a Nirvana is two hours of pampering that includes a full-body herbal treatment and Shirodhara therapy, in which warm oil is slowly dropped on the center of the forehead to relax the nervous system.

Services are sold individually or in packages.

What you'll hear: The lingo can be complex to nail down, because amenities vary by spa.

The basics:

"Spa means 'wet treatments,' such as a Vichy shower or mud treatments. It's not just a facial and massage room," says Paul DeSan, owner of Bellezza.

The most popular treatments:

* Aromatherapy: Natural plant oils are rubbed on the skin.

* Body scrubs: Rock salts and other natural products are used.

* Facials: Skin is cleansed, massaged and moisturized.

* Herbal wraps: Skin is wrapped in cloths soaked in aromatic essences.

* Reflexology: A foot massage.

Taking a break: In between spa treatments, guests rest in the locker room lounge, wearing their comfy robe and slippers.

The best spas have a host of amenities that add to the feeling of indulgence. There's a towering copper cappuccino maker at Bellezza, big bowls of fresh fruit and comfortable easy chairs in the lounge at the Spa, hot tea and the sound of New Age music or birds and waterfalls at Belle Daphne--all of which makes leaving the spa difficult.

"It's away from your home, office or car, where nobody judges you," says Belle Daphne's Minassian. "People tell us they resent going back to reality."

Avoid the rush: Saturdays are the busiest days.

Summer is busy at spas, with brides and grooms treat their wedding parties and themselves to massages, make-overs and other services to calm prenuptial jitters.

Bon mot to drop: Herodotus (c. 485-425 BC) said, "If a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it."

* Do you know of a situation you'd like us to explore? Write to Southern California Living, The Times Orange County, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626. Fax: (714) 966-7790. E-mail: socalliv@latimes.com

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