We've been on a quest throughout history for places that offer restorative powers. From Roman baths to hot springs and even the proverbial fountain of youth, we've always sought the ultimate source of rejuvenation. Today, spas and salons are where we go to ease our tensions and hopefully emerge fresher and feeling younger. But do the myriad treatments really work? We set out to uncover some of the more unusual "spa miracles" in the area and discovered plenty to intrigue and delight us. From 24-karat gold facials that Cleopatra would have loved to infrared lights that annihilate sunspots, we found that spas and salons are reaching back into the ancient past and forward into the technological frontier to help us find our most improved selves. We give you an overview of some of the treatments. Check with your local salon to see if it does these procedures, too.
Yam-and-Pumpkin Enzyme Peel
Where it's done K. Co. Design Salon and Day Spa, 6080 Falls Rd., 410-377-7727, kcodesign.com.
How it's done Everything used in this treatment is organic and smells great. Aesthetician Leah Pelovitz starts with a sweet red-rose cleanser to clean your face, then follows with a pear-and-poppy-seed microderm polisher. A tiny roller helps prevent breakouts—which can sometimes occur after facials—by using electrotherapy to clean your pores. Then, the yam-and-pumpkin enzyme peel makes your face tingle while Pelovitz massages your neck, arms, and hands.
What it costs $100 or $400 for a series of five treatments.
Does it work? "My skin felt really healthy. It had a nice glow," says Grace Wagner of Baltimore, who had the yam-and-pumpkin peel to celebrate her 40th birthday. "It was really gentle, and I never had a breakout."
Where it's done East-West Healing Arts, 1321 Generals Hwy., Suite 203, Crownsville, 410-923-0090, eastwesthealingarts.com.
How it's done If you've considered subjecting yourself to a needle full of Botox for an aesthetic boost, then you probably wouldn't shy away from outlining your frown lines and jowls with a series of thin acupuncture needles. Registered nurse and acupuncturist Megan Gordon-Hall says facial rejuvenation acupuncture can reduce facial lines and improve skin tone. But her full-body, holistic approach goes deeper. During an hour-and-a-half consultation, she examines your color, sound, emotion, and odor (she sniffs the back of your neck and looks at your tongue). "I'm making a determination about what underlying pathology there might be that has contributed to their facial imbalances," she says. "In Chinese medicine, the face is a reflection of the internal space."
What it costs $125.
Does it work? Louise Waynant, a Bowie grandmother of two, says she uses acupuncture instead of face creams because acupuncture doesn't irritate her sensitive skin and it helps her with her digestive conditions. She says the treatment she has done on her face doesn't hurt. "It feels like little needles," she says. After the treatment (which she does monthly), "There's the appearance of being in good health, being rested," she says.
Where it's done Wraptured, 921 E. Fort Ave., in Studio 921 Salon & Day Spa, Federal Hill, wraptured.net.
How it's done You wear a body stocking for this cellulite-targeting treatment. The technician directs a device that uses suction to manipulate and break up your cellulite. Then, you drink a lot of water to flush the waste from your body. "It feels like a deep, therapeutic massage, but it goes deeper than the hands can go," says Wraptured owner Kathy Hill, who adds that the treatment increases blood flow and relieves sore muscles.
What it costs $150.
Does it work? Danielle Munoz of Baltimore is a petite woman who could always slip into a size 4. But she battles cellulite all the same. "I gain all my weight in my legs and hips," says Munoz, 29. "The lipomassage has helped so much." The treatment is relaxing, she says, but she has to repeat it regularly to maintain the results. It's worth it, she claims. She now wears a smaller size, and her co-workers have noticed that her legs are thinner. "It's a big difference," she maintains.
Where it's done Mt. Washington Spa, 1600 Kelly Ave., 410-664-3400, mwspa.com.
How it's done This treatment is one that will surely satisfy the senses regardless of what it does for the skin. The warm chocolate mask laid over the skin is meant to draw toxins out of the skin and soothe aching muscles.
What it costs $125.
Does it work? Honestly, not as well as some other treatments, says salon owner Vesna Stojanovic. "With chocolate, you just feel good. I didn't see too much change in the skin."
Human Hair Extensions
Where it's done Morgan Gerard, 101 Annapolis St., Annapolis, 410-263-1812, morgangerard.com.
How it's done The hair that stylist David Ott uses in his human-hair extensions comes from a temple in India, where women braid their long hair, then cut it off as a sacrifice. Since it comes in a braid, the hair cuticle is facing the same direction, which Ott says helps prevent tangling—a key to maintaining a good-looking head of hair extensions. The hair comes in a range of colors, textures, and lengths, and is applied in small groups of 80 to 100 strands at a time with a special adhesive that can withstand swimming, curling, and coloring. The application process can take as long as eight to 10 hours. "Come with nothing else planned that day," says Ott. To maintain the hair, you must use a brush that has retractable bristles that glide gently over the bonds two or three times a day and special shampoos. The extensions last four to six months.
What it costs $1,500 for an application of a full head of extensions plus the cost of the hair, which can run $800 more.
Does it work? The long, blond hair extensions that fall to the middle of Kimberlee Neuman's back were the 26-year-old's breakup present to herself. "It's one of those guilty indulgences," says the Bowie resident, who has maintained the cascading locks for five months.
Where it's done L&N Nails and Tanning, 1411 B Merritt Blvd., Dundalk, 410-282-9211.
How it's done When John Ho brought tiny garra rufa fish to nibble the dead skin off clients' feet at his Alexandria, Virginia, salon, he found it was a tough sell. Then, he let customers stick their hands in a tank of fish to test it out. Soon, they were willing to dip their toes in a basin full of the fish. The procedure originated in Turkey as a full-body exfoliation to treat skin conditions in the 1800s. Ho decided to use the garra rufa fish just on feet. Now, he has brought the fish to the L&N Nails and Tanning Salon in Dundalk for Baltimoreans to try. As long as you have no abrasions or open wounds, you can spend 15 to 30 minutes in a fish foot bath and follow the treatment with a traditional pedicure.
What it costs $35 for 15 minutes, $40 for 20 minutes, $50 for 30 minutes of fish nibbling; a traditional pedicure is extra.
Does it work? Carolyn White, 61, who was visiting from Alamogordo, New Mexico, heard about Diane Sawyer getting a fish pedicure on Good Morning America and wanted to give it a try. "It kind of feels like little shocks—in a good way. It's very strange because even though [the fish are] on your feet, you can kind of feel it all the way up your leg." She expected the fish to spend most of their time on the hard skin on her big toe, but they surprised her by spending most of their time nibbling under her ankles.
Hydrating Moor Mud Wrap
Where it's done Elizabeth Jacob Spa and Salon, 18821 Frederick Rd., Parkton, 410-357-0833, elizabethjacobspa.com.
How it's done Slathering yourself with mud from Australia is a great way to clear your system of the impurities that can build up after a night of partying or a summer of sun damage, says aesthetician Cara Strzegowski. She recommends starting with a sea-salt scrub to exfoliate. Then, she coats you with oil to make it easier to remove the detoxifying mud. She covers everything except your face in mud and then wraps you in a heating blanket for a half-hour. After you shower off the mud, Strzegowski gives you a light massage with a heavy moisturizing cream. The whole treatment takes about an hour-and-a-half.
What it costs Salt Glow at the Sea, $55; Hydrating Moor Mud Wrap, $129.
Does it work? Stacie Miller of Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, described the mud wrap as very relaxing. "Your skin feels wonderful afterwards," says the 27-year-old, adding that the mud felt cool on her skin until she was wrapped in the heating blanket. "I felt it really cleansed my skin. It made my skin feel really soft."
Where it's done All About Me, 27 W. Chesapeake Ave., Towson, 410-828-8929, allaboutmedayspa.com.
How it's done False eyelashes are so 1960s. These eyelash extensions look and feel like the real thing. Aestheticians get special training in how to apply an adhesive and natural looking extension to each individual eyelash. Clients lay on a massage table with a cooling pad under each eye, which holds the lower lashes out of the way. Most people say they hardly feel a thing during the procedure, which can take up to two hours.
What it costs $250-350, $75 for touch ups.
Does it work? "It's the best investment I've made," says Elena Koniecki, 48, of Bel Air, who gets her lashes done at All About Me. She says breast-cancer treatments left her eyelashes thin and uneven. Now, she says, they look so good she doesn't wear makeup anymore. "I can go swimming, in a steam room, in saunas, and they stay on." Every three to four weeks, she gets a touch up. "You can't feel anything," she says of the application. "The whole process is really relaxing. I fall asleep most of the time. They catch me snoring."
Tiffany Rotan, 25, of Eldersburg, is a Ravens Playmaker, who likes the cosmetic boost she gets from her extensions at All About Me. She's not a cheerleader, but her job involves appearing at Baltimore Ravens promotional events and posing for pictures with fans. "We're supposed to be very glamorous at the games, and instead of wearing false lashes, these save me time and they look better," she says.
Where it's done La Clinica Salon & Day Spa, 1624 York Rd., Timonium, 410-828-7464, laclinicadayspa.com.
How it's done You lay on a table with your head turned to the side, and a candle made of a cone of linen dipped in paraffin wax is placed in your ear and lit at the top. The smoke creates a vacuum in the cone, which sucks debris out of your ear canal. The treatment, which originated with Native American Indians, takes a half hour for both ears.
What it costs $40 for both ears.
Does it work? Aesthetician Megan Dearstine had the procedure done on her own ears and describes the sensation as a slight pressure with some crackling sounds. She recommends the treatment for anyone with chronic problems like sinus infections, ear infections, and headaches—but she urges clients with medical issues to check with their doctors first. "When you're done, your head just feels really clear, almost like you can hear better instantly."
Where it's done Jordan Thomas Salon & Spa, 111 Fulford Ave., Bel Air, 410-879-6600, jordanthomassalonandspa.com.
How it's done If sunspots, broken capillaries, fine lines, and acne are getting in the way of smooth-looking skin, some targeted infrared light might do the trick. At Jordan Thomas, aesthetician Jodi Encapera starts you off with a European facial that includes pore cleansing, exfoliations, extractions, and massage. Then, she holds a small LED infrared light over problem areas on your face for about 30 seconds. The red light increases collagen and elastin production. The blue light targets acne.
What it costs $350 for a series of six treatments.
Does it work? Encapera says dark spots will be lighter, broken capillaries will be diminished, and fine lines will be softer at the end of treatments.
Cinnamon-and-Paprika Cellulite Treatment
Where it's done Spa in the Valley, 118 Shawan Rd., Hunt Valley, 410-771-0200, spainthevalley.com.
How it's done Cinnamon and paprika can do more than simply add flavor. They stimulate heat and circulation, bringing oxygen and blood flow to problem areas and creating a hot, tingling sensation. The cinnamon-and-paprika treatment is applied to clients' cellulite while they are in a capsule (like a tanning bed) that closes over the body—but not the head. The pod allows heat to stimulate the cinnamon and paprika to break down the cellulite, regenerating collagen and burning fat cells. After the heat treatment, clients move to a massage room, where more cinnamon and paprika is worked into their cellulite to break it down further.
What it costs $107.
Does it work? Massage department manager Cheryl Hicks says, "We had an aesthetician who had a series [of treatments], and by the third one, the cellulite was greatly reduced." She says spreading on a little cinnamon and paprika moisturizer before a workout can help use the heat you create with your muscles to go to work on your cellulite.
24-Karat Gold Facial
Where it's done Mt. Washington Spa, 1600 Kelly Ave., 410-664-3400, mwspa.com.
How it's done Perhaps Cleopatra slept in a gold mask every night because she knew that gold helps skin cells rapidly change. "When we get older, our skin cells aren't changing fast enough," says Vesna Stojanovic, owner of the Mt. Washington Spa. When the 24-karat gold is rubbed into your skin, cells rush to the surface to protect the skin from this foreign element, she says. The treatment begins with 15 minutes of massaging creams into the skin to make it moist enough for the gold sheets to stick. Then, a cool steam is applied to help the gold penetrate your skin. Finally, the gold is massaged into your skin until it disappears. "When the gold goes in," says Stojanovic, "it pushes all the toxins out on the surface."
What it costs $275.
Does it work? Attorney Susan R. Green of Worthington Valley won't divulge her age because she says the gold facial treatment and others she gets at Mt. Washington Spa keep her looking younger than she really is. "I have a very stressful business, very demanding on my time. The hour-and-a-half I spend with Vesna—it gives you back a week of your life. You can relax." She says the treatments minimize the appearance of age and wrinkles and keep her skin hydrated and glowing.
Lomi Lomi Polynesian Massage
Where it's done About Faces Day Spa & Salon, 1501 S. Clinton St., 410-675-0099, aboutfacesdayspa.com.
How it's done In ancient Polynesia, a spiritual doctor would perform this type of rhythmic massage to release tension and pain and to connect the body, heart, and soul, says Jill Thomas, who performs a one-and-a-half-hour massage at About Faces. It's a work out for Thomas. "You're moving with the music, doing a lot of lunging, squatting, and bending," she says. Clients enjoy the sensation of rocking while Thomas moves clockwise around their body, working her knuckles into joints to stimulate detoxification, relaxation, and to increase digestion.
What it costs $150.
Does it work? Carol Dunaway's usual massage is the kind of hurts-so-good manipulation that releases golf-ball-sized tensions from her back, she says. But at Thomas's urging, she gave the Lomi Lomi a try. She found it much more relaxing than her usual massage. "She moves your body back and forth," says Dunaway, 52, of Bel Air. "I have a boat, and it reminds me of that rocking."