Lush smells, comfy semi-dark rooms and a sense of self-indulgence make a spa treatment appealing. But here are three treatments that aim to do more than merely pamper.
Hot oil and needles
If acupuncture seems more doctor's office than salon, perhaps it might sound more appealing if combined with a hot oil treatment. That's what you get under the care of Elisa Angelone at the Exhale spa in Santa Monica's Fairmont Miramar Hotel.
I have had acupuncture treatments for headaches and other issues in various settings, including sitting on a doctor's stool in a brightly lighted office. This is not that. The treatment room and the locker room (with sauna) are luxury level. Angelone, a licensed acupuncturist, works in the Japanese tradition. By palpating various stress spots in my abdomen, she found what she called blockages and then inserted the needles in corresponding spots to release them. Our bodies detoxify themselves naturally, Angelone says. But, she adds, our diets and environment can make our system "a little sluggish," and the treatment aims to be a reboot.
That was followed by an otherworldly warm oil abdominal massage. Angelone was very gentle, and I felt great as I left, great enough to traverse the evening rush hour without losing my relaxed posture.
Angelone says many people associate acupuncture with medicinal uses or discomfort but ought to consider it more for relaxation.
Acupuncture/Acu-Organ Detox, 60 minutes, $150
Exhale, Fairmont Miramar Hotel, 101 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 319-3193; http://www.exhalespa.com
Urban sweat lodge
Sweat is a good thing. It feels great when you work out, both physically and emotionally, because it's a sign of effort. But what about a chic sweat lodge?
Shape House opened less than a year ago in a cute little house in the Larchmont neighborhood. Inside, it's peaceful and spa-like. For $45 (less expensive packages are also available), a customer can lie down in an infrared-heated sleeping bag on a bed surrounded by curtains. Within the bag are ceramic plates heated to about 160 degrees that warm the bag and you, says owner Sophie Chiche.
It takes a while to start really sweating; at first, it's just a warm and cozy sensation. But later, when an attendant brings a eucalyptus-scented cold towel for my face, it is most welcome. There's water at my side, a TV to watch with headphones and near darkness all around. Unlike with a sauna, my head is outside the bag. An hour later I get up, drenched in sweat — about the way I feel after a five-mile run.
Shape House calls sweating "a bit of a miracle cure" that helps lower stress and detoxify the body, among many other benefits. Chiche, who's French, says the infrared heat technique is more common in Europe, and that it helped her lose more than 100 pounds. As for me, my skin felt delightfully soft after one hour.
Session, 60 minutes, $45
Shape House, 434 N. Larchmont Blvd., L.A.; (855) 567-2346; http://www.shapehousela.com. (A waiver tells people who cannot sweat or who have some other issues to avoid the practice.)
Keeping a youthful glow
My facial skin-care routine is about as minimal as it gets: a gentle cleanser and a tinted sunscreen. So I'm always a little startled by all that goes into a professional facial. And even more so now that I've come to the stage where I get the facial for mature skin.
At Dtox spa, a cozy day spa in Atwater Village, my face gets 14 products in 80 minutes, starting with an orange souffle cleanser and ending with the use of an eye serum applied with a Clarisonic Opal Eye vibrating wand to maximize absorption.
In between, sitting under a steam machine to soften my skin, aesthetician Christopher Watt applies creams and masks and even a current to my face, intended to tighten, tone and uplift the skin. That includes an exfoliation and a glycolic resurfacing. Watt also uses the NuFace device, which sends a tiny electrical current — painlessly — into the skin in an effort to reduce lines and wrinkles.
Later, while a mask is doing its work, I receive a terrific hand and arm hot-stone massage that seems like a great bonus. When I leave, my skin is soft, and my face looks healthy and is actually glowing. Too bad I have nowhere special to go!
The spa has a pleasant room for waiting or reading, with tea and snacks. Clients are welcome to come early or stay afterward to use the sauna and steam room.
Anti-Aging Facial, $160
Dtox Day Spa, 3206 Los Feliz Blvd., L.A.; (323) 665-3869; http://www.dtoxdayspa.com