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The cost of ... a day at the spa

Does your mother need a vacation? Does she have to hide in the basement under a blanket just to get a moment of peace from you people? Or, is she simply a good momma who deserves a special treat? Don't send her off on an all-expense-paid trip to Hawaii just yet. She can get all the recharging she needs from a day at the spa and you won't need to take out a personal loan to foot the bill.

There are dozens of services to choose from at hundreds of spas, and the procedures are meant to relax and rejuvenate body and mind. Your dear mother will come back a different person and you'll be a hero for treating her to a day of pampering.

Say what?
Although words such as acupuncture, aromatherapy and massage are common enough, much of the terminology of spa life sounds foreign to neophytes. For instance, what are algotherapy, gommage and mandi susu?

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Glad you asked:

  • Algotherapy: The "Algo" part of the word comes from algae -- it's therapy using seaweed wraps.
  • Gommage: A French term (pronounced "go-maaahj") that refers to a building cleaning method that employs fine powders sprayed via a low-pressure compressed air stream. In the spa world, however, don't expect to have your facade blasted like an old French museum. The fine powders may be rubbed in with a cream.
  • Mandi susu: Literally, "milk bath" in the Indonesian language. Milk baths have long been used as a skin-softening technique. This Indonesian version can employ a variety of pleasant milky baths and creams.
  • Where do I sign up?
    If you are looking for a day spa, check the Web site of SpaWish.com, which lists facilities that participate in its gift certificate program. In many cases, the SpaWish site links to the Web sites of the individual spas -- a good way to get a feel for a place before you send Mom.

    You also might check the list of spas accredited by the Day Spa Association. The association posts the list on its site, along with the criteria used to determine whether applicants measure up to the association's standards.

    "Participation in the association's accreditation program is voluntary. That leaves a lot of spas out who may not have the budget to apply for this rigid and somewhat costly process," says Hannelore R. Leavy, the executive director of Day Spa Association.

    "However, it does distinguish the true day spa from the salons offering spa services. Just because a facility has added the words 'day spa' to its name, does not make it a true day spa and it is therefore confusing to the consumer as to what a day spa should really be. You can view our guidelines on our Web site," Leavy adds.

    In visiting a facility, she says, use your instincts and common sense and look for the "Day Spa Association Member" emblem affixed to the facilities' door or window.

    To be accredited, a spa must have business licenses and employ professional and licensed estheticians and therapists.

    Hey, big spender
    The Day Spa Association recommends a tip of 10 percent to 15 percent of the final tab and says spas usually provide a gratuity envelope at the front desk that mom can fill and mark with the therapist's name as she checks in. It's hard to carry cash around while you're wrapped in a towel. If you're giving spa services as a gift, you may want to keep the tipping aspect in mind so mom isn't embarrassed or unprepared if she's a newbie to the process.

    Spa etiquette also includes undressing fully if you have requested body services, the association says. The therapist will keep you draped, only exposing the area being worked on. It is accepted to leave on underwear, some spas will provide you with disposables as well.

    Cutting corners
    Obviously, you don't want to try to save money with the gratuities and you don't want to make your mother look like a cheapskate, especially if the service was exceptional, but Leavy says there are other ways to cut costs.

    Spas in resort hotels and the like tend to charge more than independent spas in small shopping centers or free-standing buildings. Many spas post prices on their Web sites, so you can shop for price before you make the first phone call.

    It also can pay to buy a package of services, or a series of treatments over four to six weeks.

    "But, remember, spa treatments are essential in today's fast-paced lifestyle to keep your mother healthy and feeling great!" Leavy says.

    Sample pricing information for day spas
    Inclusion in this list is not meant to endorse any particular spa, but simply to give consumers an idea of availability and costs. The prices, culled from the spas' Web sites, can change at any time. Visit the Web sites for a more complete description of services.

    Spa name
    Saratoga, Calif. (south of San Francisco)
    45-minute Harmonie signature massage
    Body Sculpting Envelopment
    Viva Glow Full Body Exfoliation
    Blairstown, N.J.
    Cleopatra's skin secrets
    Tibetan renewal
    Lava foot renewal
    Aurora, Ohio
    60-minute glacial clay body mask
    60-minute sports pedicure therapy
    Tub, Rub and Pub
    Spa Therapy and
    Pub Dinner
    Overland Park, Kansas
    45-minute massage and masque facial
    75-minute seaweed body wrap
    75-minute ginseng foot rejuvenator


    Sheyna Steiner contributed to this story..

    -- Updated: May 5, 2006



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