X-Treme Pampering

Adventures in Spa Treatments

By Christopher Werner and Laura Dannen November 7, 2010 Published in the December 2010 issue of Seattle Met

Spaventures for Her
I’ve only been to a spa once—it’s fair to say I’m a spa wimp. I used to blame my fear of being touched, but that’s a lie, since I hug strangers. Maybe I’m just a giant wuss who’s afraid of pain—you know, when a tiny lady contorts your limbs during a Thai massage, or a matron with a massive bust kneads your back tissue like a piece of dough. (Are we talking about getting a massage or making pizza?) It could have something to do with the…goo. Lotions, serums, masks, mud—slathered all over your body, so you, too, can be gooey. Like a melted caramel. Mmm, caramel. Maybe that’s why I decided to start with a hot cocoa massage: Because the way to a girl’s back is through her stomach.
—Laura Dannen

CLOSED: Sugar High
Hot Cocoa Massage

“Take threeee deeeep breaths,” said Steve the masseur in his Colorado ski-bum drawl. He stuck his hands under my face and I proceeded to get high on cocoa oil before he slathered it all over my back. The not-too-sweet stimulant was full of antioxidants and endorphin boosters and calming properties. I smelled like Easter, and I liked it.

Steve slowly rocked me back and forth, like a dinghy caught in a motorboat’s wake, then used long, broad strokes up and down my back. “That’s Swedish,” he said softly. “Now a little shiatsu.” Yowww. Pressure points located. He pushed gently but firmly with his fingertips—first the trapezius (That muscle beneath my shoulder blade? It has a name, and it hurts), then my lower back and glutes. Who knew how tense glutes could get? Apparently all my stress heads south—it’s literally a pain in my ass.

But the knots were gone in 15 minutes, and after that it was hot cocoa time. I turned onto my back and he draped a small towel with a hint of cocoa oil on my face. It might as well have been ether, because I was out of it—lost in a haze beneath a pile of warm white blankets. I vaguely remember talking to Steve about his rock band (Goose Vulture? Gob Noblin?) as he slid hot basalt stones up and down my legs. When he performed a little reflexology magic on my feet, massaging my meridian points, my head twitched and my stomach growled. My liver probably rotated 90 degrees, too.

It all ended too soon. Looking through bleary eyes at the cocoa-brown walls, I couldn’t help thinking that I had just gotten a massage on top of a marshmallow.

“How do you feel?” Steve cooed.

“I feel… great. Relaxed. Like I need someone to drive me home.”

MAXIMUM STRENGTH Hot cocoa massage, $100 for 60 minutes
EASY WAY OUT Spa Scotta customized massage, $100
Spa Scotta, 4915 25th Ave NE, University District, 206-522-5800;

Wrinkle Blast
Oxyjet Facial

I shouldn’t have watched that ­YouTube video of Oxyjet before my treatment. I just couldn’t shake the image of someone vacuuming and spraying my face—like I was going to go through a car wash.

Though it’s technically a “medical-grade” procedure, Oxyjet makes for a gentle first facial—noninvasive, nonacidic. Just a pressurized oxygen spray, like someone’s blowing on your cheeks with her antioxidant- and collagen-rich breath. It felt great, but I kept thinking about little collagen drones being injected into my pores and couldn’t unclench my fists.

Heather, in her lab coat and purple rubber gloves, pulled the high-beam dentist’s light over my face and rubbed gently with cleansing milk. Next came the enzyme gommage peel—Peel? Did she say peel?—which effectively “erases your face,” she said, ridding the skin of dead cells and drawing out proteins from below the surface. All the while, the Oxyjet machine wheezed like a respirator. Heather rubbed something wet and cool on my face. “What’s that?” I cracked. “Water,” she replied patiently. Oh.

Oxyjet, Heather says, is popular with the Hollywood set (“they have lots of procedures,” and this helps the healing process). So… what would Heidi Montag do? She’d breathe normally as the nice lady sprayed a cool, light mist of oxygen over her face, and not wince with every puff of O2 into her target areas (in my case, the worry lines in my forehead).

“Don’t worry—I’ve worked with a lot of virgins,” said Heather, as I apologized for the third (fourth?) time for twitching. The Oxyjet treatment itself was brief and followed by an Egyptian mud clay mask with a tingly hint of citrus and a round of moisturizer. When all was said and done, the lines around my eyes and mouth had receded noticeably. But those worry lines? As long as my imagination is intact, they may never go away.

MAXIMUM STRENGTH Oxyjet facial, $145 for 45 minutes
EASY WAY OUT Organic green facial with stone crop mask, $100
Northwest Face Spa at the Woodmark, 1200 Carillon Pt, Kirkland, 425-803-9000;

Double Shot, No Whip
Northwest Coffee Exfoliation

I’m an ad for Seattle: driving along I-90, admiring the changing leaves as I listened to KEXP and sipped a Starbucks latte. But it takes true dedication to the Northwest aesthetic to allow someone to scrub your body with ground coffee. Thankfully, my caffeine cleanse took place in the idyllic setting of Salish Spa, perched above Snoqualmie Falls, with complimentary soaking pools begging for honeymooners.

But I was here on business. It was dead-skin-cell-eradication time. According to my body therapist, Kammin, I’d chosen a treatment popular with men (coffee, apparently, sounds more manly than green tea or rosemary with mint). But do men cringe like frightened puppies when a mixture of Dead Sea salt and ground coffee extract is rubbed all over their legs? I asked Kammin to dilute the combination a bit (reminder: I’m a wuss), and then settled into my first exfoliation—which started to feel less and less like being dragged across the beach, and more and more rejuvenating.

“Your skin is pretty dehydrated,” Kammin said, working on my back. I was embarrassed to tell her about the three glasses of wine I had the night before and the latte I chugged right before my appointment. The mixture is ever-so-slightly caffeinated; regular coffee drinkers wouldn’t even notice. (“It’s not Starbucks,” she says, “just coffea arabica.”) Plus, it smelled like mint. After a quick belly scrub, Kammin sent me to the showers to rinse off, then finished with a soothing lotion of jasmine and shea butter.

My skin was glowing and smooth afterward—I kept offering my arm to people at work to pet. And to top it off, Salish offered… a complimentary Starbucks latte.

MAXIMUM STRENGTH Northwest coffee exfoliation, $125 for 50 minutes
EASY WAY OUT Salish signature rosemary and mint body scrub, $115
Salish Lodge and Spa, 6501 Railroad Ave SE, Snoqualmie, 425-888-2556;

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Spaventures for Him
Day Four of the spa hop and there I was, wearing clunky Tretorns, mud-stained chinos, and a drab-dowdy rain jacket. My face was stubble-ridden, my hair greased-out after a particularly blustery afternoon. If I failed to fit the bill of the spa regular, it’s because I’m anything but a spa regular—ask me what it means to indulge and you get “port with dessert” for an answer. Yet, I’ll admit it—once I swapped my everyday garb for plush robes and stopped to smell the incense, I hung up my idea of indulgence, and my inhibitions, with surprising ease. And the concerns about dinging my dudeness? They, too, got left in the locker, right alongside the rain boots. —Christopher Werner


Macho Face-Off
Urban Man Facial

I’d had a facial before. It left me and my nose—which, I’ll admit, had been a checkerboard of clogged pores—officially facial-phobic. So when the time came for what’s euphemistically called “deep pore cleansing” (aka zit zapping) at Elaia Spa, I squirmed.

Granted, it was hard to get too worked up when half an hour earlier I was lounging poolside in a room with 15-foot windows that overlook downtown. And then getting rubbed down with organic succulent-­plant gel while a steady stream of steam turned my face to putty. But still.

I asked Sayaka how she planned to shine up my schnoz. Using a microscope that hovered overhead, she explained, she’d zero in on impurities then, with a looped thread, gently coax them free. If her hand here is nearly as nimble as when she applied the almond-mineral Hungarian mud mask, I convinced myself, I could put up with the plucks. Turns out, no convincing necessary. The whole thing tickled—tickled!—as if a sprightly tap dancer had taken my sniffer for his stage. Phew.

If anything got a reaction out of me, it was when Sayaka went south and pummeled my feet. Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly welcomed the interlude. Especially when followed by a 10-minute, drool-inducing, cucumber mint lather of the shoulders, head, and chest. It’s just that I’m as ticklish as a hyperactive six-year-old. But hey, if I could overcome my facial-phobia, maybe I should’ve stuck around for a pedicure.

MAXIMUM STRENGTH Urban Man facial, $120 for 60 minutes
EASY WAY OUT Gentle Touch facial, $120
Elaia Spa at Hyatt at Olive 8, 1635 Eighth Ave, Downtown, 206-676-4500;

Knots to Noodle
Cranial Sacral Therapy

My upper vertebrae were popping like bottle rockets as my right shoulder got steamrolled by a deceptively gentle hand, a WMD to the stubborn, gnarled nest of tension surrounding the blade. “How’s the pressure?” inquired my masseur Trevor.

About that. I should note cranial sacral therapy traditionally employs a light touch. So light, the pressure is no more than the weight of a nickel. Practitioners canvas the body, their hands so attuned to its rhythms they can sense, then correct, congestion or imbalance. What benefits is the craniosacral system, which surrounds the brain and spinal cord and is central to physiological well being.

I, however, was gimpy from a five-mile run the night before, so I requested a firmer massage. What I got was a hard-soft mix, some moments more the former (recall the steamrolled shoulder) than the latter. Each swoop of Trevor’s hand—starting at the base of my spine, then inching upward—pulled in misaligned muscles like a magnet. Stopping along the way to target the money spots, he’d apply a pressure that electrified my body with cathartic release. It left me hopelessly limp and limber, if not a little stoned, within 15 minutes.

Trevor devoted a good chunk of time to my right shoulder—a mess of stress and poor posture, a gold mine for his sacral senses. Then he went after my legs, lifting them skyward one at a time, pushing my knee inward and so far to the side I nearly fell off the bed. But Trevor grabbed me at the last minute, swiftly pinning the opposite shoulder and twisting me into a human crossbow. So this is what it’s like to have yoga done to me. I could’ve stayed that way awhile, like a pretzel sprinkled with euphoric salts, but my 60 minutes were up.

MAXIMUM STRENGTH Cranial sacral therapy, $125 for 60 minutes
EASY WAY OUT Performance sports massage, $130
Vida Spa, 900 Lenora St, Ste 220, South Lake Union, 206-264-8432;

Knead the Nerd
Wi-Fi Massage

Robe and slippers on, chilled lemon water in hand, I glanced toward the TV in the men’s lounge at the spa at Bellevue’s Pro Sports Club and caught what has to be the antithesis of relaxation: Glenn Beck, gesticulating away. Earlier, in the downstairs locker room, there was Wolf Blitzer. Pleeeease don’t allow a talking head into the massage room, I prayed.

Fortunately, the only head that did any talking belonged to my masseuse, Crystal, who in 30 minutes soothed my ergonomically wrecked, hunched-over upper body. I was here to temper what plugged-in parlance calls “mouse arm,” the geek’s answer to tennis elbow: a shoulder that sags under too many page views, a cranky forearm, a knobby curl of fingers.

Geez, you are tense,” Crystal observed as she started the computer cleanse. First came a circular rubdown of my upper chest, then a staccato shoulder-to-forearm massage, sending any carpal cramps out the door. There was a minimum of slip-slidey oil, which allowed Crystal to firmly grip my fingers and—crack, crack—straighten weeks’ worth of cramped mouse clicking. Next up: the neck, palpably swelling with stress, which Crystal pulverized away. Then, uh-oh. (I lied; my whole body’s fair tickle territory.) Starting at my Adam’s apple, Crystal inched her way around my neck with both hands. She’d pinch and I’d flinch.

Tickle number two came while facedown: Crystal dug her fingers into my armpit (oh!), while rubbing my tensed-up shoulders with her free hand. The payoff: a knot-free upper back, well worth the embarrassing startled response.

I left the session toasted—thanks to the robe that had been warmed in the meantime—and more importantly, fresh-faced and ready for the wide world of Becks and Blitzers.

MAXIMUM STRENGTH Wi-Fi massage, $65 members; $75 nonmembers for 30 minutes
EASY WAY OUT Personalized massage, $115 members; $125 nonmembers
The Spa at Pro Sports Club, 4455 148th Ave NE, Bellevue, 425-895-6565;

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