Most spa clients appreciate the quality and cache of designer purses, shoes and clothing. So it's not surprising that this same clientele is often intrigued by designer facials—those signature treatments at high-profile spas that not only offer effective elements that result in healthy, luminous skin, but also boast a clever name, marketing hook and a long list of celebrity devotees. We call these iconic treatments "cult facials." But you don't have to have a Beverly Hills address (nor the prices to match) to develop your own unique skincare treatments. Here's an insider's look at what these cult facials offer, and some expert strategies for capitalizing on their unique "hooks" and creating signature, headline-making services at your own day spa. —Alison Singh Gee
The Hollywood buzz about Arcona's Signature Facial Contouring (50 min./$85) at The Arcona Studio in Los Angeles is that it's like a getting nonsurgical facelift—no knives involved. The signature technique uses Swedish massage on the cheekbones, jawline and forehead. It's described on the Arcona spa menu as a "deep muscle facial massage that incorporates acupressure and lymph drainage to provide a great antidote to gravity and a viable alternative to facial surgery." Arcona products draw on naturally active ingredients such as grape seed extract, and the likes of Diane Lane, Natalie Portman and Katherine Hegel have been known to book treatments prior to red-carpet fêtes to achieve the lift, hydration and freshness that the camera loves.
"The brilliance behind this facial is the massage," says Cecily Braden, spa menu consultant and owner of Beauty Secrets. "Many facial protocols do not afford the time to offer a proper facial massage, even though it's usually clients' favorite part, plus stimulating facial 'muscle memory' does wonders to provide natural lift and contour."
Braden adds, "The good news is that simply by refining your estheticians' facial massage skills, you can offer your clients a non-surgical face lift that also utilizes your current products. Try creating a facial that uses products that support your lift, contour and lymphatic drainage massage techniques."
The "indigenous treatment" trend is currently hotter than the massage rocks in most treatment rooms! Harnessing the healing and beautifying properties of local herbs, fruits and leaves is not only a naturally active way to achieve results; it also heightens a spa's sense of place and appeals to clients interested in beauty tourism. The Ace Hotel's Feel Good Spa in sunny Palm Springs has savvily tapped into this trend with its Palm Springs Peel (60 min./$125), a treatment that lightly exfoliates, hydrates and soothes with the help of natural acids and nourishing elements of such arid-landscape favorites as dates and cacti. This service, as the spa brochure puts it, "restores, rehydrates and plumps desert-parched skin." The spa has aligned with a local all-organic beauty products developer, The Body Deli, to create treatments such as this from locally sourced plants.
When tapping your location for spa menu inspiration, consultant Braden says there are no boundaries. "Every city, county and state has a history rich in culture that lends itself to customized treatments," she explains. "You can always create farm-fresh facials, or tap into local lore or fun facts that express equal magnificence, from Manhattan, New York, to Manhattan, Kansas."
But how to start localizing your spa menu? "Check Wikipedia," Braden suggests. "Did any famous botanists come from your area? Is your state tree the evergreen? The USA is rich in Native American history no matter where you live, and this is a culture known for their reliance on nature and the healing properties of herbs and indigenous treatments. Design services that honor the aboriginal tribes from your area, or simply name a body treatment after a tribal chief or medicine man."
Growing up in Japan, Shizuka Bernstein often overheard her mother talking about the beauty routines of geishas, highly cultured courtesans who were known for their porcelain complexions. That fine visage came with a price, however—the lead and zinc in their face powder caused severe skin problems. But the geishas eventually discovered that nightingale droppings contained natural enzymes that safely brightened and hydrated their skin. New York's Shizuka Day Spa has incorporated the nightingale droppings into a facial treatment by sanitizing it with ultraviolet light, milling it into a fine powder, and mixing it with a delicate Japanese rice bran to enhance its exfoliating and lightening properties. The "bird poop" masque, as it's now widely known, is only one component of this unusual treatment. The Geisha Facial (60 min./$180) is topped off with a hydrating camelia oil facial massage and a refreshing antioxidant green tea collagen mask. To round out the "Japanese beauty tourism" aspects of this treatment, the Geisha Facial concludes with service of gourmet Japanese tea and snacks in Shizuka's Tranquility Lounge.
"While this treatment involves ingredient rarity, above all it highlights the most important aspect of any spa menu description—the romance factor," consultant Braden says. "It reads like a movie trailer, incorporating a little bit of history and tragedy with a shocking yet intriguing, knight-in-shining-armor solution that makes 'bird poop' sound like rose petals."
When developing menus or writing descriptions, consultant Braden says the first goal should be to unearth the romance behind every treatment, product or ingredient, and then expand upon it. "You can easily incorporate these benefits, along with what I call 'Ladies Who Lunch' research—ask yourself what your clients are going to talk about when they tell their girlfriends about your spa over lunch. Will they discuss the fact that the pomegranate used in their facial mask is known to have three times as many antioxidants as red wine and green tea and contains three types of polyphenols, or will they describe how fresh banana leaves were wrapped around their feet during a tropical pedicure?"
Ask yourself what is special about your spa, area, products, treatment and space. Then, create a treatment that highlights it, creating a memorable story.
Who can resist a Los Angeles facial with this name? It practically promises red carpet-worthy beauty. As the spa tells it, the Ona Oscar facial (75 min./$220) is the classic oxygen treatment, plus "the works" heaped on beforehand. Clients first receive a microdermabrasion treatment. Then comes an infusion of vitamin C serum to enhance skin's brightness. After that, the esthetician uses Iontophoresis technology to deliver active antioxidants via a system that purportedly allows these nutrients to penetrate deep into the epidermal layers. The facial finishes with a blast of pure oxygen, meant to awaken, plump and rejuvenate the skin, thereby producing a more HDTV-friendly appearance.
"An Oscar-worthy facial can be a winner everywhere," consultant Braden assures. "Take a look at the components of each of your facials, incorporate those techniques utilized to provide the most instant results, and promote it as the service to help clients look their best, whether for a reunion, holiday party or date night. Appeal to everyone's special 'red carpet' moments."
This oxygen facial, now a staple in most high-end spas, got a huge boost when spa-goers heard that Madonna—yes, the 54-year-old with the flawless, alabaster skin—insisted on an Intraceuticals oxygen facial (60 min./about $175) before every performance and public appearance. The process involves a liquid infusion of hyaluronic acid, green tea, aloe vera and vitamins C and E, applied through a steady blast of oxygen from a handheld device. The treatment immediately plumps and nourishes the skin, although the day-after results are even more noticeable. And Madge isn't its only celebrity fan—Justin Timberlake and Eva Longoria also swear by it. “A necessity before every major event,” Longoria has said. It's now the facial that has launched a thousand knock-offs.
Do you have the good fortune of offering a celebrity favorite on your spa menu? Try capitalizing on the star's other beauty-boosting habits. "Madonna is also well known for her macrobiotic diet, to which she largely credits her youthful appearance and health," consultant Braden points out. "In addition to offering a scientific facial like this, look at the ingredients in each of the skincare products you offer and stand out by creating a take-home menu of suggested foods, incorporating as many of the same ingredients as possible, to support the benefits of the facial."
Common ingredients with edible counterparts include hibiscus (a natural AHA), orange, banana, green tea, aloe vera, papaya, pineapple and pomegranate.
Antiaging enthusiasts are all abuzz about the recently discovered rare Swiss apple and its remarkable self-preservation properties. Leave it to skincare guru and chemist's wife Sonya Dakar to be among the first in Hollywood to weave that beauty breakthrough into one of the facials at her Beverly Hills oasis, the Sonya Dakar Skin Clinic. The Apple Stem Cell Facial (90 min./$350) starts with a peel using lactic acid, physic acid and resveratrol. Then during an exfoliation procedure, apple stem cells are injected into the skin, and LED red light is employed to help them penetrate. The treatment is topped off with Dakar's new cream, NutraSphere Stem Cell Transformer.
Since its inception 30 years ago, this steadfast service has never ceased to inspire raving devotees. Cosmopolitan UK has decreed it the best facial of the century, and spa-goers seeking intensive hydration and antiaging action continue to line up at spas across the U.S. and Europe for Repêchage's signature, seaweed-laden service (60 min./about $115). It starts with a layer of seaweed filtrate, created from freshly harvested laminaria digitata, which softens lines and adds moisture. Next, the esthetician performs a three-movement, circulation-boosting massage. A fresh seaweed mask is then applied to soothe, tone and clarify the skin. Then a mineral mask is applied atop it, further activating the properties of the seaweed mask, and providing gentle warmth, too.
Sometimes, consultant Braden points out, contacting your skincare suppliers can help you further customize your menu. "They know their products even better than you do, and can help you dig deeper into the history, characteristics and benefits of specific ingredients. You may unearth common denominators that align with fan favorites and allow you to create your own 'cult' facial."
Another menu-writing tip? Ask your esthetician to provide a list of common client questions, complaints and needs. Then angle your treatment descriptions around these concerns. Sometimes, Braden says, you may end up highlighting a different set of benefits than those provided by your skincare manufacturer.
The word "caviar" instantly conjures images of a luxurious, nourishing, delectable treat from the sea. It's no wonder then that La Prairie's Caviar Firming Facial (90 min./$310), available at multiple spas, has captivated a long list of celebrities who swear by its caviar extracts and other sea proteins. The treatment includes exfoliating and caviar-infused moisturizing masques, with clients' arms and hands also getting a good rubdown. Then the therapist massages the face, focusing on pressure points, which in turn drains toxins.
"To replicate a facial like this, ask yourself how well you know the ingredients in your products," consultant Braden says. "Make a list of the skincare benefits offered by caviar and compare it to prominent ingredients featured in the products you currently use. Like caviar, many of them can surely be promoted as hydrating, regenerating, collagen-boosting, protective and/or rich in protein, vitamins and minerals."
As far as achieving the "lifestyles of the rich and famous" allure of caviar treatments, Braden advises spa owners to "look at ingredients for notable, interesting and fun facts, or simply write on your menu, 'As with champagne and caviar, our luxurious antiaging facial provides the highest quality relaxation and nourishment.'"