News & Politics

Medical Spas

Medical spas offer relaxation, plus full-time physicians and prescription-strength products

Medical Spas

As I approached Cultura in Friendship Heights, I was confused. I had an appointment to get a facial, but the black awning said “Cosmetic Physicians & Associates.” Was this a day spa or a doctor’s office?

Cultura is one of a handful of “medical spas” in the area whose affiliation with physicians allows it to offer beauty services beyond facials.

The friendly receptionist led me to a changing room with candles and orchids. I put on a Velcro wraparound towel, plush white bathrobe, and fluffy slippers.

In a seating area where lemon ice water and hot tea were offered, I filled out a questionnaire that asked everything from my daily cleansing ritual to how much time I had spent in the sun as a child. Pamphlets were available on Botox, laser surgery, and plastic surgery.

Ruth, a licensed aesthetician, took me into a private room. I reclined on a heated bed covered with white towels and sheets. The lights were low, and New Age music was playing.

The facial started with steam to open my pores. Ruth cleansed and moisturized my face, applied a soothing eye balm, then massaged my neck, ears, and shoulders. The $100 Premiere Facial included extractions—spa-speak for removing blackheads. While not painless, Ruth had a soft touch and frequently asked if I was okay.

I had read on its Web site that Cultura specialized in skin care for people with different skin tones. Cultura occupies the space that was formerly Élan but was reopened two years ago by two African-American physicians—one a cosmetic dermatologist and laser surgeon, the other a facial and plastic reconstructive surgeon—who had done research on the use of lasers on darker skin tones. But I saw customers of all races and ethnicities.

The 75-minute facial finished with a moisturizing mask left on for 15 minutes—during which I dropped off to sleep.

After, Ruth sat me down with a “spascription”—a list of nine products that would help with problems she had identified such as dry skin and clogged pores. While it was a sales pitch—and I did end up buying a cleanser, moisturizer, eye cream, and UV protector for a little over $170—it was a soft sell. She gave me several free samples. Although the spa did not know I was writing an article, one of the doctors, Eliot Battle, introduced himself and asked if I had any questions.

Battle mainly sees patients for medical treatments such as laser surgery, although he said he is often asked to look at a problem area on a spa client’s skin. It was reassuring to know that my facial had been not just about relaxation but also about assessing the health of my skin.

I left feeling pampered and informed. My skin glowed. I floated to my car.

Cultura, 5301 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-237-9292; Also massage, body treatments, microdermabrasion, radio frequency, laser hair removal, collagen injections, and leg- and spider-vein removal.


Center for Laser Surgery, 3301 New Mexico Ave., NW, 202-966-7274; 11400 Rockville Pike, Rockville, 301-468-1101; 431 Maple Ave. W., Vienna, 703-319-7030; Dr. Robert Adrian, a dermatologist and laser surgeon, opened the center in 1990 as an outpatient facility for treatment of skin disorders. An aesthetician who performs facials, which cost $75 to $125, has 20 years of experience in both spa and medical settings. Treatments include deep-pore cleansing, light and regular chemical peels, laser scar treatment, and diamond peels (a type of microdermabrasion).

Colgan Institute, 9800 Falls Rd., Suite 105, Potomac; 301-299-6644. Led by plastic surgeon Diane Colgan, the institute focuses on antiaging treatments for the whole body. Aestheticians perform facials ($90 to $125) and noninvasive procedures. Other services include massage and Botox and Restylane injections.

DerMediSpa, 6410 Rockledge Dr., Bethesda; 240-223-0559; Headed by dermatologist Roberta Palestine, DerMediSpa has six other doctors on staff, including a plastic surgeon. Aestheticians perform facials ($85 to $100) and other cosmetic procedures including waxing, massage, and makeup. Medical procedures include chemical peels, electrolysis, cellulite treatment, photorejuvenation (intense light to treat age spots, rosacea, and more), laser hair removal, and Thermage (using radio frequencies to tighten skin tissues).

Washington Institute for Skin Care, 2311 M St., NW, Suite 200; 202-785-8855; Connected with the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery and dermatologist Tina Alster, this medical spa opened in 1994, originally for postoperative care. Aestheticians receive additional training from Dr. Alster in endermology (cellulite treatment), photorejuvenation, and microdermabrasion. Facials cost $100 and up. Doctors perform laser hair and scar removal.

WellMedica Center, 1825 Samuel Morse Dr., Reston; 703-438-3700; WellMedica is in the Austin-Weston Center for Cosmetic Surgery and headed by Dima Ali, president of the Professional Medical Spa Alliance. Services include microdermabrasion, laser smoothing for vascular and pigmented lesions, cosmeceuticals, and antiaging care.