M Street's Hela Spa offers some of the best facials in Washington. Photograph courtesy of Hela Spa
3209 M St., NW; 202-333-4445
Decorated in a modern, spare, Swedish style, this skin-focused med spa offers some of the area’s best facials.
You can begin with an optional Visia skin scan ($100, or $50 with a facial for new clients only), a technology that uses a special camera to reveal your skin’s sun damage, wrinkles, oil production, and more. Warning: The results may scare you into wearing some serious SPF.
From there, the staff can determine which facial is best for you. We’re fans of a 75-minute treatment combining microdermabrasion, cleansing, and massage ($260). Botox, photorejuvenation, and laser hair removal are also offered in addition to massages and body wraps.
Bottom line: The med-spa environment doesn’t encourage you to linger, but the treatments are effective enough that they don’t feel like an unnecessary splurge.
8212-B Old Courthouse Rd., Vienna; 703-506-8401
We weren’t expecting a luxurious entryway with a chandelier or a spa lounge with modern art at this townhouse spa just minutes from Tysons Corner. This is Dr. Nicky Singh’s vision—a medical and holistic spa offering luxury and results in equal portions.
Our Epicuren facial ($45) with Natasha Smith was as relaxing as any we’ve had, and our skin glowed afterward. But the true gem was the Abhyangam massage ($150). The Ayurvedic treatment involves anointing the body with warm scented oil. Warning: You’ll want to shower off before leaving.
You can also book private sessions of yoga.
Bottom line: Unusual Ayurvedic treatments by experienced practitioners make this spa worth the trip.
13830-A10 Braddock Rd., Centreville; 703-815-8959
Spa World has a growing following among local spa-goers, thanks to its sprawling size and bang-for-the-buck value—you can stay up to 24 hours for a $35 entrance fee. Why would someone stay that long? Spa World is more like a traditional bathhouse in Seoul or Istanbul than an American spa, where quiet and solitude reign. A few hours at Spa World can be rewarding, but only if you leave at its front doors any hankering for the kind of posh, overly pampered visit that you’d get at the Mandarin Oriental or Four Seasons.
A visitor to Spa World, which is in a strip mall, can have two separate but equal experiences. The spacious coed common area is occupied by whole families, groups of friends, and solo patrons, all of whom wear loose-fitting shorts and shirts—supplied by the spa—and use the large and airy lounge to sprawl out on straw mats, play board games, or read books. This area is surrounded by seven poultice rooms, which are similar to saunas except that they’re heated by radiant heat, not hot air. Each room has walls covered in minerals, such as amethyst and blue onyx, said to imbue therapeutic properties. Spa World also has a beauty salon, a cafe (try any of the tasty noodle soups or bulgogi with rice), a game room, a fitness center, a gift shop, and hostel-style sleeping rooms.
But the gender-segregated Bade pool areas are where Spa World’s uniqueness shows itself. Leave shyness at home; everyone is naked as a jaybird in the Bade area. Being part of relaxing communal activities—hot tubs, a steam room, a sauna (no children allowed), aqua-therapy jets pools, and a cooling tub—with babies, 90-year-olds, and everyone in between can be surprisingly liberating. After enjoying the pool room, try a shiatsu or deep-tissue massage—administered by Spa World’s team of strong, assertive robe-clad massagers—for $100 to $120 an hour, tip included. A warning to those who don’t like semi-public nudity: The excellent body scrubs and some massages are taken side by side with other naked folk who will likely be too blissed-out to consider sizing you up.
Bottom line: The enormous facility is a great place to retreat into another world.
This article appears in the July 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.