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Get Thee to a Spa!

Best Beauty Sojourns for the Fall

Cracked cuticles, flakey or sensitive skin, severely overworked muscles, the onset of seasonal affective disorder (aptly known as SAD)… these are just a few of the symptoms that tend to beset us as we march inevitably toward winter. But if 'tis the season to tie up loose ends before the new year sneaks up on us, 'tis also the season to get pampered pronto, and prettify yourself in the not-so-flattering darkening months. Here are some pampering mainstays -- ranging from holistic to deservedly froufy -- that’ll allow you to pack in a few good hours of spaah-induced bliss before, you know, taking care of all your less urgent seasonal duties.

Best Day Spa: I-Spa
The Intercontinental Hotel’s gorgeously appointed (and deliciously private) I-Spa holds its own right next to the Moscone Center in the ghetto-chic SOMA District. The spa’s impeccably modern appointments include warm hardwood floors, floor-to-ceiling windows that allow natural light to filter through, and tastefully sparse décor that doesn’t scream of spa pretension.

While many San Francisco spa-goers might forego the typical day spa for more unassuming treats, I-Spa smacks of hedonism without turning off more modest seekers of luxury. If you visit in the middle of the day, you’ll more than likely find yourself soaking up all the amenities (including a luscious aromatherapy steam room and a waiting lounge stocked with gourmet loose-leaf tea and sun-dried fruits) solo. While the treatment rooms aren’t overwhelmingly large or fancy, quality therapists and soundproof walls ensure you’ll be in nirvana by the time you sink into your massage or facial bed.

Choice treatments include the Signature Customized Massage Treatment (80 or 100 minutes), which includes a foot soak and a personalized blend of massage oils, sound therapy, and massage modalities from Swedish to Ayurvedic. For visitors in search of a fabulous visage, the Illuminating Pro Peel sloughs away dull skin and brightens up your face with a slew of high-performance peeling agents. The treatments are bound to conclude too soon, but clients are always free to mosey around the tranquil waiting lounge or partake of the locker room treats. And those who are more interested in incorporating I-Spa into their daily routines may want to check out the spa’s year-round VIP program, Idyllic You, which offers a regimen of treatments specially designed to promote well-being, balance, and beauty.

Best Facial: Linda Horoshko Skincare
Aside from holding the honor of having the wittiest title ever for her customized facial, Linda Horoshko knows skin inside out: its personality disorders, unsightly bumps, and seasonal freak-outs. Her Cow Hollow haven (reminiscent of a Victorian tea room and just as comfy) is stocked with all the ammo you’ll need to combat your skin’s autumnal blahs. Horoshko’s Dirty Little Pore facial applies to all skin types. She uses a variety of results-oriented skincare lines (including MD Skincare) to zap unsightly blemishes and brighten up tired-looking pores in 90 minutes flat.

Your session also includes thorough brow and lip waxing, a hand and foot paraffin dip and massage, and a meticulous exfoliating session, followed by extractions, yummy masks, and a limb-melting neck and shoulder rub. If you plan on paying Horoshko a visit early in the day, beware--a treatment with this beauty maven is sure to necessitate a nap.

Best Massage: Nell Waters Massage
Let’s face it, most massages are great. No matter how inexperienced the massage therapist, I, for one, love having my head lodged in a face cradle while getting my limbs kneaded, manipulated, and plied into a big pile of blissful mush. But even when blessed with a talented massage therapist who knows a thing or two about rhythm (i.e., tapping out a symmetrical pattern along the body and creating balance during a session -- trust me, you can feel the difference), patience, thoroughness, and grounded healing, it can be difficult to suss out the wherefores of what makes someone a truly excellent therapist. I suspect excellence ensues from the combination of intuition and technique.

Nell Waters, a San Francisco School of Massage instructor who also operates her own studio in a cozy Pacific Heights alcove, strikes that rare balance between the rigorous language of structural bodywork and simply being able to sense the places in a client’s body where energy might get stuck on a more subtle level. According to Waters, “When I look at a body on the table, what I seek is how to move it in a way that most opens it up from blocked energy, nagging tension patterns, or immobility from lack of healthy motion throughout the day.”

Waters is trained in a variety of modalites, of course--from myofascial release to trigger point to deep tissue therapy. A visit to Waters can help you obliterate chronic pain patterns and learn to relax a little more. While you can expect plenty of attention to all the achey parts, be assured that Waters’ touch is more soothing than “pain for the sake of pain” deep.

Best Nontraditional Spa: Nurturing Spa for Wellness
Over the last few years, we’ve gradually seen the transition from traditional day spa to nontraditional wellness center--typically replete with services ranging from Eastern medicine to chakra cleansing to simple, no-nonsense dietary advice. Massage therapist and spiritual life coach Kim Le ups the ante on wellness center quality-of-life peddling, with her distinct attention to the energy patterns that inform not just the way we treat our bodies, but the way we operate on a much less visible level.

Le, a soft-spoken woman with an intuitive sense of the stuff that propels stress, is most interested in restoring tired souls to peace and harmony -- so if you simply go in expecting one hell of a massage, you’re apt to emerge from Le’s doors with way more... a newfound sense of self-acceptance, for example. Aside from life coaching, Le offers a plethora of innovative healing services, such as her somewhat esoteric singing bowl therapy, which involves a series of crystal gongs whose vibrations work to promote tranquility in both body and spirit while balancing your chakras. Le’s ear candling (in which impurities in the ear are drawn out through a hollow, lit candle to promote better health) and Nurture Body Massage (which utilizes a customized blend of modalities and some guided meditation) also work to help you approach the kind of serenity that goes well beyond mere pampering.

InterContinental San Francisco
888 Howard St - 6th Fl
Cross: 5th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

Linda Horoshko Skincare
1618 Union St
Cross: Gough
San Francisco, CA 94199

Nell Waters Curative Massage
2126 Sutter Street
Cross: Steiner
San Francisco, CA 94115

Nurturing Spa for Wellness
1929 Lombard St
Cross: Buchanan
San Francisco, CA 94123