Related Articles: Beauty, All

Lush Life & Urania’s

Spa Therapy for Your Toes

If you thought smooth, callus-free feet and perfectly polished toenails were beauty considerations strictly confined to warmer months, think again. For the sake of hygiene and, well, hygiene -- do your tootsies a favor this winter season and give them some preventive care against the humid confines of boots and sneakers.

Granted, any copy of Marie Claire can tell you how to keep your toes in tip-top condition with a few simple at-home beauty tips, but part of the fun, in my opinion, is getting your feet all trussed up and pampered by podiatric experts. Recently, I stumbled upon a couple of new favorites, who dispense with the fast, factory-line pedicure treatment and add some sanitary know-how to the brew of indulgence. Enjoy!

Lush Life Nail Bar

I’m at Lush Life Nail Bar, a chic fixture tucked just off Union Street. It’s not like many other staid mani/pedi joints I’m accustomed to -- you know the ones: teeming with the pungent scent of acrylics, bland walls stocked with unlabeled nail glazes, and technicians rushing to get you in and out the door. This is more like your tried-and-true neighborhood hangout; instead of hygienically unsound whirlpools and armchair thrones, Lush Life offers boxy couches and portable tubs in which to dunk your feet as they soak. A plasma screen television, a streamlined milk-white manicure bar, lime-green walls, hot-pink chandelier pendants, and shelves stocked with scrumptious body care products add to that unassuming yet celebratory feel that permeates the place.

As I chat with spa owner Jill Glikbarg, I realize that I’m flanked by two women who are talking on their cell phones as their feet get lavished with ointments and scrubs. As I come to learn, one of them is pregnant and on her way to a baby shower, the other is getting married this weekend. Jill expresses a bit of astonishment -- after all, it’s a quiet Wednesday afternoon, and most people who come out this way are looking for R&R rather than an opportunity to catch up with old friends. Strangely, I don’t mind the chatter. It kind of adds to the "Sex and the City" vibe of the place.

Indeed, Lush Life has become a neighborhood hotspot for professional women with an interest in keeping their hands touchable and their feet Manolo-ready. Aside from a bevy of affordable services and innovative natural products, Lush Life is one of the only nail spas that’s open seven days a week, and until 9 pm on Thursdays through Fridays, which makes working girls preparing for the weekend unquestionably happy.

According to Jill, inspiration for Lush Life began with her realization that the nail industry was inundated with harmful chemicals. “Aside from wanting to create a place where people could just come to chill, I wanted to have a nail spa that was environmentally sound…without acrylics, gels, odors, or parabens [suspected cancer-causing agents] in our products.”

Nail technicians at Lush Life also use two sets of tools -- one that is sanitized longer than the required time -- and always give clients the file and buffer used on their nails at the end of the treatment, in order to avoid unnecessary waste. The eco-friendly ambience extends to the chemical-free product lines, including Cuccio Naturale Bella Mani, a Tuscany-based natural hand and nail service, and Red Flower, a botanical-based line that deals in decadent aromatherapeutic rituals.

A slew of affordable yet oh-so-indulgent treatments is probably the number one reason Lush Life has stayed afloat amid a sea of nail spas in the area. Aside from the basic mani/pedi combos, Lush Life offers free chipped manicure repairs within five days of a treatment, as well as hand facials, full aesthetician services by Eva’s Esthetics, and a good-for-all-seasons Intense Callus Repair pedicure, which uses lactic acid serum and cucumber heel therapy cream to scrub away rough spots.

I am treated to the Red Flower Japan Ritual, a leisurely pampering session that stimulates blood flow and leaves me feeling like I’m without a worry in the world. Simply put, the Red Flower Japan Ritual is perhaps the most decadent treatment to hit the nail spa industry in years, and it’s only appropriate that a chic establishment like Lush Life, which promises enticing end-of-week rewards for the working gal, would offer it. The Ritual includes a number of exclusive Red Flower products in a prescribed regimen -- from the refreshing Hinoki mint mineral bath soak in my foot tub to an Ohana gingergrass bamboo scrub, which strips away layers of dead skin. My legs and feet are plied, buffed, and polished; and in between a plethora of hot moist towels, I’m treated to a filmy layer of rose camellia mist and ultra-potent plum blossom silk cream, which includes super-absorbent wine serum to make my toes sparkle.

While the spa boasts thousands of word-of-mouth clients, most of them satisfied repeat customers, private parties for brides-to-be and other celebrants have raked in tons of new Lush Lifers. And not surprisingly, it’s a fun, stylish haunt that’s prominent in a world of ordinaries. Pedicure happy hour, anyone?

Urania’s Hand and Foot Essentials

Unlike Lush Life Nail Bar, Urania’s Hand and Foot Essentials is definitely the place you go to get away from it all. Urania Campos has been in the industry for over two decades, and given the fact that she polished and buffed luminaries like J. Lo while a nail technician at 77 Maiden Lane, she’d rather chat with you about the everyday stuff than dish on celebrities.

The major plus when it comes to getting a pedicure from Urania? Well, there are several. First of all, Urania’s impetus for going solo was that she dislikes working “by volume”, which means that she knows how to take her time with a pedicure and won’t smudge your nails or scald you with a paraffin dip while rushing to get you out of your seat. Aside from the über-relaxing atmosphere -- a quaint and tiny office space resounding with classical music and floral scents -- Urania is hardcore when it comes to sterilizing tools, which go through a meticulous antibacterial and UV light autoclaving process before they get put to use.

Also, while you can expect to be babied at Urania’s, the place isn’t just an outpost for beauty concerns. “Some people who come in here have medical issues, and they might be seeing a doctor during the same time they are getting a pedicure,” she explains. “So in many ways, I take a clinical approach. I often talk to podiatrists, and if I see that a client might have a concern that should be addressed specifically by a doctor, I refer them to one.”

Urania’s approach to hands and nails is basic yet innovative. Specialized and reasonably priced seasonal treatments include a warming Pumpkin Pedicure, with a pumpkin enzyme peel that makes cuticles glow. Summertime pedicures include lighter fragrances, like honeysuckle or peppermint. In general, Urania also uses a stash of essential oils, from sage to bergamot, depending on their specific medical and therapeutic qualities.

“I think that working on my own enables me to be attentive to clients in a way that I might not otherwise be,” she says. “And in a lot of ways, the work I do becomes less about beauty than relaxation and health…determining what a client needs at any given time.”

Urania’s products are also luxurious and range from the all-natural deodorizing Get Fresh line (“which isn’t too perfumey,” she explains) and Pure Hapa, a tropics-inspired line that utilizes pure Hawaiian botanicals and healing antioxidants from Asia.

For Urania, who’s witnessed a number of changes in the industry over the years, there are many pros and cons when it comes to mainstream nail care. “For one thing, it’s an oversaturated industry -- when you have a number of nail technicians working at one place, the focus becomes getting more business and the quality goes down…On the other hand, today there is a greater emphasis on hygiene because we have more education, so sanitizing tools is more popular, which is great.”

As my feet are bathed in a wash of mint and bubbles, and lovingly administered with creams that soften my rough soles, I realize that I feel something I seldom feel when I’m getting a pedicure -- totally comfortable. Getting a pedicure from Urania is, strangely, like meeting with an old friend; whether you choose to engage in conversation (rather than mere small talk) or take a nap while you’re there, silences don’t feel awkward and chitchat doesn’t feel forced. “I love being around people, so it’s a very natural thing for me to engage with them,” Urania explains. But with a smile, she adds, “At the same time, it’s important for clients to feel they can communicate with their manicurist if they would rather kick back and relax.”