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Marilyn Jaeger Skincare Studio

Refreshingly Unpretentious

Marilyn Jaeger Skincare Studio may well be the best-kept secret in Laurel Heights. A posh little neighborhood known for its mixture of residential and commercial development, it's the kind of place where ritzy boutiques share breathing room with 1950s-style five and dime stores. Given Marilyn Jaeger's imposing reputation as harboring one of the most loyal client bases among San Francisco day spas, it's the kind of place you'd perhaps expect to see at the center of Fillmore Street's spa mecca or among the hubs of rejuvenation strewn so habitually around the Marina.

Not surprisingly, aesthetician Marilyn Jaeger's original spa was a modest outfit on Union Street that she ran solo seven years ago. After realizing that she couldn't go it alone (she was often booked solid six months in advance), she trained an apprentice aesthetician and ultimately moved to the current Spruce Street location in 2000. Now she has 20 employees, 8000 clients, and one hell of a bikini wax that continues to draw new and old customers alike. (Watch out for her new "Spotless" product line, which demolishes embarrassing ingrown hairs.)

Inhabiting the third floor of a rustic old Victorian, the studio is a charming combination of urban and rustic. The hardwood floors and lavish sitting room appointments -- including vibrant Matisse-like nudes in baroque frames, and plump cushions on crimson-colored loveseats -- add to the hip, European sensibility of the place. As clients sip red wine, herbal tea, or cucumber water, and peer through the filmy curtains hanging over the huge bay windows, it's easy to take the place for a jetsetting hipster's summer home rather than a bustling spa.

Adding to the coziness is the fact that there are only three treatment rooms: the mani/pedi suite, a massage room, and a facial/waxing room. You wouldn't know from the blissed-out contentment of employees and clients that this is a hectic establishment, and Jaeger's aestheticians and masseuses are often around for long blocks of time, with back-to-back appointments.

In order to fully appreciate Jaeger's self-styled enterprise, one needs to understand how important the skincare element is. I'm led into the facial room by Amanda, a perky blonde whose immediate assessment of my skin is spot-on. She follows this up by rattling off a list of possible products and techniques for problem skin, including regular glycolic acid peels (which are generally more effective than exfoliating scrubs, as I learn). Amanda administers the Vitamin C boosting treatment, a six-step antioxidant facial that blasts away dead skin.

Marilyn Jaeger uses an assortment of skincare lines, including Skinceuticals, a top-notch dermatologist-recommended company, and Sothys' Hydroptimale line, which adjusts to the skin's water level and slows the aging process. Aside from the requisite steam bath and extractions (which Amanda is careful to make as painless as possible), I am given a glycolic acid peel, which is actually much less excruciating than it sounds. Amanda finishes with a soothing scalp massage, and when she gives me a mirror to gaze at my new visage, I'm pleased as punch. "You're glowing!" she exclaims. "Do you see how the dead skin on your face has been completely sloughed off?" I can't deny it -- my pores are considerably smaller, and I've got the unmistakably dewey look of girls who do Neutrogena ads.

Next, I'm off to a luxurious 90-minute massage with Marty, who Marilyn Jaeger herself has informed me is one of the best masseuses around. And I'm certainly not disappointed as I'm treated to a tantalizing blend of Swedish, shiatsu, and craniosacral massage. While few of the massages I've ever gotten are actually bad, I'm floored by Marty's ability to intuitively hone in on areas of tension. His touch is therapeutic but subtle, and by the end of the session, I am deeply relaxed and tempted to ask for an extended scalp massage (if you haven't guessed already, I'm all about a good scalp massage).

Next, I'm off to the mani/pedi room, which boasts three elaborate pedicure chairs made up to look like thrones. Not a bad idea for topping off the royal treatment. My aesthetician Michelle is bubbly and full of grooming tips. After helping me select a couple of summery shades for my hands and feet, she administers a thorough but no-fuss manicure. But the best part is my Café Latte princess pedicure, which begins with a full-leg exfoliating scrub from the Body Coffee line. The scrub is made out of coffee grounds and sea salt; Michelle explains to me that coffee is both a natural deodorant and stimulant. While the scrub is made from the blossoms of coffee buds, the base is equally yummy, made from olive oil, sunflower oil, rosemary, and lavender. Michelle is equally conscientious with the foot treatment, and by the time she's finished, my normally brittle toenails are radiant and look like they belong in some Manolos.

By the time I'm finished with my day of pampering, I've spent practically the entire day chatting with aestheticians and masseuses, checking out the extensive product lines, and whiling away the time between treatments with a glass of red wine. The atmosphere of most salons would wear thin after a while, but Marilyn Jaeger's cozy outpost is refreshingly unpretentious and more like hanging out at a cool friend's house than getting the corporate pampering treatment. After nearly six hours of good conversation and superior service, I'm revved up to face the rest of the world with the same kind of confidence the folks at Marilyn Jaeger Skincare Studio regularly give all 8000 of their clients without fail.