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AAAH, SPAS

What's Hot in Beauty and Body

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Courtney Hollands
May 4, 2008

It's easy to change up your beauty and fitness regimen with salons, spas, and even gyms constantly introducing new options. So grab your robe and some cucumber slices. Here are a few of the freshest tricks and treatments around.

Paint Your Nails Green

You tote groceries in reusable bags and bike to work. So of course you check the ingredients before brushing on any nail polish, and noticed immediately when salon stalwart OPI stopped using two potentially harmful-if-inhaled chemicals (toluene and dibutyl phthalate). SpaRitual, also a salon brand, has gone to new lengths with its toluene-, dibutyl phthalate-, and formaldehyde resin-free polishes, cuticle creams, and topcoats that are also vegan - the line doesn't use any animal-derived dyes or colors.

According to Paul Shoemaker, an environmental health specialist who oversees the Boston Public Health Commission's Safe Shops initiative, these products are less toxic and therefore more environmentally friendly. "We want to encourage salons to use products that are more beneficial to the workers, the customers, and to the environment in general," he says. His team is also working to improve ventilation in salons across the city.

Pamela Adami, spa director at Chatham Bars Inn in Chatham, uses SpaRitual products exclusively. "It's healthy and nontoxic for the client and the staff," she says, and there's no sacrificing style. "The colors are beautiful." $40 for a 30-minute manicure or $50 for a 30-minute pedicure at Chatham Bars Inn, Shore Road, Chatham, 508-945-0096, chathambarsinn.com

Go for the Gold

If it's over-the-top indulgence you want in a spa experience, Bella Sante, a spa with locations in Back Bay, Lexington, and Wellesley, has the treatment for you - and it's a whole lot sexier than an algae wrap. This month, the spa plans to introduce a "24-Karat Gold" facial.

The 80-minute treatment begins with the aesthetician using a warm balm to rub the neck and shoulders. Next comes exfoliation of the face, neck, and decolletage, and an eye-area and facial massage. Then a mask is painted onto the face - it contains gold, myrrh essential oil, and frankincense resin extract.

Bella Sante vice president Sara Lahey says that the procedure is designed to moisturize, firm, and lift the skin. And while Dr. Michael S. Kaminer, a dermatologist at SkinCare Physicians in Chestnut Hill, says he doesn't know of any studies showing gold's effects on the skin, he says that facials, like many other spa treatments, are really about relaxation and feeling good. "If you want to get a gold facial, and it makes you feel better, go for it," he says. About $155 at Bella Sante, 76 Bedford Street, Lexington, 781-862-2444, and other locations; bellasante.com

Throw Your Weights Around

A workout that originated in 18th-century Russia is building a following in the 21st century. At Boston Kettlebell, located in the Brookline Tai Chi building, Mandla Nkosi teaches students to lift and manipulate cast-iron weights that look like cannonballs with handles. In classes and solo lessons that have attracted types "from martial artists to military and law enforcement personnel to grandmas," he says, students learn a series of lifting and extending movements that build muscle, burn fat, and improve flexibility and joint mobility.

"Kettlebells are awkward tools - they try to throw you off," Nkosi says. "You have to engage your musculature to keep your balance and posture." In other words, clients have to work to keep balance in addition to the work of lifting the weight, Nkosi says. "Young people, old people, and everyone in between can benefit from learning the dynamics of movement."

Dr. Bertram Zarins, an orthopedic surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital and the medical director for the Patriots, says that any resistance exercise - regardless of the instrument used - will improve muscle strength over time. "The shape is trendy," he says of kettlebells. But he concedes that the old-fashioned weights have a design edge. "The handle probably makes it easy to hold onto." $300 for 12 classes at Boston Kettlebell, 1615 Beacon Street, Brookline, 617-803-6982, bostonkettlebell.com

Think Long

Whether you want to dramatically change your hair - say, adding a foot or more in length a la Hollywood starlets - or to subtly add natural-looking body, Hairdreams hair extensions are the top shelf of salon options. Small bunches of about 25 strands of human hair come in lengths of up to 22 inches and are attached with a small amount of a long-lasting keratin and nylon bond. (Keratin is one of the proteins in hair.)

There are other real-hair extensions on the market, but Hairdreams are smaller, allowing for a more blended, natural look, says stylist Taylor Nurse of Leon and Co. in Belmont, who wears the extensions herself. "I've had them in for the past two years and change them every six months," she says. As a salon employee, she doesn't have to pay for the labor, but shells out $800 to $900 for the hair each time she gets new extensions put in.

Some of Leon and Co's clients sit for at least three hours to get a full head of 200 or so extensions, while others just get what's referred to as a quarter of a head of hair - about 50 extensions - or just a few added strategically for fullness. Salon owner Leon de Magistris won't divulge the names of his regular clients - "they are `celebrity' types," he wrote in an e-mail. (Makes you look twice when a news anchor flips her luxurious locks.)

Kaminer, of SkinCare Physicians, says that TV personalities and non-celebrities alike can rest easy with hair extensions. He has never seen a patient whose hair had been damaged by them. From $775 for one-fourth of a head of hair with 10-inch extensions and from $2,725 for a full head of 22-inch extensions at Leon and Co., 84 Leonard Street, Belmont, 617-484-4777, leonandco.com

Stick Together

Skittish about needles but interested in acupuncture to manage stress, injuries, or other conditions? Pathways to Wellness, a holistic clinic in the South End, has just expanded its group acupuncture program. The idea behind the collective sessions is that seeing a stranger benefit from the experience of being stuck with a series of needles can lessen the anxiety some patients feel about facing the treatments alone.

Pathways offers hourlong sessions in which as many as four people at a time receive treatment from a single acupuncturist in a single room. Participants stay fully clothed and can bring their own music and headphones to the session. The group setting also means that the clinic can charge less - participants pay amounts depending on a sliding income scale - while offering a collective healing experience.

Pathways executive director Kristin Porter compares group acupuncture to group exercise. "At a gym, your workout benefits from the energy in the room," she says, and people in a communal acupuncture session can benefit in a similar way.

According to Andy Wegman, who runs a community acupuncture studio in Manchester, New Hampshire, and is on the board of the national Community Acupuncture Network, when people come in to try acupuncture for the first time and see other people fast asleep and resting with needles in, "their anxiety completely dissipates." $20 to $40 per session with appointments four days a week at Pathways to Wellness, 1601 Washington Street, Boston, 617-859-3036, pathwaysboston.org

Start Batting 1,000

The true beauty junkie's at-any-price battle for thicker hair has finally arrived at the eyes. RevitaLash, a "conditioner" for eyelashes, wants to replace your mascara - permanently. The serum, which is sold in a tube, is applied along the base of the lashes before bed each night; it goes on like a liquid eyeliner. Its purpose: to promote new lash growth and the thickness of existing lashes with vitamins and conditioners.

Though Kaminer says there might not be much science behind these claims - "none of the ingredients jump out at me as being particularly spectacular for eyelashes," he says - he's open to the possibility that the serum could have some effect. "As a whole, they could work synergistically."

Christine Haddad, spa director for Emerge and G2O Spa, both on Newbury Street, says that some RevitaLash clients have seen so much eyelash growth that they now are using what's left in their tubes on their eyebrows, to add fullness there, too.

Meghan O'Connor, a Boston native and project manager for Marc Jacobs who was recently transferred to New York, bought a $150 tube from G20 before she left. After only two weeks of use, she was sold. "I've noticed a big difference in the length of my lashes," she says. Haddad also says that the product has been especially popular with women over 35, but that women in their 20s and even men have shown interest. $150 at Emerge, 275 Newbury Street, Boston, 617-437-0006, emergespasalon.com, and G2O Spa, 338 Newbury Street, Boston, 617-262-2220, g2ospasalon.com

Wrap Things Up

Perhaps Kinesio taping's growing popularity has something to do with the fact that, in his book Every Second Counts, champion cyclist Lance Armstrong wrote that the treatment has "special powers" for pain management. Or maybe it's because tennis ace Serena Williams has sported the flexible, candy-colored tape strips during matches. Boston Bodyworker has offered the treatment to local weekend warriors and amateur athletes since last year. The strips, invented in Japan more than 25 years ago, stay on the skin for several days. Drew Freedman, who owns Boston Bodyworker, says that his clients include runners who need help with shin-splints and other pain. He applies the tape over and across affected muscles. "The tape acts as a second skin," he says.

Zarins, the orthopedic surgeon, says the tape doesn't change the underlying biomechanics of how the joints work. But he says that Kinesio taping might increase proprioception, or the awareness of what your joint is doing when you're not looking at it. "When you're exercising, you feel the skin moving where the tape is, and you get more input into the brain," he says. "If you feel something, you might perceive a benefit." $45 for initial evaluation and taping and $20 for re-taping at Boston Bodyworker, 607 Boylston Street, Boston, 617-778-7344, and 47 Winter Street, Boston, 617-357-6464; bostonbodyworker.com

Defuse the Frizz

Last year beauty salons were buzzing about the so-called Brazilian Hair Straightening method for taming tight curls and frizz - that is, until the treatment was widely decried for its use of formaldehyde, a probable carcinogen. Not only would the hairdresser and client be exposed to the chemical during the treatment, but it would stay in the hair and continually be released by heat from blow dryers and other styling tools, says Dr. Mathew Avram, director of the Dermatology Laser & Cosmetics Center at Massachusetts General Hospital.

This year, there's a formaldehyde-free alternative called Keratin Complex Hair Therapy that is used to achieve the same sleek end. Stylists at Beaucage Salon on Newbury Street have done the procedure dozens of times since they introduced it in February. "You won't get stick, stick straight hair," says spa director Lisa Hills. "But it will loosen very curly hair." She adds that the treatment is virtually odor-free. After applying a cream to the client's hair, the stylist presses the hair in small sections with a flat iron. The relaxed results should last for three to four months and grow out naturally, Hills says.

Pam Greeley of Harvard tried the treatment on her curly hair a month ago. "It adds quite a bit of shine," she says. Debbie Lingos, who lives in Back Bay, has wavy hair that tends to get frizzy in humidity. She tried the treatment about a month and a half ago and says that her hair is now "nice and straight," but also easy to style if she wants to curl it. "My hair is silky, silky smooth," Lingos says. "I'm pleased - I just wonder how long it will last."

And if you have straight hair, the stylist can use a curling iron on your Keratin Complex-treated hair to achieve the opposite effect. Hills says that the look is not like a perm; it's more like the effect you'd get from hot rollers - softer curls and waves. Hills hasn't done it enough, however, to say how long the curling effects last.

Avram doesn't have any specific safety concerns about the procedure, but he does have a warning about using products designed to stay in the hair for long periods of time: "I think it is best to be diligent to make sure that whatever is being applied to the hair is, in fact, natural and chemical-free." He adds: "It is always prefer able to choose shorter-term hair-care products and procedures." $375 at Beaucage Salon, 71 Newbury Street, 617-437-7171, beaucage.com

Courtney Hollands is a senior producer at boston.com. E-mail her at chollands@boston.com.

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