In an unguarded moment 10 years ago, a curmudgeonly editor at the San Antonio Express-News admitted he had exfoliated with his wife. He embodied the machismo for which men in the Lone Star State are known, and cleansing pores is hardly something you’d visualize cowboys doing by a campfire.

Then, earlier this year, in a long-distance call from another Texas city the couple now calls home, he confessed he had “manscaped,” a term borrowed from television’s popular Queer Eye for the Straight Guy — used when men wax away unwanted back or chest hair. “Don’t laugh,” he warned upon his latest beauty-secret admission.

Who would?

Welcome to the new world of spa treatments, clearly not just your mother’s dream escape any more. With a lengthy menu of services for a growing number of women, men and even teenagers, today’s spas promise temporary relaxation and also long-term good health. And gift certificates to these meccas for people who care about their exteriors and interiors are an appreciated stocking stuffer or under-the-tree item.

“Today’s spa is a center for healing and nourishing mind, body, and spirit,” writes Julie Register in Your Guide to Spas, an online guide. “People go to spas for fitness, stress management, peace of mind, pampering and pleasure and health and wellness.”

CONTEMPORARY SPAS, ANCIENT ROOTS

Texas’ bubbling cool and caliente springs are legendary, but it was the ancient Greeks and Romans who infused their culture with baths and skin care. In fact, they deserve credit for putting such things on the calendars of the very wealthy as well as plebeian citizens year-round. Watch HBO’s new show Rome and enjoy a peek into the classic bath — Romans were soothed while planning the next attack of the legions. What better preparation for life in the 21st century?

The epidermis, or skin, is the body’s largest organ. The ancients believed the protective coating of our inner tissue was a window into, and reflection of, the soul. Soaking it might have been the original idea, but today skin can also be pampered through massage, warm stones, ice packs and creams. The accompaniment of scented candles and soft music only adds to the relaxation.

East to West, popular culture increasingly supports the desire and need for healthy mind-body balance. Factor in a plethora of treatments featured on reality television such as The Swan, Extreme Makeover and supermodel Tyra Banks’ latest advice-show entry, and you’ve got a made-in- America stamp on the spa life. There’s something for everyone.

“Spas are here to stay, and they offer both a great experience and treatment,” says Beth Ticko, director of marketing for The Watermark Spa, 212 W. Crockett Street, on the River Walk near the Alamo. Specialists there offer relaxation with regional flair: aloe-vera lotion, Spanish rosemary oil and mesquite-clay wraps.

WHO VISITS SPAS?

Women plan “spa days” as bonding experiences, while many brides choose visits as gifts for their wedding parties. Some parents give them as rites of passage to their children, mostly ages 13 and older. The SPAhhhT (pronounced “spot”) Youth Spa at the Windflower Hill Country spa offers youth-inspired services such as henna tattoos and Caribbean-style hair braids. Their youthful clients also are eligible for basic salon services such as pedicures and manicures as well as clothed massage treatments under the supervision of a parent or guardian.

Some parents plan family days at the spa, which makes it easier for Dad to cross the male-female divide. Even in 2005, a group of guys is not likely to spend the day at the spa. But numerous high-profile San Antonio and Austin businessmen do visit spas, and more professional men and women from managers to salespeople list spas on their routine to-do lists, area experts say — without revealing any names.

“Women, men and young adults are very aware of overall health and quality of life,” says Kim Stevens, who opened Woodhouse Day Spa in The Quarry Market in late summer. She owns another in Austin, and both offer more than 70 treatments, including massage therapy and a private-label skin care line. “We are about natural health, natural beauty,” Stevens adds.

Given the variety of treatments, spas nationwide offer appropriately democratic environs, including the degree of privacy clients crave. Some have tearooms and sizable pools for groups, rooms for duo massages, or individual spaces and intimate hot tubs for the person needing quiet time. Most spa experiences in the San Antonio-area can be tailored — the esthetician’s or massage therapist’s version of ready-to-wear.

For example, you might be blemishand wrinkle-free, yet your back is tight. Or you’re limber today, but have dry skin and an important public event around the corner. Fortunately, the spa awaits with flexible hours.

WHAT ABOUT THE MEN?

As we’ve established, a growing number of the people who want to ratchet up their enjoyment of life several notches by going to a spa are our fathers, husbands, brothers, male colleagues and sons. Marc Garcia, marketing representative for Austin’s The Crossings, puts it this way: “Men mostly frequent urban day spas or amenity spas within hotels where they can schedule a quick treatment between hectic schedules filled with meetings.”

They also appear to prefer privacy, so The Crossings offers Watsu®, a private- pool aquatic massage treatment using acupressure, stretches and flowing movements to release tension, boost energy and remove energy blockages while clients float in a pool of warm water.

“As for destination spas, men will frequent them only if they offer malepreferred treatments and amenities,” Garcia says. The International Spa Association says men account for 29 percent of spa-goers who enjoy a greater selection of treatments. It has tracked their numbers for three years but not delineated which kind of spa they favor. The spa industry in 2001 numbered some 9,600 locations, nearly 4,000 more than the year before.

No matter their gender, the next category of spa-goers is lining up quickly, says Melody Campbell-Goeken of Windflower at the scenic Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa. There they can enjoy Lone Star State friendliness in the form of the 25-minute Texas Tea Bath for $55 or the 50-minute Aunt Mary’s Body Butter Remedy for $95.

“I think the next generation, people in their 20s and 30s, will truly be the Spa Generation,” she says. “The youth market, “tweens’ and teenagers’ (13- to 17- year-olds) are learning to appreciate spa services for skin care and overall health, and they have more disposable income than previous generations.”

Spas also could become an accepted father-daughter bonding occasion, as at least one area father demonstrates.

Seven years ago, Steven Lee, a San Antonio public-affairs consultant and former financial journalist for The Dallas Morning News, enjoyed a pedicure with his wife’s coaxing after weeks of investigating a big story on the road.

“My golf game was great the next day,” he says, with the exuberance only a convert can have. “Ever since, I’ve gotten occasional massages when I’ve been working particularly hard and my neck or upper back aches from meetings or long hours writing at the computer.”

For 11 years, Lee and nearly 30 buddies have met one weekend every August to play tournaments in El Paso, Arizona or Mexico, and several of them swear by spa treatments in the days and weeks before, he says. One weekend, the group tried to lure the masseuse to join them — and bring her husband along — for spot treatment! Unfortunately, they couldn’t persuade them, adds Lee, who shoots in the low 80s. “The stakes might not be as high for us as they are for Tiger Woods or Michelle Wie, but we take pride in a good game and every bit of extra preparation helps,” he comments.

Lee is teaching his 6-year-old daughter to play golf, and plans to take her on his annual trip some day. And maybe she’ll get to join Daddy at the spa.

Author: Anne Moore