When it comes to cheap day spa alternatives, the Aveda Institutes – there are 52 around the U.S. Canada and Australia – have to be the gold standard as far as value is concerned.
Usually the services at these Aveda schools, which train the next generation of stylists, cosmetologists, and estheticians, are a little more expensive than the discount student clinics offered at massage schools. But where else can you get a service that uses quality Aveda products at about half the price that you’d pay at a regular salon?
Located in hip Capitol Hill, Seattle’s Aveda Institute is sponsored by Gary Manuel, a large salon in Belltown (where I just happen to get my hair cut). The services offered at Aveda Institute differ by city – for example, Seattle’s salon has facials, body treatments, waxing and hair styling, but not massages or mani-pedis. I’m leery of having students mess with my hair, so I seek out the schools primarily for their skincare.
When I checked in to the spa at 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday, the joint was jumping. Student stylists, all wearing black, checked in a constant parade of willing subjects. As loud music played, the front desk worker offered me a cup of hot tea and gave me a form to fill out. Besides asking the requisite medical questions, the Institute follows the Aveda policy of assigning an “element” to your treatment, depending on your mood. Sluggish and chilly in the still- cloudy Seattle weather, I was determined to have a”water” temperament.
My therapist Anissa greeted me and we walked downstairs, where the loud music from upstairs fell away. Out in a hallway, she offered me more tea and asked me what my goals were for the facial.”I don’t want to look old,” I told her. She laughed and led me into a large room, where treatment areas were segmented off by long white curtains. This is the setup for facials at all the Aveda schools that I’ve visited; even though the students whisper, you can still hear the people in the treatment room next to you. This is not the place to go if you want your facial in a bubble-like environment.
Anissa started the facial at the other end, by washing and massaging my feet with hot water. She left as I changed into a terrycloth wrap and got under the covers. As a trailblazer in the aromatherapy movement, Aveda has a more than a bit of New Age in its philosophy, and the estheticians start out by waving three types of oil under your nose. The one you choose will determine the creams and oils that are used in the mini-massages you receive on your hands, neck, shoulders and head. The latter massage does leave your hair quite wet; if you have somewhere to go or simply don’t like the feel of oil on your scalp, you can decline that part of the service.
After that, Anissa put a lamp up to my skin and started diagnosing. At the verge of TMI, I’ll say only that I’m reaching that age where you need something a little stronger than a spa facial to get your skin looking good (I fear a dermatologist is in my future). But Anissa c0nsulted with her Learning Leader and the two of them came up with a treatment plan that could deal with my issues. – including a preventive plant peel mask that did indeed leave my skin softer and less rosy. I loved the results and booked another appointment with Anissa for next month.
All in all, my 90-minute facial cost me $65 (without the peel, it would have been $50; there’s also a 60-minute version for $42). That’s not exactly cheap, but when you compare it to how much similar treatments would have cost in a real Aveda spa, you can see where the savings kick in. The consultants do try to sell you products at the store upstairs, but I’m OK with that (I happen to love Aveda). It’s easy to say no if you aren’t interested.
Aveda Institutes that I’ve tried:
Philadelphia: Philly has three Aveda Institutes, sponsored by the Jean Madeline salon. I used to go to the one on Bainbridge street, although the Chestnut Street school in University City near Penn is far more elaborate.
Minneapolis: Few know that the Horst Rechelbacher’s Aveda empire started in Minneapolis. In junior high, I actually got my hair cut at Horst’s signature salon that was then in an Edina strip mall. I had begged my mother to let me go there, as it was decidedly more expensive than my usual haircut at what was then Daytons. The oh-so-hip stylist there took one look at my overpermed mid-length hair and decided to give me something more modern: an asymetrical bilevel cut with a shaved nape. Needless to say, my mom flipped when I came home, and I was forbidden to go there again.
From this tiny salon sprang an empire. The Minneapolis Aveda Institute has the extra bonus of being housed in a gorgeous five story building that was once a Masonic temple – think high ceilings, intricate woodwork – in the trendy Northeast Minneapolis area. It does seem like the talent here is a little more cutting edge and the teachers…well, let’s just say I had my skin examined once by Horst’s ex-wife. If you are a spa junkie like me, don’t miss it.
New York: It’s been years since I went to the Aveda Institute here so my memory could be off. But I remember it as not being a great experience. As I recall, the Institute was too crowded, the students were a lot noisier and you felt like you were in the hands of amateurs instead of the next generation of estheticians. Maybe someone out there who has had a better experience here can share.