SoCal Spas Eye Trendy Medical Care

As 'mega-spas' proliferate, several area spots stay with traditional wellness services -- at least for now

By: Lisa Jennings

At most spas, feeling good is an aspect of looking good or so the thinking goes.

But the newly improved spa at the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort in Indian Wells, Calif., is planning to take the “looking good” aspect a bit further.

The resort re-opened in January after a $65 million expansion. What once was a small spa is now a 30,000-square-foot health and wellness center. Treatments include the usual ultra-luxury therapeutic and fitness programs that appeal to both business and leisure travelers including the signature massage that involves strategically placing warm desert stones on the body.

In the spring, however, the spa will add a medical facility where guests can choose cosmetic treatments, such as microdermabrasion, skin peels, laser treatments and even Botox or collagen injections.

“We will offer cutting- edge treatments” under the care of a medical director, said Bruce Taylor, spa director at Agua Serena, the Hyatt Grand Champions’ new facility.

“There aren’t too many places around that provide all of that under one roof.”

The Hyatt Grand Champions may be the only medical spa in the area, but the combination of medical facilities with more holistic wellness treatments is a rapidly growing trend in the spa industry, said Debra Locker, spokeswoman for the International SPA Association.

According the ISPA’s 2002 survey, there were 9,632 spas across the U.S., of which 225 are medical spas, offering the services of a range of medical professionals.

The number of medical spas has increased 143 percent in the past five years. And among them, there was a 62 percent increase in the number of spas offering cosmetic services, such as microdermabrasion, chemical peels, light therapy, Botox and medical acupuncture.

But the “medi-spa” trend is not just about cosmetic services, said Sheila Cluff, owner of The Oaks at Ojai and The Palms at Palm Springs.

Consumers with heart or other health problems are seeking the care of physicians in spa settings and, recognizing that trend, some hospitals are borrowing treatments from day spas to help their patients feel better while learning to live healthier lives.

“It’s almost like medical procedures are being sugar coated with the spa experience,” Cluff said. “It’s for consumers who want to get it all done at once.”

Neither The Oaks nor The Palms offers medical services on site. But Cluff said The Oaks has relationships with plastic surgeons and dermatologists in nearby Santa Barbara. Clients can get their procedures done there and come to the spa for recuperation.

The Oaks is undergoing a five-year renovation that Cluff said will enhance the spa’s atmosphere of health and healing. “People will walk in and feel hugged and nurtured,” said Cluff.

Therapeutic nurturing also is the focus of the newest addition to Southern California’s spa country, The Montage Resort and Spa in Laguna Beach.

Scheduled to open Feb. 22, the beachfront Montage will not offer medical treatments. The goal at Spa Montage will be back-to-basics holistic therapy: deep-tissue massage, indoor and outdoor treatment rooms overlooking pristine coastal coves, the use of organic lavender, eucalyptus, citrus and mustards indigenous to the area, and hydrotherapy.

One specialty is an underwater massage that incorporates jets of water and products designed to help release toxins in the body.

Guests at the Montage will be “educated in the art of spa,” said Barbara Schultz, its director. They will be taught how to take full advantage of steam and sauna rooms and the cold plunge.

Schultz said the Montage is considering whether to add a medical component, “but it’s not the approach we’re taking right now.”

“Beauty is certainly an aspect,” said Schultz. “But our focus is on quality of treatment.”

Up the coast in Huntington Beach, the Pacific Water Spa at the newly opened Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa also will focus on water therapy, in addition to a full program of fitness, health and beauty treatments.

A signature treatment will be Thalasso hydrotherapy, a warm bath in purified seawater, which offers minerals that aid in healing, according to spa director Catherine McGrath.