Friday lunch in Greerton. Bubbles, giggles, gossip and sushi _ it seems like a typical girlie lunch for Lee-Ann Taylor and three of her friends, catching up before its time to pick up the kids from school. But these ladies are not in a wine bar or restaurant, they are in a beauty spa. The
y're sitting in the library at Lox Spa and Salon. In between the chatter and the nibbles, they each fit in a consultation and a facial with the spa's therapists.
``When I first organised one of these get-togethers, all the girls were pestering me to do another one because not only is it a chance to catch up with friends, but you also feel like you are really treating yourself, too. After a restaurant lunch I leave a little jaded, but I feel energised from the connection with my friends and the luxury of the treatments.''
The library in the Lox Spa is a place that owner Janine Tait created for women to relax in. It is filled with books about beauty, nutrition and skin to dip into. Or ladies can have a high tea with jasmine Thai tea and truffles made with Janine's own skin food, Bestow beauty oil. After a detox facial, they can retire to the library where they are served freshly juiced veges and fruit.
``If someone comes for a facial, we wouldn't just look at their skin, but their whole lifestyle. Research has shown that working holistically with nutrition can have a huge impact on the health and appearance of our skin.''
The holistic approach to beauty is in response to demand from ladies who want more from a salon than a quick wax, but want to develop a relationship with a therapist.
``It's going back to the idea of being a therapist, not just a beautician,'' says Michelle Roberts-Gray, who is developing the approach at another Greerton spa, World Spa.
``I call it individual programming because we work to customise a woman's requirements from what we analyse they may need from a professional viewpoint, but also addressing their concerns and above all listening to them. ``It's also about knowing them _ what times suits them.''
Michelle, who has just come to the Bay from Cape Town was concerned that Bay women didn't seem to see therapy as a necessity, ``but rather just saw it as a pamper, odd treat, or superficial means to an end''.
``As women we do so much, run around after the family, shop, clean cook. And we do all these thing and suck it up. But rarely do we make time for us. I encourage ladies to see coming to a spa as part of their life.
``Somewhere that is for you. Even if you just want to come and have a quick wax or get your toenails painted, or even if you just want half an hour to yourself reading a magazine in the garden, it is a time just to breathe ... and if you don't know how to breath and relax, I will teach you because actually it is quite common I find women don't know how to breathe deeply.''
World Spa is designed with different spaces where people can relax, in a lounge area with magazines, or on sun loungers in the tropical garden. There is an outside sauna, and two Balinese-type gazebo treatment areas outside where clients can enjoy hot stone massages to the sound of tui.
For massages, Michelle and spa owner Courtney Duncan select special treatment oils depending on what they is working on. After the treatment, ladies are presented with a ribbon with the scent on to wear around the wrist.
``It's a reminder of how relaxed they felt during the massage. When they smell that scent, they can transport themselves back here. It is a connection with the spa.''
Like the library at Lox, World Spa also attracts groups of friends. On Friday evenings after work, groups of women gather and have drinks, a quick spray tan or get their nails painted.
For Lee-Ann Taylor, as well as going to Lox with friends, going by herself is an escape from the every day. ``It's really a haven, an escape from the craziness of life. And when I see my therapist Renee, I really feel like I am seeing an old friend because when you establish a connection with someone, it's no longer like a client relationship, but I really feel in the company of someone who is not just caring for my skin, but really caring about me as a person.''
For Janine, helping clients from the inside and out is what she sets out to achieve.
``What is really exciting is that not only do our clients see improvements in their appearance, but also their energy levels, health, vitality and resilience. Often people think they have to have a complete dietary transformation, whereas in actual fact we find that small changes made with big commitment can have the biggest impact.''
Another trend in salons and spas is that women want a one-stop-shop where they can have everything done at once. This is particularly helpful for women who are time-pressured and may be fitting treatments in before work or in their lunch hour, says Ginene Swanson, beauty therapist at Goldfinger salon in Grey St.
The salon includes a hairdresser, a nail bar, a spray tanning room and separate treatment rooms. There is a TV area with sofas and magazines, and the latest additions are machines focusing on inch loss and body contouring, the i-Lipo and the Hypervibe.
``We find that women don't want to go several places _when you are limited for time, it's hard to organise going to get your hair done, gym and nails in a separate place. As so many of our ladies wanted to focus on weight loss, cellulite improvement and body shape, it seemed a natural progression to offer these machines right here.
They can use them together or on their own _ with the Hypervibe 10 minutes on this is equivalent to 45 minutes lifting weights in the gym. So you can do this three times a week in your lunch hour, and get the results of hours in the gym.''
Like at Lox and the World Spa, Ginene says the therapists create a whole treatment plan.
``You should use machines in conjunction with diet and activities to get the heart rate up,'' she says, ``and the Hypervibe in particular can work both voluntary and involuntary muscles and increase blood flow and circulation, which not only help with inch loss but improving your blood flow is excellent for mood and well being. ``We call it the butt burner as after putting your butt on here for a few minutes it's red hot!''
Improving a women's well-being is also a passion for Michelle at World Spa.
She wants to offer one-stop treatments which combine modern and traditional therapy _ on Saturdays women can come see a private doctor and get Botox, and it will be the only spa in the Bay where people can get vitamin C injections. World Spa also has treatments using pure oxygen. A more traditional approach for weight loss and body contouring is a course of deep tissue massages, which she describes as ``not for ninnies''.
``It's a very hands-on personal treatment which not only works intensely on areas of the body, but people who do it regularly report an improved attitude to body image, as well as sculpting and centimetre loss. ``I use it with people who are tired or a little depressed, and not ready to go to the gym,'' says Michelle.
And with the tropical garden, the candlelight, peaceful music and scent of exotic flowers, not to mention relaxation combined with inch loss, who needs _ or wants _ the gym?