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Lippman: Treat Yourself to a Special Spa

I have to confess right at the start that I’ve never been to a spa.

The idea of a massage creeps me out. But then again, I do receive acupuncture, and I get comments like “but don’t those needles hurt?” No, not if you have someone who knows what they are doing putting the needles in the right places.

So, we’ll start out by saying “to each his or her own,” and I met someone who has turned her love of spas from an avocation into a vocation.

Kamala Kirk, a South Pasadena resident since 2018, and her friend Lizzy ShReview columnist Andy Lippman dives into spa&beautytoday, a joint operation run by South Pasadena resident Kamala Kirk and friend Lizzy Sherman on all things spa related.erman of West Hollywood, started going to spas together and posting their experiences online. They started getting responses from people asking for recommendations and then suggestions from them to start a website.

So, that’s just what they did. The two women, who had worked at rival magazines while gaining knowledge about beauty and wellness, joined forces to start spa&beautytoday.

“We don’t have investors. We aren’t owned by a corporation and we don’t have a big team,” Kirk said. “We’re a two-person, privately-owned small business but we put in the work that you would see in a large corporation.”

“We’re not competing with anyone. We’re in our own lane, and we’ve carved out a totally unique niche that we are truly passionate about.”

I asked Kirk — who used to write for the South Pasadena Review — how she might define a spa.

“A spa is a place that you can go relax and disconnect from the rest of the world,” Kirk explained. “There are a wide variety of places. They don’t have to be expensive and it might just be acupuncture, a wellness treatment, a facial or steam room.”

Kirk told me that there is a lot of mystery about spas for a lot of people.

“Not a lot of people have the luxury of going to a spa,” she said, “and some people use it as a special treat like an anniversary or special occasion. People want to know what to expect and what they are getting for their money. Our site’s goal is demystify that.”

Kirk and Sherman must be finding their niche because Kirk said last year traffic grew 36% and there were 662,000 hits on their website.

There are a lot more people who are now using spas. The International Spa Association, in its study of the U.S. spa industry, said the industry generated $22 billion in 2022 and that there are now more than 21,000 spas of various types — from day spas to resort spas — in the United States. The study found there were 181 million visits to spas in 2022, with each visit generating between $100 for a day spa — which might provide a variety of services — to $162 for a resort spa. The association notes that spas range from day to medicinal to mineral spring to resorts.

Kirk said she and Sherman find a cross-section of people who use either spas or wellness facilities.

“You find busy executives who have high stress jobs. There are people who want to treat a mom or a wife to a special treat. Spas are becoming destination vacations and there are lots of bachelorette parties being held at spa resorts. People even go to spas to recover the day after a wedding,” Kirk said.

They also cover some nail and hair salons but primarily focus on spas and wellness places. The vista for their website has expanded. There are now about 20 freelancers based across the United States who have experience in the beauty and wellness business who write from six or seven states including Utah, Michigan, Colorado and New Mexico.

The site also has covered spas internationally, from Bora Bora to Turkey. One of the website’s writers will soon be going to Iceland.

“We’re always open to requests,” Kirk said. “We get invited to a lot of things. We’re usually doing a different spa every month. We get a lot of cool opportunities.”

The site contains a feature where you can type in a destination and receive listings for spas and wellness opportunities. An entry might provide photos, treatments available and food and refreshments.

“We don’t try to rank them. Everybody has something different that they might want. What appeals to one person might not appeal to another person,” she said.

Kirk said that if a writer doesn’t like a spa, they don’t write about it. They do accept ads and are now profitable, said Kirk, adding that there are no paid reviews on the website.

There has been an increase in offerings for men at spas, said Kirk, who added that her husband, Eric Shrager, who is in finance and is involved with the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, has really gotten into the spa scene.

For her honeymoon in Bora Bora, Kirk and her husband experienced a massage in an over the water bungalow that had glass panels in the floor where they could see the fish swimming beneath them.

There is the Surya Spa, at the Santa Monica Proper Hotel where she got a four-handed massage based on practices traditional to India. Many resorts offer spa packages without having to stay at the hotel.

Kirk said that some of the high-end spas in California, Miami and Arizona are cutting edge with the latest ideas in wellness.

“They want to offer what their clients want, even injectables and Botox,” Kirk said. “In Oregon, we found some of the spas used local ingredients. They were more focused on the earth and the environment.”

Palm Springs is another locale with a great number of spas, Kirk said, of all varieties, many attached to local resorts.

Some of the places — even locally, sounded pretty fancy — but the prices weren’t too bad.

Kirk mentioned the Valley Salt Cave in Woodland Hills, which has two salt caves, where people can go and spend 45 minutes in a zero-gravity chair while surrounded by walls made of pure pink Himalayan salt. A 45-minute session in the salt cave costs $35 per person.

Two spas that Kirk likes in Pasadena are the one at the Langham Hotel, and the Cote d’Azur, which is located in a historic home.

“The owners have done a great job in creating a unique spa feeling,” Kirk said of the Cote d’Azur. “They focus on energy healing and help with changing negative energy.”

The spas in Koreatown are also popular and some of them are open 24 hours a day. Kirk said they offer a more communal experience with amenities including steam rooms, dry saunas, bath houses and restaurants with admission averaging about $30 per person. Of course, that doesn’t include treatments of $100 or more for services at some places.

Kirk and Sherman did not do much traveling, nor did anyone else, during the pandemic, as many spas went virtual in offering wellness content that people could administer at home. However, there has been a boom in spas as many people are making wellness an increased focus of their lives post-COVID. Some spas closed during the pandemic, and the website tries to promote the smaller existing spas and promote those which have just begun.

“Many spas are becoming more elaborate,” Kirk said. “Now there are all sorts of things from salt rooms and hydrotherapy; red light treatments; more traditional Chinese medicine and reiki healing.”

I can hear some of you now.

If I want to relax, I’ll go take a long walk. It’s free. Kirk likes long walks with her dogs around town, too. Sherman enjoys playing guitar and roller skating. So life, for them, is not all about spas.

But if you want to try something different, I’ll trust Kirk and Sherman that spas and wellness places are a great alternative, even if you aren’t already a devotee.

So, go sit in a zero-gravity chair in a cave made of pure pink Himalayan salt.

Or go online to (or @spaandbeautytoday on Instagram). It’s a virtual adventure into a world that some of us never knew existed.

Note from the author: Remember the movie “Holy Frit” which told the story about how a local artisan Tim Carey helped create the largest stained glass window of its kind for a church in Leawood, Kansas? The award-winning movie, directed by another South Pasadena resident, Justin Monroe, is now available on different streaming platforms, including Amazon and Apple. This news comes courtesy of local businessman and co-producer Andrew Berk.

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