HowTo Find Beauty at a Bargain
Sandwiched between boarded- up businesses on a strip of H Street NE that’s not so up- andcoming, Dee and Kim’s Nails is on the lower end of the nail salon food chain. The staff isn’t super- professional or welcoming. And the small space, decked out in a mix of country- floralmeets- Pat- Benatar chic, is, well, not very clean.
So while lying on the sheet- covered waxing “ bed,” I’m sure I’m either going to end up eyebrow- less or, worse, skinless. But my young waxer has her game face on and examines my brow critically before jumping on the brutal wax, strip, rip train, which actually isn’t so brutal. She works methodically and with precision, and the post- plucking to catch errant hairs is nominal. I’m in and out in 10 minutes.
The Bargain: Quick and efficient; superb brow shape; lots of parking.
Hidden Cost: Dingy space ( go to the bathroom beforehand); not- so- friendly staff.
Return?: Yes, if I lived closer or happened to be in the area. Dee and Kim’s Nails, 526 H St. NE. $ 7. 202- 548- 0499.
nless you’ve seen firsthand results or have the word of a trusted friend, bargain beauty treatments can seem a very risky business. Sometimes it’s easier to shell out the extra bucks at a high- end salon as an insurance premium, because you just won’t know whether that $ 7 eyebrow wax was worth it until the ripping is done and your left brow is there — or it isn’t. Well, think of me as your new trusted friend. I called on hole- in- the- wall and strip- mall salons and snooped out five beauty bargains: a mani- pedi, an eyebrow wax, highlights, a onehour massage and airbrush tanning. In total, I rang up $ 162 ( not including tips), cheaper than my last cut and color.
Sacrificial lambs included pampering ( there wasn’t a glass of champagne waiting for me at the door), customer service and my time. Is there anything you should never sacrifice? Absolutely. “ Always expect cleanliness, know exactly what is happening and [ expect to] be managed in an organized way,” advises Cary O’Brien, a member of the Professional Beauty Association’s board of directors.
They say you get what you pay for. Let’s find out.
From the window, Perfect Nails in Chantilly looks clean and serene. Inside, the pedicure massage chairs have seen happier days ( the re- motes look as if they’ve been handled by leagues of stressed- out soccer moms), but a couple of clients are wearing lots of big, shiny bling — a good omen in my book, because if anyone knows where to go for solid pampering, it’s a rich lady. What is not a good omen: soaking my feet in bubbly water for 15 minutes while waiting for a technician on a Tuesday at lunchtime. Once underway, though, my technician doesn’t rush while completing the typical mani- pedi formula, from filing to polish.
The Bargain: No snickering over my ragged fingernails; healthy polish selection; big- screen TV; pedicure’s polish was still kicking three weeks later.
Hidden Cost: No pain or blood loss, but they were a bit overzealous when scraping my left heel; forgotten second coat of OPI’s Chick Flick Cherry on my left toes; thin magazine pile.
Return?: Yes. Despite the pitfalls, this was still one of the better mani- pedis I’ve had in the area. Perfect Nails V, 14406 Chantilly Crossing Lane, Chantilly. $ 25 Tuesday and Wednesday, $ 30 all other days. 703- 378- 5672.
Hair Expressions, just off migraine- inducing Rockville Pike, has the hushed and excited buzz of a happy learning environment. Capablelooking students with funky dos snip, curl and color the tresses of a spectrum of clients. Seated in my chair, I pull out a picture and explanation I found online of a take on highlights called paneling. My stylist consults with her supervisor, and together they piece together a three- part process that includes foil highlights, a darker color in back and an overall toner. The result: While it’s not the hair I envisioned, I’m now rocking an updated color that flatters my skin tone.
The Bargain: Relaxing atmosphere; solid communication and execution; huge savings.
Hidden Cost: Ice- cold water at one of the shampoo stations; more than three hours of my time. ( Patience is key, owner Ed Ruiz says. Working with students can take “ twice as long, sometimes two and a half times as long.”)
Return?: Yes, for highlights and to try out the $ 10 cuts. Hair Expressions, a Paul Mitchell Partner School, 12450 Parklawn Dr., Rockville. $ 45 ( add $ 5 to $ 10 for blow- dry). 301- 984- 8182.
When I signed up for an airbrush tan at Nail Studio and Day Spa in Reston, I knew the effect was supposed to be more Caribbean bronze than tan- in- a- can because it’s applied by a human. ( The human doesn’t have to be certified, though, owner Lutfiye Yilmaz says, so ask how many airbrushing hours the salon’s technician has logged when you make an appointment.) I had no idea, however, that I’d be standing on a wet washcloth in the middle of a relatively Zen massage room, wearing only a paper thong and hair cap and hanging on dearly to my dignity while being hosed down with ( chilled) vegetable dye by a woman wielding a spray bottle that calls to mind a blowtorch. The process takes 15 minutes, as does the drying, during which I stand on the same washcloth in front of a box fan reading People magazine and listening to New Age tunes.
The Bargain: Clean space; extremely personable and professional technician; nice compliment on my faux tan from the guy at the front desk.
Hidden Cost: No instructions to wear old, dark clothing for the ride home ( my sweater was stained but did wash out); no warning before the face spray.
Return?: No, but only because I’m much happier in my natural ashy skin. I’ll leave the airbrushing to Jennifer Aniston & Co. Nail Studio and Day Spa, 1484 North Point Village Center, Reston. $ 35 for a full body application; $ 15 for half body ( waist up or waist down). 703- 481- 6245.
After completing a health history with me at Potomac Massage Training Institute, a quiet, friendly graduate of the school ( you can designate male or female when you make an appointment) leads me to a Spartan room equipped with massage table, chair, a CD player that skips and a very loud clock. We discuss my muscular challenges and overall health, and he explains how he’ll proceed, instructing me to let him know if something doesn’t feel right. This is key: Clearly stating what you’re feeling will prompt the practitioner “ to say, ‘ Tell me a little bit more,’ and they’ll try to explore that so they can change what they’re doing,” says Demara Stamler, executive director of the institute. My therapist’s approach is textbook tension relief, and he moves from head, neck and decolletage ( flip) to arms, legs and back.
The Bargain: Communication and professionalism were the best I encountered during this project; excellent facial massage.
Hidden Cost: The technique felt fumbly and awkward ( I didn’t speak up because I didn’t know what he could do differently); after the massage, the therapist stood right by me as I filled out the comment card.
Return?: Yes. The price is worth finding a student with a style I like. Potomac Massage Training Institute, 5028 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Suite LL. $ 35 for a one- hour massage with a student while an instructor watches through a window in the door, $ 50 for a one- hour massage with a graduate. 202- 686- 7046.
At the Hair Expressions school in Rockville, student Stacy Margolis works on Haley Marr’s tresses under the supervision of owner Ed Ruiz.