Not too many years ago, a great body was just a tan -- and, perhaps, a few pounds away, or so we thought.
If we just lounged in the sun long enough to absorb that "healthy" tan and took a few evening strolls in the surf to shed those extra pounds, and, of course, avoided those boardwalk fries, we would go home at the end of our beach vacation with a new body.
In the past decade, however, scientific research has refuted that comforting vacation ritual. We now know that a tan is more of a sign of premature aging than health, that over-exposing skin to the cancer-causing ultraviolet rays of the sun is harmful, and that just walking out into the great outdoors subjects our bodies to a host of unseen pollutants.
Still, most of us heading for the beach this season probably harbor a secret hope of going home with a great bod, or, at least, a slightly better one than we've endured through the winter.
And thanks to a few innovative spas and salons in Ocean City, the beach can still be the place to rejuvenate that body.
At A Perfect Face, on 123rd Street, estheticians trained in the European tradition wrap clients in seaweed or apply sea salts, plant abstracts and herbs, which they say will improve skin circulation and tone, rid the body of pollutants, and reduce weight.
At L'Officiel Salon for Hair-Skin-Nails, on Coastal Highway, skin care specialist Jane Brigham suggests anti-oxidants as a defense against wrinkles.
And at Maggie's Nails on Coastal Highway, owner Maggie Whittington puts the finishing touches on the body with a French manicure, topped with sunscreen, and a body wax that removes hair almost anywhere.
The seaweed body wrap, one of the newest ways to improve the body since the sun fell out of favor, has been the rage in Europe for years and is gathering followers in America, says Carol Withers, owner of "A Perfect Face," which specializes in the use of seaweed as a beauty aid.
The seaweed, which is shipped to the United State from off the coast of France, "has 104 different trace elements. It's just very nourishing for your body," says Ms. Withers, who hires licensed skin specialists trained in European skin care methods.
After an 80-minute session, which includes 25 minutes wrapped in seaweed, "your skin feels like satin; it's incredible," says Ms. Withers, who adds that the difference is noticeable for a few weeks.
The seaweed body wrap, which costs $75 at A Perfect Face, begins with a body brush. Then various serums are applied as a toner and cleanser.
A mixture of seaweed and essentials oils, which removes the natural smell of the seaweed, is then applied like a paste to the body. The client is then wrapped in heavy plastic and a heated blanket. The wrap causes the client to perspire and shed impurities and excess water.
After the wrap, the client showers and steams and is rewrapped in a foil designed to regulate body temperature. After another shower, this time with cold water, the client receives a light massage with a body cream.
Seaweed facials ($45) and seaweed manicures ($32) are also available, Ms. Withers says.
While body wraps are available for both sexes, massages and facials are the two most popular skin procedures for men, according to Ms. Brigham of L'Officiel Salon.
Men usually require treatments tailored to their body type. "Men have thicker skin and less fat on the face," which is a plus because their faces aren't as prone to wrinkle, Ms. Brigham says. But they often have more dead skin, dirt and debris in their facial skin, she notes.
Body salons also tackle cellulite, that flabby, bumpy fat found more commonly on women's legs as they age.
While exercising the legs and thighs and losing weight are still the best remedies for eliminating cellulite, Ms. Brigham says, "lotions can be massaged into the skin to smooth the area and reduce the build up of fluid, which promotes cellulite."
Revitalizing your body at a salon does have its price. Ms. Withers charges $250 for "the ultimate day of beauty"; a head-to-toe package can cost $175; and a facial can run more than $40.
But a day in the sun is free, and despite all we've learned about its damaging effects, people will still head to the beach. So if you insist on suntanning do take precautions.
"More than 90 percent of wrinkling is caused by ultraviolet rays," says Ms. Brigham, who recommends heavy use of sunscreens.
"Sun damage is cumulative," she notes. Even the slightest tan is the beginning of skin damage, she says. "If your skin gets enough sun to turn brown, that's your skin's last defense: the cells are releasing more melanin." Sunscreens should be applied before you even leave your house.
Ms. Brigham recommends a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) value of at least 8 on the body and at least 15 on the face. Fair-skinned people, including blonds and redheads, should be even more cautious, says Ms. Brigham, who wears sunscreen even in the winter.
The darker your natural pigmentation, the more sun exposure you can endure without damage. However, even dark-skinned people should use a sunscreen, she notes.
Using good quality make-up may also help, Ms. Brigham says. There was a time when make-up products clogged skin pores, but most of today's make-up helps protect skin against the harmful effects of the sun.
"Women who wear a moisturizer and foundation have a little more between themselves and the sun," Ms. Brigham notes.
If you chose to wear makeup on the beach, however, apply a sunscreen first, she says.
But if you do get a burn, she recommends treating it with fresh lavender. "It is calming and soothing to your body and helps prevent scarring," she says. Lavender can also be applied before going out in the sun to help prevent burning, she says.
* Apply sunscreen before you leave for the beach and use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 8 on your body and 15 on your face.
* Reapply sunscreen often, especially after swimming. Even waterproof suntan lotions need to be reapplied.
* Continue to use suntan lotion after you have a tan to protect your skin against ultraviolet rays.
* Use sunblock over nail polish to prevent yellowing.
* A protein protective spray, which has a sunblock, can be used on color treated hair. People who swim in chlorinated water and water with lots of minerals should use triamine-treatment formula.
* Do not go out in the sun 24 hours before or after a leg or body wax.
* Do not sunbathe after a Retin-A treatment.
* Don't drink too much iced tea while sunbathing. It creates etonic acid in the body, which promotes burning.
* Skip the perfume. Fragrancies can react with the sun's ultraviolet rays, causing skin irritations and blotches on the skin.