Hot stones? Sesame oil? Powdered milk? Massages aren't just Swedish any more.
Instead, you're rubbed with warm river stones, drizzled with sesame oil or soaked in a skin-softening milk bath. Think healing, relaxing, all-about-me time -- with a twist.
We picked five area salons and sampled some of these massages. Here's what we found:
Before the shiatsu practitioner at About Faces Day Spa & Salon in Towson begins, he warns that the massage is going to be quite unlike any other. And he's right.
This ancient Japanese treatment works with the same meridians that acupuncturists use. However, instead of piercing these various points on the body with needles to relieve pain, shiatsu merely involves putting pressure on them. The idea is to improve circulation and balance the chi -- or life force -- in the body.
The massage takes place on a mattress. You lie face down, fully clothed as the therapist uses his fingers, hands, even elbows, to apply pressure to your neck, shoulder, back, arms and legs. He also peppers the massage with yoga-like stretches. (Note: It's best to wear shorts or pants.)
Where: About Faces Day Spa & Salon, The Shops at Kenilworth, 894 Kenilworth Drive, Towson, 410-828-8666, www.aboutfacesdayspa.com.
Price: $75 (1 hour).
The relaxation begins from the moment you step into a room bathed in candlelight and scented with floral oils. Outside the spa, the evening rush hour rages on. But in this room, pampering awaits.
First, island flower oil (featuring scents from a combination of Balinese flora) or frangipani (a fragrant Thai flower) oil is slathered on your body and rubbed into your skin. Then, smooth stones of different sizes that have been warmed up in hot water are used to massage your body and then placed on different pressure points.
"You get the intense heat and the pressure from the weight of the stones," said Kristin Chou, spokeswoman for Jolie The Day Spa & Hair Design in Bethesda.
The result? A warm, blissful massage that leaves no doubt as to why this technique has been used for centuries by the Egyptians and Native Americans.
Where: Jolie The Day Spa & Hair Design, 7200 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, 301-986-9293, www.joliethedayspa.com / bethesda.
Price: $105 (65 minutes).
This massage technique, which has been used for thousands of years in China and Japan, has become so common that several Baltimore-area spas offer it. But Robert Andrew, a Tuscan-themed spa in Gambrills, may well be among the most luxurious places to try it out.
From its leafy decor to a tranquillity lounge complete with a fireplace and comfy chaise longues, this spa's ambience could easily stand up to the best of New York and Washington.
According to Laura Norman, author of Feet First: A Guide to Foot Reflexology, there are 15,000 nerves in your feet and different points are connected to parts of the body. To relieve stress or pain in these areas, you apply pressure to the corresponding points on the feet. And Robert Andrew's reflexology therapist proves adept at sharply pressing her thumbs into parts of your hand and feet that need the most kneading. (It can hurt, though.)
The one problem with Robert Andrews? With cheery greeters and therapists, the experience lulls you into a pampering-induced nirvana, until it's time to leave. Be warned -- the checkout staff can be surly.
Where: Robert Andrew, 1328 Main Chapel Way, Gambrills, 301-261-3844 / 410-721-3533, www.robert andrew.com.
Price: $50, $65 for hand and feet reflexology, $95 for a 75-minute treatment.
When it comes to aromatherapy, the spanking new Spa on The Avenue in White Marsh is a hotbed of intriguing options. There's the Raindrop Therapy massage -- based on a Native American healing ritual -- which aims to "realign your energy system" by dropping nine plant aromatherapy blends on your spine and rubbing them in. And the Shirodhara Treatment (derived from Ayurveda, an old holistic healing method from India), which begins with trickling warm sesame oil on the forehead.
We tried the Lavender & Calendula Herbal Massage, a treatment featuring a spa-concocted mix of lavender and calendula steeped in olive oil. After the oil is massaged in, warm compresses are placed on the back to help release tension.
It was hard to figure out the best part of the experience -- the aromatic steam shower that follows or the fact that spa owners were so thoughtful that the Moroccan-themed rooms had vividly hued draped ceilings. (Don't you hate it when you spend an hour on your back staring at a blah ceiling?)
Where: Spa on The Avenue, 8165 E. Honeygo Boulevard, White Marsh, 410-931-1130
Prices: Lavender & Calendula Herbal Massage, $105 (90 minutes); Raindrop Therapy, $80, (60 minutes); Shirodhara Treatment, $99 (75 minutes).
A hot bath in a European hydrotherapy tub equipped with 100 underwater jets designed to massage your body as you soak ... what's not to like?
The Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon in Washington offers four different hydro massages -- Aromatherapy (relaxing), Sea Spa (purifying and cleansing), Milk Bath (hydrating, luxurious) and Green Tea (antioxidant).
We went with the Milk Bath, which turned out to be everything it was billed to be. A powdered milk mix is generously poured into the water, the jets are started and we're off to 20 minutes of heaven in a hot tub. At the end, not only is your body loosened up, but your skin also is smooth and baby soft.
Just don't forget to bring a swimsuit.
Where: Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon, 5225 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Washington, 202-362-9890, www.reddoorsalons.com.
Price: $45 (20 minutes).