Getting Steamed

Woodhouse Day Spa’s Hot Towel Facial stirs up warm memories
Spa photographs courtesy Woodhouse Day Spa

Allowing for a few variations, facials are pretty much the same. But when I saw a Gentleman’s Hot Towel Facial, touting the “traditional barber hot-towel technique,” on the menu at The Woodhouse Day Spa in downtown Detroit, I was immediately drawn back to childhood, where I spent many Saturday afternoons in barbershops. As I waited my turn to sit in one of those oversized barber’s chairs with a metal footrest, I flipped through well-thumbed copies of Life and Look magazines, occasionally glancing up to watch the barber work his ministrations on grown-ups. Smooth-faced boys were pretty much subjected to just a quick buzz cut, but I envied the men, who luxuriated in much more elaborate treatments. There were steamed towels applied to the face, hot foaming lather, sweet-smelling jars of blue after-shave, and tubes of hair cream, which the barber would squirt into a little worm in his palm, then massage it into the scalp of the customer, finally combing the hair into place with a long black comb.

Sufficiently soaked in nostalgia, I booked the facial. A steamer was turned on full blast, allowing the pores to open. Dena, my facialist, first dabbed my eye area with a cooling solution, which turned out to be makeup remover. After one cleanser was applied, a hot towel covered my face and neck, wiping away the residue. Then came a second cleanser, followed by another hot towel. An exfoliator came next, with another hot towel in its wake, with the steamer still cranking out warm air. Extracting a few blackheads was rather painful, but I suppose that’s the price to pay for clear skin. The cooling mask was refreshing after the rush of hot steam. While the mask was settling in, Dena massaged my hands and arms with a nourishing moisturizer.

The surefire way to see if a facial has been effective is to look in the mirror to see if the skin glows. Mine did.

My hands, though, weren’t looking their best, so I headed for a Gentleman’s Manicure, performed by Constance, an affable woman adept at shooting the breeze with customers. As we chatted about everything from Detroit history to white wines, she carefully cleaned up my cuticles, buffed my nails, massaged my hands, and softened them by placing them in warm plastic mitts full of hot paraffin. This all happened while I sat in a chair that more closely resembled a throne, equipped with an electric back massager.

Generally, I avoid clear polish. To my mind, it makes a man’s hands look too dandified. But I tried a polish with a matte finish called Nails for Males, a great product from Orly and an understated finishing touch.

The décor emphasizes  earth tones: putty-colored walls, chocolate-brown floorboards, and dark-brown furniture. The requisite gurgling fountains and dim lighting add to the tranquil ambience.

The Woodhouse is a franchise of 20-plus spas, with headquarters in Texas. The Detroit location, which opened last December, is on the lower level of The Lofts of Merchants Row.

That stretch of Woodward south of Grand Circus Park, once home to Detroit’s bustling shopping district, has seen better days. No matter how one tries to dispel them, the ghosts of Grinnell’s, Himelhoch’s, B. Siegel, and of course, Hudson’s, still hover. But The Woodhouse is a happy new face in an area that’s starting to look up again.

1447 Woodward, between Clifford and Grand River, Detroit; 313-965-6270. 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon., Wed., Fri., and Sat.; 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Tue. and Thur.; closed Sunday.