Elizabeth Arden opened her first beauty salon in New York City in 1910, and the bright red door to the original spa continues to be the spa’s iconic signature. It intrigues me that a spa can survive for over a century, and yet Red Door  has 31 locations nationwide (as of this writing). I had read in a magazine that the flagship spa in New York City was recently relocated, revamped and reopened. Out of curiosity (I had no real interest in going to the spa), I had scanned the online menu of services and was surprised to see medi-spa procedures offered. I had no interest in the medi-spa treatments, but the spa had piqued my interest enough to warrant a scan of the facial services. They appeared to be typical luxury treatments until I noted the words “organic flower peel” in the microdermabrasion narrative. My curiosity got the better of me and I just had to check out this organic facial.

The Facial

Medical-grade aluminum oxide crystals are traditionally used in microdermabrasion and while the crystals are generally not known to have adverse effects under short-term exposure, the safety of long-term exposure has been questioned. The Organic Flower Peel microdermabrasion ($195 in New York) offers a natural alternative to aluminum oxide crystals. This system polishes skin with organic grains formed from pulverized flower seeds with varying botanical infusions by skin type: tea tree for actinic; lavender for sensitive; and rose for normal to dry skin. Diamond-tip resurfacing can also be incorporated into the system.

My esthetician, Claudia, thoughtfully demonstrated the organic microdermabrasion on my arm so I would know what to expect. Technique and proper use of pressure are essential for a positive outcome, and the sensation felt equivalent to traditional microdermabrasion. However, in place of where I would normally see the white dust of aluminum oxide crystals, the crushed organic grains resembled very fine sand. Assured my face was in the hands of a skilled esthetician, I lay down to receive some much-needed exfoliation.

I must admit to certain predispositions regarding Red Door; it is luxury chain of spas after all, and I expected the facial to be heavy on pampering, but not very results-driven. Well, I was right on the pampering part - I received an extensive massage, which included my shoulders, arms, hands, and scalp. Claudia’s massage was not only heavenly, but also demonstrated consideration that I rarely find - most people hurt me during a massage. I would have assumed Claudia was a massage therapist as well as an esthetician had she not indicated otherwise.

I was, however, mistaken about the results part of the facial. Normally, I would have chosen the rose blend for myself as I feel my skin is dry and resilient. Claudia wisely chose the lavender infusion for sensitive skin pointing out that while my skin seemed resilient, there was a delayed reaction to treatments, and my skin was indeed sensitive. Since I started product testing, I’ve also noted the increased sensitivity of my skin. I was grateful for her thorough skin analysis. After the microdermabrasion procedure, I was treated with a cooling collagen mask and several calming potions. Thanks to Claudia’s skincare expertise, I walked out with perfectly smooth, healthy-looking skin.

While the overall flower seed microdermabrasion experience was very similar to traditional crystal microdermabrasion, I felt the organic grains provided a gentler yet effective exfoliation. Moreover, it was nice to know that any potentially inhaled matter was organic. While I do believe that aluminum oxide crystals are safe under short-term exposure, given the option, I’d prefer the organic treatment.

(Microdermabrasion treatments are available at all Red Door locations except Maryland.)

The Spa

Red Door entered a new phase in 2012, attempting to lose the staid reputation as the matronly salon of choice. The spa aims to attract a younger clientele along with the emerging population of manicured males through social media and even mobile rewards. I had never seen the interior of the former four-floor location; however, the new well-appointed facility of two floors has a fresh, airy vibe that hasn’t compromised the spa’s luxury appeal. Red Door was largely recognized as more of a hair salon than a spa for many years, but with the relocation, it appears to be regaining true spa status.

Elizabeth Arden opened her spa with the fundamental belief that “to be beautiful is the birthright of every woman.” While every woman may have the right, not every woman can afford to be beautiful with the lofty prices charged at Red Door. In all fairness, the spa does offer discounts to those in the know, but I still wouldn’t say the Red Door is wide open to all.

During my visit to the flagship spa, I did find something altogether unexpected. I’ve often noted a distant, contrived politeness in longstanding establishments such as Red Door. While the spa’s staff was impeccably trained (“spa voices” were used in the Relaxation Lounge), their manner somehow transcended training. Everyone I met seemed to be genuinely nice - that’s not easy to fake. I don’t think I have ever felt so comfortable in a spa. As I descended in the elevator upon my exit from the spa, I realized something I’m rather reluctant to admit (especially at these prices). I hadn’t  just received a spa treatment; Red Door had been an experience.