- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

Lidia Hartouni loves pampering people. And that's what she does five days a week at Serenity Day Spa in Alexandria. The aesthetician, or skin-care specialist, gives clients everything from facials and mud wraps to massages.
"One of my most important functions here is to make sure that the whole experience is relaxing for the client, and that starts from the moment they enter the locker room to change into the towel to when they come to my room to get a facial," says Mrs. Hartouni, 42, a Springfield resident.
Her first client this day is Dr. Tim Schneidau. He is already lying on a bed in the center of one of the spa's treatment rooms, with its light-tan decor, soft lighting and Muzak playing in the background.
Mrs. Hartouni starts up a machine to give Dr. Schneidau a microdermabrasion, a procedure that removes the topmost layer of facial skin and cleans the pores. "Dermatologists have been doing this technique for years and it's really starting to become one of our more requested services," Mrs. Hartouni says as she puts a small wandlike appliance on the suction tube.
While applying a liberal amount of a light-tan cleansing gel to Dr. Schneidau's face, she makes small talk with the surgeon, who had popped in for a quick facial treatment before performing a 2 p.m. surgery at George Washington University.
"What kind of facial soap do you use," Mrs. Hartouni asks, picking up the wand and lightly applying it the doctor's face.
Dr. Schneidau's response of "a general cleanser," brings a startled cry and a 10-minute lecture on skin care.
"I love informing people about better skin care, because most of them, like Dr. Schneidau, don't know how much better their skin would feel with a few simple changes," Mrs. Hartouni says later.
Skin care has been much of Mrs. Hartouni's career for the past 13 years. After working as a manicurist for four years, Mrs. Hartouni says she became fascinated by the complexities and genetics of skin care.
"The more I learned about, the more I wanted to educate my clients as much as possible," she says. Mrs. Hartouni was part of the original team when Mike and Susan Meyers opened the day spa six years ago.
By her fourth year, Mrs. Hartouni had become one of the six main aestheticians, getting state board certification as a skin-care technician.
She stayed with the spa when Sports & Health Co., the Washington sports club company, bought the day spa three years ago, and she plans to end her career at Serenity Day Spa, which has seen significant remodeling in the past year.
"This company has done a good job of keeping the spa up to date and relaxing not just for the clients, but the workers as well."
Dr. Schneidau says he appreciates his skin-care lesson and is enjoying the $125 facial treatment that lasts half an hour. "It feels like a Hoover vacuum machine is sucking up my skin, but it was something relaxing I could do during my lunch break," he says in between wand strokes on his face.
The tip of the wand, about the size of a dime, completely scans Dr. Schneidau's face and neck, except for his nose. Mrs. Hartouni uses a wand with a rounder tip to get better access around the nostrils.
After the skin-removal process, Mrs. Hartouni applies a light sun block along with a moisturizer to protect the newly cleansed face from the bitter cold outside.
"Now is the time when I see a lot of cracking and chapping, so it's important that you regularly use a lubricant," she advises her client.
His face has a slight pink tinge, which Mrs. Hartouni notes is a normal side effect from the treatment, generally lasting for an hour. "While microderms are not seen as relaxing as a full facial, they do much more for your pores in one treatment and are a quicker solution."
For the rest of the day, Mrs. Hartouni plans to give three facials, one full body treatment, another microdermabrasion and a leg and face waxing.
"I actually like having a little variety in my day because it's hard sitting in the chair giving eight facials back-to-back."
Mrs. Hartouni averages about eight to 10 clients daily during the week and 10 to 15 during the weekend. While business has picked up in the past six months, Mrs. Hartouni says it's still half of normal business before the September 11 attacks.
"In a recession or slow economy, people don't want to spend their money on something they don't need, but enjoy," such as spa treatments that range from $125 to $410 per session, she says.
But Anne Tucker, director of the day spa's operations, says Mrs. Hartouni's long career with the company has increased repeat business.
"People trust Lida because she is so easy to talk to and she truly enjoys giving them a totally relaxing visit," Ms. Tucker says.
On her lunch break, Mrs. Hartouni heads over to see her husband, Ahmad Hamidi, who works at a nearby Alexandria restaurant.
"He brings me lunch a lot of times and I'll give him massages or facials. It's a good combination."

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