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Beauty Inc issue 08/26/2016

I confess: I like to be in charge. I prefer driving to taking the train, for example. And I’m hardly alone. As we are all ceding control to technology, we’re harnessing it to intensify control as well. We have become diagnosticians through Google, exercise authorities via Fitbit and professional photographers with our iPhones.

This story first appeared in the August 26, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Planet Beach intrigues me on a similar micromanager-of-my-own-existence level. It’s a New Orleans-based spa chain with over 200 franchise locations globally that affords its customers the chance to drive their own skincare, spray tan and other beauty services using automated machines, bypassing chatty massage therapists and judgmental aestheticians altogether.

When a branch of the concept spa recently opened at the LA Fitness gym in West Los Angeles, I jumped at the opportunity to check it out.

Upon entering, co-owner and makeup artist Cool Benson told me, “You can come here, relax and you don’t have to spend all day.” With deadlines looming, this notion resonated with me, and Planet Beach lived up to the promise.

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The spa, which is blanketed in purple and silver for a feeling of faux luxury, features eight tiny rooms providing an array of options from Shiatsu-style back and neck massage to so-called “Hot Box Detox,” an infrared sauna in which people much fitter than me manage to do stretches and poses.

I crammed quite a few services into my first room experience, including teeth whitening, stress-busting heated jade stones — which felt like using a car seat warmer on my back, and even a guided meditation that commanded me to “wisely invest in every minute.”

The friendly Planet Beach employee steering my spa excursion said, “When I give people a tour, once we get to the teeth whitening, they are like, ‘Oh my God, you have everything!’”

But wait, there’s more!

I was also asked if I wanted to don an eye mask embedded with six lights to stimulate brain activity. My brain was already in overload, so I demurred.

Planet Beach is run efficiently. Benson estimated that services there primarily last from six to 30 minutes, with customers having power over the duration. I elected to whiten my teeth for 15 minutes, for instance. “You can do the same thing in the dentist’s office for $500, or you can do it yourself here,” the employee said. It’s unclear if results from Planet Beach’s “professional-grade” LED whitening system match what a dentist can do, but I concluded that my teeth did look a tad whiter without my having to endure any floss-shaming from a visit to the dentist.

I tried three more rooms following the whitening/meditation/jade stone combo. The second one I stepped into contained a hydration machine that resembled a glowing MRI machine or a horizontal rocket ship that spewed pleasant-smelling steam. The third featured light therapy for my face, and a massage chair that gave me a serious full-body probe. And the fourth involved spray tanning in a Norvell stand-up spray booth.

In total, all these services took me about two hours at a-la-carte costs of $29 to $49 each, totaling $156. Note: You could purchase a membership instead, for unlimited services at $59 monthly. I left more relaxed, and several shades darker.

Upon exiting, I noticed two people waiting for spray tanning and another headed to the hot box. Due to its location within a gym, these body services are naturally popular, but I feel the Planet Beach concept holds real promise for facial skin care.

The chain boasts Red Light Therapy devices that can be programmed for optimal results by demanding customers (like me)!

With its own lingo — customers are referred to as “beachers” — and rhinestone-encrusted door handles, Planet Beach lends a decidedly cheesy slant to this cutting-edge approach. But customer-piloted skin therapies sans painful blackhead squeezing could be the next sought-after luxury. I’d drive my car to get one.

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