How To Get A Free Spa Day — When You're Broke As Hell

Photo: Courtesy of Lush.
If you dream of going to a fancy-pants spa and ordering a day's worth of treatments (and Champagne) without even glancing at the price list, join the club. Our reality looks more like this: paint our nails at home and pray we don’t eff them up while picking at our sad Trader Joe’s dinner.

But there's a workaround: Some sleuthing into the workings of our favorite beauty retailers found that we don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to make it look like we did. In fact, we don’t have to spend a single cent. Because there are dozens of ways to cop free facial treatments, hand massages, makeup applications, and more — if you know where to go and what to ask for.

One shop encourages you to follow a curated YouTuber’s tutorial with — get this — their stash of makeup. Another will give you a robust, 20-minute facial treatment that infuses a whole lot of pricey serum (it costs $250 a bottle) into tired skin. A third will hook you up with a free makeup application, then text you a video of the process so you can replicate it at home. And should you have to go from impromptu slumber party to work without so much as a tube of mascara in your bag? There’s a place where you can get your face done in five minutes flat.

Okay, we know these gratis services are designed to sell products. And many of these employees make their living from commission. So utilizing these free treatments and keeping decorum may mean spreading your usual beauty purchases out over a few store visits. Regardless, when you just need a little bliss on a rough day, the services in the slides ahead are a freaking godsend.
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Where: Nordstrom
What: An entire spa day’s worth of treatments linked to NYFW
How: Little known secret about Nordstrom: Many of the stores have private treatment rooms that provide manicures, pedicures, and waxing services. Another one? Every spring and fall, the store holds its Beauty Trends Event, during which industry experts share their tips and give out complimentary skin-care treatments and makeup consultations.

In the past, La Prairie has given Caviar Spa Facials, Jo Malone has taught classes on scent layering, Kate Somerville has offered Oxygen Facials, Estée Lauder helped customers find their perfect makeup shades, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Beauty Trend Events typically take place right after NYFW; the first one starts February 26th. But mark your calendars for the 15th — that's when we've heard Nordstrom will be sharing all the details on its site.
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Where: Rituals stores
What: A grounding massage
How: Rituals is a skin-care brand that lives up to its name by tapping botanical-based ingredients and making formulas meant to dial up indulgence. Those who pop by the brand’s New York City stores can get a taste of the good life via one of its free, in-store rituals. Performed at a very spa-like sink setup that sprouts its own cherry blossom tree, each ritual is a mini treatment with a centering theme.
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Where: Aveda stores
What: Instant tranquility, courtesy of aromatherapy and massage
How: With its calm aura and fantastically soothing fragrance, we may or may not have fantasized about living in an Aveda store. Its complimentary, stress-busting services get us that much closer to living the dream. With nearly ten free treatments to choose from, you can evaporate bad vibes via massages for the scalp and shoulder, arms and hands, or neck and shoulders. Also on the menu: a 20-minute facial (coupons are made to be presented for this treatment, but you might be able to get by without one). You can also sink into a stress-busting aromatherapy session or make like Cleopatra and have someone gently brush your hair — all while enjoying an aromatic cup of hot tea.
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Where: Chantecaille counters
What: Luxury multi-masking and lymphatic massage
How: A stop at the Chantecaille counter (found in Barney’s New York, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Saks, Bloomingdales, Blue Mercury, Space NK, and New York City outlets of Fekkai) is worth the chance to inhale the botanically-rich products alone. But those in the know also take advantage of the brand’s complimentary facials, which address different skin concerns for each zone of the face, and include lymphatic massage from the neck to the hands to help detoxify lymph nodes. When the facial is complete, makeup application is also offered, making this stop a must for date nights.
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Where: Dr. Dennis Gross counters at Nordstrom and Sephora stores
What: A peel that even sensitive skin types can handle
How: After seeing women suffer with raw, irritated skin post-peel, Dr. Dennis Gross invented a way to tap the same alpha and beta hydroxy acids (including glycolic) for serious skin exfoliation at home and without the downtime. If you still haven’t tried this cult favorite product — or just need a quick complexion pick-me-up while at Nordstrom or Sephora stores — you can, without spending anything.
Skin experts at both stores are equipped to hook you up with the right peel for your skin type — but be warned, the chances of you liking the results and buying a box are extremely high.
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Where: Kiehl's stores
What: Quick skin pick-me-ups
How: We’ve always loved Kiehl's for its generous take on sampling, but the brand also offers in-store treatments to help perk up hands, eyes, and complexions. If you have time to kill, try a 20-minute facial that treats the eye area, face, and neck, or go for a 10-minute hand treatment that exfoliates and addresses dark spots. And if you’re in a mad dash? A quick five minutes — and no payment — is all it takes to revitalize tired eyes.
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Where: Merle Norman studios
What: Sweets-themed express treatments
How: After dinner, skip dessert and pop into Merle Norman, where you can collect a Cocoa & Vanilla Brightening Facial for free. The 15-minute treatment employs a chocolate and vanilla-scented mask spiked with licorice and pomegranate extracts to brighten and deliver antioxidants. If chocolate and vanilla aren’t your jam, there are four other delicious options to pick from.
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Where: Elizabeth Arden counters
What: Mini facials, massage, and more from a fancy spa line
How: The Red Door Spa and Salon by Elizabeth Arden is one of the most famed day spas in the world. It’s also a place where facials can run up to $265. But department store shoppers can get a taste of Red Door pampering at Elizabeth Arden counters, thanks to free 15-minute services. Try a toning and lifting massage, hand massage, lip facial, oxygen facial or anti-pollution face treatment when visiting Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, Belk, BonTon, and Dillard’s stores nationwide. Though not all services are offered at every department store, the brand plans to expand its free express treatments to more locations in 2017.
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Where: Le Métier de Beauté counters
What: Bespoke makeup tutorials that beat the YouTube ones
How: Sure, YouTube tutorials are fun to watch, but most don’t turn out a makeup look that best fits your skin tone, face shape, and lifestyle. Enter the Makeup Mirror at Le Metier de Beauté. As a brand pro applies your makeup, the new device — installed in select Neiman Marcus stores — records your entire session. Once done, you’re given separate HD video files with audio of face, eyes, cheeks, and lip application by text or email, so you can follow along with the pro’s tips when DIY-ing at home. As if that weren’t enough, brow tinting, waxing, and tweezing services will be offered starting in February at select counters in California, Florida, and Texas.
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Where: Lush stores
What: Hand and arm rubs
How: With stacks of bath bombs and shower jellies at every turn, perusing a Lush store serves as an instant mood-lifter: How can you not feel happy when surrounded by so much color? Add in complimentary hand and arm massages — which are always on offer and given with any Lush product you want to see in action — and the feel-good vibes multiply.
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Where: NYX Professional Makeup stores
What: IRL help with custom YouTube makeup tutorials and free makeup to play with
How: Ask any on-trend girl who’s also on a budget: NYX is a godsend for affordable and of-the-moment makeup. Now, with the launch of its brick-and-mortar stores, the brand is giving shoppers a makeup battle station away from home, complete with products to try and iPads loaded with custom tutorials by beloved beauty YouTubers like Patrick Starr and Nicole Guerriero.
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Where: Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics counters
What: Lipstick demos
How: Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics has some of the strongest lip colors in the game. Cop a professional application of a power lip with one of the counter’s complimentary demos, which not only perfects your lips, but gives you tips and tricks for working with the trademark liquid formula, which must be painted on with a fine-tipped brush.
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Where: Sephora
What: Advanced makeup application and mini facials
How: It happens every time we cross Sephora’s threshold: There’s so much to look at — and sample — that we instantly forget what we came in for and the fact that free mini makeovers and facials are always ripe for the picking. Staffed makeup pros can give date-ready smoky eyes, carve out chiseled cheekbones, and even apply falsies. Facial masks, peels, and moisturizers are also delivered in facial treatments.
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Where: Orlane counters
What: A big dose of serum to the skin
How: We’ve raved about the Orlane B21 Extraordinaire before. Since its release, the serum has become so popular, the brand has found it hard to keep it in stock. Now, it’s offering a week’s worth of the treatment (which is to be used twice daily) in one 20-minute session, thanks to the new Orlane B21 Beauty Infuser. The tool looks like a glue gun, but by using galvanic current (an ionizing current that is thought to make cell membranes permeable), it helps drive the product deep
into the skin, and results are said to last for a week. The craziest part of it all? The treatment is doled out free of charge to those who swing by Orlane counters at Neiman Marcus.
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Where: Bluemercury stores
What: Streamlined makeup and skin treatments on the fly
How: Bluemercury stocks a hell of a lot of covetable beauty brands, but its own proprietary skin and makeup lines are pretty incredible, too. The stores offer a chance to try them for free, either with a mini facial, given with m-61 skin care products, or makeup application with Lune+Aster products.
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Where Eve Lom counters
What: Spa-worthy skin cleansing
How: Eve Lom singlehandedly changed the cleanser game with its gentle balm formulation, which employs muslin cloths and a specific cleansing technique to elevate face-washing into a luxurious ritual. Enjoy a deep cleanse with the brand’s Eve Lom Cleanser as it was meant to be experienced, followed by a mask treatment as part of a mini facial, or settle into a hand treatment — both are free at Space NK as part of the brand’s free express treatment offerings.
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