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If not for the occasional instructor inspecting progress around the studio, the fact that Aveda is a learning environment might easily have been lost on me.

Spaaahhh.... 

Pampering on the cheap in Chapel Hill

Aveda Institute cosmetology student Lauren Husketh provides a "stress relieving hand ritual" to a customer.

Photo by Emily Metzguer

Aveda Institute cosmetology student Lauren Husketh provides a "stress relieving hand ritual" to a customer.

As I step out of the sweltering summer heat and into the bustling chill of the AVEDA INSTITUTE (200 W. Franklin St., Suite 110, 960-4769, www.avedachapelhill.com), greeters await my arrival at the door with iced water and hot tea in hand while busy students scurry, snip and shampoo just beyond the entryway.

If not for the occasional instructor inspecting progress around the studio, the fact that Aveda is a learning environment might easily have been lost on me. Students are professional in approach, service and interaction, and it seems the word is out: Business is booming at Aveda's Franklin Street location.

Popularity is likely due to price. Customers enjoy services that might cost up to twice as much elsewhere, and any concerns about the technically "amateur" status of the stylists should quickly be discounted. I say this from a sympathetic perspective; only one person on earth had ever taken scissors to my hair before my visit to Aveda, and I had (impractically, I admit) refused to believe an adequate haircut could possibly result from any hand other than my default stylist's.

I was wrong.

As I tremble under my cape, and stare, unblinking, into the vanity mirror, I begin to accept the fact that this cosmetology student, Sarah, actually knows what she's doing. And so do her classmates: Assured hands fluff fresh 'dos around satisfied faces on all sides of my chair, and I finally stop sweating and start chatting—after all, gossip is an integral part of any salon visit.

I motion to the filled stations throughout the salon, commenting on how busy it is, and Sarah nods with a knowing smile as she trims my embarrassingly neglected dead ends. She tells me Aveda is becoming more popular for students and for customers, and she notes that class sizes have grown considerably since she began her training.

Aveda used to accept anyone willing to pay tuition, Sarah says, but increasing popularity and limited classroom space might force the institute to limit enrollment on a first-come, first-served basis.

Aveda gives people who might not thrive in academic environments a different option, she explains—people like her, for instance. Sarah went to college and couldn't find anything that interested her until she came to Aveda.

"It's just so much fun here," she says.

Students spend several weeks in the classroom before venturing onto the styling floor. They must demonstrate a satisfactory level of confidence, practice and knowledge before they begin working directly with customers. The cosmetology program spans 10 months before students are certified; the esthiology program for spa students is completed in four.

Both programs seem to be effectively training the students; my spa experience is as satisfying and professional as my salon experience. The spa area is at the back of the institute, and when I step behind the dividing curtain, that's all my muscles need to begin their gradual and much appreciated unwind.

I opt for the Elemental Nature Facial, and at $40 for the 90-minute treatment, I'm easily convinced that this must be the best deal at Aveda.

click to enlarge Aveda Institute cosmetology student Abigail Peters provides a mini facial. - PHOTO BY EMILY METZGUER

The service begins with a sniffing session: I close my eyes and am presented with three oils of different scents. I go with vanilla, and my esthiologist-in-training Kaitlin incorporates the scent throughout the facial. I had filled out a form in the waiting area to specify problem skin areas I wanted emphasized, and all products used during the treatment are chosen according to these specifications. An instructor comes in only once to examine my skin and make sure the products Kaitlin has chosen for me are good matches (they are), but essentially, the student is left to her craft.

I'm pretty sure I drift off a few times during the facial, compliments of dim lighting and mood music—but what I remember is as lovely and self-indulgent an experience as any I've had in a professional spa. The treatment is thorough and seamless, complete with exfoliation, cleansing and a hydrating mask (not to mention the intermittent foot rubs and head-and-neck massages throughout).

I leave cleansed, oiled, trimmed, rubbed down and blown dry, and with enough money remaining in my pocket to afford a late lunch on Franklin Street. However, if you're still not quite comfortable with the idea of students getting their hands on your precious locks, here are a few other suggestions for salons and spas in the Triangle, some likely boasting a few Aveda alumni:

Chapel Hill

Mina's Studio
400 S. Elliot Road, Suite K, 968-8548, www.minasstudio.com

As far as Triangle spas go, this one is la crème de la crème. If you're looking to pamper yourself, you can really do it right at Mina's. The "mini pedicure," a 30-minute quickie comprised of a short soak, a foot rub and a fast polish, will set you back $41, pre-gratuity. The massage chairs provided during the sessions are, however, a pleasant perk. Mina's also offers a wide range of high-end beauty products for purchase.

Serenity Day Spa
1728 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., 932-6800, www.serenity-day-spa.com

Vibrating chairs and hot tea await customers upon arrival at Serenity, a Chapel Hill favorite best known for its hot stone massages. This spa offers some of the best deals in the area for hair, body, facial and waxing services.

Durham

Bella Trio Day Spa
5826 Fayetteville Road, Suites 103 and 110, 484-1221, www.bellatrio.com

Facials, tanning, manicures, pedicures and a hair salon all under one roof. The highly rated services here extend so far as to include laser hair removal, spider vein therapy, hair extensions and an on-site plastic surgeon. Bella Trio also offers wedding packages and gift certificates.

Studio K Salon
4711 Hope Valley Road, 489-4711, www.studioksalon.com

Studio K is the place to go for hair in Durham; the cuts, colors, extensions and updos crafted here enjoy rave reviews around the Bull City, and services also include facial waxing and makeup application. Specialists offer image consulting to individual customers, groups and companies; and coupons for deals on cuts can frequently be found by searching Studio K's profile on the CitySearch Web site.

Wavelengths
704 Ninth St., 416-9705, www.wavelengthsnc.com

Best known for its manicures and pedicures, Wavelengths also offers full hair salon services, massage, waxing, facials and makeup application. Located in the bustling Ninth Street neighborhood, this salon is especially convenient for the Duke University community.

Raleigh

Von Kekel Salon Spa
4209-114 Lassiter Mill Road, 782-0808, www.vonkekel.com

This top-rated salon and spa offers skin care, hair care and treatments for hands, feet and body. Spa packages include lunch for an additional fee, and customized pampering can be arranged with a quick phone call. Von Kekel uses only Aveda products. There is another location at 2230 Walnut St. in Cary.

Skin Sense, a Day Spa
Three locations in North Raleigh, Cary and Brier Creek, www.skinsense.com

This spa offers face, body, bath and wax services and even boasts a facility for teens and 'tweens at its Brier Creek location. "Relax & Reward" at Skin Sense is basically a frequent flier program for indulgence: Patrons earn points at each visit that can later be redeemed for services or products. The Web site offers monthly specials.

Iatria Day Spa
Three locations in Raleigh and one in Cary, www.iatria.com

The soothing atmosphere at Iatria begins working its magic as soon as customers walk in the door. Its facials and massages are renowned, and the teen facial service provides adolescents with specialized treatments to promote healthy skin-care routines. Monthly specials are listed on the Web site.

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