There's a lot to be said for indulgence.

"Washington is a stressful town," said Petra Schillig, owner of Petra's Skin Spa in Fairfax. "When you can do something to make yourself feel better, that's what you should do. Why not?"

Through their treatments, spas customize versions of serenity, providing customers with a multitude of services to choose from in their quest for coddling. The options abound; the potential is endless.

The experience isn't always flawless.

"When you go to relax, you don't really want to be hassled by someone who acts like a used-car salesman," said Judy Lim, a research assistant at the Police Executive Research Forum in the District. Lim's Christmas present, a day of pampering at the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon & Spa on Wisconsin Avenue, was "great," she says, and she would love to go again. The misstep? The person applying her facial was a little too pushy about selling spa products.

Any discomfort -- cost concerns, aggressive staff -- diminishes the spa experience. And, of course, there is no universal perfection.

But in a city full of day spas, customers can find "Nirvana" for $180, or whatever else they desire. Here are a few places to look.

The District

Seventy percent of the men who arrive at the Grooming Lounge come in without female prodding, says co-founder Pirooz Sarshar, and judging by the spa's 99 percent retention rate, guys like watching ESPN during their shoeshines. Amid men's magazines and cleverly or euphemistically titled spa staples (Hangover Eye Therapy, Foot Treatment), the Grooming Lounge is educating men about exfoliation and hair care and helping them look great.

Signature services include the 30-minute hot-lather shave ($40). The holiday special is the Capitol, a four-hour package -- "sure to relax even the most stressed-out man" -- including a hot-stone massage, cleansing face treatment, hot-lather shave, executive manicure, executive foot treatment and shoe shine ($380, gratuity included).

1745 L St. NW, 202-466-8900, www.groominglounge.com

Georgetown's M Street isn't known for its tranquillity, but customers at Bluemercury will find exactly that in the spa tucked behind the shop's retail area.

Aesthetic treatments include "brow styling" ($25) -- trimming, waxing and tweezing -- and microdermabrasion, which reduces pigmentation spots and unclogs pores, for a variety of body parts (prices vary).

Don't miss the holiday shopping party on Wednesday, Dec. 11, when the Georgetown store will offer 10 percent off purchases over $75, 15 percent off purchases over $150 and 20 percent off purchases over $250.

3059 M St. NW, 202-965-1300, www.bluemercury.com

Work downtown? Have an open lunch hour? Pop into Andre Chreky, a five-story, five-year-old oasis on K Street NW. If the exposed brick and soothing Mediterranean decor don't relax you, unwind to the sounds of the grand piano on the second floor. Or recruit friends for group pampering and take advantage of the pedicure-party room.

Popular spa packages are the "Renew & Rejuvenate," a haircut, manicure and pedicure ($110), and the "Elegance & Polish," a facial, manicure and pedicure ($125). New Year's Eve special: From noon to 5 p.m. on Dec. 31, have makeup airbrushed on for $75.

1604 K St. NW, 202-293-9393, www.andrechreky.com

Despite Celadon's proximity to Metro Center, most customers aren't walk-ins. The upscale spa combines traditional relaxation therapies with the latest anti-aging treatments. Its Eminence line of facials, for men and women, includes an organic apple-and-paprika exfoliating treatment and "Nirvana," a two-hour head-to-toe cleansing and application of "vitamin-rich" creams ($180).

Celadon offers, along with its signature "anti-aging" manicure and pedicure, Botox ($275 an area) and laser treatments (prices vary) administered by a physician. For the holidays, clients can customize spa packages. See the Web site for details.

1180 F St. NW, 202-347-3333, www.celadonspa.com

Maryland

Nestled among the shops in Gaithersburg's Kentlands Market Square is the Mind & Body Day Spa, which uses some Aveda and Dermalogica products. Its services include reiki therapy, ear candling and prenatal massages, and the "therapeutic" full-body massage ($70) and the manicure-pedicure special ($63) are popular.

For the holidays, Mind & Body has assembled a variety of packages for men and women complete with products to take home. See the Web site for details.

116 Market St., Gaithersburg, 301-208-1003, www.mindbodydayspa.com

Whether you succumb to the soulful scents wafting from diffuser pots, you won't take long to fall for the Aveda Lifestyle Store, Spa and Salon. Aveda champions natural products and flower and plant essences. Its popularity means savvy spa-goers (and die-hard fans) know to book treatments six to eight weeks in advance.

Sought-after services include the Himalayan Rejuvenation Treatment, a full-body exfoliation, rhythmic massage, aromatherapeutic steam bath, sinus cleansing, scalp massage, shampoo and blow-dry ($250). Recent arrivals: the fall makeup line rosemary-mint body-care products.

4807 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda, 301-652-1610, www.aveda-bethesda.com.

Jolie the Day Spa & Hair Design follows Mother's advice, treating you the way you want to be treated. That means no smoking, no children, no jewelry -- nothing to interfere with pampering.

The popular Body Break ($140; with pedicure, $177) provides relief in the form of a "therapeutic" body massage, Jolie facial (with mask) and manicure. A Pure Pampering Day combines a vitamin-replenishing facial, Cypress clay body treatment, aromatherapy massage, hairstyling, signature manicure, whirlpool pedicure and spa lunch ($280; with haircut, $305). Gift certificates and services can be purchased online.

7200 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, 301-986-9293, www.joliethedayspa.com

Virginia

The typical spa treatments and more are available at Petra's Skin Spa, where the staff includes a plastic surgeon to administer Botox treatments, cold-laser hair removal and other such procedures. The spa stresses the importance of deep cleaning for young-looking skin.

Popular procedures include the "Bio-Ultimate Toning Facial" ($98), a 10-step treatment for all skin types and both sexes, as well as the "Super Hydradermie," a facial that involves moisturizing and oxygenating the skin ($98). Packages are available.

3915 Old Lee Hwy., Suite 21-A, Fairfax, 703-385-6800

Cross the threshold of the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon & Spa if you seek "the world's ultimate day spa and salon experience." Its variety of massages -- classic, signature, reflexology, aromatherapy, deep muscle and more -- and facials are accompanied by extensive nail, waxing and hair services.

New treatments include a pomegranate warm-stone facial ($100-$120) and an olive-oil pedicure ($60-$70). In addition to Arden's old standby on upper Wisconsin Avenue NW, another branch opened at Pentagon Row last month.

8075 Leesburg Pike, Tysons Corner, 703-448-8388, www.reddoorsalons.com.

Visit Serenity Day Spa to take advantage of couple's suites, which are linked by a removable partition, allowing massages to become a shared experience. Guests are fond of the "Bare Essentials," a therapeutic massage, signature facial, manicure and pedicure ($210), and the "Romantic Revival," which offers couples therapeutic massages, manicures, pedicures, fitness facials and an aromatherapy gift to take home ($440).

The spa's holiday gift package combines an aromatherapy massage, signature facial, lavender sea-salt "glow" (full-body exfoliation), citrus spa manicure, makeup application and a CD of soothing music ($245). Other packages are available; see the Web site for details.

209 Madison St., Alexandria, 703-549-9212, www.serenitygift.com

Visit www.washingtonpost.com for a more extensive list of spas and salons in the Washington area.

Tracy Grant gives Katie McClure a back treatment at the Aveda spa in Bethesda.