From makeup to massage, beauty tips for brides-to-be

A wedding may well be the ultimate rite of passage for a woman. It's the day when she wants to look her most beautiful, and the beauty rites that lead up to it have significance like few others.

Having a stylist do the bride's hair and makeup on the day of the wedding is simply the last step — surely not the only step. Long before the actual day, a facial, massage, body exfoliation, pedicure, manicure, waxing and the perfect hair and nails are musts. But, for optimum results — a genuine look of natural radiance — she needs a steady program of skin and hair treatments.

Many brides are consumed with worries like, what if my skin breaks out? What if my hair looks dull? Beauty experts say that the best strategy begins three months ahead of the wedding. This allows enough time, should skin be sensitive to breakouts or allergic reactions and to make any adjustments if a haircut or color doesn't work.

For optimum care, spas offer beauty packages where you can buy a series of facials and body treatments. Many brides and their attendants — certainly those who can afford it — book beauty packages at the same spa.

Experts offer the following beauty suggestions for brides:

*Facials: At the Clairins spa in Houston, aestheticians suggest starting facials three months ahead and continuing to have them either once a week or twice a month until the wedding.

At the Noelle Spa for Beauty and Wellness in Stamford, Conn., director Elizabeth Della Ratta explains that if a facial includes extractions (of blemishes), this should be done at least four weeks before.

Once your beauty plan is in place, maintenance at home — a daily cleansing and toning regime — is essential. Many of the most effective new products, from virtually every manufacturer, include vitamins that restore the skin while helping to remove toxins.

*Waxing: Have waxing treatments for eyebrows, lips, legs, underarms and bikini areas about six weeks before the wedding, especially if the bride has sensitive skin. Waxing of the face should be done at least several days before the wedding.

*Body treatments: Massage is the number one treatment choice at U.S. spas, and it's a particularly good idea for brides. A series of massages in the weeks up to the wedding will help to untangle all the pre-wedding knots. On the day before the wedding, a massage should be mandatory.

Jean Ann Karfo, massage therapist at a New York City day spa, says, "Of all the gifts a bride might receive, a massage will do the most to help her relax, which will help her look and feel her most beautiful on the day of her wedding."

When massage is combined with body exfoliation, skin literally glows. Body exfoliations should also be done at home; most experts suggest three times a week. A bride should also moisturize her body daily, preferably after a soothing bath soak.

*Manicure and pedicure: The Noelle Spa says that regular manicures over several months actually make nails stronger. For feet, try one pedicure a month for several months for satiny heels and toes.

*Self-tanning: If you insist on some artificial color, be sure to test products months in advance. Don't ever try a little self-tan on the day of the wedding. If over-applied, some products result in a very unnatural orangey cast. Tanning lights are not recommended.

*Hair: Jimmy Paul, one of New York's top hairstylists, says the biggest hair mistake for a bride is, "Having a hairdresser you've never used before do your hair." Instead, choose a stylist you trust, and several months before the wedding begin to work toward the hairstyle you want.

"Do not do anything too drastic before a wedding," Paul says.

Haircuts should be several weeks ahead — if you want a whole new look, several months ahead. Hair color should be touched up two weeks before the wedding. Professional hair conditioning in a salon should be no later than two weeks before the wedding.

For the best hairstyle, Paul says to consider one that's natural: If it's a bun, wear it low, or try a side-part, slicked-back style a la Grace Kelly or Gwyneth Paltrow at the Oscars. If your hair is short, Paul also suggests the slicked-back, side-part style. You want elegance, not theatrics.

*Hair color: If you use color, start experimenting months ahead. Get highlights one to two weeks before the wedding to allow time for the color to settle. For best results, Daniel Galvin, hair colorist to Madonna, Cher and Richard Gere, says to always work with a specialist you can trust and who decides on color based on the client's skin tone and eye color, not on trends.

*Makeup: The best makeup always begins with flawless-looking skin, and for that, choose concealer products to hide under-eye circles or breakouts. Begin experimenting with makeup combinations several weeks before the wedding and use a professional on the big day. Experts at Cover Girl suggest taking a Polaroid of the hair or makeup look you like and use it for reference on your wedding day.

Guy Lento, makeup director for Chanel, says, "A bride should look her most beautiful, but not like a marquee poster."