Thursday, July 21, 2011

Inside-Out Beauty

Rubbing a lemon peel all over your body may help exfoliate your skin, but you won’t get a shot of vitamin C unless you squeeze the juice in your mouth. And yet, for most of the spa world, wellness is an outside job. We rub, scrub, and wrap ourselves in the most nutritive substances imaginable, from fruits and veggies to antioxidant-rich herbs, with the idea that their attributes will improve our well-being. But these ingredients only penetrate the most superficial layers of the skin. Putting fruits and veggies in your skincare concoctions amounts to playing with your food.

Fortunately, a newer crop of spa treatments are looking at health from the inside out. They include an added component: a drink, elixir, or nutritional supplement, to be imbibed during the spa stay. Not only are guests pampered on the outside, they are enriched internally. It makes so much sense, one wonders: why didn’t we think of this earlier?

In fact, some of us did. Traditional Chinese Medicine has long combined both external and internal therapies, such as acupuncture and reflexology with an herbal tea, made from a customized blend of herbs. Of course, in ancient times, such treatments were rarely offered in settings as sumptuous as that of the Spa at the Four Seasons Biltmore, in Santa Barbara, California, where Zen-inspired wellness rituals are performed in an ocean-view, Italianate pavilion decorated with Venetian plaster walls, hand-knotted silk rugs, and tile fountains.

The Biltmore offers four different Chi East Asian Rituals focusing on detoxification, slimming, body-sculpting and cellulite reduction, and hand and foot care. They are designed to create clear pathways for the optimal flow of “chi,” or life force, throughout the body.

Each treatment also includes an elixir, a blend of herbs traditionally used in Chinese medicinal treatments. For instance, the Jade Total Body Detox includes the “Detox Blend,” a mildly sweet-tasting supplement containing key ingredients designed to speed up the elimination of toxins and pollutants. The formula includes dandelion root, an anti-microbial ingredient that helps clear the liver, and burdock root, which support the body’s normal cleansing process by moistening the intestines and promoting bowel movements. Ginseng, a popular Chinese herb, helps to balance the intestinal tract, strengthen the digestive organs, and increase circulation. Licorice, an anti-inflammatory ingredient, also has a balancing effect on the gastrointestinal tract.

“For thousands of years, Traditional Chinese Medicine has incorporated a wealth of knowledge about the healing powers of herbs,” says Gena Downey, director of publicity at the Four Seasons Biltmore. “We wanted to bring this series of beneficial treatments to the spa to honor that heritage and to offer the healing benefits to our guests.”

The Eau Spa at the Ritz-Carlton in Palm Beach, Florida takes a more fanciful approach. The spa, with its modern-Gothic décor, disco ball in the steam room, and cupcakes in the spa lounge, has a distinctively sybaritic feel. That spirit of indulgence is reflected in the spa’s Bejeweled collection of facials and body treatments, which pair the anti-aging benefits of platinum with the healing properties of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. The Platinum and Diamond Facial, for instance, involves painting a guest’s face with fairy wing-thin sheets of genuine platinum. The guest also drinks a dose of an elixir that has been infused with plant extracts as well as the energy of the gemstone.

“The Awaken Diamond formula, when imbibed or applied to the body, triggers neurological brain responses that lead to clarity of mind, enhanced memory, and focus,” says Fredericka Fairchild, a Shelter Island, New York-based psychotherapist who creates the potions. “The elixirs are distilled in crystal bowls and sunlight during new and full moons in the tradition of Tibetan Medicine. Each elixir is intended to balance the chakras and have specific nourishing effects on the mind, body, and spirit.”

For those who prefer their internal benefits a little more rooted in conventional science, the Spa at the Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley, California, offers the Aquamarine Body Wrap, a seaweed-based treatment featuring highly concentrated marine clay to fortify the body’s natural detoxification process. At treatment’s end, a remineralizing Oligomer cocktail strengthens and balances with key minerals.

“By incorporating a nutritional supplement into the spa treatment, the health benefits of the treatment are extended,” says Spa Director Chris Hilburn. “I think supplements will become an increasingly popular part of the spa in the future.”

In the meantime, even spas that don’t include supplements as part of their menu of therapies offer nutritional boosts in the form of the drinks and snacks in their spa lounges. Perhaps none do it with more savoir-faire than New York City’s Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa, which specializes in “vinotherapie,” or spa treatments made with the antioxidant-rich byproducts of wine production. Guests relax in the “French Paradox Lounge,” so-named for the paradoxical-seeming notion that the French indulge in wine and eat rich foods, yet maintain good health and svelte figures. The French Paradox Lounge features an in-house sommelier, who offers guests a selection of vintages, including reds, whites, and a rose, along with fruits, nuts, and an assortment of teas.

“Drinking good wine in moderation is good for your health and well-being, and has been part of the French tradition for centuries,” says Spa Director director Joyce Davis.

Certainly the healing rituals of the spa—the steam and sauna, the relaxing body therapies, the skin-soothing facial treatments, and the deliciously unstructured time spent unwinding in spa lounges—have a positive impact on our overall health and well-being. Adding nutritional supplements to the mix helps us to remember that health is an inside job.

This post was written by Katherine Stewart for

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