Green Spas Take Root
The growth of the spa industry has been one of the hottest trends in health.
So it’s good to know that you can pamper and primp to your heart’s content
without stressing the environment—even if your spa experience never
extends beyond the walls of your own home.
Judging by the $9 billion-plus Americans spent at spas in 2007, we’re willing to drop some hard-earned cash on getting and staying beautiful. While battalions of medical spa estheticians across the country are ready to Botox at the first sight of a laugh line or chemically peel away those pesky crow’s feet—even use high-tech photo boxes to find skin faults you can’t see in a mirror—a new back-to-nature ethos is growing within the industry. In response to an increasing demand for organic, planet-friendly products, green spas are sprouting up all over the country to nurture our most beautiful selves using the bounty of nature while still treading lightly on the earth.
What sets green spas apart from the rest of the herd is their commitment to the health of spa goers and the environment by limiting use of chemicals (in both skin-care products and such behind-the-scenes items as cleaning supplies), reducing waste, employing sustainable building
practices and conserving operational materials—all while offering long-term health and healing in lieu of a quick fix. The result is an experience more in harmony with nature, allowing the spa treatments to do what they were meant to do: heal.
Be aware, though, that the language involved with this new movement can be tricky. “Natural,” “holistic,” “eco-friendly,” “sustainable” and “green” are all unregulated claims that require some diligence in uncovering whether or not a spa lives up to what it professes. However, if a product is organic, that means it’s certified by the USDA’s National Organic Program and conforms to the requirements of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) by using no pesticides, preservatives, irradiation or fertilizers. If a spa is truly green, either the spa manager or the esthetician will be happy to answer all your eco-questions.
rA (it’s not a typo) Organic Spa in Burbank, California (www.raorganicspa.com) is a spa walking the green talk—constructed with readily renewable acacia wood and bamboo, decorated with non-VOC paint and cleaned without harsh chemicals. rA favors a line of skin-care formulations that are hand-crafted in Hungary and full of organic ingredients such as tomato, blueberry, paprika and wild plum, which are blended with cold-pressed oils and other goodies. “Estheticians have a lot of fun with [these items],” says spa representative Kristi Sheldon. “It’s like being an artist and having every color of paint available to you.”
Organic spa supplies are not long-storage items. “If I give you a box of crackers and tell you that they’re two years old, you won’t want to eat it,” says Dr. Saulius Alkaitis, a skin-care product researcher. “When you put something on your skin, you’re basically eating it. The skin is a living organ and if you feed a living creature healthy, living food, it will be healthier. It’s the simplest thing.”
It makes sense that organic products are better for the skin. Pick up a bottle of conventional cleanser or moisturizer and you’ll see an ingredient label populated with multi-syllabic, tongue-twisting chemical names. You wouldn’t eat something with such dubious ingredients, so why smear them on your skin to look good? Skin absorbs a surprising amount of material. Keep in mind that skin is no less a vital organ (your body’s largest, in fact) than your liver or kidneys and, like them, functions best when it’s nourished with wholesome, basic fuel. A lot of people have come to agree, which explains why sales of natural personal care products are roughly $8 billion a year according to the Natural Products Association.
Priti and other spas use skin-care formulations based on organic and wildcrafted or biodynamically grown plants that work interactively, nursing skin back to gentle balance. Ingredients such as St. John’s wort (for gentle healing), chamomile (containing anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties) and shea butter (to help heal bruising, increase circulation and moisturize) in a base of aloe vera (which provides calming, astringent and moisturizing benefits) allow the skin to heal on its own terms, rather than having its problems masked by artificial chemicals.
While providing the skin with healthy products is important, nothing compares to the benefits reaped from a nutritious diet. “The skin is linked to everything,” Alkaitis says. “It shows what’s happening internally."
Nutrition is a big attraction at Purcell Mountain Lodge (www.purcellmountainlodge.com, 1-250-344-2639). Located in the pristine environment of British Columbia’s high backcountry, this eco-sensitive resort offers nutrition and whole foods workshops to help their guests learn how to gain control over their own health. Host Adam Hart, president of Clear Impact Consulting, is the world’s first Whole Foods Personal Trainer and the driving force behind Purcell’s nutritional workshops.
For healthy skin, herbalist and nutritional consultant Brigitte Mars recommends getting plenty of beta-carotene, a vitamin A precursor which strengthens the skin’s immunity, making it less permeable to infection while stimulating collagen production. Vitamin C promotes healing, strengthens capillaries and helps produce collagen. Essential fatty acids keep skin from getting dry and itchy, while zinc promotes collagen creation and boosts the immune system. The herb horsetail can bolster hair, bones and teeth, and a natural compound called MSM has left many women with more supple skin.
Priti’s D’Amato believes you owe it to your overall well-being—including your skin’s health—to go organic in what you eat and clean your home with. Fortunately, it can be a gradual process. “I always tell my clients that you don’t have to throw everything out of your cupboard,” she says. “When one thing runs out, choose a greener option. That’s the way you turn your life green.”
A Healthier Home Spa
Greening your life can include bringing the organic spa experience home with you. In her book Beauty By Nature (Healthy Living Publications), Mars outlines recipes for whipping up your own skin-friendly healing creations using essential oils, herbs and food. Most recipes are literally good enough to eat, such as a simple facial cleanser from yogurt and lemon juice or a facial scrub with oatmeal, cornmeal, almonds and honey.
Mars also recommends getting skin-care products from natural food stores. “I like to buy products that are from nature,” she says. “We don’t need to test these things on a rabbit, because [the ingredients have] already been tested by millions of people for thousands of years.”
You can put your best face forward and be healthy, too. By going green on your next spa trip—and by using eco-friendly products in your own home spa—you’re not only nurturing your body and soul, you’re protecting our earth. And that’s a truly beautiful thing.
Some of the spas in this story are members of the Green Spa Network, a trade group that aims to bring sustainable business practices to the spa industry: www.greenspanetwork.org.