Modern spas are offering a relaxing combination of ancient natural remedies and modern-day technology
Spas are raiding nature's global larder to harness plant power and marrying hi-tech solutions with ancient wisdom and rituals to achieve these goals. And it is getting personal, with suppliers helping spas create bespoke signature treatments, and spas tailoring treatments to individual needs.
At its revamped House of Elemis spa in London, the British skincare specialist has replaced "sleepy, indulgent rituals" with a stripped-back menu of results-driven treatments using skin lab analysis to address the specific needs of customers - who also get to choose the lighting and music.
A Speed Spa delivers a "condensed, curative blast" for the time-pressed, while amber and quartz crystal beds (the first in the UK) envelop the body in relaxing warm crystal beads that help practitioners identify postural and alignment problems.
According to research firm SRI International, wellness tourism grew by 13% between 2013 and 2014 to reach a global value of $494b (£318b).
"People are living the equivalent of two or three lifetimes in one," explains naturopath Louise Westra - and this adrenalised, high-cortisol lifestyle is undermining functionality, energy, digestion and sleep.
She is head of ESPA Life, the next-generation wellness and complementary medicine centre that joined the Spa by ESPA at Scotland's Gleneagles hotel in late 2011 (one of just two in the world). In-depth consultations precede the bespoke menu of treatments from a team of osteopaths, physiotherapists, herbalists, and traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture therapists.
Westra finds EPSA Life customers seek a deeper, broader continuity of health support with sustained therapeutic effect, rather than one-off treatments - which can mean multiple visits over many months.
She sees growing interest in holistic healthcare systems such as ayurveda and Chinese medicine, which, she argues, "would not have endured for the last 4,000 years if they didn't have therapeutic value". Rituals include gua sha (stimulating blood flow with a porcelain spoon) and shirodhara, the deeply relaxing ayurvedic art of drizzling warm oil onto the forehead for massaging into the hair.
Butter, mud and sand
The Spafinder Wellness 365 report forecasts growth in the food-as-medicine and nature-based beauty and healing traditions of the Middle East and Africa beyond the now-familiar hammam ritual, Moroccan argan oil and Africa shea butter. It lists more rasul/mud treatments, Arabian sand bathing, and food-as-beauty ingredients, such as camel's milk and the black-seed-based Tiossan Senegalese skincare line.
London's KWest hotel is ahead of this curve with its popular African baobab ritual using Spanish supplier Germaine de Capuccini's Perfect Forms Oil Phytocare line of body scrub, body toning oil and triple-action Dreamy Legs formula that's based around the organic seed oil of the baobab, a potent anti-oxidising superfruit packed with fatty acids, sterols, phytosterols and vitamins.
The ritual is topped off with a signature smoothie of baobab powder mixed with banana or papaya - a personal stamp inspired, says spa manager Lyudmyla Nagirnyak, by a KSpa therapist's charity work in Africa. The powder is unprocessed - it is simply sieved from the fruit which, unusually, dries on the tree.
Another popular food-based skin treatment at KSpa is the anti-ageing Revaleskin Coffeeberry booster, which operations director and former spa manager Vladanka Manceva describes as an anti-oxidant with an invigorating and brightening yet non-abrasive effect.
KSpa's quest to pique interest made it the first London hotel to offer an authentic Russian banya experience using the Russie Blanche products developed by former Miss Russia Julia Lemigova to combine potent Russian adaptogens, such as Siberian golden root and Siberian ginseng, with French refinement.
Twigs and herbs
A banya de-stress or detox massage can follow a heat/chill cycle from steam room to Snow Paradise (another London first) to a warming Venik massage, where the body is rhythmically tapped with Russian birch twigs soaked in therapeutic herbs.
"While our residents and spa days are looking for relaxation and luxury rituals, our spa members are looking for results-driven treatments with cumulative effects," says Victoria Lees, spa manager at Rockliffe Hall in Darlington.
Rockliffe Hall's Relax and Renew programme combines Dr Murad's results-driven cosmeceutical facials with its more popular soothing rituals, while it has developed two signature treatments with Italy's Comfort Zone - the Tibetan Sound Massage and (most popular) the Sacred Nature organic face and body ritual. The newest Sacred Nature offering is the re-mineralising, detoxifying and muscle- and joint-warming Grotta Giusti mud body wrap, suitable for masks or massage.
Next month, Rockliffe launches an outdoor spa and spa garden room with treatments from Neom Organics, a therapeutic well-being fragrance brand with a targeted effect on mind and body - demonstrating aromatherapy's evolution from a mere pleasing background scent.
Combining meditation and massage, the treatments promote energy, happiness, deep sleep and de-stressing - the latter two using innovative skin treatment candles (made from natural nut and bean oils and 100% pure essential oils of lavender and jasmine with sweet basil or Brazilian rosewood) that melt rapidly to drizzle onto the skin.
Neom Organics' "wonderful aromatic blends" will, according to Lees, "be mirrored in the planting around the development".
Similarly emphasising the phytonutrient treasures in our own backyards is Elemis's new British Botanical Body Cream by Amanda Ross with lavender, chamomile, milk proteins, echium oil, organic oats, geranium and palmarose.
Gleneagles' Spa by ESPA uses the British-made Skin Radiance and anti-ageing Lifestage lines. Westra describes Lifestage as a "lovely marriage" between natural products and cutting-edge science in the form of stage-release technology. Her favourite is the Lifestage Optimal Skin ProSerum, which is packed with essential fatty acids, vitamins and plant extracts such as the super-spice turmeric, white lupin, sunflower and moisture-locking Kalpariane seaweed.
Turn back time
Intense anti-ageing treatments are Dr Murad's biggest sellers, headed by its Rapid Collagen Infusion. This breaks down the collagen molecule - which is too large to penetrate the skin - into its component amino acids for full absorption.
New this month, its five-in-one Invisiblur Perfecting Shield SPF30 demonstrates the trend towards multifunctional products. It's a clear sunscreen with anti-ageing, blurring, priming and moisturising capabilities.
This appliance of science is highlighted in Germaine de Capuccini's new EGF + HA formula, claimed to contain the highest-ever concentration of the Epidermal Growth Factor anti-ageing molecule with high levels of moisture-retaining hyaluronic acid. It's the fruit of years of research in conjunction with Inverse Biofarm, the Institute of Biotechnical Research and the University of Granada.
If the skin is the outer reflection of inner health and beauty, then the gut (another predicted Spafinder trend) is the foundation of wellness and immunity. Its microbial mix can even affect mood, memory and obesity.
Gleneagles' Westra reckons most spa customers opting for an abdominal or body detox really require colonic hydrotherapy, while the ESPA Life at London's Corinthia hotel offers a repair programme for damaged digestive tracts in partnership with Austria's Viva Mayr Health Centre. Probiotics (friendly bacteria) are already migrating from foods such as kefir and cultured vegetables to skincare products from Clarins and Epicuren Discovery.
The holistic approach allying science with phytonutrients and time-tested traditions mirrors customers' growing awareness that "natural beauty is long-lasting beauty", sums up Manceva. It's a sea change from the old botox/collagen filler "quick fix" that can become an addictive treadmill, leaving users with "a totally different face that people don't recognise".
My cup of tea
In the move "beyond purely beauty or pampering", many spas are tapping in to the ancient power of herbal medicine, which remains the key source of medicine in 80% of the developing world, notes Ajit Madan, co-founder of London's Camellia's Tea House and the UK's first certified master tea sommelier.
"Tea and herbal teas are being used much more in spa environments, either in combination with treatments or as healthy beverages, rather than the usual water and juice found in less progressive spas," he explains.
Customers such as Ockenden Manor and the Grove Sequoia Spa are serving bespoke blends alongside a selection of Camellia's broad menu of hand-blended artisan wellness teas that tackle everything from bones and insomnia to allergies and arthritis.
A popular choice, adds Madan, is the Beautiful Skin mix of chickweed, red clover, nettle, dandelion, marigold, chamomile and rose: "Spas have been combining their treatments with our teas so the client feels that whilst, for example, a facial is helping their outer skin appearance, the Beautiful Skin tea is helping the same area but from an internal perspective."
Hi-tech boxes are offering multiple face and body treatments at the flick of a switch, boosting the effectiveness of skin creams, oils and serums, and massage.
BioTech Ragdale Hall in Melton Mowbray was an early adopter of the Elemis Biotec machine, designed to deliver non-invasive, anti-ageing facials targeting every skincare concern. Combined with hands-on therapy and specific super-activators, it offers five technologies - ultrasonic peel, toning micro-current, rejuvenating galvanic current, oxygen infusion and rebalancing light therapy - to help damaged skin cells repair, renew and retone.
KSpa is considering Germaine de Capuccini's Efficy medical-aesthetic device to take its spa to the next level of results-driven face and body treatments - everything from wrinkles and cellulite to slimming and toning.
Efficy combines precisely controlled mono-polar radio frequencies, vacuum push-pull massage and the DTI system, which enables the active ingredients of any kind of skincare product to penetrate to the desired level in the skin.
Camellia's Tea House
ESPA International (UK)
Germaine de Capuccini UK
Spa Voyage (Russie Blanche)