Body and Soul: Haute Wraps

As suppliers make more herb-based products available to spas and consumers become more concerned about what goes on and into their bodies, herbs are all the rage in body scrubs, polishes, and wraps.

| December/January 1999

  • Herbal oils are a crucial element in most massages.
    Photos courtesy The Breakers, Palm Beach, Florida

Twenty years ago, going to a health spa meant predawn workouts, spartan living, and low-cal dining. We called them fat farms. These days, spas—which operate on the philosophy that total well-being can be ­attained by focusing on wellness, ­fitness, and relaxation—have taken on new life, with a variation to fit every need and budget. There are resort spas, destination spas, and even day spas where patrons can turn off the outside world for a few hours as they receive a quick facial or massage.

The business of spas has transformed as well. According to the International Spa Association (ISPA), a trade organization, the number of spas in the United States has snowballed from 80 in 1980 to 1,130 in 1998. More than 50 percent of spa goers are between the ages of thirty and fifty-five, and in the past ten years the proportion of men visiting spas has tripled from 9 percent to 27 percent. Spa-Finders, the world’s largest spa travel agency, reports that per-person rates for complete spa programs start as low as $72 per night. At the same time, herbs, a small but integral part of the “spa experience” decades ago, have taken center stage. “Herbal wraps have always been the treatment of choice,” says Tanya Lee, spa director at The Spa at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida. “But with the baby boomers taking a more proactive look at health and their desire to return to ancient cures, herbs are being used in everything.”

Thus, herbs are headlining spa menus as fast as one can say, “parafango.” Mint, rosemary, clove, lemongrass, and sage are in. Aromatherapy treatments feature towels steeped in chamomile, rosemary, or lavender infusions and draped over the body to combat stress. Masks and poultices slather the skin with herb-based cremes; body wraps “mummify” clients in sheets soaked in herbal solutions. Ayurvedic treatments seek to heal and balance the body by combining exfoliation (removal of dead skin), ­aromatherapy, and a light massage with crushed herbs and oils.

Aspen, Colorado, journalist Madeleline Osberger is an avid spa visitor. “I really like the use of lavender in my treatments. It’s very ­calming,” she says. “Afterwards, I usually take some of the lavender-based lotion home, so I can re-create the experience.” Jane Wilson of Sharon, Pennsylvania, favors massages whenever a spa getaway is on her calendar. “Herbs are really an added element. If I’m feeling tired, I ask the therapist to use some peppermint or rosemary in the oils. If I’ve had a day of stress, maybe I’ll opt for chamomile or sage,” she explains.

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