For many spas and skincare companies, aromatic flowers such as frangipani, jasmine, lotus, orchid, and ylang ylang are prized just for their delicate fragrances. It’s no secret that the subtle, yet intoxicating scent of these tropical blooms can awaken the senses and set the stage for the ultimate spa-cation. While there is no denying that aromatherapy offers its own form of stress relief, many spas and brands are digging deeper to put these flowers’ less publicized attributes to work.
Frangipani, also known as plumeria, is perhaps most recognizable in the Hawaiian lei, but this botanical is also a beauty booster. “It’s highly regarded in skincare for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties and for its ability to calm and detoxify oily and blemish-prone skin,” says HollyBeth Anderson, founder of Holly-Beth Organics. It’s similarly effective on greasy, product-weary hair. The tropical plant’s healing nature and its ability to rejuvenate, smooth, and moisturize the skin was a consideration when Pure Fiji developed its Frangipani Nourishing Exotic Oil, but terroir was also important, according to co-owner Andrée Austin. “We like to use locally sourced ingredients from the Fiji islands, and frangipani is a flower that grows there in abundance,” she says. “Frangipani oil provides escapism—people associate it with an exotic island retreat.” It provides just that in the Tropical Medley ($95, 50 minutes; $135, 80 minutes)
at The Williams Island Spa (Aventura, FL), where it serves as both a massage oil and a conduit to total relaxation.
Like frangipani, the flowering shrub known as jasmine is plentiful. In this case, it’s due to its many varieties. It’s a good thing, though, as it takes more than eight million white jasmine blossoms to produce a mere two pounds of oil, says Anderson. Jasmine, however, suffers multiple pretenders to the throne, as many representatives from other families have jasmine in their names, perhaps in hopes that the tropical native’s bona fide attributes will rub off. “Jasmine is an incredible anti-ager,” says Anderson. “It naturally contains a high level of antioxidants, is known for its detoxifying properties, and softens and moisturizes the skin, plus it works wonders on fading hyperpigmentation and scars.” Spa-goers can also reap the antioxidant benefits by enjoying a cup of jasmine tea before or after their treatments.
Jasmine also takes center stage in Fleur’s Rose-Jasmine Shower Gel, available as a retail complement to treatment protocols with floral synergies in high-end day, resort, and destination spas, such as Spa Oceana at Loews Don Cesar Hotel (St. Pete Beach, FL) and Golden Door (San Marcos, CA). Angela Eriksen-Stanley, director of education for Fleur’s, says the company’s goal was to embody the ideal of love and feminine temptation. Plus, she says, “Jasmine has
soothing, renewing, and invigorating properties that soften the skin and awaken the senses.”
Though the term could describe hundreds of flowers in the temperate regions of Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America, the Egyptian or Hindu version of the lotus—a blue or white water lily—might be the plant’s most enduring image. “Since ancient times, the lotus flower has been a powerful and sacred symbol, representing purity, beauty, and enlightenment,” says Lori MacGregor, public relations and marketing director of Lather, which features the blossom’s extract in its Lotus Flower Whipped Body Créme because it “nourishes, soothes, and purifies the skin with vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals.” At Raffles Spa at the Raffles Hainan (China), the flower’s life stages are so revered that they serve as philosophical inspiration and divide the treatment menu accordingly, by Bud (“vital and pure”), Blossom (unfurled “to reveal its inner self”), and Bloom (“a glorious symbol of beauty and new life”) sections. The spa offers several lotus options, but the flower is best reflected in the Lotus Journey ($256, 120 minutes), according to spa and recreation director Himanshu Paliwal, who says that this holistic rejuvenation is beloved by clients for its mind-body balancing act. From the peel, courtesy of a scrub with lotus oil, macadamia nut oil, and marine salts to the Caresse Lotus Massage, with Inca inchi nut oils, lotus, and rose hip, to the hour-long moisturizing Lotus Ceremony facial, “this harmonizing experience delights each of the senses,” says Paliwal.
Another popular fragrant flower is the orchid, which comes from a large, diverse family, with more than 22,000 species thriving in environments from cloud forests to the Arctic Circle. This far-flung lineage, though primarily tropical, is used in folk medicines all over the world. According to Anderson, in hair and skincare products, orchids are known for their moisture-retention and regenerative and protective benefits. The orchid is also the national flower of Singapore, and it takes a place of honor at Banyan Tree Spa at Marina Bay Sands (Singapore), where the treatment rooms all have orchid-related titles. The blooms also play a starring role in the signature service, the Harmony Banyan ($495, 2 hours 30 minutes). Using ingredients that are freshly ground and mixed daily, the package includes a massage with orchid oil; an orchid bath steeped with the flower’s petals and essential oils; and a gentle exfoliation with a scrub concocted from more petals, natural yogurt, and orange-juice extracts. “The petals help to reinforce the skin’s natural defense against environmental pollutants while hydrating and renewing the skin,” says Kanruethai Roongruang, senior assistant vice president and executive director of spa operations for Banyan Tree Spas & Angsana Spas.
At the Spa Without Walls (Kohala, HI), The Fairmont Orchid hotel’s namesake is a key ingredient in the Hiwahiwa Refresh ($189, 50 minutes). An outdoor treatment complemented by the scent of Big Island wild orchids and gardenias, it includes a Hawaiian mamaki (nettle plant) and volcanic foot wrap and a lomi lomi massage, finishing with warm cloths infused with relaxing wild-orchid and gardenia-flower essences. Flower-based services are extremely popular at the spa, notes spa director Candy Lucas, thanks to its enviable locale. “We are in paradise, so these fragrances are a natural fit for our clients,” says Lucas.
Romantic Ylang Ylang
Strewn upon the beds of newly wedded couples in Indonesia, ylang ylang flowers have long conjured up romantic notions with their delicate scent. In fact, they’re even considered to be an aphrodisiac in some parts of the world. A member of the magnolia family of flowering plants, ylang ylang is a staple in perfumeries, but it also has therapeutic effects similar to those of jasmine, says Amy Galper, executive director of the New York Institute of Aromatherapy. Among others, “it eases anxiety, increases confidence and grounding, soothes skin irritation, encourages the hair’s luster, and balances sebum and women’s hormones,” she says. And, because ylang ylang, like jasmine, can be steam- or hydro-distilled into a genuine essential oil, Galper recommends it for aromatherapy sessions. One such treatment can be found at CHI, The Spa at Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney, where the Aroma Journey Massage ($149, 60 minutes; $224, 90 minutes) uses long effleurage strokes, lymphatic techniques, and Sodashi’s redolent ylang-ylang blends to balance the body’s energy. “We use ylang ylang, as it is stimulating for circulation and relieves muscle spasms,” says manager Chaniele Erasmuson. “It can be an antidepressant, and it calms the nerves. Simply inhaling ylang ylang will aid in lowering blood pressure, and in a massage oil, it can help provide deeper relaxation.”
In addition to its restorative prowess, ylang ylang is known in Asia as a skin balancer that reduces inflammation and controls acne, says Boldijarre Koronczay, president of Éminence Organic Skin Care. Éminence’s wrinkle-reducing Herbal Recovery Oil combines ylang ylang with age-defying clary sage and powerhouse oils such as olive, sesame, and tea tree for a radiant complexion. “When ylang ylang is applied topically, it can also help to reduce stress and provide a feeling of wellbeing, in turn reducing stress-related skin disorders like acne or irritations and making it a perfect ingredient for the spa setting,” says Koronczay. In the signature therapy, dubbed The Purest Facial in the World! ($195, 80 minutes), at The Spa at Keystone Lodge (CO), an application of this toning and hydrating oil tops off an anti-aging peel, firming serums, and moisturizing masks. “Ylang ylang is antibacterial, antimicrobial, and visibly calms, heals, and balances skin,” says lead therapist Amy Meyers.
For sister spas Banyan Tree and Angsana, which focus on indigenous products and ingredients that impart a local flavor and give guests a sense of place, treatments using fragrant flowers are a natural fit. In several offerings, inspired by the traditional ablution practice of Balinese royalty, jasmine and frangipani join forces. For its Jasmine Lavender Purifier ($80, 30 minutes), the Banyan Tree Spa Sanya (Hainan, China) uses the dynamic duo to relieve stress and fatigue. And though not available independently at most Angsana spas, the Jasmine Frangipani Body Polish ($52, 30 minutes) can be added to almost any treatment. “Ideal for oily skin, jasmine emits a light scent that is uplifting for the senses,” says Roongruang. “It also helps to soothe the skin by cooling and softening it while gently purifying the pores.” Across the Pacific at the Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Mayakoba, Riviera Maya (Mexico), an exfoliating Papaya Body Illumination ($179, 60 minutes) gently polishes with a combination of skin-cell-renewing lime enzymes and native cornmeal, jasmine, and ylang ylang. “At the Willow Stream Spa, treatments are not just based on flowers, but all of them have aromatherapy based on floral essences as well,” says spa director Roselia Flandes.
From soaks to massages, body polishes to facials, these florals offer more perks than are readily apparent at first sniff. Sure, they’ll leave spa-goers beautifully perfumed, but beneath these plants’ surface, an oasis of effective skincare ingredients awaits. Take the time to do more than just stop and smell the flowers, and your guests will thank you.—Maya Stanton