As winter wind and snow desiccates the skin—and, sometimes, the soul—most of us long for a soothing escape, be it lounging on a tropical beach or soaking in a tub, inhaling relaxing scents of calendula, chamomile, lavender, or valerian. Calming herbs do more than smell good, however, they offer medicinal benefits, as well.
Lavender has been used since ancient times as a remedy for insomnia, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Scientific research has confirmed that the herb produces a calming and slightly sedative effect when its scent is inhaled. Chamomile, also used to soothe frayed nerves, helps relax muscle contractions and treat skin conditions. Studies have shown that it has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties, too. Calendula—or marigold—petals contain high-amounts of flavonoids, which are plant-based antioxidants that protect against cell-damaging free radicals. Calendula also helps speed the healing of wounds. Valerian, used to treat insomnia, anxiety, and restlessness since the second century A.D., helps regulate nerve cells and has a calming effect. “My clients come to the spa not only to heal and treat their skin but also to heal and treat the soul,” says Tammy Fender, esthetician and founder of Tammy Fender Holistic Skincare (Palm Beach, FL). “Herbal services offer holistic, therapeutic, and calming benefits clients are looking for when they book a treatment.”
Fender’s star clients include Jessica Alba, Julianne Moore, and Alicia Silverstone. But even non-celebrity spa-goers can appreciate herbal nourishment for winter skin. “I infuse my custom-blended products and treatments with herbs like chamomile and lavender,” says Fender. “My calming Cleansing Milk, for example, features Bulgarian lavender—it regenerates healthy skin cells and balances oil production—and the purifying properties of Fo-Ti root to effectively cleanse and decongest the skin while also bringing lightness to the spirit. My Roman Chamomile Tonic is an instant rescue remedy for sensitive, irritated skin. The calming, curative properties of chamomile help restore and repair the complexion.”
Cold weather isn’t the only factor that can wreak havoc on the skin. Stress can, too, and both the mental and physical manifestations of stress can be calmed with certain herbs. Incorporating these ingredients is effective, because it provides a holistic approach, according to skincare experts. Herbal treatments can calm the skin and the mind. “In these economic times, stress reduction is the most requested service at our spa,” says Barbara Close, founder of Naturopathica. “We are seeing a rise in a lot of chronic stress-related symptoms such as insomnia, migraines, eczema, and more.”
Visitors can ease their nervous tension and stress-related symptoms at the Naturopathica Holistic Health Spa (East Hampton, NY) with the Nirvana Massage ($135, 60 minutes), which uses Naturopathica Lavender Blossom Bath & Body Oil. Close suggests starting at home with the Rest Bath Cure, a long, warm bath, heated to between 90 F and 100 F, for 20 to 30 minutes, featuring Naturopathica’s Bourbon Vanilla Foaming Bath Milk and Lavender Blossom Bath and Body Oil. “This relaxing formula uses a lavender and lavandin blend with a high ester content, which acts as a nurturing tonic for the nervous system,” explains Close.
At KaLu Salon & Day Spa (Amherst, NY) and Ahava Spa (Toledo, OH), clients can forget the cold outside in a warm, healing cocoon. Both spas feature Amber Products’s herbal wrap treatment, a 60-minute service that involves an envelopment with a healing blend of calendula petal, chamomile flower, and lavender petal, among other ingredients, that ease muscular discomfort and calm the skin. “The client is lightly exfoliated with a body brush or light exfoliation product in order to remove impurities on the skin’s surface and stimulate the body,” says Tammy Pollino, Amber Products’s education manager. Then the client is wrapped in a heavy linen sheet that has been soaked in an herbal solution for 30 to 60 minutes. Amber’s fleece-lined sheets secure the optimum amount of herbal brew, providing the client with the most soothing benefits. “The herbal solution and heat stimulate the detoxification process of the body and internal systems,” says Pollino. “This is a very easy treatment to perform with great benefits to the client.” Valerian, a tall flowering grassland plant, has been used for hundreds of years as a sleep aid. So it’s fitting that this plant’s white flower plays a prominent role at Kneipp, a company that is well known for its naturopathic philosophy. Kneipp’s Deep Sleep Herbal Soak contains lavender and valerian, which, according to Mary Leber, president of Beauty Prophet, distributor of Kneipp, is said to help you clear clutter from your mind and focus. Spas that offer the soak include those at Quapaw Baths & Spa (Hot Springs National Park, AZ); The Ritz Carlton, Dallas; Glenwood Hot Springs (Bonneville Hot Springs, WA); and The Broadmoor (Colorado Springs, CO), among others.
In winter, many spas take advantage of their proximity to ski resorts. While the cold weather may make many of us long for warmer days to come, it does allow certain recreational activities—skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing—that can’t be enjoyed in balmy climates. And what better way to soothe sore après-ski muscles than with a calming soak and relaxing massage. “The herbal soak is a 15- to 20-minute treatment that is a wonderful way to precede a massage,” says Leber. “The soak, which is super relaxing, will prepare clients for the massage of their life. The client will be butter in the hands of the therapist.”
In addition to simply offering calming herb treatments, spas can reap the benefits of the farm-to-massage table movement by growing their own flowers on site and using them in treatments, or using locally grown soothing herbs. Cal-a-Vie Health Spa (Vista, CA) and Carmel Valley Ranch (CA) both grow lavender on site and use it in spa treatments to relieve stress, tension, anxiety, and insomnia and treat sore, aching muscles. Nob Hill Spa at the Huntington Hotel (San Francisco) offers a Lavender Sugar Scrub ($135, 50 minutes), an all-organic treatment that uses locally grown lavender from a small family farm. The full-body lavender-infused sugar scrub exfoliation is followed by a 20-minute lavender aromatherapy oil massage. “It also has some calendula oil, which is great for calming and soothing even the most sensitive and dry skin,” says Ania Mankowska-Allard, interim spa director. “Herbal medicine has been popular in many cultures of the world and is steadily growing in popularity in the U.S. Our guests are turning to more natural ways to treat their bodies and are amazed at the wide range of benefits that herbs bring. Natural herbal treatments can wonderfully complement more modern techniques and equipment used in spas.”
And, while calming herbs provide wonderful seasonal treatments to fit the needs of spa-goers in winter months, spas can highlight these services year-round. “Not only is lavender soothing but it also helps boost the immune system, which is important in the upcoming cold and flu season,” adds Mankowska-Allard. “For the summer season, it is good to know that lavender has been known to help soothe insect bites and sunburn.” Pollino advises altering soothing herbal treatments based on the time of year. While calming herbs may be best around high-stress holidays, “soothing herbs may be great for summertime when people are spending time in the sun or winter when they are spending time on the slopes,” she says.
Indeed, spa-goers can benefit from herbal treatments designed to soothe body and soul whether the temperature nears zero or 101 F. And spas are wise to cash in on ingredients like calendula, chamomile, lavender, and valerian, because it’s always easier to relax and sleep easier knowing customers are coming in the doors.