Kelp From the Sea
Although some call it a weed, seaweed is hardly a garden-variety pest. Coastal communities have harvested it for thousands of years, using it as food and to enhance health and boost immunity. This super under-the-sea veggie, packed with vitamins and minerals, comes from the ocean, the source of life. It is a traditional key to health, as well as beauty and rejuvenation.
“The power of the ocean is that it appeals to all of our body’s natural senses: the sight of the wide expanse of the ocean, the sound of crashing waves, the smell and feel of an ocean breeze,” says Diane Bernard, founder and “Sea-E-O” of Seaflora wild organic seaweed skincare. “The ocean washes over us and makes us feel whole, peaceful, and connected to our universe.” According to her, ocean-based therapies were traditionally created to treat arthritis, injuries, joint pain, and rheumatism. Today, they’re associated with improving skintone and elasticity.
In Ireland, seaweed baths have been popular for more than 300 years. “At one time, there were more than 100 marine wellness centers in Ireland,” says Mark Walton, co-founder and managing director of VOYA, a skincare company that began in 1912 when the first seaweed bath opened on the wild Atlantic coast of Strandhill, County Sligo, Ireland. “Unfortunately, there is only a handful left.” The baths relied on freshly cut seaweed and hot seawater treatments. “Traditionally, people would visit for a period of time before the onset of the cruel harsh winters in Ireland,” says Walton. “In the 1900s, it was the poor man’s way of treating ailments and was called the sailor’s cure.”
In modern times, scientists, dermatologists, and skincare educators know the vitamins, minerals, and elements responsible for these cures. And as cultural shifts embrace traditional wellness practices and organic materials, seaweed’s popularity in spas is growing like, well, weeds. “No plant can compare to seaweed when it comes to the list of diverse bioactive and bioavailable ingredients,” says Walton.
In addition to its certified-organic seaweed baths, VOYA offers a range of seaweed-based organic therapies and health and beauty products. Its spa clients include the Halele’a Spa at the St. Regis Princeville Resort (Kaua’i, HI), offering seaweed massages, body wraps, and facials as well as its signature treatment, Voyage From the Sea 4 Hands Massage and Facial ($350, 75 minutes). This voyage starts with fresh seaweed tea to awaken the senses. Then two spa professionals deliver a seaweed extract massage and marine-
repairing facial. “Traditionally, the benefits relate to detoxifying the skin, as seaweed literally binds with heavy metals to remove them; stimulating the metabolism and therefore aiding in weight loss,” says Walton. “More recently, we have become aware of the highly active antioxidant effect it has on our body.” Seaweed also aids skin regeneration, minimizes visible signs of aging, hydrates the skin, increases firmness through collagen production, and reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and lackluster skin.
This inconspicuous sea vegetable can trim inches from your clients’ thighs and make their skin appear firmer and more youthful. Cygalle Healing Spa, located at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, offers guests a Mermaid Mint Sea Wrap ($180, 1 hour 40 minutes), pairing sea clay and plants with the stimulating effects of peppermint. It’s beneficial for reducing water retention and the appearance of cellulite.
While seaweed is the base of most of Repêchage’s spa treatments, the Repêchage Peppermint Sea Twist ($110, 60 minutes) combines fresh seaweed with pure essential oils of peppermint to improve circulation while toning. “Seaweed-themed services are appealing because they are a natural approach with a heritage,” says Lydia Sarfati, CEO and founder of Sarkli-Repêchage. “They are effective treatments that provide fantastic results on the skin and body. The sea is a wealth of minerals and vitamins, and we have yet to discover all the benefits of these natural sea plants.”
Although the majority of seaweed spa treatments focus on the ability to tone and detoxify the skin and reduce the appearance of cellulite, there are other reasons to turn to the plant for skin rejuvenation. Dan Fryda, president and founder of Spa Technologies International, notes that the human body is composed of 70 percent water and is identical qualitatively to pure seawater. “The ocean can restore and replenish those nutrients that are missing in our own ocean within,” says Fryda. “And seaweed, or marine algae, are the plants of the ocean that concentrate the sea’s elements in the highest concentration.”
According to Fryda, all seaweed—from microscopic plankton to giant bullwhip Pacific kelp—delivers copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, and zinc, which are vital to the synthesis of collagen and fibronectin fibers that increase skin firmness. Some have skin-brightening properties while others have skin-plumping benefits. Seaweed is also rich in an array of antioxidants, protecting skin against environmental pollutants, UV rays, and cigarette smoke. Spa Technologies International works with a number of spas that offer therapies from the sea.
The Sea Water Spa at Gurney’s Inn Resort, Spa & Conference Center (Montauk, NY) invites spa-goers to experience the healing powers of the sea with its Marine Kur Therapy ($220, 90 minutes), which begins with a seawater hydrotherapy massage, followed by a seaweed toning gel exfoliation, a seaweed body mask wrap, and the spa’s signature seaweed body cream. Meanwhile Spa Montage at Montage Resort and Spa (Laguna Beach, CA) touts seaweed’s anti-aging and anti-cellulite properties with its Marine Wrap ($225, 60 minutes) and Algae Cellulite Massage ($305, 90 minutes). The Chatwal Spa by Kashwére at The Chatwal (New York City) offers the Marine Melody ($235, 80 minutes) to help detox and purify the skin with its seaweed-based body ritual.
In a unique take on (sea) farm to (massage) table, Seaflora, known for its USDA-certified organic seaweed skincare and treatment rituals made with hand-harvested wild seaweeds, recently offered tours of its Wild Sea Garden in Sooke, British Columbia, teaching guests about seaweed and thalassotherapy. The tours even included restorative treatments at the end. “Although some might look similar to land plants, seaweeds are unique life forms,” says Bernard, also known as the Seaweed Lady. “Seaflora seaweeds are a richer source of vitamins and minerals than fresh fruits and land plants and have higher levels of vitamins A, B1, B2, B5, and C, including higher levels of antioxidants, amino acids, beta carotene, pantothenic acid, folic acid, and niacin.”
Jenefer Palmer, founder and chief seaweed officer of OSEA, launched the marine-based line after experiencing the sea’s restorative benefits. “I come from three generations of women connected to the sea,” says Palmer. Seaweed is the primary marine ingredient in OSEA products. The line relies on seaweed that is certified USDA organic from the Sea of Patagonia, where it’s then hand harvested and sun dried on special drying beds. “Seaweed is a naturally rich source of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants,” says Palmer. “It is 10 times richer in trace elements than land plants. It revitalizes and firms the skin naturally, making it look and feel softer.” Spa-goers can reap the benefits with the Healing Sea Cocoon ($200, 90 minutes) at The Spa at Chatham Bars Inn (Cape Cod, MA). The nourishing body treatment includes a dry brush exfoliation, an application of organic undaria algae oil, a white algae body mask, and a light massage.
Although getting tangled in seaweed in the water or on the beach can be a bit unsettling, it should come as no surprise that spa-goers are willing to pay top dollar to be bathed, wrapped, and slathered in it on account of its skin-saving benefits.
Best in Show
While all seaweeds are nourishing to the skin, not all seaweeds are created equal. “Green algae are an important source of vitamin C,” says Dan Fryda. They help protect the elasticity of the skin, deliver a firming effect, and reduce puffiness. “Green algae also contain vital proteins, pectins, and amino acids, which are found in the skin, making these algae highly compatible with the skin,” says Noella Gabriel, director of product and treatment development for Elemis. Red seaweeds are especially effective in facial masks, moisturizers, and serums. According to Diane Bernard, they possess higher levels of beta carotene and other antioxidants that are ideal for repairing cells. “They are also excellent for dark circles around the eyes,” says Gabriel. According to her, brown algae is helpful in preserving skin elasticity by reducing the breakdown of collagen and elastin. A rich source of trace elements and polysaccharides, brown algae are commonly used in anti-aging products. Red, green, or brown, each type of seaweed benefits the skin in its own way.
Do Your Homework
Location, location, location. According to Bernard, it’s important to note where seaweed falls on the ingredient list. “If it’s an extracted, processed seaweed way down on the ingredient list, then it has minimal, if any, effect,” says Bernard. She recommends choosing products that use high-quality, certified-organic seaweed. Also, pay attention to the seaweed’s origins, as it can just as easily absorb unhealthy aspects in the water that surrounds it as it can the nourishing elements. “The Pacific Northwest boasts unique seaweeds and a clean coastline,” says Bernard. “Our seaweeds
do not have excess levels of mercury or lead, which may be found in other coastal parts of the world with shipping lanes, harbors, and higher populations.”