Kelp From the Sea
Slime. Slop. Sludge. Algae doesn’t always bring to mind the most appealing thoughts. But don’t let its looks—or smell—fool you. Algae is the Renaissance ingredient of the spa world, providing an answer to everything from dry skin to cell regeneration and even anemia, says Szilvia Hickman, senior vice president of Szép Élet, distributor of Ilike Organic Skin Care. “Algae is essential for the environment, because it absorbs carbon dioxide and produces oxygen during photosynthesis.”
Believed to be the oldest type of plant life on earth, algae in its most complex form—seaweed—has been an important food source in Asian cultures for centuries. Even the Irish have a taste for seaweed, using the carrageen varietal in everything from drinks to desserts. “Seaweed is a very powerful plant rich in 18 amino acids, 42 trace element and minerals, and 12 vitamins,” says Lydia Safarti, founder and CEO of Repêchage. “It improves circulation and purifies and oxygenates skin.”
Algae is often used in thalassotherapy, whose origins date back to Egypt 4,000 years ago and which was later made popular by the British and in France circa the 1900s. Today, Europe has the largest concentration of thalassotherapy centers, but North American facilities like The Spa Coeur d’Alene at the Coeur d’Alene Resort also manage to make good use of the therapeutic powers of algae and water. “Algae is one of nature’s most perfect foods,” says spa director Berni Campbell. “Our bodies readily absorb it, because it is almost identical to our interstitial fluid.” The spa’s Alpine Lake Spirulina Kur ($240, 1 hour 50 minutes) involves applying spirulina algae to the entire body with a warm steam-towel wrap and concludes with a re-mineralizing face cream and lavender oil massage. According to Campbell, the treatment is a luxurious detoxifying experience that can be beneficial as part of a slimming program.
Algae’s ability to stimulate the metabolism— it’s a draining agent that improves peripheral and lymphatic circulation—is what makes it effective in weight loss, says Mafalda Sirolla, spa and fit- ness center coordinator of Club 10 Fitness and Beauty Centre at the Hotel Principe di Savoia (Milan). There, the Algae Body Treatment ($167, 80 minutes) combats fluid retention and reduces the appearance of cellulite.
With approximately 13,000 known species, algae is a highly versatile ingredient and can be used in spa treatments for the entire body. Ilike’s product line features three different types—red, brown, and green—in a number of anti-aging products. “Algae is a good source of antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, which neutralizes free radicals, and omega-3 fatty acids for combating wrinkles,” says Hickman.
Estheticians at Spa Nautica inside The Ritz- Carlton Marina del Rey (Los Angeles) recommend the Micronized Algae Mask ($35) as an add-on to any facial. It works especially well, says spa director Maritsa Victorian, with the Hydrafacial ($245, 60 minutes), because the treatment contains peptides, which assist in the regeneration of skin cells. “Algae increases the absorption of the ingredients, is soothing and calming, and help with inflammation,” says Victorian. “Skin is left smooth, supple, and luminous.”
After 15 years of research, BABOR released its new SeaCreation line based entirely on algae’s anti-aging benefits. The creams and serums contain green caviar algae, a plant that increases the production of laminine-5 collagen and helps make skin more elastic and firm. “In general, algae feeds our skin with minerals like calcium and zinc, which are essential to skin metabolism,” says Fabienne Lindholm, executive director of education for BABOR North America. “Skin needs nine essential minerals to function properly, and algae can provide all of them.”
And if that weren’t enough, the scope of algae’s potential is even more remarkable when you consider that there are more than 40,000 varieties of sea- weed—that’s just one kind of algae—on the planet. Repêchage has developed a proprietary extraction process for more than 12 of those species. “We use specific seaweed to achieve specific results,” says Safarti. “For antibacterial properties, we use laminaria saccharina. Pelvetia canaliculata helps address hyperpigmentation, and laminaria digitata provides essential fatty acids to maintain the skin barrier.”
Laminaria digitata is also a key ingredient in Phytomer’s Self-Heating Marine Mud, which The Spa at Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas uses in its Detoxify treatment ($175, 50 minutes). The frothy, effervescent seaweed mud stimulates the release of unhealthy accumulations in the digestive, circulatory, and lymphatic systems. In honor of the company’s 40th anniversary, Phytomer is also launching the XMF Youth Revealing Facial ($260, 80 minutes) at the Las Vegas spa and others. The treatment is the first of its kind in that it relies on two high-tech marine sugars, produced by single-cell algae, as potent anti-agers. The facial features advanced biotechnology, exclusive manual massage techniques, and several new products to help turn back the hands of time.
Because algae helps the body absorb other ingredients, it pairs well with other active ingredients. Ilike combines algae with vitamin C and other antioxidant-rich elements. The staff at the Hotel Principe blends it with essential oils like juniper and birch, as they both also aid in detoxification. Of note is the fact that algae increases cellular metabolism, so clients with hyperthyroidism should steer clear. Due to possible high levels of iodine, so should spa- goers with related allergies. But for the rest of your guests, it’s a green light.