SPAS LOVE ENTICING GUESTS TO TRY NEW services by offering treatments that incorporate exotic ingredients. But, there's something to be said for making use of a natural element that has been used to improve the skin for thousands of years—especially when it's a botanical that many people first come in contact with in the comfort of their own homes, as is the case with aloe. Many spa-goers have had their mothers or grandmothers soothe a burn or scrape with a swipe of gel straight from an aloe leaf. And, as it turns out, they were on to something.
Since the era of the ancient Egyptians, people have been using aloe—a succulent plant native to arid areas of the world—for medicinal purposes. Cleopatra, who was prone to concocting botanical beauty remedies, was said to have used it to soften and heal her skin, while the Romans used it to treat wounds. Although there are around 400 different species of aloe, only a few possess the benefits your clients desire for their complexions. The two most commonly found in skincare products are aloe vera (also known as aloe barbadensis) and aloe arborescens. Though many of the plant's beneficial properties are attributed to the polysaccharides found in the gel of the leaf, the way aloe works isn't fully understood yet.
What is known, however, is that aloe vera may be Mother Nature's best skin soother. The gel is composed of more than 75 different compounds, including certain phytosterols that possess anti-inflammatory properties. A recent study conducted in Germany found that aloe vera gel, when applied to UV burns, displays anti-inflammatory effects superior to those of a 1 percent hydrocortisone gel. Because of these anti-inflammatory abilities, aloe is often used to treat inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema. In addition, the plant is also thought to help with wound healing, possibly because its makeup is believed to stimulate epidermal growth factor and enhance fibroblast function, which causes cells to produce more collagen.
In the spa, aloe's healing nature is perfect for use in services made to treat overexposed, sunburned skin. "For a spa in such close proximity to the beach, aloe's soothing and healing properties are a great fit," says Angela Androtti, spa director at The Spa at Le Merigot (Santa Monica, CA) where the Pacific Paradise Wrap ($130, 50 minutes) is on the menu year round. After a pineapple scrub, aloe vera is applied to guests' bodies, from shoulders to feet, before they're wrapped in a thermal sheet. Androtti believes the wrap is very customer friendly because the cooling sensation it offers skin provides instant relief for sun worshipers. "And unlike so many other natural ingredients, aloe is one in which many people are very familiar," she says. "They're already aware of its healing benefits."
Skaná, The Spa at Turning Stone (Verona, NY), includes its aloe wrap in packages tailored for the resort's many golfing guests. After a day spent on the greens and in the sun, the Hydrating Aloe Wrap ($115, 50 minutes) calms and repairs skin. It starts with a spritz of lavender hydrosol to moisten the skin and then moves on to a full-body aloe vera gel application before cocooning guests for 20 minutes. "Aloe is a gender-neutral ingredient, so it helps men feel more comfortable with getting a treatment that features it," says assistant spa manager Nicole Nucifora, who also notes that the treatment leaves skin feeling firm yet supple for several days post-service.
As a succulent plant, aloe stores water in its leaves, but it is the plant's polysaccharide-rich composition that may offer a humectant, moisture-locking mechanism. A study conducted in Brazil found that a single application of aloe vera extract on the skin increased the water content of the stratum corneum. At Gaia Day Spa (La Jolla, CA), the luxurious Ultra Refining Facial ($185, 90 minutes) uses an aloe-rich product to boost hydration. The spa's signature products also contain aloe vera as the primary ingredient, as opposed to water. "Rather than distilled water, we use aloe vera in our Gaia Organic line due to its healing and skin-renewing properties," says spa director Rhana Pytell. The products' aloe content may help keep them preserved, as well. Researchers in Spain developed a gel based on aloe vera that prolongs the life of fresh produce and is a safer alternative to synthetic preservatives. One day, this modified aloe gel could be added to cosmetic products to replace things like parabens.
It's most likely aloe's antibacterial characteristic that makes it such a viable, natural preservative. This property, along with its anti-inflammatory nature, makes it beneficial in treating acne breakouts, as well. The Deep Cleansing Facial ($140, 60 minutes) at The Spa at Island Hotel (Newport Beach, CA) ends with an aloe-infused mask that calms complexions post-extractions and also helps prevent future breakouts. According to spa director Jim Croghan, "When we have to do extractions, our clients cannot leave with blotchy marks—they're on vacation. The mask we use helps to immediately reduce any redness caused by pore cleansing."
From redness reduction to skin softening and firming, the benefits of aloe are as endless as the ways in which to market treatments that feature the ingredient. Cooling aloe services make for perfect summertime promotions, especially if your spa is in an area of the world where your guests get a lot of sun. Including them in packages tailored for outdoorsy types is also a smart idea, as aside from soothing sunburns, aloe can also relieve irritation from bug bites. And because so many people are familiar with the aloe plant, using its image in signage around the spa is sure to spark interest and discussion—and hopefully repeat visits. —Megan O'Neill