Bamboo is as versatile as it is plentiful. Found in tropical climates and mountain forests throughout Asia as well as Central and South America and the southeastern U.S., bamboo provides benefits to the planet, animals, and humans alike. Its quick-growing shoots constitute the primary habitat and nourishment for giant pandas, and the stalks even appear in high-end luxury designer goods. Seemingly as abundant in spas now as in natural environments around the world, bamboo can improve the health of hair, nails, and skin and even enhance the total relaxation experience. “Bamboo is one of the oldest plants known to man,” says Nita Richardson, therapist at T (Seattle). “In its most natural state, it delivers raw energy and deep purifying benefits.”
Without being significantly altered, the stalks are proving to be beneficial in massage treatments. The Relaxing Royal Bamboo Massage ($150, 50 minutes) at Rainforest Spa at Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort (St. Lucia) uses bamboo to provide a deep-tissue massage in combination with lotus flower and water lily for soothing skin. Cut into specific lengths, the stalks fit into the contours of the body to help therapists deliver more effective massages. “The principle behind the use of bamboo sticks is elongating the muscle fibers, which stretch out as you roll over them with the bamboo sticks,” says spa director Julia Leone. Other spas are pairing firming body serums with bamboo massage to enhance visible results. At Peninsula Spa at The Peninsula New York, the Bamboo Harmonizer Massage ($225, 60 minutes; $325, 90 minutes) combines traditional Chinese healing techniques using varying lengths of bamboo with ESPA’s new Optimal Body TriSerum to firm and tone the skin. Therapists employ rolling and gliding techniques with pieces of bamboo to release tension in muscles and provide relief to stressed joints and then apply the fast-absorbing serum to top off the experience. The Bamboo Contouring Drizzle (starting at $168, 50 minutes; $209, 80 minutes) at Kohler Waters Spa (multiple locations) also uses the bamboo reeds to tone and reduce cellulite. In this soothing treatment, a scrub containing bamboo acts as a pumice to exfoliate, and a piece of stalk aids in the break up of cellulite on the back of the legs and gluteus area.
Further benefits can be achieved with the use of heated stalks, which help reduce tension and anxiety and stimulate the lymphatic system to rid the body of toxins. For example, the Harbor Beach Signature Tropical Tiki Bliss ($165, 50 minutes; $225, 80 minutes) at the Spa at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach (FL) features heated bamboo stalks to relieve chronic pain. “With each muscle group, a specific bamboo stick length and size is used to address the problems within that area,” says spa director Deborah Pollman. “The benefit of using heated bamboo sticks is to reach the deep tissue to prevent the stiffening of the whole body. The therapy promotes good circulation, lymphatic drainage, and sensory nerve perception.”
In fact, bamboo is more convenient to heat than stones, says Michelle Frye, spa director at The Spa at La Costa at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa (Carlsbad, CA), where warmed stalks are used in the Bamboo Massage ($165, 50 minutes). “The bamboo is easy to heat and clean—unlike hot stones—because neither a Crock-pot nor water is involved, and the bamboo stays warm throughout the massage,” says Frye. Bamboo reeds aren’t hard to come by, and their durability makes them a low-maintenance tool. “We have not needed to replace the bamboo as it is, by nature, a product that holds up in both wet and dry climates,” says Jean Kolb, director of wellness for Kohler Co. “We use a simple disinfectant on the bamboo after each use.”
To access the power within bamboo, such as antioxidants, minerals, proteins, and vitamins, it can be ground up or extracted and then added to scrubs, creams, and serums. “Bamboo extract boasts a combination of beneficial actives,” says Celeste Hilling, CEO of Skin Authority. “It is an anti-irritant, making it a great choice for sensitive skin products, and an antioxidant.” Bamboo can be ground into multiple particle sizes for a customized formulation, and it is gentle enough for sensitive skin and an eco-friendly alternative to synthetic or non-renewable natural ingredients. “Bamboo powder acts as an exfoliant to renew and improve the appearance and texture of the outer layer of the skin,” says Jennifer Schweitzer, director of product development at Lather. “As we age, our natural cell turnover rate can slow down, resulting in roughness of the outer layer of the skin. Exfoliation with bamboo powder helps to remove cells and impurities so skin feels smoother and softer and looks more radiant.”
Natalie Pergar, international trainer and skincare expert at Éminence Organic Skin Care, says bamboo helps fortify the skin, aiding in the prevention of fine lines and wrinkles. “Bamboo is loaded with soluble and insoluble fiber, phytosterols, carotenoids, amino acids, protein, chlorophyll, vitamins, and trace minerals to help nourish and strengthen the skin,” she says. “Bamboo’s high concentration of natural silica is key to the prevention of fine lines and wrinkles. As the body ages and chronic exposure to sunlight causes damage to the underlying connective tissue, the level of silica in our skin decreases and fine lines appear.”
In addition, a Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine study comparing plants used for skincare showed the anti-inflammatory, anti-hypersensitivity, antibacterial, and wound-healing effects of methanol extract from bamboo leaves to be impressive. Further studies bolster support for its calming and soothing properties thanks to methanol extract from the leaves and silica from the stalk. “Bamboo is one of the highest sources of natural silica,” says Hilling. “Silica is an important element in collagen, improving skin elasticity and strength.” Products containing bamboo, such as Body Drench Green Tea + Bamboo Moisturizing Body Scrub and Sothys Paris Lily & Bamboo Nourishing Body Elixir, help restore the appearance and moisture retention of the skin.
The benefits of bamboo aren’t limited to the skin, though. Professional haircare manufacturers have incorporated it into cleansing, conditioning, and styling products to improve the strength and health of strands. “Everything we want to achieve in hair quality, you can see in the bamboo plant,” says Michael Sean Corby, global creative director for Alterna Haircare. Bamboo plants are strong, flexible, and resilient, and the silica contained in bamboo helps translate those qualities into the hair. “It is a rich source of silica, which is important for assimilation of nutrients, such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium, into the strands,” says Corby. Bamboo also provides protein, the building blocks of hair, and carbohydrates and sugars, which have a softening effect on hair and skin, according to Corby. Products in Alterna’s Bamboo line incorporate all parts of the plant—leaves, stems, and roots.
Nails can also reap the strengthening benefits. SpaRitual’s Meditate Collection contains bamboo and “offers protection to the surface of the nail,” says founder Shel Pink. “When infused into nail polish or nail treatments, bamboo offers a resilient finish to protect the nail surface, promoting strong nails.” Thanks to bamboo, even natural lacquers provide strength and long-lasting shine to nails.
This sustainable resource is incorporated in spa products and treatments from head to toe. As ongoing research reveals an expanding list of bamboo’s benefits, it is sure to inspire creative new uses and opportunities in and around the spa. “We’re thinking outside of the steel box and using bamboo as a core,” says Corby. “We’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible.”