From rose-scented treatment rooms to baths infused with the precious petals, rose has long been a popular ingredient in spas. As the world’s oldest cultivated decorative plant, it is primarily native to the Northern Hemisphere but likely originated in Persia, according to The Magical and Ritual Use of Perfumes (Destiny Books, 1990) by Richard Alan Miller and Iona Miller. The flowers quickly spread, popping up symbolically in Greek and Indian mythologies and in physical form throughout Europe and the Middle East. Over the years, women as disparate as Joan of Arc and Cleopatra have been linked with this token of love, and if they’re good enough for a hallucinating martyr and a cunningly beautiful queen, they’re certainly suitable for spa-going mortals.
As befitting a plant of such stature, “Rosa damascena is one of the most precious and expensive oils currently on the market,” says Amy Galper, founder and executive director of the New York Institute of Aromatherapy. “The petals don’t yield much essential oil, so it takes a huge amount of plant material to distill a few milliliters, approximately 10,000 roses for just five milliliters, but just a tiny bit has a profound effect in skincare.” Donna Cristino, founder of the beauty brand Jing Ai, calls rose oil “a hidden little gem” and promises that we’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the future.
While rose is often noted for its scent, the velvety flower has hidden depths. “Rose essential oil is an excellent emollient; it also offers antiseptic and astringent properties to treat acneic skin and properties that help treat redness and inflammation,” says Jaklin Idris, director of education for Decléor Paris. “Rose oil can help refine skin texture, controlling skin diseases such as atopic dermatitis.” And, according to Galper, it has no known adverse effects. “Rose can be a great addition to skincare formulas, especially for evening out stressed skin and nurturing clients’ confidence,” she says. “It also has great therapeutic characteristics, balancing and soothing tired, dull, and aging skin.”
Rose’s high concentrations of vitamins A, C, and E encourage healthy skin rejuvenation and protect from free-radical damage, says Tiffany McLauchlin, director of education for Lira Clinical. The flower also contains fatty acids like linolenic acid, which hydrates and suppresses tyrosinase activity for healthier, brighter skin—an added bonus for the brand’s Mystiq Iluminating Beauty Oil, Lira Spa Body Nourishing Oil, and Lira Spa Silk Soufflé formulations. Rose was chosen to complement the products’ other elements, says McLauchlin. The Mystiq Iluminating Beauty Oil partners rose with mastiha, a Greek resin long revered for its medicinal benefits, while the Silk Soufflé and Body Nourishing Oil matches rose oil with papyrus plant stem cells. According to McLauchlin, both ingredients have healing properties that “harmonize with rose’s natural fatty acid and antioxidant content.” Several treatments at Pala Spa at Pala Casino Spa and Resort (CA) utilize rose-infused products from Lira Clinical. The Lira Clinical Brightening Body Treatment ($105, 50 minutes) is a real crowd-pleaser, says director of spa operations Sandy Sutter, who gives full credit to the products’ ingredient list. “Lira Clinical uses plant-derived stem-cell technology proven to be effective in supporting the skin’s cellular turnover, in combination with proteins, peptides, antioxidants, and minerals,” she says.
Rose appears in skincare products in multiple forms, from standard extracts and essential oils to cutting-edge stem cells, and each offers its own benefits. Rose extract and essential oil are often valued for their aromas, says Nicci Anstey, global sales development manager for Elemis, but the extract is reputed to have soothing and refreshing benefits, while the essential oil has hydrating properties. There’s also rosehip oil, which “contains a high content of unsaturated essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins A, C, and E,” says Anstey. “It’s highly moisturizing and replenishes dry, stressed skin, helping it to feel more elastic, firm, and hydrated.” Elemis uses the flower in a variety of products, including its Pro-Collagen Marine Cream, which contains absolute of rose. It is used in the Pro-Collagen Quartz Lift Facial ($265, 80 minutes) at The Spa at Beau Rivage (Biloxi, MS), an anti-aging treatment that promotes cellular activity and collagen synthesis.
Chemists at Vitelle Dermatology Laboratories and Yum Gourmet Skincare rely on rosewater, rose essential oil, and rose extract, but they’ve recently introduced two products with rose stem cells, says Aleks Vranicic, vice president of sales and technical training. When research showed that Alp rose stem cells helped slow or delay the aging process, he decided to incorporate them into the Yum Gourmet Skincare line. “We chose to use Alp rose stem cells, because they protect the skin from damage that comes with UV exposure,” he says. “They’re more intense than an extract or an essential oil.” For Vranicic, Alp rose’s ability to survive in a rugged climate proved to be a draw. “It has to have properties that help it through the extreme heat and extreme cold in the Alps,” he says.
A Rose by Any Other Name
There are more than 100 species of rose, and companies are combining different rose stem-cell extracts for maximum benefits. Jane Iredale’s BeautyPrep Face Moisturizer features four of them. “White rose supports natural cell regeneration and the skin barrier while restoring suppleness; damask rose helps to tighten pores and purify and smooth the skin; rosa canina (rosehips) calms and brightens skin and helps prevent transepidermal water loss; and pale rose helps to rebuild the moisture barrier and provide suppleness for the appearance of newer, softer skin,” says director of education Tricia Campbell.
Celebrated as the queen of essential oils, steam-distilled Bulgarian rose oil (known as rosa damascena or rose otto) is considered to be some of the best in the world. “Soothing, cleansing, and an anti-inflammatory, it is ideal for sensitive skin, rosacea, and broken capillaries, and it has a sweet floral scent that is uplifting, romantic, and calming,” says Agnes Ding, public relations and marketing manager at Anantara Spa at The Puli Hotel and Spa (Shanghai). “Traditional Chinese medicine uses the petals to nourish skin, and in Ayurvedic medicine, rose is used to balance emotions and tone and cool the skin.”
At Anantara Spa, rose is only combined with massage oil for special packages or treatments, but when it’s used, Bulgarian rose oil is preferred. “Extracted from the petals of the pink rose plant rosa damascena from Europe and the Middle East, rose absolute is brimming with antioxidants that help combat signs of aging and cellular damage,” Ding says. When developing her PurErb herbology line, CEO Janel Luu also chose to use Bulgarian rose oil for several products. “Bulgarian rose oil attracts and retains moisture, softens skin, smooths imperfections, and helps reduce inflammation and irritation,” says Luu.
At Alchemie Spa (Santa Monica, CA), Bulgarian rose isn’t just represented by the PurErb balms incorporated into each facial—it’s also the spa’s signature scent. Private-label products made with rose include a pure Bulgarian rose spray that can be used as a toner or a mouth spray (it’s edible!); a concentrated Bulgarian rosewater for cooking or adding to beverages to help detoxify, balance energy levels, improve the digestive system, and freshen breath; and a rose-petal tea that’s brewed and sold on-site.
Picking Up the Scent
Skincare benefits are all well and good, but the coveted flower also boasts an appealing scent with therapeutic advantages. “For many people, rose evokes a scent memory that makes it not only a fabulous treatment for the skin but also an experience for the spirit,” says Cindi Moreno, former director of spa and wellness at the Waldorf Astoria Spa at the Boca Raton Resort & Club (FL). Rose oil can also be used to subtly perfume a treatment room or a welcome area. ”The aroma has tremendous calming and nurturing properties,” says Galper. “It’s quite transporting and helps us make deeper connections to our spiritual sides.” It’s important to keep in mind, however, that because it’s so expensive, diffusing it isn’t the best idea. “An authentic oil is so potent that one drop in a half-ounce of facial serum is enough,” says Galper.
Everything’s Coming Up Roses
Spas everywhere are tapping into the benefits rose provides. Alchemie in Santa Monica might make its own rose tea, but Anantara Spa takes the concept even further. There, guests can kick off the Rose Tea Body Scrub (starting at $111, 45 minutes) or the Rose Tea Body Wrap (starting at $135, 45 minutes) with a rose tea ritual, or they can wrap up the Rose Tea Beautification Journey (starting at $255, 2 hours) with a cup of the potent brew.
At Bamford Haybarn Spa at The Berkeley (London), the bloom is the centerpiece of the Bamford Rose Upper Body and Facial Treatment ($155, 55 minutes), an indulgence that showcases products from the spa’s own Rose Collection and includes an upper body massage, an exfoliation, a mini facial, and a head massage. “Calming rose extract causes deep relaxation and results in clear, glowing skin,” says Berkeley Health Club manager Natalie Hawkins.
Guests at Nob Hill Spa at The Scarlet Huntington Hotel (San Francisco) are also stopping to smell the roses. As part of the Classic European Facial ($150, 50 minutes; $200, 80 minutes), clients can request Decléor Paris’s Rose D’Orient line to calm and purify the skin, and they’re doing so en masse. The products are used in nearly a quarter of all facials performed. “Rose D’Orient is used to create a soft suppleness to the skin while soothing and hydrating,” says Zoe Cole-Neal, the spa’s social media and public relations coordinator. The spa also uses Aromatherapy Associates’ Renewing Rose Massage Oil during its Pregnancy Massage ($150, 50 minutes; $200, 80 minutes) to support natural collagen production and increase elasticity and tone.
The Spa at Stoweflake (Stowe, VT) may offer an Organic Rose Facial ($140, 50 minutes), a Walking on Rose Petals Pedicure ($95, 80 minutes), and a Hand Me a Rose Manicure ($55, 50 minutes), but the floral crown jewel is its Organic Roses All Over ($145, 50 minutes; $195, 80 minutes) treatment. Comprising a rose exfoliation, a gel mask with bits of rose petals, a neck massage, and a full-body rose massage, all with products from Ilike Organic Skin Care, this gentle treatment is one of the spa’s most popular services. The rose-related products are made from the pulp of hand-harvested, cold-pressed botanicals, not the extracts, resulting in the highest possible active-ingredient content, says Szilvia Hickman, senior vice president of Szep Elet, distributor of Ilike Organic Skin Care.
As a source for everything from oils and extracts to infusions and adornments, these trademark blooms have what it takes to remain a spa-world player. The future, as they say, definitely looks rosy.
Let complexions blossom with the calming essence of rose in these products.
1. Alchimie Forever Gentle Cream Cleanser: Remove impurities with this silky cleanser that softens and brightens the skin with rose. www.alchimie-forever.com
2. Cinq Mondes Rose Petals Rain Mist: Benefitting from the softening properties of Moroccan rose, this floral water leaves a fresh rose scent on the skin. www.cinqmondes.com
3. HydroPeptide Uplift Eye: Formulated with evening primrose oil, this eye gel features Moroccan argan extract and triple hyaluronic acid, which immediately soften, soothe, and comfort the tired, sensitive eye area. www.hydropeptide.com
4. Ilike Organic Skin Care Rose Petal Whipped Moisturizer: Soothe, hydrate, and regenerate skin with a fragrant, organic blend of rose oil and red rose petals. www.szepelet.com
5. Jurlique Rosewater Balancing Mist: Hydrate and balance the complexion in one spritz with this refreshing rose-scented mist infused with flower extracts. www.jurlique.com
6. Nature Pure Labs Stem Cells Youthful Tissue Rejuvenator: A complex of Alpine rose stem cells and alpha hydroxy acids improves cellular metabolism, repairs damage, and stimulates new tissue production. www.naturepure.com
7. OM4 Fortify Age-Defying Botanical Stem Cell Concentrate: Soften character lines and wrinkles with this liposomal, oil-based serum infused with damask rose leaf cell extract, which promotes skin firming, dermal densification, and regeneration of the epidermal protective barrier. www.om4men.com
8. Pevonia Ligne Rose RS2 Concentrate: Deliver immediate cooling benefits to the skin with green tea, frankincense, and French rose essential oil, which calms hypersensitivity. www.pevoniapro.com
9. PurErb Bulgarian Rose Soothing Toner: In this hydrating mist for stressed skin, aromas of Bulgarian rose, frankincense, geranium, and sandalwood calm the mind and promote tranquility. www.purerbskincare.com
10. Rhonda Allison Hyaluronic Serum: Hyaluronic acid, rosehip fruit oil, and other botanical extracts hydrate skin. The formula acts as a natural humectant to provide nutrients and keep skin supple. www.rhondaallison.com
11. Sothys Paris Pore Refiner System Matifying Refiner Solution: Rose fruit extracts in this high-tech formula reduce the appearance of pores and even the complexion. www.sothys-usa.com
12. Yum Gourmet Skincare Alp Rose Stem Cell Chrono Corrector: Boost collagen with this serum featuring Alpine rose leaf stem cells, which enhance epidermal stem-cell activity. www.yumskincare.com