Crazy for Cocoa

A MOMENT ON THE LIPS, A LIFETIME ON THE hips—that's always been the curse of sweet treats. Sure, a single truffle won't do much damage, but few of us can resist nibbling on another...and another. With all of the guilt that can come with overindulgence, shouldn't you treat yourself and the ones you love to something a little less sinful than a big box of chocolates this Valentine's Day? That's the philosophy of spas the world over that offer chocolate spa treatments during the holiday of love—and many have found their guests so enamored of the services that they're left on the menu all year round.

Though many people have probably used a chocolate-scented beauty product at some point in their lives, it wasn't until just a few years ago that cosmetics companies actually began using real cocoa in skincare products. Earlier chocolate products were made using chemicals that merely mimicked the enticing aroma. Now that many products contain natural extracts, powders, oils, and butters made from the seeds of the theobroma cacao tree, not only do they smell more authentic, but they also deliver the health benefits of chocolate straight to the skin, making them perfect for the spa market. Studies on ingested chocolate have found that its high levels of flavonoids act as a sunscreen, preventing the burning and aging effects of UV rays. And topical applications of chocolate have shown promise in preventing wrinkles.

"We're used to thinking of chocolate as a treat with limitations," says Melissa Robinson, spa director at the Aquae Sulis Spa at the JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort and Spa (Las Vegas). But once her estheticians explain that chocolate provides more antioxidant power than green tea, guests understand that chocolate spa treatments can be enjoyed beyond moderation. The Just Desserts Package ($850, 4 hours 10 minutes) at Aquae Sulis, performed in the spa's Vichy room, will boost the body's antioxidant levels from head to toe. The multi-part full-body service includes a cleansing with a chocolate-cherry, sulfate-free body wash, a chocolate and sugar scrub, a warm cocoa body mask and wrap, a cherry face peel, and a chocolate mousse face mask. "This package encourages guests to be smothered in chocolate while reaping the physical benefits chocolate provides," adds Robinson.

The health benefits of chocolate are also given top billing at the Sewickley Spa (Sewickley, PA), whose year-round menu includes the Chocolate Paraffin Body Wrap ($85, 60 minutes). The client is coated with a warm chocolate paraffin product, which contains caffeine that enters the body through the skin to boost circulation and detoxify as well as oils that leave the skin soft, then wrapped in a warming blanket. "I think it's one of those spa items that women like to talk about," says Dorothy Andreas Tuel, president of the Sewickley Spa. "Envisioning a 'Chocolate Body Wrap' has a bit of allure, as opposed to a 'Detoxifying' or 'Cellulite Reduction' treatment, which might give a woman the idea that she needs to get rid of toxins or cellulite. Infusing sweetness into her life is something she might be more willing to share and discuss with her friends."

Lest you think chocolate only offers its benefits to women, men are also invited to enjoy the sweet during the Gentleman's Choice Hot Towel Heaven Facial ($150, 60 minutes) at Pure Aesthetics (Bel Air, CA). Estheticians at the spa use a mask that contains 4 percent lactic acid as well as chocolate to gently exfoliate the skin. "Men exfoliate daily when they shave, so their faces can be highly sensitive," says Kristie Deitz, general manager of the spa. Lactic acid is mild enough for men's complexions, but it's the chocolate fragrance that "makes the treatment a big deal—it's the icing on the cake for the service," adds Deitz. While the service will launch around Valentine's Day at the recently opened spa, Deitz expects it to be a hit with women looking for a unique, pampering present for the men in their lives, no matter what time of year.

Not just an indulgent treat, the Cocoa Facial Experience at The Spa at the Hotel Hershey is customized to offer real results.
Not just an indulgent treat, the Cocoa Facial Experience at The Spa at the Hotel Hershey is customized to offer real results.

Research also indicates that the flavonols found in chocolate have hydrating properties, making it a great ingredient for spa treatments meant to boost skin's moisture. At the Epidavros Day Spa (Mount Kisco, NY), guests with dehydrated complexions can choose to have the Chocolate Mousse Hydration Masque ($10, 10 minutes) added to almost any facial service. "Most people will try this service because it's different, and they love the smell," says owner Sandra Rovira. "I think more people today are familiar with some of the benefits of chocolate when it's eaten and are starting to make the connection between what you put in your body and on your skin, but you still have to educate them about the skin benefits." Moisture-rich masks with chocolate help plump up and firm aging skin, making it look less lined in the process.

Despite everything chocolate offers in the way of skin improvement, there are still plenty of spa-goers who care only about its aromatherapeutic and decadently pampering powers. Substances found in chocolate are believed to cause mood-enhancing chemicals to be released in the brain, which brings on feelings of giddiness and pleasure (No wonder it's so addictive!). If simply eating a piece can elevate the mood, imagine what enveloping the entire body in chocolate can do for a client's disposition. At The Well Spa at Miramonte Resort and Spa (Indian Wells, CA), a 15-minute foaming chocolate bath is part of the Like Water For Chocolate ($195, 90 minutes) treatment. "Chocolate is something that all of us run to for ultimate release and soothing in times of stress and challenge," says spa director Jennifer DiFrancesco. "Our guests love the idea that this treatment is comforting, yet not so high in calories."

No spa has so fully embraced the indulgent treat as The Spa at the Hotel Hershey (Hershey, PA). There, spa-goers can find a large percentage of the menu devoted to delicious and decadent treatments such as the Chocolate Fondue Wrap ($115, 60 minutes), the Whipped Cocoa Bath ($40, 15 minutes), and the Chocolate Sugar Scrub ($65, 30 minutes). The spa also recently introduced the Cocoa Facial Experience ($160, 75 minutes), a customized chocolate-themed skincare treatment developed by spa services manager Lynne Zsido and the professionals at June Jacobs Labs. Depending on the client's skin type, the esthetician will personalize the facial using a variety of products with ingredients such as caramel, cocoa, peppermint, and strawberry.

Chocolate manicures and pedicures complete the head to toe uses of this sweet in the spa. The For the Love of Chocolate Manicure ($75, 50 minutes) and Pedicure ($90, 50 minutes) at The Centre for Well-Being at The Phoenician (Scottsdale, AZ) both consist of a mint-chocolate scrub, a chocolate-oil massage, and a shea and cocoa body butter application. The pedicure also includes a chocolate-caramel mask that looks and smells like real hot fudge, and while indulging in the service, clients can sip a mug of hot cocoa. A similar treatment is offered at the Vogue Salon at the St. Regis Hotel (Dana Point, CA). During the Peruvian Chocolate Pedicure ($85, 60 minutes), feet are exfoliated with a sugar scrub, coated in a moisturizing chocolate mask, and massaged with a chocolate oil, all while guests snack on chocolate truffles.

Chocolate Sampler
Chocolate Sampler

Adding a chocolate treatment or two to your menu during the Valentine's Day season is a great way to help test their popularity with your customers before making a commitment to keep them on the menu long term. After all, chocolate is as allied to Valentine's Day as turkey is to Thanksgiving. To spread the word about the treatments, some spas have placed fliers near a bowl of chocolates at the reception area. Chocolate services also often photograph well, making them well-suited for advertisements and other marketing materials. Not that you'll need much marketing magic to coax spa-goers into trying the treatments—who can resist a bit of chocolate?