The New Natural

Today's constant focus on eco-awareness can sometimes seem like overkill. But with new studies released practically every day that identify the health risks and environmental dangers linked to a host of chemicals, it's no wonder more and more manufacturers are creating toxin-free alternatives. And not just where food is concerned; as consumers, we've finally figured out that what we put onto our bodies has just as much of an effect on our health as what we put into them, which explains the demand for organic everything, from clothing to cosmetics. For spas, which are typically viewed as places that offer healthy, holistic healing, getting in line with this demand simply makes sense. Going organic and offering eco-conscious treatments is just the next step in natural spa services.

The Spa at Ballantyne Resort (Charlotte, NC) offers an organic Blueberry Sensitive Skin Facial ($90, 50 minutes), incorporating a fruit that grows in the region.
The Spa at Ballantyne Resort (Charlotte, NC) offers an organic Blueberry Sensitive Skin Facial ($90, 50 minutes), incorporating a fruit that grows in the region.

Though many mass marketed skincare and cosmetics brands are suddenly touting new formulas that are loaded with botanicals and herbs, natural ingredients are far from new in the spa skincare world. Spa guests have all but come to expect that their skin will be treated with effective products that also include pure, often botanically based ingredients. But "natural" ingredients are definitely different than those that are "organic." Organic ingredients are grown without the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Around the world, various certification organizations (such as the California Certified Organic Farmers group in the U.S. and Ecocert in Europe) have been established to ensure that farmers and products that claim to contain organic ingredients meet certain standards. "We have already seen the benefits of organic foods, which work from the inside out," says Karen Torres, R.M.T., an esthetician at the Wellness Spa at The Crossings (Austin, TX). Why not take it to the next step and apply natural organic products, which work from the outside in to bring out our natural, healthy beauty?" At the Wellness Spa, the In Season Organic Facial ($115, 50 minutes) uses products from Éminence Organic Skin Care that are chosen based on each client's skin type. All Éminence products are made with sustainably harvested, organic botanicals and are free of synthetic preservatives and other chemically based ingredients.

The Spa at Ballantyne Resort (Charlotte, NC) offers an organic Blueberry Sensitive Skin Facial ($90, 50 minutes), incorporating a fruit that grows in the region.
The Spa at Ballantyne Resort (Charlotte, NC) offers an organic Blueberry Sensitive Skin Facial ($90, 50 minutes), incorporating a fruit that grows in the region.

Though organic spa products are now much easier to find than in past years (check out page 58 for a guide to just some of the brands available), there are other difficulties spas face when greening their menus. Cost can be an issue, for example. "Organic products do have a higher cost, but that cost goes toward improving quality, and that's what is going to keep your guests coming back," says Bill Toth, spa director at the Spa at Ballantyne Resort (Charlotte, NC). Toth explains that his spa decided to go organic after conducting focus group meetings with several regular guests and finding that they wanted the spa to take an even more natural approach. "We really wanted to be able to handle the expense of organic treatments ourselves, without having to pass it on to our clients," adds Toth. Spa-goers can now reap the rewards with the spa's organic Blueberry Sensitive Skin Facial ($90, 50 minutes), which incorporates blueberries, a fruit indigenous to the resort's locale.

The Well Spa at the Miramonte Resort & Spa (Indian Wells, CA) uses flowers from a local farm for its Organic Lavender Escape ($170, 75 minutes) treatment.
The Well Spa at the Miramonte Resort & Spa (Indian Wells, CA) uses flowers from a local farm for its Organic Lavender Escape ($170, 75 minutes) treatment.

It's also important to spend time researching the ingredients found in organic products you plan to use, as allergies can be an issue, which is something Yolanda Harris-Jackson, spa director at the Relâche Spa at the Gaylord Opryland Resort (Nashville, TN), discovered. Researching the potential issues with various ingredients was something she did before adding the Organic Oxygen Facial ($135, 50 minutes) to the spa's menu. Some products contain nuts or other botanicals that, organic or not, can cause irritation in some people's skin. But putting the extra work into finding the right line is rewarding; Harris-Jackson contends that it's easier for guests to understand the benefits of organic products, which makes them simpler to sell at retail. As she puts it, "the products are better for your skin and better for the environment—you can't get better than that!"

Viridian Day Spa (Mount Pleasant, SC) encourages guests to use glass cups instead of paper or plastic.
Viridian Day Spa (Mount Pleasant, SC) encourages guests to use glass cups instead of paper or plastic.

Or can you? Some spa directors believe incorporating locally harvested ingredients takes the green spa movement a step further. Using locally grown herbs, flowers, and other botanicals may be better for the environment because it helps support local agriculture and also saves gas that would normally be used to ship the products to other areas. And because they're often grown organically, local ingredients are potentially safer for the skin as well. At The Well Spa at the Miramonte Resort & Spa (Indian Wells, CA), spa director Jennifer DiFrancesco came across a local lavender farm and decided to partner with them for the spa's Organic Lavender Escape ($170, 75 minutes) treatment. "I took a field trip to the farm and learned about how they grow the lavender organically, using natural compost fertilizer and run-off water from a nearby spring," says DiFrancesco about fostering the local connection, which helps her know exactly where her products are coming from. The farm has an on-site aromatherapist who creates the essential oils and hydrosols used in the spa's three-part (15-minute foot ritual, 45-minute massage, and 15-minute oil-infused bath) package. "Cost has not been an issue because we're getting the products straight from the farm—there's no middle man to create costs," adds DiFrancesco, who says she may market the service at health food stores and organic markets, where shoppers already understand the organic and local trend.

Green Goodies
Green Goodies

Local ingredients also lend an indigenous, authentic element to treatments, which is something seasoned spa-goers look for when choosing a service. Linden Spa at The Inn at Perry Cabin (St. Michaels, MD) uses locally harvested flowers in its Five Flower Solace ($165, 80 minutes). "The climate in this area allows for a huge range of healing herbs to thrive," says spa director Jenny Farrand, who believes that guests love immersing themselves in the local atmosphere through treatments that involve local ingredients. At Linden Spa, a mud mask is hand-blended with blue cornflower, chamomile, jasmine, rose, and rosehip—which are often picked right on the resort's property—then spread on the skin before the client is wrapped up and allowed to steep in the botanical benefits. "When the guests shower off, they see all these beautiful petals, and it really makes them feel closer to the ingredients when they're in such a pure form," says Farrand. She adds that the biggest challenge with a treatment such as this is finding the herbs when they're not in season. Often, she must rely on national purveyors during those periods.

Going the final green mile are spas that have incorporated earth-friendly practices into areas other than the back bar. For example, the Aspira Spa at the Osthoff Resort (Elkhart Lake, WI) was built two years ago with a commitment to protecting the natural area in which it is situated. Eco-friendly building materials, like sustainably harvested wood flooring and local stone, were used during construction, while in the spa, guests are given bamboo (a sustainable fiber) blend robes, towels, and slippers, and the beds are made with organic cotton sheets. The building that houses the Viridian Day Spa (Mount Pleasant, SC) was also greened before the spa's opening. "Making the spa earth-friendly was an important part of the vision in developing the spa, not just with the treatments but on all fronts," says spa owner Laura Kennedy. Among many other efforts, including green renovations of the building, guests and employees are encouraged to use glass and china cups instead of paper or plastic, and all of the cleaning products are non-toxic and natural. If your spa would like more information on how to green its business practices, check out the Green Spa Network at www.greenspanetwork.org. The organization is currently developing programs and toolkits that will help any spa or spa professional become more eco-friendly. There's nothing inconvenient about that kind of helping hand. —Megan O'Neill

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