International Treatments, the American Way
By Monica Schuloff Smith
Posted: April 14, 2008, from the November 2007 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
Every industry in America has gone through ages of ingenuity—periods where ideas go from a few sketches on paper to practical inventions used nationwide. It’s the American way. It could be said that American ingenuity defines who we are because we’re a country founded by those seeking a better life. It was these people who laid the foundation and the pioneers of the beauty industry have followed suit, paving the way for the rest of the profession.
Many of today’s skin care and spa services were originally foreign imports. After establishing a presence on U.S. shores, treatments went through an evolution in order to fit the demands of the American consumer.
“To me, American ingenuity is about taking the best knowledge that the rest of the world has and mixing it together to create an experience that is unique and exciting,” says Barbara Lindner, an esthetician at Salon Secrets Spa Wellness Retreat in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
“America is about ingenuity and not being afraid of a new way of doing things. This is what drew me to this country and is the energy behind what keeps me here,” says Diamond Way Ayurveda educator Melanie Sachs, who hails from Great Britain.
Take a look at any spa’s menu. Surely you can pick out at least several services with international roots. But where do many of today’s spa therapies originate?
“From the needs of the people!” says Kendra Friel, spa manager at Hot Locks SalonSpa in Plymouth, Massachusetts. “Many of the first spa therapies were invented and used in Europe and Asia.”
Lindner agrees with Friel, and adds that, at her day spa, there are Asian, African and European influences and treatment combinations. “Fortunately, relaxation and pleasure are cross-cultural values that can be reinvented and shared throughout the world,” says Lindner.
Among these types of treatments, a few of the most obvious include ayurvedic services, the European facial and thalassotherapy. How have they changed through American influence, why have they evolved, and is this ingenuity a good thing?
Ayurveda originated in India and there has long been a major system of health care. In the United States, it is considered complementary and alternative, and there are no U.S. standards for certification or training in this method.
In India, says Sachs, there is more variety—treatments are provided in clinical settings and are not the luxurious spa protocols common in the United States. “The climate and culture in which you are surrounded is very different from what most Westerners are used to. The tools and tables used are more exotic-looking, but not always as comfortable as Westerners would expect. It is much more affordable,” she explains.
In America’s ayurvedic spas or centers, the services are more luxurious and often are offered with counseling support services or are integrated into other complementary medicine practices, says Sachs. “The changes are market-driven,” she says. “Generally, people in the West ask for more in a shorter period of time at the lowest price. There is less understanding that healing takes time or, for that matter, that you get what you pay for. People also have less time off and have to work longer hours and more weeks in the year in the United States.”
Moreover, Sachs says that people demand a very high standard of hygiene, as well as more individualized care and emotional support in the United States. “Ayurveda is ancient and full of tradition, but, at its heart, it is all about understanding people, addressing their current needs and offering doable solutions in the time and place where they find themselves. This is why it has survived for 6,000 years,” she explains. “There will always be the total traditionalists and those who will only feel they have received the real thing if they go to an ashram for three months, but there is a lot to be said for fusion and bringing these methods to the West in a way from which everyone can benefit.”
As the name implies, the European facial is from Europe. According to Yon-Ka Paris educator Amelia Chan Dyke, a typical European facial includes deep cleansing, steam, exfoliation, a facial, neck and shoulder massage, and a mask.
“Throughout the years, estheticians and manufacturers have embellished the typical facial to incorporate more luxurious customs. This enables the therapist to personalize and enhance the client’s overall experience,” says Dyke, who explains that Europeans have long embraced this type of facial as a grooming essential rather than a luxury that few can afford.
Overall, says Dyke, U.S. facial treatments have changed because of American lifestyles. For example, a mini-facial is an abbreviated version of a European facial, born out of the desire for a quicker, more efficient service.
“Certain rituals and treatments were created long ago when a certain clientele had more time to spend at a spa. With modern-day conveniences and demands, the client still needs regular grooming, but would prefer that it was done more quickly,” says Dyke, who discusses how the mini-facial is also a great introductory service for clients who have never experienced a facial, or a perfect add-on to a spa package. “The basic components of the European facial are present, but all the steps are condensed,” explains Dyke.
“As much as we would like to retain the 80- to 90-minute treatment for our clients, if the client isn’t interested, the logical reaction is to modify it. By changing a treatment, we are hoping to capture a larger consumer base and gain more clients,” she says. And these alterations, she explains, allow skin care professionals to stay current with trends in the U.S. spa industry.
According to Lydia Sarfati, president and founder of Repêchage, thalassotherapy was first developed in England in the 17th century and became fashionable during the 18th century. It is a rediscovered spa treatment based on an ancient belief in the natural healing properties of seawater, she says. The word itself was coined in 19th century France from the Greek thalassa meaning “sea” and therapeia meaning “healing.”
“In France, thalassotherapy has always been a treatment of choice for joint troubles and injuries. It is regulated by the French government and is used as an alternative treatment for medical conditions. It also has become a popular tourist attraction for relaxation and stress reduction, as well as a favorite method of anti-aging healing because it maintains healthy circulation within the body. It is also prescribed for relieving imbalances linked to modern lifestyles,” says Sarfati. “In the United States, it is hard to come by true thalassotherapy because the waters tend to be polluted and are not suitable for bathing.” Because of this, manufacturers have tried to replicate the experience through the use of products.
Recently, Sarfati teamed up with Yolanda Amador, spa director of the Playa Grande Thalasso Spa at the Playa Grande Resort in
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to create an all-encompassing thalassotherapy center that follows regulations and prescriptions as governed by France. At the location, water is pumped from the fresh, unpolluted waters of the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean where guests bathe and soak in various areas to detoxify, relax and heal.
“Now in the United States, people are turning to thalassotherapy for its anti-aging treatments. It has become a favorite for cellulite reduction both for its effectiveness, as well as its calming approach,” says Sarfati.
You have to create treatments and products that fit into the American lifestyle, she explains. “Americans may have an hour to experience a seaweed wrap, but not a week to travel to a destination thalassotherapy center. The European lifestyle dictates a one-month-long vacation where it is common to travel to spas to bathe and soak in healing waters—this is not typical of the American lifestyle. Therefore, it is essential to adapt. In fact, today, Europe is looking at how the Americans evolved the traditional spa experience and are incorporating these treatments into European spas,” says Sarfati.
It’s a good thing
Collectively, the feeling is that American ingenuity is a good thing.
“Maybe our spa services are different or changed from those utilized overseas, but we give our clients what they want,” says Friel.
International spa therapies are constantly adapted to the needs of American clientele, says Lindner. “Just as our country is a melting pot, our special therapies are derived from the knowledge passed down from other cultures throughout the globe, even if everything gets Americanized.”
According to Chan Dyke, “Evolution is always a good thing. It is equally important to preserve the details that make the European facial unique, as we modify it to suit our clients’ needs.”
The definition of “spa” is constantly evolving, says Sarfati, who believes change is what makes this industry so exciting.