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A Body of Work

By: Cathy Christensen
Posted: September 25, 2008, from the October 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

From therapeutic to authentic to life-changing, body treatment trends in today's spas are reflecting the maturing of an industry that is becoming more comfortable in its role as a promoter of well-being. Although fun, fluffy services are always in style, newer treatments in day and resort spas are taking a look at providing results--not necessarily the black and white results of medical spas--but more subtle approaches to improving the lives of clients.

The big chill

Often billed as a retreat from the normal spa service, menu items departing from the comfort of warmth lead spa-goers into a temperature that typically isn’t associated with comfort at all. In fact, upon first consideration, the idea of being doused in cold water or reclined in a frigid room doesn’t sound terribly appealing. However, despite this first impression, the use of cold can stimulate circulation, heal overworked muscles and result in feelings of invigoration.

At Just Calm Down Spa in New York, the Polar Express Massage was introduced this past summer to provide therapy to athletes and those experiencing strained muscles or swelling post-surgery, as well as a cool escape from the heat of the season. The massage therapist places bags of cool water on the bed for a waterbed effect, and the client can choose a cucumber/lime or peppermint essential oil to be used during the service, both of which have cooling effects on the skin.

According to Maiya Thompson, a massage therapist at the spa, cold offerings are more than just a fun trend—they reflect the growth of the professional and the client alike. “Massage therapists are starting to have an extensive background in physical health rather than just offering massage for relaxation. And clients are more in tune with their bodies, so they are looking for alternative ways to get treatment,” she says.

Qua Baths & Spa at Caesers Palace in Las Vegas has expanded on this idea, building an entire room based on the benefits of cold. In true Vegas style, the Arctic Ice Room is as flashy as it is therapeutic, featuring fantastic effects and décor to nurture that fresh-from-Antarctica feeling. Clients can enjoy a constant snowfall in a 55°F blue-and-white tiled room that features a heated floor and benches, as well as tiny fiber optic lights that illuminate the walls and a shaved ice fountain that provides crushed ice chips to cool and exfoliate.

And although the result is breathtaking, spa director Jennifer Lynn explains it is all based on Roman bathing rituals. The Arctic Ice Room caps off a client’s voyage through the three Roman Baths—the tepidarium, a pool kept at body temperature; the caldarium, kept at 106°F to ease tension and soothe tired muscles; and the frigidarium, the cold plunge pool that invigorates—followed by the laconium room, a sauna. “By ending cold, clients are bringing their core body temperature down. It closes pores and stops perspiration,” says Lynn. “We love to say that it snows every day in Vegas.”