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Nourish Your Spa

Anna Maltby June 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine

To spas with limited resources, nutrition can seem like a big, scary nine-letter word. With clients learning more about nutrition every day in newspapers, magazines and on the Web, and with health food becoming a bigger trend than ever, spas that haven’t yet addressed the nutrition connection may well be panicking. “Spa clients these days tend to be pretty educated about nutrition,” says Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, co-author of The SuperFoods Rx Diet: Lose Weight With the Power of SuperNutrients (Rodale Books, 2007) and nutrition specialist for Golden Door Spa and Resort in Escondido, California. And, if spa professionals can’t improve that knowledge, what results is a potential loss of business. Even if you don’t have the funds to keep a full-time dietitian on staff, there are several easy—and relatively low-cost—steps you can take in order to keep your team members and your clients nutrition-savvy.

Credentialed counsel

You may be a nutrition enthusiast, but unless you’re a registered dietitian (RD) yourself, you run the risk of providing less-than-accurate information to your clients. It is important to keep in mind the difference between a nutritionist and a registered dietitian: nutritionists are self-labeled and are not regulated, while dietitians must have proper training and education.

A good way to add food knowledge to your program is to contact the American Dietetic Association (ADA) for help in finding a local dietitian to visit your spa. Fees for consultations vary, but expect to pay $50–100 per session, depending on time and services offered, as well as the dietician’s education, training and experience, Bazilian says.

“Have the dietitian look at your menus and services, and offer consultations,” suggests Michelle Kleist, RD, executive director of Destination Spa Group, an organization made up of destination spas located everywhere from California to Thailand. “It’s such an easy step for day spas and resort spas.”

Bazilian suggests having your registered dietician host a nutrition seminar one night a month for clients and team members. “It’s an easy way to increase your nutrition credibility even if you don’t want to bring on a full-time person,” she says.

If yours is a larger spa where clients stay for multiple days, provide training sessions with a dietician and have a test run at the end of their stay, as the resident dietitian does at Fitness Ridge Resort and Spa in Ivins, Utah. After a week of sessions, the expert assesses guests’ grasp on their newfound knowledge. “She brings them out to dinner at a buffet and tells them to grab what they think would be a healthy meal to fit in with their meal plan,” Kleist explains. “This provides a really hands-on, real-life experience.”

Educated estheticians

Your employees most likely are great at what they do; chances are very good that the professional who provides your spa’s famous microdermabrasion treatments gives your client the best service possible. But something’s missing. That particular team member doesn’t take the next step and inform the spa-goer about what can be done internally to improve the skin.

“Nutrition is such a weak area in the industry—professionals do not give lifestyle advice to clients. They treat everything from the outside instead of the inside, and I really believe the holistic approach is key,” says Pat Lam, vice president of Toronto-based Skin Care Consultants and author of several books about nutrition.

Encourage your estheticians to attend a special course or seminar about nutrition, and provide textbooks and literature that will help them implement diet advice into their services. Lam’s most recent book, Nutrition: The Healthy Aging Solution (Pat Lam, 2007), for example, is targeted toward skin care professionals who want to incorporate nutrition advice into their services. “If we educated the estheticians, it would change the course of the whole profession,” Lam says.

Although you can’t expect your estheticians to run out and become registered dietitians themselves, they certainly can become familiar with some of the basic nutrition-skin connections. “When the skin is healthy through internal nutrition, then some external symptoms can dissipate or become balanced,” Bazilian says. “An overall healthy, nutrient-dense diet does support good skin quality overall, and this is one area that clients will notice almost immediately when shifting their diet to healthier foods—especially plant-based foods.”

For example, omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish oil, walnuts and avocados, can help bring natural moisture to dry skin, and citrus fruits contain vitamin C, an antioxidant that helps protect skin from the sun, smoking and pollution. Vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, olives, spinach and asparagus contain vitamin E, which also helps protect against skin damage.

The easiest way to assist clients with helping their own skin is to encourage them to drink water—lots and lots of it. “Water is the most important nutrient and plays a critical role in skin’s color, tone, texture, moisture and elasticity,” says Bazilian. “It’s the medium by which many nutrients are delivered to skin cells and by which metabolic by-products are removed for excretion from the body.”

Something as simple as an esthetician noting that a client’s acne or roseacea could be the result of inflammatory foods such as fatty meats and sugary items will not only help improve the skin, but it will also convey that your spa has a genuine interest in its clients’ well-being—a prime reason for repeat visits. It is also important to encourage your staff to live a healthy lifestyle themselves. “They’re not going to push it unless they believe in it,” Lam says. Plus, an esthetician with a bad case of acne may not represent your services in the way you would prefer.

If yours is a resort or destination spa, have your employees go through your programs, Kleist suggests. At Fitness Ridge and at Canyon Ranch, with locations in Tucson, Arizona, and Lenox, Massachusetts, primary team members spend a week experiencing their respective spa’s programs before beginning their employment. “It’s that hands-on learning concept,” Kleist says. Eric Jackson, Fitness Ridge’s marketing and public relations director, maintains a blog about his experience with the spa’s program and, so far, he’s dropped about 20 pounds.

Remarkable reading

Why not replace those dusty, five-year-old issues of Cosmopolitan on your waiting room table with material that can help educate your staff and clients about the latest trends and nutrition research? “Provide a little bit of literature that’s consumer-friendly and that will help make the spa team members aware of the trends,” Bazilian says.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit nutrition advocate and research organization, publishes 10 issues of its Nutrition Action Healthletter each year, and you can subscribe for a mere $10. Harvard Medical School puts out the monthly Harvard Women’s Health Watch for $28 per year, which contains articles about everything from exercise to dietary supplements.

“These are inexpensive and consumer-friendly, with informative stories, and they’re great to carry along with the glossies,” Bazilian says. Even mainstream consumer magazines such as Cooking Light and Eating Well can provide your clients with helpful, educational reading material that will help them use food to extend the benefits of their spa treatments into their everyday lives.

Go green

Educated spa-goers aren’t just interested in general nutrition—they’re also highly concerned about the environment, organic food and sustainable agriculture. According to Kleist, the six-acre organic Rancho Tres Estrellas farm at Rancho La Puerta in Mexico’s Baja California is an ideal to strive toward. The farm provides fresh fruits and vegetables for guests at the spa, who can also visit it in order to learn more about organic gardening. “More spas are taking a hard look at their food sources, and considering utilizing local farms or their own gardening as much as possible,” Kleist says. If that’s just not practical for your budget or your location, you can still provide organic and healthy food, drinks and snacks for clients. “Offer green or black tea for antioxidants between treatments,” Lam suggests.

A+ After-care

One of the best ways to increase client satisfaction and return visits is to offer items that spa-goers can take home with them in order to encourage healthy eating away from your business. “Keep in mind what happens after they leave the spa,” Kleist says. Lam suggests selling supplements, such as omega-3 capsules and soluble fiber products, in your retail area. “People go to the health food store to buy these things anyway,” Lam says, and if nutrition’s on their mind at the spa, it’s a convenient time to buy.

But supplements aren’t the only way to help clients boost their nutrition at home—spa food is becoming more and more high end. “Health food used to be boring, but that’s not what spa cuisine is like,” Bazilian says. “It’s colorful, nutritious, delicious, beautiful and engaging.” After enjoying your meals, clients will be pleased to see your spa offering recipe cards to take home.

You can also provide food products to sell to clients, which is the practice at Regency Health Resort and Spa in Hallandale, Florida. Its special food Web site offers healthy salad dressings, frozen vegan soups and vegetarian entrees, and vegan cookies for home delivery. Another resource for delicious recipes and education about nutrition is Skin Inc. magazine’s monthly Spa Cuisine column; this month’s, which focuses on almonds, can be found on Page 48.

Sooner or later, instead of a scary, nine-letter word, nutrition will become your spa’s best friend. “If you go to a spa and someone gives you nutritional and lifestyle advice, it shows a real interest in you, not just in your skin,” Lam says. That spells satisfaction for your clients and repeat business for you.

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