For decades, the “new year, new you” mantra has been employed by marketing mavens to push new diets, new skills, new attitudes and, above all, new services and products that you can buy. But this January, after ten months in lockup, people are more eager than ever to try out new trends in hopes of transformation...or at least a break from the same old boring routine.
Salons, spas, aestheticians and fitness trainers will tell you that no matter how they’re labeled by the government, their services have been very essential through the pandemic — so much so that the self-care segment saw a big surge in sales over the past year.
“Our spa and product lines had a 20 percent growth in 2020, and that’s even with the hiatus in spring and restricted numbers,” says Grant Jones, vice president of wellness at STRATA Integrated Wellness and Spa in Colorado Springs. “We had a 40 percent growth in couples’ massage!”
How far are people willing to go in pursuit of wellness, fitness and beauty during a pandemic? Nothing from Mother Nature is off the table, not even hay, snail slime or bird excrement. But face it: We’ve seen weirder things than those in the last year.
The skin is the body’s largest organ, accounting for 16 percent of the average body mass. And while some of that is now covered with masks, the pandemic has taken a toll on skin, causing everything from stress-induced acne to intense wrinkle awareness — and it shows. “When we were able to reopen in May, we would get a call a day starting off, ‘I don’t like the way I look on Zoom,’” says Monica Dupen, director of Spa Bella of Denver. “People are so much more self-aware of the face with hybrid work situations.”
Not only is demand for services up, but so is enrollment in education centers. The Denver Integrative Massage School, the School of Botanical and Medical Aesthetics, Herbalism Roots and the School of Holistic Nutrition Therapy are all completely full, with a waitlist for many classes, including instruction in the increasing popular vajacial, a facial that treats the nether regions, dealing with ingrown hairs, removing dead skin cells, smoothing bumps and helping with hyper-pigmentation.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Geisha Facial, created by Shizuka Bernstein at the Shizuka New York Day Spa, which will set you back $180 as an expert softens, brightens and nourishes your face with powdered nightingale droppings. Or you can Amazon your own bird crap for $20 an ounce.
In Colorado, you’ll have to do it yourself if you want to engage in snail therapy, which emerged in the 1980s in South Korea as a facial treatment for hydration, healing, collagen production and other benefits. Chiang Mai’s Snail Spa in Japan soon introduced facials in which snails slither across your face to create smooth, silky, youthful results; YouTube videos posted in France, China, Thailand and England endorse this slimy trend rooted in tradition.
Health sources claim Hippocrates prescribed crushed snail and sour milk to clear up skin inflammation; Italian healers have used snail mucus for centuries to help with acne, calluses and warts. By 2018, snail slime cream had become available through major retailers in this country; today you can get it on Amazon or even from Target or CVS.
Or you can hunt snails in your own backyard; the brown garden snail found in Colorado is the same one used in exotic Asian treatments — not to mention served at French restaurants as escargot.
Then there’s the vampire facial, which has become an in-demand — if disturbing — spa service. “Basically, it’s microneedling with the added benefit of reinjecting your face with your own platelet-rich plasma,” explains Dupen. “Microneedling is the process of creating lots of tiny needle pokes evenly spaced across an area of the skin. Think aerating your lawn, but for your face. This creates ‘micro-channels’ in the skin that can then be used to drive product, such as stem cells or plasma, down beneath the surface to where it will have the most impact.”
Why would people want to stick needles into their face? “Poking holes in the skin tricks the skin into thinking there is an injury, which stimulates the healing reflex in the face and helps to build collagen,” she says. “The healing reflex in the skin is such an incredible process. It’s a great way to even out scars, tighten skin, plump up skin.”
The vampire facial, which costs between $500 and $750, is a particular hit with females over thirty. “It certainly became much more popular once the Kardashians posted a vampire facial on social media; you always see a spike from social influencers like them and others,” Dupen says. “And since, we have seen more and more men come in for the treatment.”
As for the vampire part, Dupen notes, “We are taking a blood draw from the patient, which we then put into a centrifuge. We’re pulling out the individual’s plasma and reusing it in the treatment. First the aesthetician will numb the skin on the face for 45 minutes to an hour. Then the treatment begins and takes an additional 45 minutes. Recovery is a few days, always patient-dependent. You’re pretty red the day of the treatment, and then three to four more days for healing.”
But in these days of quarantine, that’s nothing.
In 2020, baths became an integral part of mental wellness, a brief escape from reality. While more bath salts and sugar scrubs were used last year than ever before, the epsom salt eucalyptus bath might have lost some of its energizing oomph. But there’s no lack of other natural elements to fill that tub.
The Austrian Haslauer Pure Sense Soft Pack Bed allows spa-goers to float weightlessly, cocooned by body-temperature warmth “while feeling the tranquil vibrations of peaceful sounds and soothing aromatherapy,” says STRATA’s Jones; his spa uses the bed for a $165, sixty-minute Colorado Pine Escape & Float. “Specialty local scents of Colorado pine uplift the spirit by calming the heartbeat, releasing musculoskeletal tensions and renourishing the body’s largest organ — the skin. Additionally, nutrient-filled healing cremes, organic honeys and essential oils combine to awaken ultra-luxe serenity throughout the body.”
Osmosis Day Spa in Sonoma County, California, offers America’s only official cedar enzyme bath, which immerses guests in a fermenting mixture of soft and fragrant ground cedar and rice bran to stimulate metabolic activity inside and out.
Sound itchy? Hotel Heubad Spa in Italy claims to be the original creator of the modern-day hay bath, playing off a Dolomite tradition. The spa recommends spending fifteen to twenty minutes wrapped in warm (105 degrees), damp hay that might be combined with local herbs and flowers for additional health benefits and aromatherapy, then relaxing in a robe or blanket for thirty minutes.
“Hay baths have been successfully applied for more than 100 years,” the spa reports. “These baths have a detoxifying and purifying effect; they are revitalizing and balancing, and improve the overall well-being. Sweating in the hay strengthens the immune system and stimulates the metabolism. Furthermore, the hay flowers also provide excellent skin care.”
If you want to try this at home, be sure to choose mice-free hay bales, perhaps like those at the Badger Creek Ranch outside of Cañon City. “Our local hay is a grass mix of brome, orchard and Timothy grass,” explains Chrissy McFarren, co-owner of Badger Creek Ranch. “The aromas are grounding, and this is a nice combination of non-invasive grass. Try and avoid Canadian thistle and foxtail; it’s invasive and not as pleasing.”
McFarren understands that nature can have particular healing powers. There’s a bison jump on her ranch, where Indigenous people would chase the animals over the ledge, then harvest them for food and other materials. Colorado’s last grizzly bear was killed near Badger Creek; on the ranch, visitors can scout for opals deposited by an ancient volcano that also left caves of volcanic flow. “There are many wonders here that heal,” she says, “and it makes sense that people are longing for the aromas and comfort of nature.”
In the 1970s, crystals and gemstones like those opals became popular for their magical powers. Fifty years later, stones and other raw and organic materials are enjoying a resurgence.
STRATA introduced Terra-py (from the earth) to help calm anxious individuals. “Terra-py releases the stresses and strains of our daily lives and reconnects with nature, learning from our ancestry about the simplicity and natural treatments for living each day more well and at peace,” explains Jones. During Terra-py, the body therapist uses healing muds of natural colors to “paint” the body, detoxifying and refining it through precious minerals.
Spa Anjali, located in the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in the Vail Valley, had one of its busiest summers ever, followed by a strong holiday season. “Locals and our big travel markets — Florida, Texas and California — they’ve all been looking for an escape from crowds and worry,” explains Gaye Steinke, the Westin’s club and spa director. “Instead of COVID fatigue, we’re seeing COVID respect and a longing for freedom and tranquility. And that’s definitely reflected in the popularity of certain treatments.”
The spa introduced Sound Bowl therapy in late 2018, and it’s been a big hit during the pandemic. Himalayan singing bowls are placed on the body, and the vibrations act as a massage, lowering stress, inflammation and hypertension, and enhancing the body’s own self-healing response. Group sound therapy treatment is also available, although currently limited to six people to follow social distancing requirements.
“The bowls themselves are incredible; we have six of them, and it took four men to make each one. The experience ends all mind chatter and puts you in a trance as the chakras and heart come to life with the sound vibrations,” explains Steinke. “It is truly calming and restorative, which makes it an ideal treatment for these times.” The sound adventure costs $165 for 50 minutes or $225 for 75 minutes with massage included.
Spa at St Julien in the namesake Boulder hotel has long used precious metal (gold), diamonds and other gemstones in treatments. “We launched our newest gemstone service in August, and it’s been gaining in popularity faster than other treatments we have launched, and this is during a pandemic!” exclaims Jessica Amaro, lead massage therapist.
“The treatment is 100 minutes. For each individual, we choose to focus on one chakra and how that is related to the health of the body. The seven chakras and gemstones are worked in the treatment to help bring a cleansing energetic field and positive self-awareness,” she says of the $340 journey. “The gemstones in the mat are heated with FIR infrared heat — FIR is the frequency of invisible light that is generated naturally by the sun.
Some crystals used to massage the body are lightly warmed with a small heating pad, and others are cool to offer an anti-inflammatory effect as well as a pleasing tactile experience.
“The training is quite thorough,” she adds. “To learn about chakras is very in-depth and unique to each person. Once the therapist can speak about the chakras with confidence, then they can integrate their touch with the protocol. The knowledge of the crystals we use is the second important factor in the training because of its power to cultivate healing.”
From slime to stones, Mother Nature provides many of the tools used in spas, salons and wellness centers today. There’s no limit to what can be used; the big limitations are dealing with safety guidelines that, among other things, hold these facilities to 25 percent capacity.
And some features have not been able to open at all. Jalan Facial Spa is renowned for its meditation garden and Zen lounge, which remain closed. While other services are available, the Denver salon decided to place medical-grade Medify air purifiers in all treatment rooms, which are 99.9 percent effective in capturing particles down to 0.1 microns.
In Washington Park, 5 Star Salt Caves and Wellness Center offers a multitude of services — ionic foot bath, chakra clearing and massage — but is most revered for its salt cave, the only one in Colorado. Salt-cave therapy is used to help neutralize positive ions from toxic air that can cause headaches, lethargy, dizziness, nausea, depression, indigestion problems, irritability and a myriad of other health conditions. It’s also a popular homeopathic remedy for children, but those sessions are on hold because of COVID.
Other facilities have changed the way they do business, too. “We were thrilled to recently bring back couples’ massages, which have been one of the most in-demand services since the onset of the pandemic. Nonetheless, it’s the facials that certainly presented the biggest challenge for operation with the new regulations. We recently installed curved acrylic plexiglass shields to offer a clean and sanitary barrier between our technicians and the guests,” says Miriam Huntley, director at the Oxford Club, Spa & Salon. “The way we do business has completely changed, and I am shocked we didn’t have some of these protocols in the first place.”
Because duty is more than skin-deep.