Ingredients from the sea are making the rounds in spas with astonishing popularity and definite drama. In fact, these single-celled wonders have been key ingredients in beauty products and spa therapies for ages all over the world. Kelp, bladderwrack, carrageenan, Irish moss and other oceanic crops have been used in cellulite-reduction and detoxification therapies for centuries. Various algae-based products are also used in skin- and body-care formulations as emulsifiers, soothing agents, and for antibacterial and anti-inflammatory purposes. Alginates and similar sea products are sustainable, nutrient packed, easily cultivated and harvested and useful both as food products and as topical ingredients.
The History of Sea Therapies
Sea plants, seawater, sea salt and oceanic clay have long been popular physical-therapy ingredients in Europe. Recommended as medical therapeutic agents as early as 1578, seawater and sea derivatives were administered for rheumatism and general rehabilitation. In 1753, The Uses of Sea Water, by English author and physician Charles Russel, explained the various therapeutic properties of seawater. In search of those therapeutic benefits, the European elite sought out ocean-side resorts with bathing facilities.
With marine hospitals, which started in England in 1780, the seawater craze quickly became French domain. The first French marine hospital, Petit Berck, opened in 1861. In 1865 Joseph La Bonardière coined the term thalassotherapy (from the Greek thalassa for “sea” and therapeia for “care”) and began a tradition of serious study regarding the health benefits of seawater. In 1899 Louis Bagot started balneotherapie (bath therapy) treatments at the clinic at Roscoff called the Institut Marin de Rockroum. This was the first true thalassotherapy clinic in Europe.
French scientist René Quinton devoted much of his life’s work to the study of seawater and in 1906 published L’eau de Mer, Milieu Organic (“Sea Water, Organic Medium”), which demonstrated the chemical similarity between blood plasma and seawater. Quinton’s colleague Claude Bernard discovered that the body is comprised of 70 percent water. Working from Bernard’s findings regarding the makeup of blood, intracellular fluid and lymphatic fluid in the body, Quinton stated in 1897 that the human system is analogous to the systems found among marine life: “In the internal environment of our system, and only there we find the same mineral make-up, the same physiognomy, as that of sea water [sic].”
From this notion that seawater is a complete mineral source came multiple ideas of the healing powers of seawater. Quinton’s study indicated that seawater and human plasma are almost identical in their composition of mineral salts, proteins and various other elements. Quinton also established that human cells could continue to live in seawater, while they break down and disintegrate almost instantly in any other medium.
This original connection between seawater and the healing benefits brought through its trace elements and molecular structure expanded over the years. Various forms of seaweed were scrutinized for healing properties, and many different types of therapies sprouted from the balneotherapy and thalassotherapy treatments that were popularized in the 1800s. Today, the same healing principles apply.
Sea Therapies Today
Folklore and tradition continue to perpetuate its popularity in spa rooms and beauty formulations and many of the sea derived treatments and ingredients are now backed by scientific evidence. From sea-salt scrubs to thermal seaweed wraps, ocean-mud packs to sea-algae baths, kelp facials to algae buffs, ocean products are experiencing renewed popularity in spas all over the world, resulting in exotic therapies that effect powerful healing.
As messy and extravagant as seaweed wraps and baths might sound, there are a number of ways to integrate marine therapies into a basic massage practice, spa or wellness center. For facilities equipped with Jacuzzis, jetted tubs or soaking baths, micronized algae can be easily added to these hydrotherapy options without damaging the filtration system or jets.
All-over exfoliations with Dead Sea salts, algae or a thalassotherapy body scrub can be performed with a dry brush or with the therapist’s hands. After the exfoliation, the client can opt for a hydrotherapy treatment, Vichy shower, traditional shower, or the salts can become a part of the layering of product before a body wrap. If absolutely no “wet” services are available, sea products can still be offered with a massage or facial.
Using marine tinctures, solutions or bulk ingredients at home can be as easy as adding the additional care items to your mineral water for a spritz of hydration, bath water for that extra kick of active ingredients or to your lotion for all over skin nutrition. Look for bulk and packaged sea products at your favorite nutrition store, organic foods co-op or spa. Products may be packaged and identified by various brand names but the benefits are generally the same. Finally, call ahead to a spa that you would like to visit and ask if they offer any sea-enriched treatments. The vast benefits and cures of the ocean await your discovery.
Know Your Seaweed: A Glossary
Algae extract: Gelatinous extracts of seaweed and algae are used to soften, hydrate and smooth skin. These are also used in skin formulations to provide a silky texture.
Bladderwrack: This brown seaweed is the number-one ingredient in most cellulite-reducing formulations. Because of its powerful diuretic properties and extraction ability, bladderwrack is thought to both draw toxins out of the body and flush out impurities through water loss.
Carrageenan: This red seaweed derivative is extracted from Irish moss and is typically used as a thickener and emulsifier. It helps skin maintain an elevated level of hydration.
Kelp: This is often used in massage oils and creams, cellulite formulations and contouring baths. Rich in iodine, kelp is thought to reduce cellulite by reducing pockets of excess water and toxins in the skin.