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February 1, 2012

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New spa therapies and 'wows'

FROM color therapy and medi-pedis to frigid blizzard rooms and swankier eyebrow bars, fresh trends are surfacing around the world in the US$60-billion spa industry, according to an annual forecast.

As destination resorts, day spas and beauty salons shake off economic worries, new luxury is playing out in all price ranges through more intimate pairings with healthy fine dining, glamor and child-welcome options, says Susie Ellis, president of the online spa portal SpaFinder.

Past trends like wellness pampering and organic treatments haven't been replaced but are being joined by a broader range of foot healing, multi-sensory experiences and icy cold therapies, Ellis said recently when she rolled out SpaFinder's 2012 trends report.

Look for more wow, fun and wellness, and for more spa options in Asia, which she said leads the world in industry growth.

With more than 100,000 spas worldwide, making sense of often-pricy services can be difficult, along with tracking evidence that they work. A nearly year-old, industry-funded website,, is a small but growing clearinghouse for clinical trials and published research on services ranging from yoga and music therapy to Ayurveda, the ancient holistic system of medicine from India, and "thalassotherapy," the use of seaweed, algae and other materials from the sea.

"You are now moving from not only wellness but to wellness empowerment," says Dr Daniel Friedland, an internist and consultant who worked on the site.

Helping spa-goers hunt down research is a game changer, especially now that more insurance companies and employers are willing to reimburse them for preventive care, Ellis said.

Cold and ice

With saunas, steam rooms, Whirlpool baths and rock massages, spas have traditionally used heat to de-stress and detoxify, but the industry is taking a cue from the Romans, who more than 2,000 years ago finished spa-like experiences with a trip to the "frigidarium."

Look for more ice therapies and cold rooms alternated with hot treatments to reduce pain and inflammation in muscles and joints, Ellis says.

At ESPA locations around the world, clients can scoop ice crystals from fountains to rub down after saunas. At the Qua Baths & Spa in Caesars Palace Las Vegas, visitors can head to the "arctic ice room" to sit amid falling snow as a more gentle transition from heat and steam than the usual cold plunge into a pool.

The luxury Dolder Grand in Zurich has a room for snowball fights. Visitors to the AquaSpa at the golf resort The Belfry in the UK's West Midlands can head to the "igloo" room and grab handfuls of ice for rubbing.

In February, spa designer Thermarium will introduce touchscreen technology allowing users to choose between light, moderate or blizzard-like snowfalls in cold rooms, SpaFinder said.

With cryotherapy, spa-goers in bathing suits wear protective socks, gloves, mouth and ear gear to avoid frostbite in rooms cooled to minus 184 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 84 degrees Celsius); visits last just moments. The chambers are available at the new Sparkling Hill Resort & Spa in Vernon, British Columbia, and Champneys Tring Health Resort in Hertfordshire, England.

Happy feet

Chinese reflexology has been around for years. Now spas and wellness centers are targeting problems like high-heel pain as part of menus for the feet.

Computer gait analysis and foot treatments in zero-gravity chairs are available at the Canyon Ranch SpaClub in Las Vegas.

New York City's Yamuna studio has stiletto classes, and the feet-only Stride in Palo Alto, California, includes foot Botox to reduce odor and a "Walking on Clouds" treatment of filler injected into the ball of the foot for padding and pain reduction.

Yamuna Zake, founder of Yamuna, uses small knobby spheres to condition aching feet and teach foot care. "You can't get anywhere without those feet, yet they come with no education," she says. "If you get it in your head what feet need, you can turn it around."

The Mandarin Barber and Mandarin Salon in the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong are targeting men for a traditional Chinese foot treatment involving 10 razor-sharp blades performed by masters Samuel So and Ben Cheung.


Incorporating them as ambient afterthoughts is nothing new for the spa industry. Now they're "becoming the main event," the report says.

One innovation is software that creates real-time music, tones, beats and other sounds like wind rustling and rivers to beats generated by a therapist's movements in tandem with the client's bodily responses during massages, SpaFinder says. The client leaves with a CD of the "wellbeing music art" they helped create. The technology, MUUSA, is from Italy and in use at the Tombalo Talasso Resort in Castegneto Carducci in Tuscany.

During Aura-Soma, a person chooses four bottles of dual-colored liquid containing oils, flower essences and the "energy" of crystals for a reading of spiritual and emotional well-being, complete with a rubdown.

"I think you'll see more of it," Ellis says. "It's quite an interesting new way of looking at and using color."

Too far-fetched? Not far-fetched enough?

A Viennese artist who goes by the name "sha" created canopied, cradle-like "tranquility pods" for use in "AlphaSpheres" built into spas around the world, including Berlin's Mandala Hotel ONO Spa and Bulgaria's Kempinski Hotel's Zalez facility. Guests are surrounded in blue light, sound and vibrations while they sway to the rhythms of their own breathing.


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