February 16, 2006
Home Pampering Easy as 1, 2, Ahhhhh
No one deserves a spa experience more than you do. Just picture it -- warm tubs scented with essential oils, invigorating body scrubs, refreshing botanical blend face masks smoothed on in soothing circular massaging motions and misty showers with luscious gels.
Sound divine? You bet. Millions of people are embracing the spa experience -- taking what was formerly an exclusive pleasure of the rich and famous and turning it into a health and wellness phenomenon.
Millions of spa-goers must be on to something. But why limit all that good stuff to the precious times you can book at a spa? Why not have a spa experience whenever you choose?
It's easier than you think to have sensual and sensational spa experiences in your own home, on your own time.
Create an Inviting Environment for the Senses
"The first step is to create an environment for your spa experience," said Susan Kirsch, owner of Kirsch Cosmetic Clinic and Spa in Toronto, Canada. "Remember to incorporate all of your senses."
Since water is an important part of most treatments, the bathroom is a good place to create your home spa, Kirsch said. All it takes is a little imagination.
A really simple way to transform any regular bathroom, she said, is to soften the lights.
"Have a dimmer installed on the light switch," Kirsch said. "Just dim the lights and light some candles to turn an everyday bathroom into something that looks a bit more special."
If a warm, bubbling bath is your idea of heaven, consider having a hot tub installed in your backyard, on your deck or inside your house. Currently, more than 5 million households now own a hot tub and by the end of this year, roughly 400,000 Americans are expected to purchase a hot tub for their homes, according to a recent study by the National Spa and Pool Institute in Alexandria, Va.
"Some people think a hot tub is a luxury item. I think it's a necessity," Andrea Martone said. "And my husband and daughters feel the same way. It's much better to relax and de-stress in a hot tub after dinner than to sit in front of the television set. Sometimes we use it together. We light candles and chat. And sometimes I use it by myself -- to meditate or just go to another place in my mind."
Prices on hot tubs, according to the National Spa and Pool Institute, range from between $2,500 to more than $10,000 (plus installation costs). The average price is about $5,500.
Just as certain sounds can unsettle us, other sounds can help us achieve a sense of calm. Kirsch likes to use music that's soothing and relaxing at her spa and during her at-home spa treatments -- "something that's appropriate for a healing environment," she said.
She says she often plays the music of singer Enya.
"Choose whatever works for you," she said.
For Martone, it's the splashing sounds of water.
"I've got little waterfall fountains all over my house," Martone said. "They bring a sense of calm to whatever room they're in. My daughter even has one in her room for doing homework."
Martone is a New York City publicist and co-founder of Spa-Daze, a company that provides professional spa treatments and services for groups of four or more in the setting of your choice -- including your home.
Martone also suggests burning essential oils to set a relaxing tone for an at-home spa experience. She recommends using a 50/50 mix of your favorite essential oils and water for a scent that's noticeable but not overpowering.
"Different scents can help create different moods," she said. "For example, lavender is very calming to the senses and nice to burn at night before going to sleep. And oils like eucalyptus and peppermint are soothing -- especially if you're ill -- and can help you breathe easier."
Choose Your Products
If you are a spa devotee, you may already be one step closer to recreating your spa experience at home. Many spas sell the products they use in their treatments -- facial masks, exfoliates, bath and shower gels, lotions and more. At Kirsch Cosmetic Clinic and Spa, staff members will custom mix body scrubs and other beauty potions for guests. So if you've had a particularly divine professional treatment, buy the product to use at home. You can conjure up your fond memory of that experience as relaxation therapy.
When shopping for new products for your home spa, buy in small quantities -- especially if you have sensitive skin, said Carrie Pierce of Ecco Bella Botanicals of Wayne, N.J. Ecco Bella, which means "behold beauty" in Italian, is a line of natural, gentle-to-the-skin cosmetics and skin care products that use medicinal-grade essential oils.
"It's important to have the luxury of trying a new product or scent without making a huge and perhaps costly commitment," she said.
For that reason, Ecco Bella offers smaller, lower-priced "try me" sizes of their scented bath and shower gels, lotions, parfums and fizz therapy bath marbles.
It's important to find scents formulated to enhance the experience you're trying to create in your home spa, Pierce said.
Then revel in them. For example, lemon verbena has a reputation as a mood-lifting, feel-good scent. And vanilla reputedly has an aphrodisiac-like effect on men -- "second only to the scent of pumpkin pie," Pierce said.
"Layering your selected scent by using a gel, lotion -- maybe spraying a little parfum on your pillow -- is a luxurious way to take care of yourself and to take your spa experience with you," she said.
Formulate a Plan
Don't try to do too much all at once, Kirsch advised.
"Remember, your primary goal is to feel relaxed and pampered," she said.
For a simple and luxurious home spa experience Kirsch recommends the following head-to-toe regime.
You can begin one of two ways -- either by covering your head with a towel and lightly steaming your face over a basin filled with boiling water or by gently swabbing your face with a warm, damp towel.
"Your choice," Kirsch said. "If you want to go the simple route, the warm, damp towel works just fine."
The next step is to exfoliate -- or slough off -- dead skin cells.
"The skin has a natural turnover of cells. When you exfoliate, you just help that natural process along," Kirsch said.
When choosing a product, remember exfoliates generally come in two forms -- gel and grain.
"The gel form is less invasive and may be good to start out with," Kirsch said.
Apply in circular massaging motions with your fingertips. Leave the exfoliate on until it feels tacky and almost dry. Then slough it off with the flat part of your fingers. Rinse with water.
Next, apply a mask in the same circular massaging motions.
"It's important to choose one that's formulated for your skin type," Kirsch said. For example, if your skin is dry, you'll want to use a hydrating mask.
While the mask does it's magic, draw a warm bath.
"Put a drop or two of essential oils in the water," Kirsch said. "Soak for a while in the bath, then exfoliate with a body scrub. Try using a loofah mitt and massage in circular motions."
Then rinse and be careful getting out of the tub since it will be slippery. Apply a moisturizing body lotion.
It's important to wait 48 hours after shaving or waxing before using a body scrub and don't use it on any areas that have cuts or nicks.
Remove your mask by rinsing with lukewarm water. Apply a moisturizer using circular massaging motions -- and don't forget your neck.
Use pumice to smooth away hard or rough spots and calluses on your toes, heels and the bottoms of your feet. Apply a moisturizer.
"Give your regular moisturizer an enriching boost by breaking open a Vitamin E capsule and mixing it into the lotion," Kirsch said.
The final step in your at home spa experience, Kirsch said, is to climb into your bed, nestle under the comfy covers and listen to music for a while.
"You should feel totally rejuvenated and stress free," she said.
And if for some reason you don't, you can try again -- and again -- until you get the hang of it. In this case, there's absolutely no harm in trying.
"These lovely things you can do at home for yourself can really elevate the quality of your life," Pierce said. "They can make a woman feel sexy, cherished, valued, calm and better able to cope. They allow you to embrace yourself."
Beth Gilbert is a New York-based writer.