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Spa Guide and Glossary

Spa Guide and Glossary

Your complete spa treatment glossary and guide


Acupuncture:

From allergies to back pain, headaches to insomnia, acupuncture has been used to help treat them all. First developed in ancient China (there's evidence of the treatment being used as early as the 2nd-century BC), the technique is based on the insertion of thin needles on targeted points of the body to help unblock energy and keep our internal "flow" moving properly. Inserting the needle is thought to relive pressure on the acupuncture point, allowing the release of toxins and pressure.

As the theory goes, the body is comprised of a series of meridians and channels (fourteen total) through which blood and energy (qi) flow. Sometimes, qi or blood becomes stagnated or blocked, leading to pain or other chronic symptoms. There are both external and internal pathways; the latter create a circuit between internal organs. Localized pain sometimes corresponds to that specific area (shoulder pain because of a blockage in the neck or shoulder, for example), but in most cases, the symptoms can be traced to a blockage in the related organ or circuit. Because of this, the therapist with often insert needles in points that may seem unrelated to the trouble spot, but in fact are connected. (For example, certain types of headaches are often treated by working on points at the base of the thumb.)

In a typical session, the therapist takes a detailed patient history, then examines her using the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine. During the treatment, the thin, new (not re-used) needles are gently inserted into points all over the body, then the client is left to relax for some time. The treatment is generally painless, and many clients find the process soothing. Regular treatments are recommended for better results.

For more on acupuncture, including studies on efficacy, and to find a certified practitioner near you, visit the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine at www.aaaom.com.

Aromatherapy:

From spa menus to product labels, the word “aromatherapy” is everywhere. But what does it really mean—and does it always mean the same thing?

The basic term refers to the therapeutic use of essential oils—based on the specific healing property of each oil—in such treatments as massage, diffusions, body wraps and soaks. Though this practice has been going on for centuries, legend has it that the term “aromatherapy” was coined in the 1920’s by a French scientist named Gattefosse, who discovered that lavender oil helped heal a severe hand burn.

Essential oils are highly concentrated liquids extracted from leaves, flowers, roots, buds, seeds, bark—basically any part of a fruit or plant. From sore muscles and bruises to anxiety, depression and PMS, there is an essential oil for every condition, and knowledgeable aromatherapists can create custom blends for specific concerns. Oils vary in quality, but most are quite strong and should be diluted with a vegetable-based carrier oil. A few, though, can be taken internally or inhaled; peppermint oil is great for stomach ailments, and cinnamon oil can be used in teas. Some essential oils should be avoided by pregnant women, so check with a doctor before treatment.

There are a number of accredited schools and organizations for aromatherapists, and countless books and websites about related products and home remedies. While at this time there are no state requirements to be certified as an aromatherapist, most states do require that anyone using essential oils topically should have at least one related professional license, such as Massage Therapist, Naturopath Physician, Licensed Acupuncturist or Registered Nurse. Most top spas have estheticians and massage therapists on staff who are trained in the use of these healing oils.

Rules for claiming a product is aromatherapeutic vary from country to country, but as a rule, if the essential oil is not listed as one of the first few ingredients on the label, the product is probably more about smelling good than about solving any real issues—though every little bit can help.

Ayurveda:

It's been around for over 5,000 years, and judging by its current prevalence on spa menus around the world, Ayurveda is still going strong. Translated to mean "the science of life", this traditional Indian system of health and wellness aims to treat both the symptoms and the root of a problem by achieving balance at the source, and overall equilibrium in the body. Using a holistic philosophy, natural remedies and time-tested practices, Ayurveda has become a recognized treatment option for medical issues, as well as a relaxing spa favorite.

The science itself is broken down into eight specialties—everything from internal medicine and allergies to psychology and beauty is addressed—but the practice always begins with the diagnosing of a client's dosha, or physical type. These doshas represent the five elements—fire, earth, water, air and ether—and while a bit of each can be found in all of us, most people fall into one of three main categories: Vata, strong in ether and air; Pitta, high in both fire and water; and Kapha, the combination of water and earth. In some cases, a person can be strong in two doshas, and would be classified as a combination of both.

Visitors to an Ayurvedic spa will determine their dosha, which also reflects their skin type, during a detailed consultation with a therapist; once they have this information, therapists are able to treat skin conditions, apply the appropriate oils and herbs, and make recommendations about diet, exercise and lifestyle.

While there are Ayurvedic treatments designed to target everything from problem skin to stress, digestion and more serious conditions, massage is at the core of the practice and is the most popular service to be offered in Western spas. In the traditionally 60- or 90-minute services—typically called abhyanga massage—guests are adorned with herbal oils or poultices (or, in some cases, even wrapped in oil-soaked linens), then rhythmically massaged by one to four therapists with vigorous, push-pull motions. Another Ayurvedic spa staple is Shirodhara, a treatment for headaches, insomnia and tension that involves pouring lukewarm herbal oils in a slow, steady stream on the forehead, while a gentle head massage helps revitalize the body and mind.

For more on Ayurveda, visit www.ayurveda.com.

Balneotherapy:

Derived from the Latin word for "bath", balneotherapy is the treatment of illness or chronic symptoms by water—be it bathing, H2O-based spa services or the drinking of medicinal waters. While other terms are used for specific types of aqua therapies—thalassotherapy refers to the use of seaweed-rich water, for example, and fangotherapy is the use of muds and clays—balneotherapy is a broader term for a range of services that use the healing power of water. The main distinction is that balneotherapy treatments are geared towards more medicinal, therapeutic goals, not just skin care or relaxation.

In most cases, balneotherapy is performed using mineral-rich waters, like those found at natural hot springs or traditional spa complexes. These waters are generally high in elements like silica, bromine, iodine, magnesium, sodium, calcium and potassium, and may also be mixed with essential oils, muds or additional minerals. Since balneotherapy is about treating the body inside and out, prescribed therapies might include vapor baths, inhalation chambers and actually drinking the water, along with hot and cold baths and water massage.

Conditions that may benefit from balneotherapy include arthritis, chronic inflammation, fibromyalgia, muscle or joint injuries and chronic skin conditions. As with any treatment, it's recommended that clients check with a doctor before undergoing services, since some conditions, like high blood pressure or heart problems, can be affected by the use of heat.

Body Wrap:

Along with massages and facials they make up the holy trinity of spa services—but what exactly are body wraps about? Back in the day, wraps became popular for their supposed weight loss properties, even though the (temporary) inches people dropped from those rudimentary procedures (think tight Ace bandages, heat conducting plastic sheets and lots of sweat) were ultimately just due to a flushing out of water weight. But since then, wraps have come a long way, and today they appear on menus to help with everything from sunburned skin to all-over detoxification.

Most spa menus boast wraps in three categories: hydrating, stimulating and detoxifying. The hydrating options typically begin with a dry brushing of the body to slough off dead skin, followed by an application of a moisturizing agent like aloe vera, creme or a mix of herbal oils. Clients are then wrapped up in warm blankets and left to marinate; once the balms have sunken in, you're unwrapped, dried off, then lightly massaged with a final dose of hydrating lotion. Relaxing and pampering, these wraps are useful both post-summer to soothe sun-worn skin, and in winter, when skin's in need of a hydrating boost.

Designed to boost circulation, reduce cellulite and increase the metabolism, stimulating wraps typically make use of mineral-rich marine-based products like algae and seaweed. These pastes are applied all over the body (or, for more intense treatment, just in targeted areas), then clients are wrapped up in foils or plastic sheets, then sometimes topped with more heavy blankets (clients are typically wrapped more tightly in stimulating wraps, to help increase circulation.) Once the minerals have had a chance to do their magic, you're washed off—often under a Vichy shower or on a wet table—then doused with a light moisturizer. Some spas pair stimulating body wraps with seaweed baths or jet tub soaks for more concentrated re-mineralization.

Increased circulation is also a goal of the detoxifying wraps, which use muds, clays or herb-soaked sheets to draw out impurities from the body. Though some of the post-wrap effects might include a reduction of inches or a tightening of cellulite-prone areas , detoxifying wraps are primarily about cleansing the body from the inside out, pulling out toxins and leaving skin soft and supple as an added bonus. Most of these services use Moor or Dead Sea mud, rich bentonite, green or red clays, or a potent herb mixtures, all of which act as magnets for toxins but also are packed with their own healing properties. Moor mud, for example, contains over 1,000 plant extracts and trace elements that make it great for detoxification, easing joint pain and arthritis, soothing stomach problems and chronic skin conditions. In detoxifying body wraps, the client is painted with these muds and clays (or engulfed in sheets soaked in herb solutions) and wrapped semi-tightly; once the potions have hardened and dried; they're then washed off in a shower and / or sloughed off with a wet towel. Skin is left glowing and refreshed.

Be sure to check with your therapist about what type of wrap is best for you, and follow his/her after-care instructions about getting rest and drinking lots of water.

Botox:

It’s one of the most talked about recent developments in beauty—and one of the most popular. By now, you’ve undoubtedly seen the effects of Botox on the faces of friends, not to mention countless smooth-skinned celebrities, but what exactly is this so-called miracle formula?

Let’s start with the name. “Botox” and “Botox Cosmetic” are actually the brand names for botulinum toxin type A, an injectable neuro-toxin that paralyzes muscles, making it impossible for them to contract. The Botox version is used medically to treat neck pain, muscle spasms, eye disorders like lazy eyes or uncontrolled blinking, neurological issues and even migraine headaches. Botox Cosmetic is the more well-known dosage, and is predominantly used by dermatologists and an increasing number of spas to minimize the appearance of facial wrinkles and “frown” lines, and, to a lesser extent to curtail excessive sweating when injected into the armpits. Both types are approved for usage in a number of body parts, including the face, neck, underarms and legs.

Now for the “eww” part: Botulinum toxin type A does contain botulism, the same toxin that causes food poisoning. When injected, this bacterium effectively “freezes” muscle movement for around 3-4 months by blocking the signals from the nerves to the muscles. So is it safe? The FDA approves of the formula’s current usage, and physical discomfort from the injections is minimal. Risks are minimal, too: In some cases, patients might experience temporary redness, bruising, headaches or flu-like symptoms; in more serious instances, short-term paralysis of the muscles might occur, or the patient might develop a resistance to the drug. But most of the time, the only real danger for clients is going overboard with the treatments: When it’s hard to tell if you’re having an emotion, it’s probably time to stop.

Cellulite:

Not-so-affectionately known as "cottage cheese", cellulite is a familiar concern for over 90 percent of women---and, as a result, also the target of countless potions, treatments and high-tech machines that aim to wipe it out. Occurring post-puberty, cellulite is a general term used to describe the pockets of trapped fat that sit just beneath the surface of the skin in the top, or subcutaneous, layer, resulting in dimpling, uneven texture and that chunky cottage cheese—or puckered, orange peel—look. The occurrence has nothing to do with body size or weight—women of all shapes are affected by it—and it tends to be concentrated around the thighs, abdomen and buttocks.

There are three layers of fat storage under the epidermis. Storage and metabolism rates in the bottom two—the layers that hold the fat that comes from extra pounds— are affected by genetics, diet and exercise, while the top one, where cellulite lives, seems to be regulated solely by hormones; this helps explain why cellulite starts to form during times of hormonal change like puberty, pregnancy, PMS and menopause, and why it's much more common in women than men. (Another reason men are spared: In women, the fat storage chambers in that top layer are organized in vertical sections that can hold a lot of fat, while in men the chambers are smaller and diagonal.)

Since cellulite is hormone-driven, diet and exercise won't help get rid of it (as anyone who's done more than their share of squats knows all too well.) And as the body ages, cellulite just becomes looser and more visible. So what can be done? Proper nutrition and water intake is a good start, since those can help affect the lymphatic drainage system and the release of toxins, and possibly help slow down the creation of more cellulite. To smooth out what's already there, there are dozens of scrubs and creams on the market that, when rubbed repeatedly into the affected areas, claim to increase circulation and tone skin; results are varied and, as always, patience is required. Many spas offer tightening body wraps designed specifically for cellulite, but more effective are several sessions on the Endermologie machine, a French-developed, FDA-approved gizmo that uses rollers and (non-invasive) suction to stimulate deep tissue movement and smooth out the skin's texture.

Chocolate:

You’re probably wondering why we’d think you need a definition for chocolate—if you’re anything like us, you’re already on intimate terms with the sweet, sweet stuff—but in this case, we’re actually talking about the growing use of chocolate in spas. And not as snacks in the lounge, either: Thanks to studies touting its healing properties, cocoa is making an appearance in skin services all across the country.

Chocolate-infused beauty treatments may sound like a Willy Wonka-inspired gimmick, but the concept is actually rooted in science—and history. “For centuries, all parts of the cocoa plant—beans, bark, leaves, flowers and oils—have been used to treat skin ailments, burns, headaches and even bowel distress,” explains Dr. Doris J. Day, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at NYU.

Dr. Adam Bodian, a partner at the Bodian Dermatology Group and Medical Spa in New Jersey, recently conducted a study on the topical uses of chocolate, and breaks down its effectiveness to three elements: Fat, theobromine, and anti-oxidants. Otherwise known as cocoa butter, the fat from the cocoa seed contains skin-friendly acids and acts as a natural emollient; applied while the body is damp, the butter traps water in the skin, turning dry into dewy and improving elasticity. Theobromine, a mild, non-addictive stimulant found only in cocoa, functions similar to caffeine, minus many of the negative side effects. When taken internally or absorbed through the skin, theobromine works as a diuretic (flushing-out impurities, reducing swelling and cellulite, and improving circulation) and helps stimulate cell regeneration. It also accelerates the absorption of the powerful, free-radical-catching anti-oxidants—including skin cancer- and heart disease-preventing catechins and phenols—that are four times more present in chocolate than in black tea or red wine.

Of course, doctors stress that these elements would have to be absorbed in large amounts, over a consistent period of time and in the purest form possible (the darker and less-processed the chocolate, the better) to have any dramatic effects. “Chocolate spa services aren’t a substitute for using sunscreen everyday,” laughs Dr. Day, “but if it feels good and smells delicious, do it.’ Stellar examples include the Hot Chocolate treatment at the Haven Day Spa in New York City, which includes a warm milk body mask, cocoa powder-and-salt scrub and chocolate-scented moisturization; the lactic acids found in pure cocoa powder help exfoliate dead skin, while the theobromine keeps skin calm and inflammation-free during the scrub. At the luxurious Spa at the Hotel Hershey, in Hershey, PA, the menu includes decadent services like a Chocolate Fondue Wrap, Whipped Cocoa Bath and Chocolate Bean Polish; a vast array of sweet smelling cocoa spa products are also available for purchase.

Colonic:

Also known as colon irrigation and colonic hydrotherapy, this treatment is pretty much what it sounds like—a "flushing out" of the colon using a combination of water and light suction. Though it may seem like something out of a Victorian medical handbook, the practice is actually quite common, and is often recommended by doctors, nutritionists and holistic and alternative health care providers. Though some in conventional Western medicine may debate its benefits, many experts agree that professional colonics can help remove stagnant waste from the colon (thus helping to treat or prevent constipation), ease bloat, work to improve overall health and nutrient-absorption, and even jump-start a diet (it's often suggested for people doing juice fasts, to help keep things moving.) Note that colonics differ from enemas in that they aim to cleanse the whole colon (enemas only work on part of the organ), involve multiple "flushings" per session, and must be administered by a trained pro. /

Available in spas, wellness centers and professional colonic offices, the treatment begins with the client filling out a health questionnaire, then donning a doctor's office-style robe and lying on her side on a treatment table. The therapist will walk the client through process—explaining each step and desired result—then will insert a small disposable nozzle head into the anus. The nozzle is connected to a plastic hose (also disposable), which in turn is connected to the hydrotherapy machine. As the treatment begins, warm, filtered water is slowly pumped into colon; the therapist will ask the client to say when she feels "full" or like she is having standard bowel movement-like contractions, at which point the water will stop and the resulting feces will be removed via the tube. (You can't smell the feces, but the therapist may note the color and texture, which can reveal a lot about the client's diet and general health.) The process is then repeated several times over 45 to 60 minutes, until the therapist feels that as much waste as possible has been removed. Ideally, each time water is funneled in it will travel a little further up the colon, to ensure a deep cleaning. Afterwards, the client will go to the bathroom to void any remaining water and waste. /

Though the process may sound (and feel) a little strange, the overall experience is about as invasive as a doctor's check-up (and maybe less than a Brazilian bikini wax!) Therapists will typically perform a light abdominal massage during the service, too, to help encourage release—making sessions relaxing both inside and out.

Dead Sea:

From the mud used in spa body wraps to the bath salts found in top-of-the-line beauty products, some of the world's best ingredients come from the Dead Sea. But what exactly makes the region such a hotspot of wellness? Located in southern Israel, bordering Jordan to the east, the Dead Sea is set over 1,300 feet below sea level, making its banks the lowest dry points on Earth. It's earned more superlatives, too: It's one of the world's saltiest bodies of water—eight times saltier than the ocean, and ten times saltier than the Mediterranean—and one of its deepest hyper-saline lakes.

The Dead Sea's location, temperature, levels of atmospheric pressure and high salt content make its chemistry and mineral content very different from those of any other body of water. It home to an unusually high concentration of minerals, including sulphur, potassium, magnesium, and bromide, many of which are found in concentrated levels in the anti-bacterial black mud culled from Sea's shores. Because of its below-sea-level locations and unique climactic conditions, the area also enjoys dry, oxygen-rich air, a low pollen count, and reduced exposure to harmful UV rays.

As a result, the area has long been a wellness haven—it was even a favorite of King Herod—and today the coastline is dotted with destination spas, hot springs and health clinics. In addition to visitors just looking for sun and relaxation, the Dead Sea resort towns have proved particularly popular with those afflicted with skin issues like psoriasis, vitiligo and eczema, as well as people seeking relief from muscular and joint pain. Thanks to the anti-aging benefits of Dead Sea mud and the therapeutic effects of the pure salts, the region has also become a go-to spot for high-quality skin care ingredients; lines that source materials from there include Israeli-made Ahava, which bases all its products on the potency of the Dead Sea.

For more on the Dead Sea, visit the area's section on www.goisrael.com.

Detox:

Along with “luxurious,” “relaxing” and “rejuvenating,” the word “detox” is surely among the more popular spa menu adjectives. Nearly every treatment seems to have a “detoxifying” effect; every spa stay claims to help “detox” the system. So what exactly does this favored phrase mean?

In medical terms, the definition is clear: In the body, the detoxification process happens in the liver and kidneys, where toxins—harmful or poisonous elements taken in by everything from food to pollution and infection—are separated and sent on their way out. But sometimes, the body needs a little help cleaning up. The most common example of assisted purging is with people addicted to alcohol or drugs, who undergo detoxes to help clear their bodies of chemical substances and make a break with their addiction. This type of detox typically involves abstinence, counseling and, in some cases, medication or alternative therapies like acupuncture.

In the spa world, the detox concept is similar, though it’s applied in a broader sense. To help flush out impurities, spa menus often feature targeted body services like lymphatic drainage massage, a French technique that uses specific wave-like movements to stimulate stagnant fluid build-up and improve circulation; the results range from a general release of toxins and a boost to the immune system to alleviation of insomnia, relief from chronic pain and anti-aging effects on the skin. Essential oils like Fennel, Lemon and Juniper Berry and natural ingredients like Seaweed can also help jump-start both internal and skin detoxification, the latter being effective against the appearance of cellulite.

And for those looking for something a little deeper, health spas and nutritionists can oversee full internal detox programs involving a combination of custom-developed fasts or flushes and vitamin and mineral supplements. Ranging in length, this type of detoxification can act as a system re-boot for the body, helping those who might have recently over-indulged in food, partying or alcohol, or who have been under a lot of stress. Results can include a general all-over feeling of health and well-being, increased energy, improved bodily functions and, in many cases, some weight loss or metabolism boost

Dry Brushing:

When it comes to exfoliating the skin, the most common methods typically require water—like those salt- and sugar-based scrubs you've got in your shower, for example, or the full-body scrubs performed in spa wet rooms. But one of the most potent ways of exfoliating is actually done without any H20 at all. Dry Brushing (also called "skin brushing" or "body brushing") is a technique with roots in several healing traditions, including those of Russia, Scandinavia and Turkey. Inexpensive and easy to do, dry brushing works to prevent dry skin, as well as stimulate the lymphatic and immune systems, increase circulation, invigorate the body, tone muscles and even fight cellulite.

While spas often incorporate some dry brushing into a body scrub service, to help slough off dead skin and prep the body for the nourishing wraps and scrubs, the technique can easily be done at home. Using a loofah or bath brush (look for bristles made from natural materials, like plant fibers), start at your feet, moving the brush in gentle circles. Remember to always brush in circles going towards the heart, to best help increase circulation and detoxification. After the feet, tackle both legs, back and front, then each arm; don't forget fingertips and palms. Next, brush both sides of the back with strokes moving towards the stomach, then finish with the abdomen, stomach and chest. Avoid the face (body brushes are too harsh for this delicate skin) and any other areas that might be sensitive. Dry brushing is best performed while standing in the (turned-off) shower, so that you can rise off immediately afterwards; if using soap or shower gel, try to pick products that won't clog your newly-opened pores.

Dry brushing can safely be performed 2-3 times a week, and is beneficial for both summer and winter skin. When done regularly, the treatment not only helps remove dead skin and open pores, leading to smoother and healthier skin, but also increases circulation, blood flow, and lymphatic functions, which in turn boosts the immune system, reduces swelling, encourages bodily functions, and tightens skin—thus reducing the appearance of cellulite. By stimulating our nerve endings, dry brushing also rejuvenates the nervous system and the fibers that help tone muscles—all in a natural, product-free way.

Electrolysis:

This popular form of depilation uses electrical currents to safely destroy hair follicles at the root, resulting—for many clients—in permanent or near-permanent hair removal.( In fact, it's the only hair removal treatment currently recognized by the FDA as being permanent.) Though it may seem high tech, the technique was actually first used back in 1875 by a Missouri eye doctor to treat patients with ingrown eyelashes. Over the years, the technology evolved as various scientists fine tuned the machinery and experimented with different types of electrical currents. By the 1970's and 80's, computers became involved, and the equipment became more portable and reliable. Though laser hair removal has garnered more of a buzz in the last few years, electrolysis is still an effective and accessible option.

The process itself is simple: during a session, a technician inserts a thin probe (typically the same diameter as the hair shaft or smaller) into the follicle at the same angle as the hair is growing, until the probe sits against the hair's matrix. Electricity is then applied to the follicle; the technician will start with the lowest electrical setting and gradually increase it until the hair easily slips out with the use of tweezers. Most people only feel a light tingle when the current is on, but the levels can be adjusted to suit a client's comfort level, and a topical anesthetic may also be applied. The process is then repeated on all the follicles in the area that's being treated. Some clients report temporary redness after a session, but for the most part, that is the only potential side effect of the service—making it a gentler, less-harsh option than bleaching, chemical creams or waxing. Because of its safety levels, electrolysis can be done on almost any part of the body, including the face, legs, eyebrows, and stomach. Clients must typically have regular sessions—often over a span of two or three years—to ensure permanent results.

Endermologie:

Offered in spas across the country, endermologie helps to target cellulite and it’s telltale cottage cheese-like appearance on the skin. But this popular and effective excess-baggage-buster—which is performed with a non-invasive, roller-headed machine—actually has roots in a more medical use.

Developed in France over a decade ago, the first LPG Cellu M6 endermologie machine was invented by engineer Louis Paul Guittay for use on burn victims and others with damaged muscle tissue. The original machine mimicked the physiotherapy exercises that were used on such patients; after regular use, patients were displaying improved skin and muscle tone and an increase in flexibility and range of motion, resulting in an accelerated rehab rate. But in addition to serving its intended purpose, use of the machine also resulted in a few surprising, positive side effects, including some weight- and inch-loss, a diminished appearance of cellulite and a more sculpted, toned look to muscles.

Since these discoveries, the service has been tweaked and improved to better target these aesthetic results. Now an international spa menu-standard, endermologie typically requires a series of sessions to achieve the desired outcome. In these sessions, which often require the client to don a full-body stocking, the machine’s multi-roller treatment head is gently run all over the body, then re-applied to target areas. The rolling motion and a simultaneous controlled suction work to lift and massage the skin, stimulating the lymphatic and venous systems in the process. (Some studies have indicated that the treatment helps increase blood flow to the skin and lymphatic flow by 300-400 percent.) As a result, toxins and fluid build-up are flushed out, fibroblasts are stimulated to produce more collagen and elastin, and connective tissue is strengthened—all of which helps keep skin toned and cottage cheese-free.

--Sandra Ramani

Essential Oil:

There's hardly a product ingredient list or spa treatment menu that doesn't include them, but what exactly makes essential oils quite so, well, essential? Are these potent little liquids miracle cures, or just trendy ingredients du jour?

Derived from plants, flowers, roots, fruit, spices, bark and herbs, essential oils contain the specific properties and scents—that is, the "essence"—of what they are made from, and thus are able to deliver any natural benefits in highly concentrated form. There a few different ways in which the oils are made, but most commonly they are formed by the process of distillation, in which steam draws the oils from the plants, creating a mixture that is then cooled, condensed and separated to leave a pure oil. Cold pressing is another technique that's best for working with fruit (it involves the rinds being chopped and pressed), while many amateur aromatherapists try their hand at maceration, in which the plant matter is soaked in vegetable oil until the oil takes on the scent; however, this technique actually results in an infused, not essential, oil, which is much less potent.

In most cases, it takes large quantities of the plant matter to create even a small amount of the essential oil, which is why some of them are so costly; you need over 200 pounds of rose petals to create just a few teaspoons of rose essential oil, for example, which is why it's among the most expensive. (The rarity of the plant or flower and the state of the year's harvests also affect prices.) But it's the fact that the oils are so concentrated that makes them so powerful, and why for centuries they have been used for healing, beautification, medicinal and even culinary purposes. The aforementioned rose oil has long-been used to hydrate dry skin, while lavender essential oil is often burned to create a relaxing atmosphere, and peppermint essential oil is taken internally to settle upset stomachs.

In the last decade, essential oils seem to have taken over the beauty, healing and even lifestyle industries, as everything from skin care products and spa treatments to candles and dish soap are featuring them in some form or another—usually while labeling themselves as "aromatherapy." While in general this is a positive thing, as trends swing away from the synthetic and chemical towards more natural ingredients, it's important to remember that not all essential oils are created equal. Some are stronger than others, many need to be used sparingly or mixed with carrier oils, some are only effective when used topically or internally, and none have been officially endorsed as "cures" by regulatory agencies. Generations of believers, however, are sure to disagree.

For more on essential oils and their specific healing properties, check out www.aworldofaromatherapy.com.

Feldenkrais:

A complementary healing method based on how the body moves, Feldenkrais is popular with everyone from dancers and athletes looking to improve their performance to those seeking relief from chronic pain. The method—which, practitioners are careful to say, is more a path to mind-body development than a one-off “treatment”—was developed in the late-1960’s by Israeli physicist Dr. Moishe Feldenkrais. In his book, “Awareness of Movement,” the doctor set forth his theories on how improving the connection between the mind and the body can lead to better overall functioning and flexibility, both physically and mentally.

In a typical Feldenkrais session, practitioners lead clients through a series of exercises and postures (there are more than a thousand in the discipline) designed to draw awareness to how the individual moves; this is also done by “functional integration” lessons, in which the therapist will use move the client into various postures while he or she is lying down. By becoming conscious of everyday physical patterns—our “default” stance, how we carry bags, how we sit—through these exercises, clients lean to correct bad habits that have become too deeply entrenched, and will gain a greater understanding of how their individual body best functions. This awareness eventually leads to an improved connection to our bodies, allowing us to become more in touch with our physical self and, often, develop a healthier self-image. Most beneficial for those with chronic pain--and those of us with aches from repetitive movements like mouse-moving or tote-carrying—Feldenkrais teaches clients how to best align themselves and move in the most economical and stress-free way.

Feldenkrais is practiced in healing centers and private practices all over the country. For more information and a list of practitioners near you, visit www.feldenkrais.com.

Free Radicals:

If there's one common refrain among beauty magazines and skin care experts, it's that free radicals are no good. In fact, from their part in the formation of wrinkles and other visible signs of aging to their unseen effect on our inner health, these pesky radicals are blamed for a whole lot of bad things. But what exactly are they—and can they be avoided?

We'll skip the in-depth chemistry lecture, but basically, free radicals are unpaired, unstable electrons that have separated from the outer shells of bound molecules. Since electrons want to be paired up, these "free" radicals will roam around in search of a weak pair, then attack this structure until it can capture another electron and form a bond. Of course, this then leaves another un-bound, unstable electron in its wake, causing the search-attack-divide scenario to happen all over again, and resulting in a chain reaction.

Free radicals can occur naturally in the body--during the process of metabolism, for example, or when we're fighting infections—but external factors like cigarette smoke, environmental toxins, pollution and UV radiation can also help create them. And while for the most part, our bodies can handle their fair share of unstable radicals, if there are too many or the process gets out of control, the rogue electrons can eventually start to cause damage to living cells. Since free radical damage can also build up with age, some of its more visible effects—like wrinkles, discoloration, and changes in skin elasticity—are associated with getting older.

So is there anything that can stop these wandering electrons from aging our skin and un-pairing our insides? Yes, and they're called "antioxidants." Elements like Vitamin C and E, beta carotene, green tea and polyphenols (found in grapes) can help neutralize free radicals by giving up one of their own electrons to pair up with the unpaired one; since antioxidants are stable even when unbound, they don't need to go in search of a weak pair, thus ending the attack-and-divide cycle. By rooting out the free radicals, antioxidants are able to help prevent further cell and tissue damage—and hopefully, in the long run, help prevent the formation of cancer or heart disease. Be careful not to go overboard with the antioxidants, either, since we don't really know if the body can tolerate large doses. Instead, cover up when in the sun, and stick to the recommended 5-8 servings of fruits and veggies a day—and the odd glass of polyphenol-rich red wine.

Gommage:

Exfoliation helps get rid of dead skin cells, increases circulation and stimulates new skin development, but for some people the ingredients in many common exfoliants-including alpha-hydroxy acids and large fruit kernels-can be too harsh or irritating, while over-scrubbing can end up leaving any type of complexion damaged or stressed. So what are the sensitive among us supposed to do?

Enter gommage, a traditional French technique that is enjoying a revived popularity in spas and products thanks to its kinder, gentler way of unearthing radiant skin. Containing active enzymes to aid in cell turnover, gommages typically come in a cream or paste form and are slathered on to the face or body. But instead of being scrubbed off with a brush, loofah or mitt like standard polishes, gommages are left to dry for a bit then are rubbed off using just gentle massage strokes and circular movements. Although this technique can take a bit longer, since the dried gommage must be rolled off in bits and pieces, the process leaves skin silky smooth and less irritated. Traditional gommages also do not need to be washed off with water like scrubs do, so their hydrating ingredients can continue to moisturize skin post-treatment.

In spas, gommages are most often used in body treatments, as precursors to hydrating wraps or massages. Several product lines have also adapted the treatment for at-home facial care, making them easier (and less messy) to use. Botanical line YonKa Paris's much-loved Gommage 303 and 305 facial "soft peels" use ingredients like carob extract to brighten oily and dry skin, respectively, while Laura Mercier's Face Polish Gommage Facial cleanses, exfoliates and tones without stripping or over-drying.

Gyrotonics:

There’s been a lot of buzz recently about Gyrotonics, a fitness regime that’s being called the “next Pilates.” But in fact, the system has been around since the 1980’s, when ballet dancer Juliu Horvath came up with the integrative workout at New York City’s White Cloud Studio. After an Achilles tendon injury put an end to his dance career, Horvath (who immigrated to the U.S. from Romania), began to regularly practice yoga; this led to the development of his “Yoga for Dancers” method, a forerunner of what’s now Gyrotonics.

Using elements of yoga, swimming, gymnastics, dance and tai chi, Gyrotonics works to increase muscle strength, balance and overall flexibility. A series of exercises—50 basic sets, with around 130 variations--are performed on the Horvath-designed Tower/Handle machines, which feature rolling bases and suspended pulleys. By twisting, stretching, and bending using weight resistance, participants are able to improve their range of motion and coordination while addressing all the major muscles. Use of controlled, synchronized breathing patterns helps to intensify the workout and up the cardiovascular and aerobic factors.

Thanks to its combination of low-impact and high-results, particular in the areas of flexibility and strength, Gyrotonics is popular with athletes, performers and patients undergoing physical therapy, along with those just looking for general conditioning. Check with your local Pilates or yoga studios to see if they offer the workout.

Hamam:

Currently enjoying a revived popularity in spas across Europe and North America, hamams are traditional North African / Middle Eastern steam baths that offer nourishing skincare rituals. Most notable in Morocco and Turkey, hamams are rooted in a centuries-old tradition of communal bathhouses, which once ranged from elaborate, be-jeweled structures in palace compounds to more modest examples shared by neighbors and families. Today, you can still visit local hamams in cities like Istanbul or Rabat and lather-up with people from all walks of life as they enjoy their weekly wellness / social ritual.

In traditional hamams, visitors check in at a main desk and choose what service they want for the day; options usually range from a basic no-frills steam to a longer multi-step bath in which an attendant will scrub, massage and wash both the body and hair. (In some cases, guests need to bring their own towels and soap, but most hamams just charge a bit more for these supplies.) The facilities usually include a locker / changing area, a warm, pre-steam room, and a large communal steam chamber—often with a domed ceiling—outfitted with heated stone platforms, taps or running fountains, and buckets of cold water. (All of these are separate for men and women.) Regulars lie on the slabs, heating the body, opening the pores, dousing themselves with water, while those enjoying a ritual will steam for a while then meet an attendant—sometimes in a private room or alcove, but usually in full view of the other clients—for a vigorous scrub with black soap and a loofah, a wash with eucalyptus-scented water and a brisk rubdown. At the end, participants emerge refreshed and rejuvenated, and are met in a lounge area with a glass of cooling mint tea.

In Western spas, the ritual is often adapted to fit modern facilities and spa menus; a regular steam room might substitute for a traditional hamam, for example, and the service might include a more targeted and professional massage. But the results are the same: increased circulation, soft skin and a glowing complexion. For those who can't get to a hamam or spa, lines like Red Flower (www.redflower.com) have developed at-home products that mimic the hamam experience using many of the same traditional herbal ingredients.

Hydrotherapy:

Water: it’s the basis for our modern-day spas, and the key to all healing therapies. For centuries, water “cures”—or hydrotherapies—have been prescribed by everyone from medicine men to Western doctors to help tackle symptoms both physical and emotional. In fact, the very word “spa” comes from the Latin phrase “Saludis Per Aqua”, or “Healing Through Water,” and numerous notable cities around the world—including Bath, England and Baden-Baden, Germany--were originally established because of their proximity to healing waters.

Back in those days, hydrotherapy was centered on the curative properties of natural mineral springs, where soaks in the bubbling, sulfur-rich liquid would help those suffering from muscle and joint pains and skin conditions. The ancient Romans in particular cultivated the idea of a central public “spa” gathering space, creating multi-level bathhouses that doubled as places of worship and sites for ceremonies and rituals. In the following centuries, the neighborhood bathhouse concept flourished around the world, and can still be experienced today in staples like Russian banyas and Moroccan hammams. In ancient Egypt, oils and flowers were added to water to make baths even more potent.

While those original spa-goers where content to just soak, hydrotherapy was further developed in the early-1800’s to comprise different forms of water treatments. Today, the choices include eucalyptus-scented steam rooms, whirlpools, hot and cold plunge pools, multi-head showers, flotation tanks, compresses, and a variety of massaging jet-equipped baths. Many top destination spas offer water circuits in which clients move from one chamber to another in a specific order that’s designed to relax and nourish the body and prepare it for further treatment. Certain types of hydrotherapy are even used to help alleviate the symptoms of arthritis, spinal cord injury and other muscle- and joint-related conditions.

Inhalation Therapy:

Also known as respiratory or breath therapy, inhalation therapy refers to any type of treatment involving the administration of oxygen or medicine through the lungs. The technique is performed in hospitals for serious conditions, as well as in spas and wellness centers as an alternative or complimentary therapy. Treatments can also be administered at home: Asthma inhalers, for example, are a type of inhalation therapy, as are over-the-counter remedies like Vicks VapoRub and humidifiers. Though similar to steam therapy, which uses heat along with oxygen to stimulate the immune, circulatory and detoxification systems, inhalation therapy goes directly to the lungs for a more targeted approach.

In the spa/wellness world, inhalation therapy typically involves the use of mineral water, essential oils or oxygen, and is used to treat everything from headaches, anxiety, sinus issues and nausea to dull or tired skin. When imbibing oxygen, clients are hooked-up to a nasal cannula (a dual-pronged tube that fits under the nose); the oxygen itself may be pure or infused with herbs. Some spas use oxygen from a tank, while others—particularly those affiliated with a traditional hot springs-convert healing mineral water into steam, which is then administered via a nasal cannula or mask. When administered in regulated levels, increased oxygen to the lungs will benefit the whole body, from the blood and tissue on up, and help promote cell regeneration.

Some forms of inhalation therapy are also available for home use. Los Angeles-based skincare guru Ole Henriksen offers Skin Inhalation Therapy 1, a blend of tangerine and eucalyptus that helps calm sensitive or irritated skin, while Australian herbal line Jurlique incorporates scented facial steams into their professional facials and at-home regimes.

IPL:

Short for Intense Pulsed Light, IPL treatments are becoming something of a regular offering at spas and dermatologist offices around the country. Pioneered by doctors, and FDA-approved since the 1990’s, the service uses a series of high-intensity light pulses—which are more gentle and non-invasive than lasers—to treat a number of skin concerns, from basic hair removal to rosacea, hyper-pigmentation, wrinkles and sun, age and acne spots. IPL technology is available under a variety of names, including PhotoFacial, PhotoDerm and EpiLight.

How does it work? In the case of hair removal, technicians use a small wand to administer short bursts of the IPL to the skin. The light travels through the skin’s layers to the root of the hair shaft, which holds the highest concentration of melanin; once there, the light turns to heat and zaps both the root and the majority of the hair follicle, destroying them both. When treating skin conditions, the penetrating light heads right to the damaged areas to stimulate collagen production and increase deep healing, while leaving healthy skin untouched and un-irritated. The result is often like that of a chemical peel, minus the chance for blisters or redness, and with less recovery time.

Since the light pulses are quick and fast, IPL is gentler on the skin than many laser treatments; the light concentration can also be calibrated based on such variables as skin color and hair thickness to make it even safer and more customized. IPL works best on people with lighter skin and darker hair, while some types of ethnic skin many run the risk of becoming pigmented; trained therapists will be able to do a personalized consultation and determine success levels. People with some medical conditions or those taking certain medications should also consult therapists and doctors before undergoing the treatment.

Javanese Lulur:

The name may sound peculiar, but this multi-step beauty treatment has been popping up in spas all over the West in the last few years. Translated to mean "coating of the skin," the modern lulur (pronounced "loo-loor") spa service has its roots in a traditional Javanese (Indonesian) ritual enjoyed by women on each of the 40 days leading up to her wedding. (Many spas call their service a "Royal Lulur," but while it began with the royal princesses of Central Java in the 17th century, over time many middle class brides took part in it, as well.) Historically, the service included a bath, scrub/wrap and a massage, and was performed for the bride by the other women in her family, who would use the downtime to reconnect with each other, pass on advice and soothe any anxieties of the newlywed-to-be-as well as beautify her for her big day.

These days anyone-bride or not- can partake in the service to help rejuvenate skin and relax the mind and body. The session typically starts with a thorough body scrub using a paste of potent herbs: turmeric to brighten skin, reduce pigmentation and work as an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory; sandalwood to hydrate and relax; rice to exfoliate; and jasmine, an anti-depressant and aphrodisiac. They're all mixed together in a base of yogurt, which works to moisturize dry skin, and, with its natural enzymes, gently slough off dead cells. After the scrub comes a relaxing bath-usually in a floral- or milk-based soak-followed by a Balinese massage, in which long, repetitive motions are used to work out knots and kinks. Ancient wisdom held that by having the service for so many days before her wedding, a young bride would both be glowing, and relaxed enough to conceive on her wedding night. While modern spas make no such promises with their lulurs, they do deliver polished, dewy skin and a deep sense of relaxation.

Jin Shin Do:

A unique form a therapeutic massage, Jin Shin Do combines elements of Japanese acupressure, Chinese acupuncture, Qigong breathing techniques and—in and interesting twist—Taoist philosphy and Reichian segmental theory. Developed by psychotherapist Iona Marsha Teeguarden, and first outlined in her 1978 book, “The Acupressure Way of Health: Jin Shin Do”, the modality is similar to other Asian techniques in that it aims to unblock and release the energy (or “qi”) that is stagnant throughout the body. To do this, the technique targets both the body and mind to ease clients into a relaxing, Zen-like state, from where they’re encouraged to unlock hidden feelings and release inner strength.

Meaning “the way of the compassionate spirit," Jin Shin Do sessions pair deep finger pressure on acu-points (performed while the client is clothed) with guided breathing, gentle exercises and verbal “body focusing” techniques. Therapists zero in on specific tension points that are connected to both physical symptoms and feelings like anxiety, depression, anger and guilt; they tap into these powerful areas by pressing one or more "distal points" while, at the same time, working a tension, or "local”, point. By unblocking these points, the treatments ecourage clients to acknowledge and release negative feelings rather than repress them to the point of where they’re manifesting as physical pain. The result is pain relief, increased energy, a greater sense of wellbeing and an improved mind-body connection.

Jin Shin Do is performed by trained practitioners across the country; see www.jinshindo.org to find one near you.

Kinesitherapy:

Derived from kinesis, the Greek work for movement, Kinesitherapy is—as the name spells out—therapy for disease, pain or injury that's based on movement. (It's also sometimes referred to as Kinesiatrics.) There are two main types of Kinesitherapy: Active, which includes exercise, training, and functional activity treatment (a type of multi-plane or multi-joint movement favored by physical therapists); and Passive, such as massage, rehabilitation-oriented muscle manipulation, traction and certain relaxation techniques.

While this clinical term for exercise and massage is rarely used outside of academia, the principles behind Kinesitherapy—and treatments derived from it—are showing up in spas, gyms and alternative healing centers. For example, the Kinesis workout stations—which claim to both work out the whole body in a limited amount of time, and burn about 30 percent more calories than traditional strength training—are becoming popular in gyms across the country. Centered on the use of the core, the futuristic-looking Kinesis system uses a series of pulleys and cables to combine weight training with cardio, resulting in an even, all-over workout. At-home versions—like one by Technogym—are also now available. technogym.com

A little more controversial is the practice of Applied Kinesiology, an off-shoot chiropractic therapy that diagnoses the body based on a series of muscle-strength tests. Despite skepticism from the medical community at large, AK has become a popular diagnostic tool for some homeopathic doctors, naturopaths, nutritionists, massage therapists, and anyone else keen on an integrated approach to health and wellness. For more on this alternative treatment, check out icak.com.

--Sandra Ramani

Kneipp:

Whether you get your beauty products at the department store or the health food aisle, you’ve undoubtedly seen the name “Kneipp” staring back at your from those distintive herb-covered boxes. But while the sweet-smelling products have helped make the brand a bathroom cupboard-staple, the word “Kneipp” has a much deeper meaning in the beauty lexicon. Named for its founder, Kneipp is synonymous with therapeutic hydrotherapy—the truly healing kind that targets specific ailments with a combination of aromatherapy and herbal ingredients—and is also used to invoke a well-rounded wellness lifestyle.

These associations can be traced back to Sebastian Kneipp, a 19th-century Bavarian priest who’s considered to be one of the founders of the Western naturiopathic movement. Kneipp’s popular wellness philosophy—which encouraged a balanced, holistic lifestyle—was based on five tenents: Herbalism, or the use of botanical remedies; Exercise, particularly non-competetive activities like hiking, walking or swimming; Nutrition, including a diet of fruits, veggies and whole grains; Spirituality, for a healthy mind and body; and Hydrotherapy, or the healing use of water.

It’s the last one for which Kneipp became best known. Patients from all over the world flocked to his base in Bad Wörishofen, Germany to take his “water cures”, which increased circulation, stimulated the body’s natural healing systems, and used specific plants and herbs to combat issues both physcial and mental. The typical Kneipp therapy used water at body temperature, though illness-fighting ones were sligtly warmer and sleep-inducing ones were a bit colder. Kneipp also authored many books (including “My Water Cure” and “Thus Shalt Thou Live”), and created other wellness products (his whole wheat Kneipbrød, or Kneipp Bread, is still very popular in Norway!)

Today, the Kneipp name lives on in a vast range of scientifically-proven herbal bath products that help bring the famous “water cure” to our homes. (Products are available at stores like Nordstom and Bath and Body Works, and on www.kneippus.com.) Visitors to the spa-town of Bad Wörishofen, in the Bavarian Alps, can also enjoy “Kneipp Cures” at local facilities and meet with doctors who practice Kneipp Naturopathy. Over a hundred years later, the visionary healer’s lifestyle philiosphy—which encourages balanced, holistic living and an awareness of our daily practices—has proved to be ever-relevant.

--Sandra Ramani

Laser:

An acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission or Radiation, laser is a general term used to describe types of light-emitting devices, including ultraviolet, X-ray and infrared. Lasers are commonly used in many fields like astronomy and physics, industrial and commercial design, medicine, the military and—increasingly—the spa and beauty industries.

Some popular examples of cosmetic-related laser use include LASIK (which stands for Laser-Assisted in Situ Keratomileusis), a type of eye surgery in which the cornea is gently re-shaped by laser to correct myopia and astigmatism. In laser liposuction doctors are able to "sculpt" trouble spots on the body and dissolve fat cells under the skin in a safer and less invasive way than traditional liposuction (and without the typical recovery time). Lasers can also be used to treat clients suffering from spider veins, acne, and even unwanted tattoos.

The two most common lasers found in spas, however, are used for hair removal and facials. For hair removal, FDA-approved machines are used to beam highly concentrated light into the pigment (melanin) of the hair follicles, causing heat damage to the follicles without affecting the surrounding skin. After several sessions, the heat destroys the follicles' ability to sprout hair, leading to a visible decrease in long-term growth. Laser hair removal can safely be done on most parts of the body, though clients with darker skin (and darker or coarser hair) should make sure the facility uses lasers that have been specially formulated and calibrated for use on darker tones.

Finally, laser facials can be successful in treating everything from scars and sun damage to roseacea, hyperpigmentation, dullness, and signs of aging. Depending on the symptom, the dermatologist or spa technician will typically recommend either Laser Facial Rejuvenation—in which a standard laser gently sends light to problem areas to help brighten and improve texture—or an IPL / PhotoFacial, which uses a conductivity gel and Intense Pulse Light therapy (light of varying wavelengths) to yield impressive results.

--Sandra Ramani

Lymphatic Drainage:

Along with massage styles like Swedish, shiatsu and hot stone, lymphatic drainage has become a familiar option on spa service menus. But what does the technique—which sounds like some kind of medical procedure involving tubes—really do? In fact, this gentle, rhythmic massage is not only one of the more relaxing rub-down styles, but, when done right, it can also be one of the most effective and therapeutic.

Developed in France, the purpose of this technique is to stimulate the lymphatic process, which is an integral part of the body’s immune system. To help fight infection, the lymph carries antibodies and white blood cells to the organs and tissues, while also helping to flush out the toxins built-up by poor diet, pollution, alcohol, medicine and illness. When working properly, the lymph system keeps us healthy, but it, too, can become sluggish and overworked, resulting in reduced immune functions, toxic build-up and a weakened overall state.

To help keep the system working, lymphatic drainage massage uses thumb pressure and long, gentle strokes on the full body, beginning with the feet up, to increase circulation and stimulate proper lymphatic flow. Though the pressure can be deep and the strokes targeted, the rhythmic nature also makes it quite relaxing; clients often emerge feeling both rested and refreshed. Since the massage also increases the elimination of toxins, it is more important than ever to drink lots of water post-treatment, as the effective therapy can really work to flush things out.

Other benefits may include reduced water retention, the diminished appearance of cellulite, a boost fighting infection and illness, quicker healing time for scars and stretch marks, a reduction in pregnancy-related swelling, and skin that looks healthy and de-puffed. Though muscle tension is also eased with lymphatic drainage, this technique is less about soothing sore shoulders and more focused on promoting healing and wellness from the inside out.

Mesotherapy:

This non-invasive treatment, in which a cocktail of ingredients is injected into targeted areas of the body, is being used by doctors and medi-spas to help reduce the appearance of cellulite, provide anti-aging benefits, and "melt" localized fat deposits. The combination of ingredients differs depending on the practitioner and the area being treated, but injections typically include a mix of pharmaceuticals, minerals, vitamins like alpha lipoic acid, lidocaine (an anesthetic), L-arginine (an essential amino acid), and enzymes like collagenases. The cocktail is then shot directly into the mesoderm—or middle layer of the skin—for faster delivery to the desired areas.

The most common cosmetic uses for mesotherapy are treating cellulite and fat deposits, smoothing wrinkles, and fading stretch marks. By increasing circulation, breaking down damaged connective tissue, and flushing fat deposits, the therapy can help contour specific problem areas and plump up wrinkle-prone spots like the neck, arms and hands. Unlike liposuction, mesotherapy can be performed anywhere on the body and doesn't require hospitalization or anesthesia. Interested patients first meet with a practitioner to go over their specific needs and to learn whether they might be a good candidate for the treatment. At this point, they may also receive a couple of test shots to check for possible allergic reactions. Once cleared for treatment, patients typically undergo a series of sessions spread out over several weeks. Maintenance treatments are recommended once desired results have been achieved.

Developed in France in the 1950's, mesotherapy began as a treatment for ailments like arthritis, tendonitis, and other types of inflammations. To date, most clinical trials have been geared towards these more medical uses. As a result, experts are divided on mesotherapy's effectiveness as a cosmetic "quick fix", but hopefully the growing demand for the service in the U.S. will result in more studies focused on the treatment's cosmetic uses.

Myofascial:

Also known as Myofascial Release, this effective-but-gentle form of massage therapy has become a spa menu favorite. Though there are different schools of the practice-which in its most common form was developed by a US physical therapist-standard spa-level myofascial work concentrates on eliminating pain and tension using a targeted, hands-on technique. Along with an all-over feeling of relaxation, results often include increased flexibility, range of motion and strength, and an improved posture.

Latin for "muscle" ("myo") and "band" ("fascia"), the method is based on the manipulation of the fascia, the body's network of connective tissue. Resembling a densely woven spider's web, the fascia system connects and supports every part of the body, from bones, muscles and veins to the vital organs; think of it as the body's "wiring", or the net that holds it all together and helps keep us intact and upright. When healthy, the fascia can easily stretch and move to keep the body comfortable, but trauma like scarring, inflammation, bad posture or repetitive motion can lead it to become tense and restricted-which can then cause pain and stress, and increase the likelihood of further injury.

 

In myofascial sessions, therapists use a gentle mix of massage techniques to relax tightened fascia and unblock congestion in the network. Kneading strokes and a repeated stretching move-in which the therapist locates a restricted area, slowly stretches the tissue around that tense muscle, then holds that stretch until the tightness softens or relaxes-allow even injured areas to be treated in a safe, non-invasive way. After multiple sessions, clients have reported an alleviation of the symptoms of such issues as chronic back pain, frozen shoulder, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel, menstrual pain, chronic fatigue syndrome and headaches-many of which are slow to respond to traditional massage styles.

Naturopathy:

Also known as naturopathic medicine, naturopathy is a type of medical practice that aims to alleviate symptoms, target illness and improve general health without the use of invasive methods or synthetic drugs. If that sounds a bit general, it is: the term "naturopathy" is also something of an umbrella label for a host of alternative wellness modes, including homeopathy, nutritional counseling, aromatherapy, hydrotherapy, herbalism and acupuncture. In addition, "naturopathy" can refer to a number of international (and indigenous) practices, such as Chinese herbal medicine and India's Ayurveda.

By eschewing synthetic drugs and treatments in favor of nature-based remedies, naturopathy is able to work with the body's own immune system and boost its ability to heal itself. At the same time, the use of natural ingredients like herbs, oils and specifics foods means that for the most part, naturopathic treatments have not been scientifically evaluated or certified; as a result, in many countries naturopathic practitioners cannot make direct claims about what their services are for. This is slowly changing though, as more and more people in the so-called "Western" or "conventional" medicine world are acknowledging the positive benefits of many of these alternative modalities.

Despite being practiced for thousands of years in Eastern countries, the term "naturopathy" is thought to have been first coined in the late-1800s by a man named John Sheel, then officially adopted soon after by Bernard Lust, a disciple of German monk Sebastian Kneipp, founder of the Kniepp cure. Lust was charged with bringing Kniepp's herb-based philosophies to America, and in 1905, her opened the American School of Naturopathy in New York. Though this wasn't a particularly well-respected institution, this seems to be the first concrete use of the term.

As within any discipline, the tenets of naturopathy differ depending on what school you follow. Today, the title of "naturopath" is used by both naturopathic physicians-primary-care doctors who have a background Western medicine, diagnosis and treatment, but who boast additional expertise in natural therapies-as well as traditional naturopaths, who practice their healing and wellness techniques as alternatives or complements to other treatments. In addition to this basic difference, the important distinction to make in the US is that naturopathic physicians must pass various licensing and training requirements (which vary from state to state) and must be certified by the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners, while, as of now, traditional naturopaths do not have any government-overseen requirements or regulations.

Nutraceuticals:

If this sounds like a made-up word, it's because it is: this relatively recent term (coined by a doctor in 1989) is a combination of the words "nutrition" and "pharmaceutical", and is used to describe foods or extracts that have a medicinal or healing effect on our health—beyond their basic nutritional value. Basically, it refers to "nature's medicines"—herbs, vitamins, supplements and certain components of the foods we eat that can help prevent illness, or have a generally positive effect on the body.

In the food world, examples of common nutraceuticals would be the isoflavanoids found in soy, which may help arterial health, and the resveratrol and other anti-oxidants found in red wine, which could help ward off some cancers. To date, many nutraceuticals have been tested, studied and ultimately approved by the U.S. FDA for use in the prevention or treatment of specific ailments, while others are still in the process of being scientifically validated. There's no doubt that as the interest in natural remedies has increased, along with the awareness of the harms of many synthetic drugs, more people are looking to nutraceuticals to help prevent illness—as opposed to just treating symptoms.

The beauty world has taken notice, too. In recent years, several products have been launched that tout the more visible effects of nutraceuticals, like clear skin, strong nails and thick hair.—but the key is that they have to be taken internally, as opposed to just applied topically on the body. There are drinks packed with aloe vera and other skin-soothing vitamins, supplements that promise to fight wrinkles, and vitamins that claim to target cellulite. Borba makes "drinkable skincare"—a line of waters with different beautifying properties—as well as sweet, chewy Gummi Bear Boosters, which are packed with skin-regenerating bio-vitamins. Even major brands like Nestle, L'Oreal and Nivea have gotten into the mix, launching products meant to heal inside and out.

Omega Fatty Acids:

Over the last several years, there's been a marked increase in talk about the importance of Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) to our diets, both for health and beauty benefits. These must-have nutrients are labeled "essential" because they are needed for certain key biological functions, but since the body cannot create them naturally (or convert them from other nutrients), we have to make a point of obtaining them from specific foods. EFAs are separated into two main types--Omega-3 and Omega-6 acids—both of which are unsaturated fats (the "good" kind).

Considered beneficial for the immune system, cardiovascular function, brain health, and prevention arthritis and certain cancers, Omega-3s are the most important of the EFAs. The acid is broken down into three forms of polyunsaturated fats: ALA, DHA, and EPA. The latter two have higher potency, but it's important to get enough of all three. EPA and DHA are prevalent in most oily, cold water fish, including anchovies, sardines, salmon and herring, as well as in fish oil (available in both liquid and capsule form.) ALA (which stands for alpha-linoleic acid) is best sourced from flax seeds and chia seeds. As awareness about Omega-3s has increased, many food manufacturers are adding the nutrient to products like eggs, dairy items and even mayonnaise, but most experts agree that flax or chia seeds and fish oils are the best sources.

Omega-6 EFA, on the other hand, are commonly found in foods like avocados, whole grain breads, pumpkin seeds, certain nuts and cereals, and in an array of healthy oils, including safflower, sunflower seed, flax, borage and evening primrose. As a result, most people with a balanced diet are getting enough Omega-6 (linoleic acid), and do not need supplements. In fact, some research suggests that getting too much Omega-6 particularly in relation to the intake of Omega-3—can even have a detrimental effect; the ideal ratio is around four times the amount of Omega-6 to Omega-3. Cutting down on vegetable oils may help keep levels even.

There is also a third type of Omega fatty acid—Omega-9—which is found in animal fat and several types of vegetable oil, like olive, rapeseed, and mustard seed. Because Omega-9s can be created in the body from other unsaturated fats, however, they are not considered "essential."

Oxygen:

Obviously, we know what oxygen is—the fact that we're sitting here shows we've got that whole breathing in-and-out thing down. But while we're clear on the basics, the increased use of oxygen in beauty and wellness over the last few years—in everything from skin products and facials to full-fledged "oxygen bars"—got us thinking: Don't we get enough oxygen naturally? (And for free?)

Turns out, not so much. Found in the Earth's atmosphere, nutrient-rich oxygen is essential for sustaining human life—it's one thing with literally can't live without. But while most of us inhale enough to keep the body functioning, the quantity, and quality, may in fact be a lot lower than is optimal. Studies suggest that over the last few thousand years, the levels of pure oxygen in the air have dropped to around 21 percent, with some of the more polluted cities registering as low as 12 percent (any lower than 7 percent, and human life is toast.) In addition to these drops in available O2, a number of factors—from sedentary lifestyles, stress and poor nutrition—lead us to take shallower breaths, which in turn leads to lower amounts of oxygen in the body. Fatigue, frequent illness, low energy and even more serious conditions can result from a lack of proper oxygenation, since harmful bacteria and viruses and may thrive in low oxygen environments.

Luckily, a number of oxygen-boosting therapies are now being offered from a variety of wellness and beauty experts. To help improve general health, some practitioners are offering instruction on "better breathing", while workouts like yoga and Pilates count proper deep-breathing techniques as an important part of their regimes. Oxygen bars—at which clients can hook-up to an oxygen delivery system similar to what's used in hospitals—are also popping up all over the world; after a 15- or 30-minute session, clients report feeling a caffeine-free boost of energy, while the direct-delivery has helped to stimulate detoxification of all the internal organs.

Oxygen is also key on the beauty front, since those nutrients are vital for healthy, youthful skin. (Scarily, one report cited by Bliss Spa states that by the time we're 30 years old, the oxygen levels reaching our facial tissues via natural blood circulation can drop by as much as 70 percent.) Many beauty lines have introduced O2-rich skincare products to help detoxify and rejuvenate, while spa-grade oxygen facials work to kill bacteria and increase cell regeneration. The result is very often that coveted "glow" that's associated with being happy—and healthy.

Paraffin:

It’s one of the most common spa menu terms, a staple ingredient in both mani/pedi services and body treatments. But what exactly is paraffin—and what are its benefits? In general, the word “paraffin” refers to a type of wax—a typically white, odorless form that, due to its particular chemical makeup, is a good conductor of heat, burns steadily and is insoluble in water. Though not as soft and pliable as, say, beeswax—a preferred wax for candles-- paraffin is available in many different forms, and is used in a wide array of capacities. Food-grade paraffin, for example, turns up as candy coating, shells for hard cheeses like Edam, jar sealants, and even as an ingredient in Magic Shell chocolate coating. In a thicker form, paraffin is used to wax surfboards and snowboards, and in liquid form, it can even be ingested to help ease digestive issues.

But it’s as a soft, liquid wax—plain, or juiced-up with essential oils-- that paraffin pops up in spas. Because of its heat-conducting and moisture-retaining properties, the ingredient is most commonly used to hydrate, soften and relax dry skin, or prep hands and feet pre-mani or pedi. In these treatments, warm liquid paraffin wax is typically brushed over the target area, then left to cool. Once the wax solidifies, it forms a vacuum that draws out the dirt from pores and exfoliates dead skin, while the heat of the wax helps to relax muscles and detoxify. The result is soft, moisturized skin devoid of cracks or dry patches.

Polarity Massage:

Many wellness modalities, including Reiki, acupuncture and Tai Chi, are based on the "unblocking" of stagnant energy in the belief that for the body to function and heal properly, energy has to flow freely and correctly. Developed in the late-1940's by osteopath / chiropractor / naturopath, Dr. Randolf Stone, Polarity Massage is another technique based on this philosophy. Polarity Massage mixes science, physics and gentle massage to balance the body. Though it can be enjoyed on its own, this massage style is just one part of Polarity Therapy—a school of complementary medicine that also includes nutritional, emotional and exercise components.

After studying complementary medicine practices all over the world, Dr. Stone based his technique on the Human Energy Field—the idea that each cell in the body has a polarized magnetic field with a Yin/Yang type of duality, and that this energy can be re-directed to create good health. He believed that there are three energy "poles" or currents that run through the body: one running north-south, another east-west, and the third a corkscrew that spirals out from the navel. During a Polarity Massage session, clients (who may remain fully clothed) undergo light physical manipulations that work to stimulate and balance all three poles by tempering positive energy with negative, and vice-versa. The remaining "essential energy" is then re-directed to flow freely down the right paths. The result is unblocked poles that help speed up the healing process and alleviate any related pain.

Along with incorporating massage, Polarity Therapy as a whole emphasizes the importance of exercise (particularly stretching and correct breathing techniques), proper nutrition and mental and emotional balance and self-awareness; trained practitioners can put together a customized program for each client. Recognized by the National Institutes of Health, Polarity Massage and Polarity Therapy have been useful in pain management, stress relief, detoxification and much more. Visit www.polaritytherapy.org for more information.

Qi:

Pronounced “chi” in English, Qi is one of the fundamental principles of Chinese philosophy. At the most basic level, qi means “breath”, and it can also refer to larger concepts like “life force” or “spiritual energy.” Though the word has been applied to an array of concepts since it was first coined centuries ago, qi is typically used to refer to the spark or flame that’s in every living thing—the very essence of life.

Along with its philosophical and metaphysical uses, qi is also a key element in Chinese healing and wellness traditions. Chinese medicine is based on the idea that body has natural patterns of qi that circulate in specific channels or paths, called meridians. When a person is ill, it’s believed to be because the qi flow has been interrupted, or because the energy of a particular organ is imbalanced. To help fix this, practitioners employ everything from herbal remedies and custom diets to different massage techniques (like acupressure and cupping), acupuncture, and physical activity like Qi Gong.

The concept of qi has also migrated to the spa world. Along with traditional Chinese healing centers, which typically pair acupuncture and massage with their herbal prescriptions, a number of fusion or “Western” spas have incorporated the concept into their services. Qi Facials, for example, aim to rejuvenate the skin and tighten muscle tone using herbal ingredients and targeted massage techniques. On a bigger scale, entire qi-themed spas and salons are popping up all over the world, offering services that focus on touch and healing to bring forth relaxation.

Reiki:

Reiki is a Japanese technique for healing and stress relief based on the movement of energy—and the practice is steadily growing in popularity in US spas. The term is drawn from two words: "rei" means "the higher power" and "ki" is "life force energy." Combining the two, Reiki—which was created by Dr. Mikao Usui—follows the theory that there is an unseen vital energy pulsating through the body along pathways called chakras or meridians. This energy nourishes our vital organs and cellular functions, and when it's low or blocked we succumb to illness and stress.

To help keep energy flowing, Reiki works to bring positive vibration in and around the body to clear the pathways and break apart negativity. The kind of energy a trained Reiki practitioner or master uses is not regular ki—only those who have been attuned to this particular vibration are able to access it. Practitioners go through extensive training to learn the method, but very often, whether a therapist "gets it" or not is based in large part on instinct and intuition.

Unlike a massage, there is very little hands-on manipulation in a Reiki session. Instead, the client lies fully clothed on a table while the therapist gently places his hands on the body in a specific sequence, harnessing the heat generated by the Reiki energy to unlock any blocked spots and get the pathways flowing. The treatment feels like a pleasant warmth spreading through the body, relaxing muscles in its wake and leaving clients feeling balanced. As it is never harmful, Reiki can be used alone as a healing and relaxation tool or in conjunction with any other medical or therapeutic treatments.

For more, visit www.reiki.org.

Rolfing:

Though it sounds like something you might do after a meal of bad clams, Rolfing is in fact a highly-effective form of therapy that helps both ease sore muscles and yield long-term structural results. Using a unique, holistic form of muscle manipulation, Rolfing aims to balance the body in gravity, creating proper alignment, relief from chronic conditions and a better posture.

Performed by certified therapists around the country, the practice is based on the teachings of Dr. Ida P. Rolf, a biochemist who graduated from Columbia University in 1920. Combining her interest in alternative forms of healing (like yoga, chiropractics and homeopathy) with her desire to find a solution to her own health issues, Dr. Rolf began studying the connection between alignment, physiology and anatomy. Understanding that the body functions best when properly aligned—and that any imbalances can cause soft tissues like muscles, tendons and fascia to overcompensate or become immobile—the doctor focused her investigation on how gravity affects alignment.

The result of Dr. Rolf’s studies was a method of muscle manipulation called Structural Integration—better known by its nickname of “Rolfing”—that began gaining popularity in the 1970s. In a typical session, the client lies down while a practitioner works on the fascia until muscles are “unlocked” and restored to normal length. For best results, a program of ten sessions, known as the Ten Series, is recommended to start; each session focuses on a specific goal so that by the end, the entire body has been treated. After a Ten Series, shorter maintenance programs are also available.

Today, Rolfing is a favorite with everyone from dancers and athletes to frequent travelers and desk jockeys—anyone looking to balance their posture and alleviate pain. Studies have also shown that Rolfing can help reduce stress and help the body use energy more economically.

For more, visit www.rolf.org.

Shiatsu:

It’s on pretty much every massage menu, right there between Hot Stone and Swedish, but what exactly is Shiatsu—and who might benefit from it? Born in Japan—translated, it means “finger” (shi) and “pressure” (atsu)—the traditional technique can be traced back to 1912, when a 7 year-old boy named Tokujiro Namikoshi helped ease his mother’s arthritis using a massage done only with his thumbs and palms. He named the style “Shiatsu.”

In 1925, Namikoshi opened his first Shiatsu clinic, followed by a larger school in Tokyo in 1940; here, the method was formally defined, and principles of Western anatomy and physiology were integrated into the system. By the ‘50’s, the method was officially recognized by the Japanese government and today, societies and school exist all over the world.

At its core, the technique emphasizes a combination of diagnosis and therapy. Using just their palms and fingers—in particular the thumb—trained practitioners are able to identify trouble spots on the client, including blocked toxins and muscle distress. By applying deep, rhythmic pressure to trigger points and meridians using a combination of tapping, squeezing, rubbing and finger pressure, therapists are able to release muscle tension as well as stimulate the immune system, increase circulation and boost the nervous system.

Traditional Shiatsu is performed with the client lying on a low futon, and while the sessions may not feel as “relaxing” as an aromatherapy or Swedish massage (meaning, you probably won’t fall asleep), the results are deeply-felt, making it perfect for clients that like deeper bodywork and those looking for long-term relief. Among Shiatsu’s many proved benefits are deep-tissue relaxation, detoxification, increased flexibility, reduced blood pressure, calmed nerves and improved mental clarity.

For more on Shiatsu, visit http://www.shiatsu.org.

Swedish Massage:

Considered the default style at most spas, Swedish massage is the technique most often employed in body treatments and full-body massages. This is mainly due to the modality's focus on relaxation and stress-relief and the fact that, unlike a more intense treatment like deep tissue or sports massage, it's gentle on the body and appropriate for a wide range of clients.

Developed in the 19th-century by Stockholm doctor Per Henrick Lind, Swedish massage is based on five main strokes: enfleurage, a sliding and gliding movement done with the palms and thumbs; petrissage, or kneading; the brisk, rhythmic tapping of tapotement; circular, cross fiber friction; and vibration / shaking. Some light stretching may also be involved, and the strokes are usually performed using long, flowing movements that run towards the heart, to help increase blood flow. Oil or lotion is used to help the strokes glide. In addition to reducing stress and boosting relaxation, Swedish massage alleviates muscle strain and joint stiffness by flushing out the build-up of lactic acid and other metabolic waste from the tissues, allowing them to heal. The technique also works to stimulate the skin and nerve endings, which in turn increases circulation, fights inflammation and encourages all the organs to function more efficiently.

Swedish massage (which is just called "classic massage" in Sweden) is suitable for all types of clients, from those just looking for a soothing session to those with more targeted or chronic pain. For more information, talk to your massage therapist about what techniques might work best for you.

Thai Massage:

"Massage meets yoga" is the most common way of describing Thai Massage, an invigorating bodywork technique that is gaining in popularity in spas across the globe. With roots in ancient Indian Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine and Southeast Asian healing techniques, the 2,500-plus year-old method uses a combination of acupressure, muscle manipulation and stretching to release tension and increase circulation. Historically performed and taught by Buddhist monks (you can still learn the style in certain temples and monasteries throughout Thailand), the massage is traditionally performed on the floor on padded mats or a firm mattress, with both the client and practitioner dressed in loose clothing to allow for unrestricted movement. No oils are used, and sessions typically run from 90 to 120 minutes.

Called "nuat boran" or "ancient pressure" in Thai, the technique is based on the theory that the air /energy we inhale (called "lom") travels through over 70,000 pathways—or "sen"—in the body, and that these channels can often get blocked. To help the energy flow properly, therapists apply rhythmic pressure to targeted points along the pathways using their fingers, palms, elbows and even legs and feet. (For this reason, sessions are equally physical for both client and practitioner.) Grounding their arms and legs to lock the client in, therapists also use rocking motions to release tension, and will place the body in yoga-like stretches to elongate muscles and increase blood flow.

The combination of deep massage, stretching and pressure point work is generally beneficial to most clients, as it helps relax and balance the body, center the mind and increase flexibility, range of motion and circulation. Clients with injuries, blood clots or certain other conditions, however, should check with their doctor before treatment.

Thalassotherapy:

Based on the Greek work thalassos, meaning "sea", thalassotherapy is the therapeutic use of seaweed and seawater to heal the body both inside and out. Many of the water-based treatments and body wraps found on spa menus today are rooted in thalassotherapy, a school of treatment was officially developed in the 19th century in the coastal town of Brittany, France.

Though ancient cultures have long-incorporated the sea into their health and wellness practices, it wasn't until a couple hundred years ago that science started investigating why. Research found that ocean water and seaweed contain the same minerals and trace elements as human blood plasma, including magnesium, calcium, sodium and potassium. Seaweed in particular is high in these vital elements-- certain seaweeds are up to 30 times higher in minerals than land-grown vegetation--and because the organic material is also easily broken down and integrated by the body, it also provides a more highly concentrated boost to the system. Cultures from Japan to Peru have benefited by incorporating seaweed into their diets, and many fans believe regular ingestion can help lower high blood pressure and cholesterol, eliminate toxins, kill bacteria and invigorate the immune, lymph and circulatory systems.

The nutrients from seawater and seaweed can also be easily absorbed though the skin, which has led to the spa practice of thalassotherapy. Back in the 19th century, French coastal spa towns would use local seaweed and ocean water in warm soaks, cold pools, mud baths and steam rooms, and today the basic methods remain the same, with the addition of a few technological advances. Powerful hydro-therapy jet tubs and "underwater showers" help soothe the muscles and work in the minerals, while inhalation chambers transport the goodness in via the lungs, and body wraps rich in seaweed, algae, ocean mud and even sand help detoxify, tone and rejuvenate the skin. Thalassotherapy has also proved useful in treating joint troubles, insomnia and asthma.

Thalassotherapy was officially recognized as a therapy in the last century, and for many years, it was rare to find a true thalassotherapy center outside of France; now, though, they are popping-up around the globe. Regulations dictate that in order to call a place a "thalassotherapy spa" it must meet certain criteria: it can't be more that 1,000 meters from the sea; it must use natural sea water that's not heated to more than 50 degrees Celsius, so as to keep its nutrient value; and it cannot re-use any mud or seaweed. Search spa sites online for the closest practitioner to you or to find a destination spa that specializes in the method.

Ultrasound:

First developed during World War II to help locate submerged objects, traditional ultrasound technology uses high-frequency sound waves to produce visual images. The technology is used as a medical diagnostic tool - sound waves are transmitted to the uterus, for example, and returning echoes will show a detailed image of a developing fetus. But ultrasound technology is also becoming a useful part of beauty and wellness treatments. When the low- and high-frequency sound waves are transmitted to a specific area of the body, they penetrate the surrounding tissue and muscle, causing a deep warming and increase in circulation that can help relax tension, ease spasms and promote healing. Physical therapists and massage professionals are finding ultrasounds helpful in treating joint and muscle injuries, arthritis, chronic pain and general inflammation, particularly since the sound frequency of the machines can be adjusted to achieve specific results.

While ultrasound has been used in physical therapy since the mid-1900's, its popularity as a beauty tool is a bit more recent. Given its success in reducing inflammation and increasing circulation, the technology has become a part of facials designed to firm skin, smooth wrinkles and revitalize tone and clarity. (Along with professional grade ultrasounds used in spas and doctor offices, there are also several at-home ultrasonic face and body massagers on the market which use less powerful frequencies.) Some pros are also using the technology to "slim" and contour trouble spots on the body—based on the theory that the increased circulation can also help dissolve fat—but this treatment has yet to gain widespread results.

Ultraviolet Rays:

Okay, so it's not technically a spa term, but given that the effect of ultraviolet (UV) rays is one of skincare's biggest concerns, we thought we'd better take a look at what exactly those invisible zappers are all about.

Simply put, UV light (named "ultra violet" because the rays are shorter than those of the color violet—so, it's "beyond violet") is part of the radiation that's sent to Earth from the sun. The term "UV" actually encompasses three types, or bands, of rays: UVA, the longest; UVB, or medium waves; and UVC, the shortest. While man-made contraptions like black light and certain fluorescent bulbs also emit low-level UVA waves, the sun is the main UV source since it radiates all three bands—though the Earth's atmosphere blocks all UVC rays and over 98% of the UV in general from ever reaching us.

On the plus side, limited exposure to certain UV rays can be a good thing; UVB, for example, stimulates the production of Vitamin D in the skin, which is beneficial to bone health, and some UV radiation is used in the treatment of skin conditions like vitiligo and psoriasis. And while moderate levels of UVB rays—which vary depending on skin color—can cause limited DNA damage to the skin, the body self-repairs this by increasing melanin production, which is what leads to a tan.

However, too much UV exposure can cause more harm than good, including sunburn, DNA damage, decreased skin elasticity and, in the most serious instances, skin cancer. Though UVB was thought to be the most harmful to our health because it can cause sunburn, penetrate deeper into the skin and lead to direct DNA damage, recent studies have shown that UVA exposure should also be controlled, since it can cause indirect DNA damage by stimulating the production of cancer-causing free radicals. Both UVA and UVB waves can also damage the collagen in the skin, which leads to premature signs of aging.

So what can you do? Of course, make sunscreen a part of your life all year-long, but be sure to check that whatever type you're using blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Since UVA exposure doesn't make skin red it can't be monitored by SPF tests, so the SPF ratings typically only refer to UVB protection. For the best coverage, check that your lotion also contains UVA-blocking ingredients like titanium dioxide, zinc oxide or avobenzone.

Vichy Shower:

Historically, wellness spas are centered on some type of water-based therapy, from the natural thermal hot springs favored by the Romans to the holistic herbal baths of Germany. Most modern spas, though, don't have room for hydrotherapy pools or soaking tubs—but they do often have Vichy Showers. Typically found in a facility's wet room, these therapeutic "lying down" showers consist of a long metal arm with seven fixed adjustable showerheads that hit points from the head to the legs. The contraption can be attached to the ceiling or swung out from the wall over a treatment table.

Vichy Showers are most commonly used as part of a body scrub or wrap treatment to help wash off the products, without the need for the client to get up and run to the shower. In addition to this practical usage, the shower works to relax muscles with warm, massaging jet sprays, and also helps to stimulate and open up the various chakra energy points along the body. It feels particularly soothing when used on the back, where the rhythmic jets work their magic on points from the neck down the spine to the lower back.

During the service, clients typically lie face up on the table (with a towel draped between the legs, chest and the face, to help keep water out of the mouth and eyes), then turn over onto their stomachs. Water temperature and jet pressure can be adjusted to suit the client, and in most cases, individual showerheads can be disabled or aimed away if they're hitting a sensitive area. Be sure to talk with your therapist if you're not comfortable with any part of the service.

Vinotherapy:

A lot has been written in recent years about the benefits of red wine, which has a high content of antioxidants and other health-boosting ingredients. But while drinking alcohol on the regular can lead to other health issues (high calories, for one), there is a way to get a little of that wine magic in you while sparing your liver: Vinotherapy.

Born in France but now available around the world, vinotherapy melds the restorative powers of grapes with the healing benefits of traditional spa therapies. High in antioxidants, polyphenols and other good stuff, grapes—whether crushed, in wine or as grapeseed oil—can help to lower blood pressure, increase circulation, jump-start a detox and rejuvenate the skin by protecting against free radicals. Typically offered at spas on or near vineyards or wineries, vinotherapy treatments incorporate this powerful fruit into their services in the form of wine baths, crushed grape body exfoliations, masks and wraps, and facials done with grapeseed-based products. When absorbed through the skin, these polyphenols help plump up skin, strengthen blood vessels and fight the signs of aging.

One of the first and most famous purveyors of vinotherapy is the Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa in Les Sources de Caudalie, near Bordeaux, France. There, clients enjoy treatments that mix vine and grape extracts with the healing mineral waters found in nearby springs; services like Barrel Baths, Crushed Cabernet Scrubs and signature facials are among the most popular. Caudalie also makes a vinotherapy-based skin care line for home use, as does Davi, a smaller (and newer) line based in Napa, California.

For more on Caudalie and vinotherapy, visit http://www.sources-caudalie.com/US.html.

Watsu:

A combination of the words "water" and "shiatsu", Watsu is a deeply therapeutic treatment that's currently enjoying a rise in popularity at spas around the world. Performed in a pool of warm water, with the floating client supported by the therapist's arms, the treatment was first introduced in 1980 by Harold Dull, a Shiatsu practitioner who had studied with many of the great masters in Japan. Dull combined the fluid stretching and breathing techniques of Zen Shiatsu—which are used to stimulate energy flow and increase flexibility—with the weightlessness achieved by floating in water, which helps to take pressure off the vertebrae and allow the spine to be stretched more gently and deeply. The result was an intense bodywork treatment that worked to release tension, alleviate chronic pain and strengthen the muscles.

While at the beginning Watsu treatments focused mainly on stretching, the service has developed over the years to include other classic strokes. In one common move called Water Breath Dance, the therapist synchronizes a gentle sinking motion with the client's breathing, creating a rhythmic connection between client and practitioner. Floatation devices are also often used to help weight or lift different parts of the body, and "free flow" techniques help the therapist manipulate the muscles more gently than in traditional massage.

Now practiced in over 40 countries—and recently voted the top treatment offered in Asian spas-- Watsu has become a recognized form of therapy for a number of conditions. In addition to enjoying a deep sense of relaxation, participants have reported a decreased heart rate, increased range of motion, a strengthened immune system, and relief from chronic joint pain; with regular sessions, clients may also experience improved sleep and digestion and decreased anxiety. Thanks in part to the deep bond and sense of trust fostered between client and therapist during a session—in which clients are encouraged to really "let go" both physically and mentally-- regulars also report an improvement in their emotional well-being following a treatment.

For more on Watsu, visit www.watsu.com

Waxing:

There are many options these days for the removal of unwanted hair—including lasers, depilatory creams, threading and good, old fashioned shaving—but one of the most popular remains waxing. Unlike shaving or the use of creams, which only remove the hair on the surface of the skin, waxing pulls the strands out from the root, ensuring that they won't grow back for an average of two to eight weeks. (Regular waxers also often claim that hair grows back lighter and thinner.) Waxing can be done on pretty much any part of the body—from eyebrows to the tops of the feet—and most spas and salons now use different types of wax, including formulas infused with lavender or peppermint, to treat sensitive areas and skin types.

In a typical session, the therapist will begin by lightly dusting the to-be-treated area with powder to ensure that the skin is dry and that the wax will adhere properly. She will then apply a thin layer of heated wax to the hair with a wooden spatula (be sure to speak up if the wax is too hot!), then press a cloth, paper or denim strip down on top of the wax. The strip is then quickly pulled off—ideally, in one fluid motion—against the direction of the hair growth, ensuring that the hairs are pulled out from the root. Many therapists will apply a cold compress or an herbal oil or mist at the end of the session to help soothe skin and reduce any redness.

While this type of honey-based waxing—called "strip wax"—is the most common, natural hard waxes are also popping up in more salons across the U.S. Unlike strip wax, hard wax (which has long been popular in Europe) is applied a little more thickly to the skin and hardens as it cools, allowing it to be pulled or rolled off without the use of strips. Not only is this more environmentally-friendly, but many clients find hard waxes to be more gentle on the skin. Sugaring—which is similar to strip waxing but uses a sugar-based formulation—is another technique recommended for sensitive skin.

Possible side effects may include redness, bumps, minor bleeding and, if not done correctly, ingrown hairs. While at-home waxing kits are readily available, it's recommended that the service be performed by a professional—especially if it's your first time.

Yerba Mate:

It might not be a household name yet, but ingredient du jour yerba mate is fast on the way to becoming a beauty product staple. Like soy, green tea and pomegranate before it, what started out a trendy addition to skin and body care items (Kiehl's launched a yerba mate collection a couple of years back) has quickly developed into a "miracle" ingredient with effective beauty and health benefits.

Native to South America—specifically, Argentina and parts of Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay—yerba mate comes from a small tropical tree dotted with greenish-white flowers. For centuries, locals have steeped the leaves in hot water to make an herbal tea, and the drink continues to very popular today; in most countries, it's served in a hollowed-out gourd cup, sipped with a silver straw, and passed around between friends. Cold, roasted, pre-packaged and even soda versions of the tea also exist, but it's the slightly grassy-tasting leafy version of yerba mate—which means "herbal cup"--that's become several countries' national drink.

As a beverage, yerba mate has many of the energizing properties of regular caffeine minus many of the jittery side effects, thanks to the presence of xanthines, a stimulant similar—but more gentle--to what's in coffee and chocolate. (As a result, yerba mate is not technically caffeine-free, but it's proven to be softer on the system than coffee or guarana-heavy energy drinks, and more powerful than green tea.) Yerba leaves are also high in anti-oxidants and phenolic constituents, both of which are helpful in cancer prevention.

In beauty products, these components of yerba mate manifest as anti-inflammatory, anti-aging and free radical-fighting, which makes it a dream ingredient for skin, body and hair care. In addition to the Kiehl's products, which include a cleaner, toner and moisturizer, yerba mate is also featured in shampoos, soaps and body washes by Save Your Hair / Save Your Skin, an organic line sold at Whole Foods.

Yoga:

We do it to help tone muscles, increase flexibility, focus the mind or relax after a long day, but yoga actually began thousands of years ago as a way of practicing Hindu philosophy. Though its exact origins and age are unclear, there is evidence that some of the basic tenants of traditional yoga—like controlled breathing, meditation and certain physical postures—have been practiced since the third millennium B.C. as ways of disciplining the mind and body and attaining a higher, more clear state of consciousness. From the beginning, the term "yoga" was a catch-all used to describe different forms of the art; the sacred Bhagavad Gita text, for example, talks about Karma yoga (the yoga of action), Bhakti yoga (the yoga of devotion) and Gnana yoga (the yoga of knowledge.) It wasn't until the second century B.C., though, that a master named Patanjali compiled a handbook of the most common yoga poses and meditations, creating the basis for what's now known as Ashtanga yoga.

These days, there are many schools of yoga being offered in both the East and West, each differentiated by its methodology and the philosophies of its yogi, or guru. Some of the more common types include Hatha, which focuses on full body postures; Vinyasa, or "flow" yoga, which uses a series of fluid, dance-like poses; Prana, centered on the breath; Iyengar, which stresses precise pose alignment; and the more physically vigorous Ashtanga. Though some modern variations—like Bikram Yoga, which is performed in a heated, sweat-inducing room—are designed more for aerobic fitness and calorie-burning, the traditional styles are all based on the strengthening the mind-body connection and core through deep breathing, meditation, targeted bodywork. Common poses include Downward Dog and Plank, both for upper body strength, Chair for the lower back, and Sun Salutation for the abs.

Along with increased physical fitness, flexibility and joint health, benefits might include detoxification, skin and muscle toning, stress relief, improved sleep, better organ health, increased concentration, better posture and balance, lower blood pressure, improved mood, and pain management. As you become more aware of your body, you can also become more conscious of what you put in it and on it, so for many regular practitioners, yogic philosophy can also help inspire more healthful eating and lifestyle choices.