Not just fluff and buff: Spas emphasize wellness over beauty

NEW YORK — Unplug. Breathe. Relax.

Wellness rather than beauty was the message this week at the annual International Spa Association event in New York. While there were plenty of skin products and treatments on display, the bigger trend in the spa world remains alleviating stress.

"We're not just fluff and buff," said Erin Stremcha, spokeswoman for the Well & Being Spa, with locations in Las Vegas, Dallas, Arizona and Puerto Rico. "Be healthy and have fun but also take something away that you can apply to your daily life."

As part of that quest for serenity, Sundara Inn & Spa, in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, asks guests to put away electronics. "Silence is the new luxury," said Sundara spokeswoman Carla Minsky. "The idea is to unplug, disconnect." Sundara has "conversation-free areas," meditation trails and an emphasis on silent sports like hiking, kayaking, biking and, in the winter, snowshoeing. Also highly encouraged: napping in hammocks.


Gadgets, chairs and beds do everything from massaging your back to generating sound waves. The ame Spa & Wellness Collective at Turnberry Isle Miami in Aventura, Florida, showed off high-end Gharieni spa wave beds with features like tables that feel like warm sand on the back and headphones supplying binaural beats, which are different tones in each ear designed to calm the mind.

Also on display, the O2 chair, which applies rollers up and down your back while you inhale oxygen through a tube and listen to guided breathing instructions through headphones.

To get that bliss-spa feeling at home, a company called Airome sells aromatherapy diffusers in a variety of styles, colors and materials to match your decor — porcelain, glass, ceramic and metal, $30-$40, with essential oils, $8-$12.

But there's still a place for the human touch. The Chuan Body + Soul spa at Langham Place in New York City showed off Asian-inspired foot massage. Aspira the Spa, in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, touts acupuncture for facial rejuvenation as an alternative to anti-wrinkle treatments like Botox.


The Spa at the Peaks in Telluride, Colorado, says the region attracts visitors looking for active experiences like hiking and skiing. To cater to their needs, the spa lets guests create customized teas, choosing herbs and tinctures with ingredients such as turmeric to ease pain and inflammation.

At the Well & Being Spa, guests can blend their own hand scrubs and lotions. "Everyone wants to do their own thing," said Stremcha. "This allows you to do that." Use the products at the spa or take them home.


Some destination spas began growing herbs and produce a few years back. Those programs have grown.

"We started doing this because we couldn't get high-quality products for the spa, so we thought we'd just grow them," explained Lola Roeh of Aspira. "Our very first garden was only 2,000 square feet but every year we've been able to increase." The Wisconsin property now grows not just chamomile and lavender for spa treatments, but also 11,500 pounds of food a year, supplying its chefs with 20 types of heirloom tomatoes among other things.

The Lodge at Woodloch in Hawley, Pennsylvania, has a resident "farm-acist," Derrick Braun, who teaches visitors about everything from fermented foods to recognizing mathematical sequences in nature, like the patterns found in sunflowers and pine cones. "We want to connect those dots for guests," Braun said.

The Lodge also offers garden dinners where produce for each course — whether kohlrabi or cauliflower — is locally grown; mocktails like a "spa-jito" made with ingredients like organic mint and lime juice; and forest bathing, a Japanese-inspired experience in which guests are led on a walk in the woods using all their senses.

At the ame Spa & Wellness Collective, chef Matthew Kenney will lead a plant-based food and wine wellness retreat Oct. 13-15 that includes "yoga, tastings, conversation on how to prepare this type of food and the benefits of incorporating it into your life," Kenney said. What about guests who say vegan food is bland? "This food is exciting and full-flavored if prepared properly," Kenney said, "but the ingredients and techniques are entirely different from how most of us learned to cook."

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