a l l  n a t u r a l  i n f o

Spas: A Return to Health
by Hannah Rowanwood 

     As a manufacturer of natural skin and body care,  I am in the very fortunate position of having knowledge of, or at the very least ready access to, information on ingredients, harmful and otherwise.  A quick glance at a product’s ingredient list and I can make a swift decision regarding it’s safety, and whether or not I wish to purchase or use it.

     It’s easy for me to take this for granted, and I often forget that although the average consumer is much more educated with regards to toxins than they were even 5 years ago, the vast majority of people still remain largely unaware of the dangers lurking in the personal care products they use.  I am reminded of this constantly by the customers who come into my natural skincare shop.  Some are quite knowledgeable; others are genuinely shocked to hear of the potential dangers associated with parabens, synthetics and petrochemicals.  Many express a sense of anger at not being informed, or feel foolish for placing their trust in ‘big business’ and slick advertising campaigns.

     But I am surprised most of all by the lack of awareness in the spa and esthetics industry.  I first became aware of this two years ago, when I was invited to take over management of a popular downtown Toronto spa making a switch to 100% natural and organic.  They needed someone with my background to establish standards and protocols for their treatments and retail products, and I was happy and excited to jump on board.

     My first task was to review their existing treatment menu and product lines, and see which items needed to be replaced.  I was shocked to realize that every single product needed to be eliminated!  Reading the ingredients (where they were available; for most I had to call and pester the supply companies and manufacturers to obtain complete lists) was like reading 'a guide to toxins A to Z'!  I couldn’t believe how many dangerous chemicals I was finding in these expensive, high-end treatments and products, many of which advertised themselves as natural!

     Once I had determined that the spa needed to strip its menu bare and start from the ground up, I went to the owners and estheticians with my findings.  It was obvious that they were not expecting this information, but they agreed that in order to call themselves '100% synthetic-free, natural and organic', these chemical soups had to go.  I then began creating natural versions of several of their most popular treatments.

     For some of the treatments, this was a fairly easy task; for others, the challenge was not so much in creating something that would have a beneficial effect on the skin and body, but in creating something that could duplicate the familiar texture or ease of use of it’s chemical cousin.  For example, paraffin dips for hands and body, hardening polymer facial masks that peeled off in a solid shell at the end of treatment, massage oils with an indefinite shelf-life that didn’t stain the sheets and towels, glossy nail colours and shiny topcoats that lasted for months.  I felt strongly that several treatments and offerings needed to be removed from the menu entirely.

     This time, when I went to the owners to present my recommendations, I was met with significant resistance.  The treatments I was suggesting be eliminated were big money makers for the spa – they involved very little prep time or work on the part of the estheticians, and the ingredients and products were inexpensive.  The estheticians were uncomfortable learning to use new products; they liked products that gave the client a feeling of something ‘working’ right away, such as tingling, or immediate (short-term) tightening of the skin.  When I explained that most of these showy gimmicks did nothing of any lasting benefit for the skin, and instead were actually a health risk for the client, they grumbled and muttered about 'extra work'.  Eventually, it became obvious that the spa owners and employees were not ready for this change.  Their reasons for switching were based on market trends, and not on a meaningful desire to care for the health of their clients.  Rather than give in to a request to compromise my standards, I left the position.

     As a very happy consequence of my short time with the spa, I was now in possession of some wonderful new treatment recipes!  Shortly thereafter, my partner and I had an opportunity to try our hands at a retail business, and we moved out of Toronto to the historic, tourist village of Elora.  Our little natural skin and body care shop was well received by locals and tourists alike, and the spa treatments were put aside as we adjusted to the increased business the shop generated.

     One day, after chatting with a lovely young woman about the benefits of natural ingredients, she mentioned that she was the manager of a local resort spa, and that she was extremely interested in working with me to 'naturalize' the treatments offered there.  Until coming into my shop, she had been largely ignorant of the dangers of chemical ingredients, and she felt that her new knowledge made her responsible for taking that news to the spa's clients in the form of natural treatments.  Looked like I was going to be making use of my spa recipes after all!  I still remember the first product she asked me to 'remake'… a Milk & Honey Moisturizing Body Mask.  After reading the ingredients list on the product package, I sent the list back to her, along with descriptions of the ingredients in terms of their benefits, risks and toxicity.  Of the thirty or so ingredients, only four were of natural origin, and even then not in their natural state.  Milk and honey were both within the last eight ingredients listed!  For those interested, I have included the worst offenders from that list, along with their descriptions, at the end of this article.

     A year and many successful products later, I am now working closely with a spa consulting firm, creating custom and signature treatments for new and existing spas throughout Ontario.  Many of these spas are deliberately creating a natural image, and a growing number are going exclusively 100% natural and synthetic-free.  Some are unaware of the benefits of natural ingredients, and are simply purchasing for the performance or customer-appeal of the treatments, while others are adding the items to their menus specifically as a result of customer demand for natural alternatives.

     I am always happy to hear feedback from spa owners and managers as to the wonderful aromas, surprising textures, and great performance of these treatments; some are genuinely surprised that natural ingredients can obtain the same or better results than the expensive chemical mixtures they were using before.  Recently, a spa with an exotic spice name asked me to create a line of signature body treatments for them.  I went with the spice theme, and created a simple, elegant series of coordinating treatments using ground fresh spices and essential oils.  A week after the treatments were added to their menu, the spa owner e-mailed me to let me know that one couple had loved one of the spiced body rubs so much that they had purchased $6,000 worth of the treatment for the friends and family!  By far, the treatments with the best responses have been those I have crafted using very obvious food-grade ingredients, such as chocolate, coffee, fresh ground spices, fruits and citrus peels to name a few.

     It’s easy to see that as the demand for natural skin care increases, the spa industry will have to follow suit.  High-end natural and organic spas are opening across the continent, offering their educated clients synthetic-free skin and body care treatments; many existing mainstream spas are scrambling to meet demand by offering a choice of natural alternatives on their spa menus.  Those that do are staying on the leading edge in their field, and offer true health and beauty to their fortunate customers.

     Still, many spas continue to use and sell synthetic, chemical soups, cleverly masked with slick advertising campaigns, outrageous claims of renewed youth, or hiding behind exotic, imported labels.  Trusting clients spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on treatments, often with little lasting benefit, unaware of their exposure to a long list of possible carcinogens, hormone disruptors, skin irritants and toxins.  Many clients are then persuaded into purchasing expensive take-home versions of these same products, continuing their exposure and placing a further burden on their bodies.  And they come to spas for health!

     It would be so easy to blame spa owners and employees, but from my experience, the majority are simply unaware of the health risks hidden in these products.  They too are vulnerable to the aggressive and intensive marketing on the parts of large spa product manufacturers.  It is our responsibility as consumers, manufacturers and entrepreneurs to help guide the spa industry towards a synthetic and toxin-free future.  Here are a few things you can do:

  •  Educate yourself on commonly used toxins, synthetics and chemicals used in skin care.

  •  Ask questions: the next time you visit a spa, ask to see the ingredients for your chosen treatment.  Refuse the treatment if you see anything toxic or harmful, and be sure to let the staff know your reason for the refusal.

  •  When calling to book an appointment for a treatment, ask the staff if they offer any natural products or treatments.  This feedback will be relayed to management when staff are losing bookings!

  •  If you regularly visit a favourite spa or spa therapist, let he or she know that you have concerns over ingredients, and that you would like to see more natural products on the menu.

  •  If natural, synthetic-free spas or treatments are available in your area, make a point of supporting these businesses.  Let them know your reasons for doing so.

     If you are a natural manufacturer, I encourage you to offer your products in professional or 'cabine' sizes to local spas – it has been my experience that many spas are keen to go natural, but are unaware that these natural alternatives exist.  Others are simply so busy that they have no time to source out healthy replacements for their less-than-friendly treatments.  Don’t let the term 'professional' intimidate you out of approaching this market; simple, healthy, natural ingredients work, whether in a spa or home environment!  Be sure to educate them on the benefits of choosing natural, including the financial benefits of listing natural treatments on their menus.

     The word ‘Spa’ conjures images of an oasis where health, vitality and relaxation are paramount – it is up to us as consumers to ensure that our spas are the healing spaces they are meant to be!

Hannah Rowanwood
WildeWood
info@wildewoodnaturals.com
www.wildewoodnaturals.com


Milk & Honey Body Mask key ingredients list:

INGREDIENT REPORT: POLYACRYLAMIDE
Potential for harmful impurities
Safety limits on use/purity/manufacturing
Classified as toxic
Potential neuro-toxin
Hazards for occupational exposures
Ingredient(s) not assessed for safety

INGREDIENT REPORT: IODOPROPYNYL BUTYLCARBAMATE
Unsafe for use in cosmetics
Reproductive/developmental toxicity
Classified as toxic
Safety limits on use/purity/manufacturing
Industry safety warnings
Insufficient safety data

INGREDIENT REPORT: BENZYL BENZOATE
Classified as toxic
Wildlife/environmental toxicity

INGREDIENT REPORT: HYDROXYISOHEXYL 3-CYCLOHEXENE CARBOXALDEHYDE
Frequent allergen, skin sensitizer
Contact dermatitis
Ingredient(s) not assessed for safety

ALPHA-METHYL IONONE
Skin and eye irritant
Ingredient(s) not assessed for safety

INGREDIENT REPORT: TRILAURETH-4 PHOSPHATE
Ingredient(s) not assessed for safety

INGREDIENT REPORT: PROPYLENE GLYCOL
Immune system toxicants (allergies, sensitization)
Penetration enhancers
Safety limits on use/purity/manufacturing
Insufficient safety data

INGREDIENT REPORT: TALC
Known carcinogen
Potential for harmful impurities
Reproductive/developmental toxicity
Immune system toxicants (allergies, sensitization)
Classified as toxic
Hazards for occupational exposures
Insufficient safety data
Wildlife/environmental toxicity

INGREDIENT REPORT: SD ALCOHOL 39C
Reproductive/developmental toxicity
Immune system toxicants (allergies, sensitization)
Wildlife/environmental toxicity
Hazards for occupational exposures
Insufficient safety data
Classified as toxic

INGREDIENT REPORT: C13-14 ISOPARAFFIN
Hazards for occupational exposures
Eye, skin and lung irritant
Petroleum derivative
Insufficient safety data
Ingredient(s) not assessed for safety

INGREDIENT REPORT: BENZYL SALICYLATE
Sensitizer
Contact dermatitis
Ingredient(s) not assessed for safety

INGREDIENT REPORT: BENZYL ALCOHOL
Classified as toxic
Immune system toxicants (allergies, sensitization)
Safety limits on use/purity/manufacturing
Wildlife/environmental toxicity
Insufficient safety data

INGREDIENT REPORT: LAURETH-7
Potential carcinogenic contaminants
Skin irritant, sensitizing ingredient
Ingredient(s) not assessed for safety

INGREDIENT REPORT: HYDROXYCITRONELLAL
Potential allergen, sensitizer
Contact dermatitis
Aquatic wildlife toxin
Safety limits on use/purity/manufacturing

INGREDIENT REPORT: ALPHA-METHYL IONONE
Skin and eye irritant
Ingredient(s) not assessed for safety



 

Please visit Hannah's web site:

WildeWoodNaturals.com

 

 

All views expressed in the articles on the "All Natural Info" page are those of the various authors, they are presented here for your enjoyment and enlightenment.  These views do not necessarily represent the views of SharAmbrosia or the "all natural beauty" website. 

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