What did the ancient Polynesians know about the sea
and its healing properties? Long before the first
European sea therapy center was instituted in 1899 by Dr. Louis
Bougot in France, Polynesians were reaping the benefits of sea
water and seaweeds (limu) in their healing practices.
Many of the ancient remedies using seaweeds are still
used by locals who make poultices from fresh seaweeds, detoxifying
seaweed baths, and use dry seaweeds for internal and external
healing treatments. The use of sea water and sea plants to
promote health and beauty is called Thalassotherapy. The
theory is that the chemical composition of sea water is almost
identical to human plasma and contains all the elements necessary
for optimum cellular function. Seaweeds have a rich
abundance of all the building blocks of life: minerals, trace
elements, amino acids, vitamins and a host of other nutrients.
Thalassotherapy has found a renaissance in spas and
seaside retreats around the globe. Thasso-treatments vary
from region to region, depending on the nature of the sea water,
seaweeds and sea minerals. Often seaweeds and sea salt are
combined with other natural healing ingredients to rejuvenate the
skin and stimulate internal balance.
Seaweeds have a remarkable softening, remineralizing,
moisturizing and firming effect on the skin. Applications of
seaweeds help to detoxify the tissues and regulate blood
circulation throughout the body. The high iodine content
stimulates the thyroid gland. This increases the metabolic
action, speeding up the detoxification process. Seaweeds
provide three essential skin health needs: it quenches free
radicals with its beta carotene, improves skin color and tone, and
reduces the effects of aging.
So if you are interested in turning back the clock on
your skin, a seaweed body treatment is a most pleasurable way to
do so. Never mind that you will look like a human sushi roll
while your body is enrobed in these Neptunian nutrients. You
will emerge a new tuna with a better feeling of well-being and
skin as soft as a sharks’ belly.
The Hawaiians are one of the few groups to use sea salt
in their healing practices. They were also the only
Polynesian people of the four groups that used salt for seasoning
food. Paakai (red salt) is a common local treatment to
increase circulation and to heal bruises. The salt is often
mixed with Lepo Alae (red clay) and plant oils to tone and build
better tissue integrity.
Herbs and fruits are also traditionally used in
Hawaiian cosmetic and medicinal preparations. Two of the
most popular plant oils are from the kukui nut and the macadamia
nut. Body care manufacturers have only recently discovered
what Hawaiians have had on their hands for so many centuries and
the use of these oils in skin care products is becoming
increasingly more popular.
The Kukui nut tree is the official state tree of
Hawaii. It has culturally been one of the most important
trees in the islands. The trees grow on lower mountain
slopes down to the sea shore, and can grow to heights of 80 feet
or more. I love to hike the pali slopes when the Kukui is in
bloom; its small white green-tinged flowers exude a far-reaching
redolence of wild tropic nutty/floral/fruity/green harmony.
When the hard shell is removed from the fruit, the
kernel is lightly roasted to release its oil. Kukui oil was
used as lamp oil in ancient times, as well as a healing and easily
penetrating skin and hair aid. It is high in linoleic and
linolenic acids, both essential fatty acids necessary to healthy
skin metabolism. It was the main protectant of skin from
damage by sun and sea. Newborn babies were bathed in it, and
it was used on skin irritations, wounds, and burns. Kukui
nut oil has a distinctly redolent odor.
The high fatty acid content helps control the skin
barrier function of the stratum corneum and prevents excess
transepidermal water loss. Recent work suggests it has some
natural sunscreen capabilities. The natural silky emolliency
absorbs quickly, leaving a smooth, non-greasy feeling.
The Macadamia nut tree was introduced to Hawaii via
Australia in 1881. Hawaii is now the largest producer of macadamia
nuts in the world. The tree flowers between November and
February, another heavenly tree friend to picnic under while
simultaneously receiving a most efuviant Aromatherapy treatment.
The nuts are cold-pressed, yielding oil that is 80 %
mono-unsaturated fatty acids. It is almost 60% oleic acid
and over 20% palmitoleic acid. The overall fatty acid
content most closely resembles human sebum. Macadamia oil is often
used in skin care products as it has a lower price (generally 1/4
the cost of Kukui nut oil) and does not have any odor.
More rare are the essential oils of Polynesia.
The most well known is Tahitian Tiare Gardenia, made famous in
French Polynesian body products. Pikake (Jasmine) yields a
light but exquisite scent. Plumeria (Frangipani) is perhaps
the most affordable of tropical flowers, and yields a sweet and
somewhat intoxicating scent. These flowers are the
cornerstones of tropical Aromatherapy.
Unfortunately, there are not enough of us making
tropical oils in Hawaii. A very small amount of essential
oil is produced on Maui: on the slopes of Haleakala, there are a
couple of Lavender farms, which produce oils and infusions, and
Jack Chetham, Aromatherapist and essential oil provacateur
produces some local floral oils.
I spend the month of May each year, infusing upwards of
3000 gardenias into fresh pressed kukui nut oil. This
infusion becomes the base of my favorite sun care product,
Hawaiian Aloe Sun Oil. In addition to the sun protectant
qualities of kukui nut oil, I add a fresh green coffee extract
that I make on an organic coffee farm in Hanaunau, above the bay
where Captain Cook first landed. There are herbalists and
others who make flower essences with tropical flowers in the
islands, but we all look toward future essential oil production as
a viable business opportunity in the 50th state.
Here are a few recipes using ingredients mentioned
in this article.
1 cup any type clay
1 cup powdered kelp
1/4 cup Spirulina powder
20 drops essential oil
Mix and store in air-tight container. Mix 2 T. powder with
enough hot water to make a paste. Brush or pat over clean
face and neck. Rest for 15 minutes or until mask is dry.
For very dry skin, remove before mask is fully dry.
For a full body treatment, mix 3-4 ounces powder with hot water to
form paste. Rub over entire body. Wrap in warm sheet
for 15-20 minutes. Shower off or soak in bath. This is the
treatment I do on the beach (see the photo below).
Here's Alexandra & her client relaxing while getting a treatment.
1 cup fine sea salt
1/2 cup coarse salt or Hawaiian red ‘Alae salt
1/4 cup kukui nut or macadamia nut oil
20 drops essential oil
Mix and store in tight container. While standing
in shower, rub skin in small circular motions from extremities
toward torso. Continue circular scrubbing until all salt has
been rubbed off. Shower off salt residue. No soap
needed. Your skin will be moisturized and glowing.
Tropical Skin Blend
1 oz. kukui nut oil
2 oz. macadamia nut oil
1/2 oz. aloe vera oil
6 drops ylang ylang essential oil
4 drops jasmine essential oil
5 drops sandalwood essential oil
Combine all ingredients and shake well. Store in
glass perfume bottle and use over face and body while skin is
still damp from bathing.
Reviews, Vol47, Issue 4, 126-128 (1991).
Cosmetic and Toiletries, Vol 106, 77-79 (1991).
Kukui Nut Company, Waialua, HI 800 367-6010.
information on products mentioned, and for more sea weed recipes
in her book, Aromatherapy and You, A Guide To Natural Skin
Make sure to visit
web site, where you'll find truly all-natural, and truly
wonderful... beauty products
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any portions of it may be reproduced or used without written
consent from the author.
Alexandra Avery. All rights reserved.