If it weren’t for mothers passing down beauty secrets to their daughters, we might not have half the products lining our shelves today. Every culture boasts its own traditional skin or hair care remedy, typically created with local ingredients. As interest in natural products has grown (and big companies have taken note), many of these treatments have gone global. (We’re looking at you, Moroccan argan oil and Greek yogurt.) Here are “local secrets” we’ve spied at spas around the world—and ways you can try them out, without a passport.
In Morocco, even the most remote trekking lodges offer a hammam: a place to steam, exfoliate and soften the skin with local rhassoul mud and clay, catch up on gossip, and rejuvenate after a long day. At Dar Ahlam, a spectacular Relais & Chateaux property in the South Moroccan desert outside Ouarzazate, the mosaic-tiled hammam is completely proportionate, in its size and beauty, to the rest of the exquisite kasbah. Rhassoul mud is rich in silica and detoxifying minerals; it nourishes skin and hair and helps remove impurities and clear blemishes.
Try It: You are instructed to leave your belongings in a large basket before you are escorted inside and led to a small stool, where you sit for several minutes to take in the steam and relax. The attendant returns and massages black soap on your arms, legs, torso, even your face neck and décolleté. She dips a metal bowl in the a small pool of water, rinses you off and applies detoxifying rhassoul mud to your entire body. She leads you to the shower, which is a good thing, since you are now feeling limp, relaxed and helpless as a baby. maisondesreves.com
Get It: Shea Terra Organics Ghassool Moroccan Lava Clay is a 100 percent natural, preservative-free powder from the Atlas Mountains. Mix a bit of water into your palm with the clay and make a mask that will detoxify congested skin and soften parched hands. sheaterraorganics.com
Italy & Blood Orange
Vitamin C found in regular oranges can help rebuild damaged skin, boost collagen production, and generally leave things brighter. Native to parts of Italy, including Sicily, blood oranges are a smaller, red-hued cousin to the regular kind that get their rich crimson color from the abundance of anthocyanins flavonoids in their skin—which also makes them extra-high in vitamins and antioxidants (according to some, they have more Vitamin C than any other orange in the world.) Italian women have traditionally used blood oranges to help improve skin texture, brighten, and fight signs of aging, and today, you’ll often find them mixed with olive oil to nourish skin even more deeply—and leave you smelling like the fresh, unmistakable scent of Italian sunshine.
Try It: The 80-minute Sicilian Senses treatment at the historic Grand Hotel Timeo in Taormina features several local ingredients, from the volcanic lava in the exfoliant to the choice of Sicilian scents like almond and blood orange. grandhoteltimeo.com
Get It: John Masters Organics’ cult-favorite Blood Orange and Vanilla Body Milk uses the citrus fruit to detoxify skin and help boost collagen production, along with sea algae to hydrate, aloe to heal, and arnica to stimulate circulation. johnmasters.com
Thailand & Ginger
Ginger not only spices things up when used in cooking, it is a natural emollient and has been used by generations of Thai women to tone and soften the skin. In Thailand, and other countries in Southeast Asia, pregnant women massage prai (a form of ginger) into their bellies to prevent stretch marks. It has also been shown to be effective in treating circulatory problems and is a common ingredient in body scrubs in Thailand because it stimulates blood flow, revs up the circulation and warms the body.
Try It: The 150-minute Banyan Toner at Banyan Tree Koh Samui, tucked away in a picturesque little cove in Thailand, features a traditional Thai ginger scrub and massage to help firm and tone the skin, followed by an Anti-Aging or Collagen Facial. banyantree.com/en/samui/
Get It: Origins Ginger Body Scrub features stimulating ginger in a luscious base of macadamia, soybean, kukui nut and sweet almond oils, sunflower seed and calendula oils, with Dead Sea salts and ginger, to exfoliate and moisturize the skin and get the circulation flowing. origins.com
India & Turmeric
You may be most familiar with turmeric in Indian cuisine—it both adds flavor and scent, and gives dishes a golden hue—or maybe you’ve heard about the health benefits of taking the spice in pill form (Dr. Oz is a fan.) Across India, though, generations of women have been turning to turmeric, the healing, antiseptic “spice of life” to tackle an array of skin care issues, from brightening to stretch marks. For an exfoliating, anti-aging scrub, make a paste with turmeric and milk or yogurt, let it dry on the skin, and scrub off with warm water; to help treat acne scars or oil production, combine it with sandalwood or water and lemon juice and use as a mask on affected areas.
Try It: The signature Mewar Khas body treatment at Taj Hotels’ Jiva Spas (including the tented spa at Rambagh Palace in Jaipur) start with an exfoliation done with turmeric, sandalwood, and rice grains, followed by a massage with herbal oils. tajhotels.com
Get It: Pratima Revitalizing Turmeric Cream can be used both as a moisturizer to help hydrate and add radiance, and as a mask to reduce irritation and heal blemishes. pratimaskincare.com
France & Thalassotherapy
While ancient cultures from Rome to Japan sought healing in hot mineral waters, it was the French that took sea bathing to the new levels. Based on the Greek word thalassos, meaning “sea,” thalassotherapy is the therapeutic use of seaweed and seawater to heal the body both inside and out—a method that was officially developed in the 19th century in the coastal town of Brittany, France. Research found that ocean water and seaweed contain the same minerals and trace elements as human blood plasma, and that seaweed is high in these vital elements, which can be easily absorbed through the skin to help eliminate toxins and invigorate the immune, lymph and circulatory systems.
Try it: Back in the 19th century, French thalasso clinics would use local seaweed and ocean water in warm soaks, cold pools, mud baths and steam rooms. Today the basic methods remain the same. Regulations dictate that in order to call a place a “thalassotherapy spa” it must meet certain criteria (it can’t be more than 1,000 meters from the sea, for one), so many of the prime centers are still found along the Brittany coast. The Hotel Royal-Thalasso Barriere, in the historic seaside resort town of La Baule, offers several thalasso-themed packages. lucienbarriere.com
Get It: SeaFlora (sea-flora.com) products are full of organic, locally-sourced mineral-rich seaweed and algae, while the organic seaweed in Osea products like the Sea Mineral Facial Mist comes from Patagonia. oseamalibu.com