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Thalassotherapy: Beauty from the Sea

by Gretchen Kelly

The fact that the goddess of love, Aphrodite, was said to have been born out of sea foam was not lost on the Greeks, who knew the beautifying power of the ocean as a sea-girt nation. It is from the Greek that we get the word, thalassotherapy (“thalasso” meaning sea and “therapeia” meaning treatment).  

The term was coined in 1867 in France which has pioneered the dynamic use of marine plants and sea water in health and beauty. The International Federation of Thalassotherapy defines the practice as “simultaneous use, under medical supervision and with a preventive or curative purpose, of the benefits of the marine environment.” Some practitioners also claim that spas doing these treatments should be close to the sea itself. 

Benefits of these treatments include muscle, bone, tendon and ligament healing. Rheumatism and osteoporosis may also be alleviated. Skin conditions, including body fat may be a benefit as well as respiratory issues like asthma. And on top of that, mental health has been proven to be affected. Thalassotherapy can fight fatigue, anxiety, and sleep disorders. Think of how you feel after a day at the beach, your body salty from the sea and your mind and soul cleared by the negative ions of the rolling waves.

“Since I  first started my career as a massage therapist in the early 90's - sea/beach themed spas and treatments where and remain to be popular to this day,” says Marie Watkinson, CEO of Spa Chicks on the Go, a New York City-based mobile spa event company. “I find them especially popular to any spa that is near a coastline and want to tie in to the natural beauty of the beach. Being at the beach has so many touchpoints for people - to invoking their childhood, the feeling of freedom and the ultimate relaxation. It is a natural fit for spa treatments to take a cue from the sea to help people achieve the ultimate relaxation.”

Watkinson says certain elements are common to many of these treatment practices.

“Sea salt is a must for any sea-related service,” she says. “The salts can be used to soften and exfoliate the skin, be used in scalp treatments or included in facials. Salt can also be used as a "salt cave" where you can inhale the salt as amazing treatment for the lungs. You can also look for properties with salt water soaking tubs to salt water pools.”

“Algae/kelp is also another popular ingredient to a sea related service. There are many ways it can be delivered into a treatment - but in most cases it is dried into a powder and then activated with water or oil mix. It can be used in body wraps for its detox properties, added into facial masks (creating your own or using an algea line). “

Currently in the US, Gurney’s Montauk Resort and Seawater Spa is the only outlet for traditional narrowly defined thalassotherapy. The spa is steps away from the ocean and uses a variety of traditional thalassotherapy elements and practices in its menu of offerings.

Their Deep Sea OSEA Undaria Massage for instance, includes OSEA Undaria Algae Body oil or body butter for a 60 to 90 minute session of cranium therapy, serum face massage and seaweed-gel scalp massage.

Gurney’s Sea the Results Vegan Organic Facial combines organic algae used to increase collagen production, plump lines, stimulate tissue and reduce facial tension.

Irish Seaweed Baths: A Green Tradition

While traditional thalassotherapy spas are one way to get the beauty benefits of the sea, the use of seaweed and seaweed baths alone has been a beauty essential for Irish women and their translucent skin for generations. 

Go to any marketplace or organic shop in Ireland and you’ll find bags of brown and green seaweed as well as dried powders from seaweed all used for a variety of uses including culinary inclusions and bathing. The deeply iodized and rich mineral smell of these dried seaweeds are immediately calming: invoking long days at the seaside with a relaxed body and tranquil mind.

Today, the tradition is very much alive with spas across Ireland offering a wide range of seaweed-based therapies. 

Sólás na Mara Wellness Center is situated on the fishing pier of Helvic, An Rinn, looking across Dungarvan Bay to Waterford’s coast. Literally translated as ‘Solace of the Sea’, the center offers seawater and hot and cold seaweed baths, as well as seaweed facials with fresh, Irish seaweed botanics. 

Kilcullens Seaweed Baths in Sligo are a traditional Irish seaweed baths built for that purpose in an Edwardian-era bathhouse built in 1912, the year Titanic sailed out of Belfast. These baths feature hot seaweed and saltwater immersions, which detoxify the body and infuse the system with iodine and a wealth of minerals and antioxidants.

For those who would prefer their seaweed baths at home, Voya, a sleekly modern interpretation of the Irish tradition located in the coastal village of Strandhill in County Sligo offers take home bath products to customers in Ireland and abroad which can give sea-loving spa goers the opportunity to soak in organic Irish bladderwrack and other seaweeds in the privacy of their own home—Spotify wave soundtracks on high rotation.

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