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Massage Today
July, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 07

The Sixth Element: Aesthetics

By Robin Zill, LMT

The 10 Elements of the Spa Experience are designed to teach the consumer and professional about the integrated nature of the spa experience. This is the seventh article in a 12-part series and focuses on the sixth of the 10 elements: Aesthetics.

My father took down some bottles from the fireplace and mixed several liquids in a bowl.

He then made a compress by folding a small piece of flannel, soaked it in the liquid and placed it on the man's side. Within half an hour the pains had gone and his face was no longer screwed up out of all recognition as it had been. Gripping the table in my excitement I couldn't take my eyes off him: it was a miracle!

"Papa, did you do that?"

" Mon cheri, he who causes the plants to grow is the one who did it."

-- Of Men and Plants, by Maurice Message

The sixth element, aesthetics, relates to our concept of beauty and how botanical and natural agents relate to the biochemical components of the body. Beauty is the essence behind the sixth element of the spa experience. What is more important than feeling beautiful and enjoying beauty in your surroundings? After all, your environment and the people close to you reflect who you are.

I'm writing this article late on Memorial Day. I just left the hospital with the news that my mother will need hospice care this week. This may not seem "spa significant," and yet it is what the spa industry embraces: optimal health and enhanced quality of life, wherever you may be on the human health continuum.

During a health crisis of my own, when I wasn't feeling particularly perky, I walked into my house and looked at my favorite tree. I felt nothing for its beauty. I told myself, "Remember how you are observing the world today... you are not seeing or feeling beautiful. This is what you see when you are sick, fatigued, or depressed." I am reminded that helping people feel beautiful is helping people see beauty ? not just in the mirror, but also in the world around them - and deep within. So what does this search for inner and outer beauty mean for the massage therapist? It means embracing beauty by using the skin as a metaphor and tool for enhancing well-being. When you pay attention to aesthetics in the spa experience, you can initiate the hidden journey of transformation, by which inner beauty is reflected in the outer glow of our external persona. We can help change how our clients see and feel things.

As I look back at my introduction to the spa experience, some of my most important mentors came from the skin care and beauty industry: Erica Miller; Mikki Guntta; Lydia Sarfati; Barbara Solomon; Kirsten Florian; Pratima Rachir; and many others. Anyone who studies the skin knows of the connection between the microcosm and the macrocosm of our living universe embodied in our largest organ. The emphasis on healthy skin is a contemporary cultural movement. Our epidermis is the major organ of the body, connecting our internal biology to the external environment. It is also a reflection of our lifestyle and well-being. Although the primary focus for a massage therapist is the relaxation of muscles, you have to touch the skin to get to the muscle.

According to Melanie Schmidt, ISPA board member and vice president of spa development and education at Decléor, massage therapists today are not even minimally trained in basic skin care. Whether or not massage therapists choose to train in aesthetics, they need to appreciate the importance of the products they use on the skin. From massage oils, creams and essential oils, to the latest wrinkle or reducing agent, it is important to remember that for every action on the skin, there is a reaction. For example, it is important to understand that the only proven ingredient to absorb into the skin is an essential oil, because it is a gas molecule. Essential oils are attracted to natural lipids in the skin, which are attracted to the sebaceous glands. These ingredients communicate to active cells in the body and the body sends messages back to the skin. Balancing the body is a goal, because there is so much communication between skin cells. If a body environment is polluted, cells are not very responsive. Put the skin cells in a spa environment, and they can detox, cleanse and regenerate. Imagine how much more effective such an enhanced massage treatment can be.

Because of its influence on our inner beauty, our outer beauty, and our connection to the environment, the skin serves as a good case study of what the 10 elements of the spa experience encourage in terms of a next-century professional. Current statistics suggest that the average person makes eight career changes in a lifetime. Imagine if this switching had focus with inner reward and financial gain. That is why crosstraining in aesthetics, massage and cosmetology is excellent for the spa therapist. It is the perfect example of how one can maximize client retention by providing more services to your current client base, while at the same time providing a marketing edge over the competition. Whether you are applying for a prestigious job at a recognized spa or in business for yourself, massaging the skin with an intention of beauty behind your stroke will give both you and your clients an evolved treatment.

Just as in massage, guidelines vary greatly in the aesthetic training continuum, from a few hundred hours in some states to the high standards of CIDESCO (Comité International d'Esthétique et de Cosmétologie), which requires students to undergo 1,200 hours of training in practical and theoretical work in a registered CIDESCO school. State guidelines also vary greatly in professional scope. In this quickly expanding market, this poses a problem, since skin care and beauty technology are taking the market by storm. This is what I suggest.

  • First, check your regional and state guidelines.
  • Second, be aware of restrictions regarding facials. In most states massage therapists can touch the face but they cannot legally diagnose the skin or perform extractions. The new aesthetics organization, EMDA as well as ISPA, is helping to address the need for new standards. As the skin care industry booms, new products and protocols are bombarding us and some can be very dangerous if not performed correctly.
  • Third, I ask for your personal honor and integrity. Until better standards are set and guidelines defined, it is your word to stay within your area of expertise and get the training you need to do the work you want.

So in the end, what does it mean to be beautiful? I asked my children this question and it stopped them cold. For my 14-year-old daughter Aubrey, it was a Duke basketball player. For my son Hart it was a "special smile that makes me smile back." True beauty is contagious.

What do you think? Join the Great Spa Conversation at Your voice is important.

Click here for previous articles by Robin Zill, LMT.


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