SLOUGHING IT OFF: The Latest in Skin Detoxification

SLOUGHING IT OFF: The Latest in Skin Detoxification

Ever since Cleopatra slapped some Nile mud on herself and then stepped into a steaming bath, people have been trying to detoxify their precious skin.

The bad news for 1995: Our body's largest organ, the skin, faces a ton more problems, like chemicals, pollution and stress, than did Egypt's queen. The good news: There's a legion of help out there -- and you don't have to be royal to get it.

At the stylish Peninsula Hotel in New York City, the skin "angel" is Halina, a transplanted Polish beauty who was once a physical therapist. To start you off, Halina points you toward a cloudy, wet steam room so that your skin's pores can open. Then you are ushered into a stark white cubicle where a heated table awaits. Face down you lie as Halina slathers on a treated oil to bring toxins to the surface of your skin. Then she massages you until you relax and nearly feel sleepy. Suddenly, she starts applying a cold seaweed concoction designed to draw out more toxins and replenish necessary trace elements. You are then wrapped like a modern mummy and left under the heated wrap while the seaweed does its thing.

A good half-hour goes by, but who notices? Your whole body is tingling. Halina unwraps you and sends you off to a glass-enclosed shower where all the green goo is washed off. After a moisturizing body rub, your skin looks clean and healthy. You sip lemon water and off you go, to again battle the elements.

Salt Of The Earth

Diane Trieste, the Massage Administrator at the Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, outlined a varied program to attack toxins. One process is the salt scrub, which has been given in European spas for years but is now gaining favor in the United States. The salt has a high mineral content and is imported from Hungarian lakes, Diane says. It is crystallized to a fine consistency and then rubbed on the skin with loofah pads to force toxins to the surface, exfoliating them.

Another product from those same lakes, according to Diane, is Moor mud, an organic substance containing algae and plant residues that really detoxify the skin. The mud is painted on with a brush and the body wrapped in dry linen strips. Heat lamps are turned on to give a thermal effect and you are left basking in your mud as an imagery tape works on your spirit. After 20 minutes or so, you shower off the mud and a thermal lotion with-softening minerals is massaged into a spanking-clean epidermis.

If you're into simplicity, Canyon offers a detoxifying herbal wrap comprised of linen strips steeped in herbs, six of which are medicinal and three, aromatic. After being wrapped, the skin sweats out toxins, such as those caused by caffeine, smoking, sweets and colds and congestion.

Kathie Swift, Canyons Director of Nutrition at the Lenox, Massachusetts facility, says that skin cells are constantly changing and thus need nourishment through good nutrition. She encourages everyone to move toward a plant-centered diet to enhance health and prevent a need for detoxification. That means more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and less fat.

To promote skin health, Kathie suggests hydrating the skin constantly and drinking a lot of water. "Cut down on coffee, tea, and caffeine beverages," warns Kathie. Antioxidants, such as vitamins C, E and beta-carotene, are also beneficial as detoxifiers. The minerals selenium, zinc, iron, and vitamin A also help skin integrity, but the key is balance.

Sweating is Good

Our bodies have four systems to facilitate detoxification: lungs, digestive and urinary tracts, and the skin. Paul Rizzo, a vitamin therapist with a thriving practice in Manhattan, says allowing the skin to sweat and breathe freely by steaming, exercise and nutrition can greatly assist detoxification.

"When we sweat we are burning up our electrolytes which must be replaced," Paul says, suggesting carrot and celery juice or fresh green vegetable salads as healthy ways. He also mentions commercial electrolyte drinks on the market. "We can steam the body with herbs such as red clover, burdock, dandelion and comfrey root," he adds. Tying the herbs in a bag and tossing them into bath water is one way of utilizing them; making tea is another.

Speaking of baths, a London naturopath has one rather spicy remedy. Dr. Shyam Singha has created a mustard bath blended with herbal oils such as eucalyptus, rosemary, wintergreen and thyme. The mustard increases circulation and the combo opens pores, stimulates sweat glands and helps the poor beleaguered body rid itself of toxins. Way beyond the age-old mustard plaster, Dr. Singhas aromatic bath formula has been used in private clinics in Britain for over 35 years.

Native Wisdom

In southern Utah, not far from the Grand Canyon, the Green Valley Spa offers a Native America Awareness Program which promotes the health and well-being of people in balance with the planet. The program is authentically coordinated by Gwen Moon, whose Chippewa name is Eagle Shadow. Her medicine includes stones and crystals which are used to release emotional blockage and access the higher mind.

For skin detoxification, Gwen uses the Butterfly Wrap and her version of the Indian sweat lodge ceremony. According to Carole Coombs, owner of the Green Valley Spa, steaming towels are immersed in herbs and natural botanicals gathered from the flowers and plants in the nearby desert. The alkaline soil of the area is especially good for detoxifying the skin. The herbs include sage, creosote and juniper berries and are only used once to insure effectiveness.

"Gwen Moon wraps you in a cocoon of warmth with all these wild smells, while she sings beautiful Indian chants and drums," Carole says. "Your mind flies away on a journey while the herbs pull toxic chemicals and excess fluids out of the skin."

When you emerge from the cocoon, or chrysalis, and enter a cooling shower, your Native American guide Gwen proclaims, "Now you are a butterfly."

Scents & Sensibility

Another way to rid the body and skin of toxins is through the sense of smell, the most sensitive, dynamic and efficient system we own. Impulses are carried from receptor cells in the nose directly to the brain. Aromatherapy works by correcting imbalances, but a practitioner should be contacted to find the correct essence to use as an inhalant, in oil for massage, or in your bath.

Clinics and spas use aromatherapy throughout" their treatment rooms as a relaxant and spirit-booster. Some of the more agreeable scents are lavender, chamomile, nutmeg, ginger, mint and rosemary. The skin, in particular, is calmed by the oils of almond, comfrey, aloe, rose hips, olive and orange blossom.

The roots of aromatherapy can be traced back to the early Egyptians, whose clay tablets, dating from 1800 B.C. and used to order essential oils of myrrh and cypress, were found in Babylon. The Romans, who loved their baths, would rub oils lavishly into their skin before and after bathing, and brought that knowledge to Britain. During the Great Plague of the Middle Ages, people wore pomanders steeped in essential oils and churches were fumigated with frankincense and pepper. Up until the 19th century, physicians would carry little vials containing aromatic oils on their walking canes in the belief this would protect them from contagious diseases.

Today, aromatherapy is a simple, inexpensive way to relax, stimulate the skin and feel good.

Let's Face It

Although the average skin is a very large area -- about two square yards for a typical person -- most often what other people look at is the face. That's why your face should be treated very gingerly and is the most important area for detoxification.

For the past 27 years, the Mario Badescu Salon on Manhattan's east side has been treating and saving the faces of famous people like Cher, Martha Stewart and Cindy Crawford. But the average person gets the exact same treatment, according to the amiable Mr. Benino from Czechoslovakia.

"Every day we start the blenders and put in strawberries, bananas, avocados and cucumbers," he says, referring to the creams and masques the salon produces. Soon, Christine, a Romanian skin therapist, joins us, and we go back to the cubicles where a diagnosis is made. Then Chris applies a cleanser made of chamomile, massages my face and head, and applies shiatsu pressure points. All these, she explains in a conspiratorial whisper, aid detoxification.

The room is darkened and a steam machine turned on as the worrisome pores open. In about 20 minutes Chris returns and begins applying the wonderful fruit masque. As it hardens, amidst the chugging steam, all one can think of is dessert. Soon Chris is back and removes the masque with yet another scent, cucumber. Then a pore cleaning and a moisturizing lotion enriched with vitamin E is applied.

A glowing face met Mr. Benino who seemed pleased by the results but warned, "Do as little as possible to the skin. Just keep it clean and it will heal itself." He then returned to the fruit blenders.

Article copyright Island Publishing Company, Inc.

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By Margaret Mary McGovern

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