Special Treatment

Enjoy the unsung heroes of the spa menu especially well-suited for warm weather.
Water Therapy at The Ritz-Carlton, Westchester

Water Therapy

Westchester, N.Y., USA

It may seem obvious that we need more hydration in winter — the slightest drop in temperature and humidity can make skin parched. But using caviar to combat this seasonal skin-care concern may seem like a less-apparent solution. Although they’ve been on beauty counters for more than 20 years, caviar-based skin-care treatments still command a (skeptically) raised eyebrow. And yet that’s exactly what fish roe can do for skin: lift and firm facial features that are depleted of moisture.

Point of difference of the Vichy from regular showers: You take it lying down. And instead of one jet, the Vichy has eight flexible showerheads attached to a pipe that runs the length of the massage table. (No worries; this one is waterproof.) What I love about a Vichy shower is that its medium-pressure blasts hit so many points along my body at the same time — it feels like a massage that’s being given by several therapists simultaneously.

At The Ritz-Carlton, Westchester, an entire treatment room becomes the shower stall. And your therapist arrives in a necessarily modified uniform: shorts, T-shirt, waterproof apron and flip-flops. They get fairly soaked in the process. Your garment? A bathing-suit bottom or the disposables provided. The Ocean Scrub Vichy Rain Therapy, which progresses from scrub to shower and massage, all takes place on the table. It’s a brilliant piece of set: no movement required.

For the body exfoliation, salts scented with ginger, rosemary and cypress herbs (a stellar detox blend) do a fairly intense job of smoothing away dry skin. Next, the therapist turns on the water, and the showerheads jump to life like sprinklers at dawn, spraying warm water down your back and legs. It’s the closest thing to pleasurably being stuck in the rain.

As the therapist massages in the scrub, it turns a bit frothy before it’s whisked away by the drains in the table; and all the while she is torquing the showerheads left and right to cover more ground. Though you barely moved a muscle, after 10 minutes it feels like you’ve been exhaustively rain-therapied. My skin tingled from the circulation jumper-cables effect. Fortunately a 30-minute massage follows, which brings you back down to earth. It uses a nourishing jojoba-based oil to replenish your newly glowing skin, which is essential after a salt-and-water treatment, says spa director Christian Davies. A massage is great for getting the knots out, but because of its pretty singular approach and outsized equipment, the Vichy shower is one of those treatment experiences that make you feel like you’ve really been to a spa.

Derrière Bootcamp at The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach

Derrière Bootcamp

Miami, Fla., USA

I’ve had a lot of facials, but this was the first one I’ve had for my behind. Aptly called Bootcamp for Butts, the new treatment rolling out this summer in the epicenter of Bikini Land targets one of those underserved areas of major concern. (Interestingly, it was created by Mama Mio, a brand known for its pregnancy spa services and skin-care products, which is now branching out to address the concerns the rest of us have.) The Bootcamp promises a smoother, less dimpled and “less wobbly” behind, which I would have thought ridiculous, having tried dozens of treatments that claim something similar. But this one, while not transforming my silhouette into a supermodel’s, definitely improved the status quo of my gluteus maximus. You’ll have to take my word for it.

The treatment includes three main acts: exfoliation two ways, a lymphatic drainage massage and an algae-based firming mask. But I think it was the intense glycolic peel in step one that really made a difference in my skin’s tone and texture. The fruit acids follow a preliminary granular scrub, and they’re applied at a pretty high concentration (30 percent). My therapist literally fanned my behind to calm the par-for-course itchiness that comes with glycolics. It felt a little silly, but I was thrilled by the results — gone were winter’s weird little bumps — instant smoothness. And reintroduced from my 20s was a bit of backside bounce, like when you tap an angel food cake and it springs back. It was divine intervention.

The massage that followed wasn’t meant to relax me. Instead it performed a more pedestrian duty: to bring new lymph fluid to the areas of compression (read: the cellulite-afflicted region) and give the connective tissue here more elasticity. “Fat clumps up and blocks basic circulation of the fine little nerves and capillaries in the area, which is why some cellulite areas can be painful to the touch,” says Ann Marie Cilmi, who trains spa therapists in the method.

Massage can’t trump heredity or hormones, the two main causes of what the French euphemistically coined “orange-peel skin,” but it can improve the appearance of it by a visible percentage. (It’s one of the few things that really can help cellulite, according to medical experts who dignify the topic at all, because it helps soften the rigid connective tissue that’s implicated in the quilting and dimpling.) You just have to do it often, which is why the treatment is sold in a package as well. But because I was noticing benefits right away, I could see why Liliana Grajales, spa director at The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach, called the treatment a confidence builder.

Bootcamp ends with a thick and rubbery algae mask that cools while it lifts and firms. Meanwhile the therapist massages your feet, working the reflexology points that encourage the cellulite to pack up and leave. While I felt conscripted to this bootcamp as a journalist, I found myself wanting to sign up for the reserves: I’ve been using the at-home Bootcamp for Butts kits to keep up the results of my training.

Gold Dust Woman Treatment at The Ritz-Carlton, Cancún

Gold Dust Woman

Cancún, Mexico

Some spa treatments unwind your knots. Others infuse your skin with anti-aging ingredients. In the span of 80 minutes, the Golden Bath Elixir does both — and it goes one step further, sending you out the spa door with a dusting of shimmery golden makeup from head to toe. You could say it has the Midas touch.

“It’s one of those spa treatments that brides immediately zero in on,” says Viorica Coman, spa director at The Ritz-Carlton, Cancún, who adds that it really gives a glow to the skin and illuminates a suntan. (Not that we’re endorsing tanning.) Since the value of this gold doesn’t last for very long, Coman recommends booking the Golden Bath Elixir just before the big event — or an evening out in Cancún.

The beautifying treatment begins with an exfoliating body scrub using ground apricot kernels to gently remove dead skin and even out skin tone, all the better to allow the moisturizing and mineralizing ingredients in the body wrap to penetrate. The scrub-wrap duo typically leaves the skin in such great shape that many treatments end right there. Instead, you and your newly exceptional epidermis continue on your journey to a jetted tub, which is set on the terrace of the treatment room, for the service’s second act.

The terrace bathing area is a private pampering perch. You’re completely hidden from view, but you can easily take in the sounds and views of the ocean. (Try to book your treatment to coincide with the sunset.) The setting makes this stage of the service superbly serene, but this is also where the treatment starts to take a seriously beautifying turn. Into the tub the therapist pours a blend of floral essential oils and fragrance infused with minerals and gold particles, then she slathers on a series of skin-care products while you soak. This gives your face the care and attention that the rest of your skin is getting.

After the soak, you return indoors for a brief massage with more floral essential oils like camellia, which leaves the skin soft and moisturized. For the grand finale, you’re dusted with a dressing-table-size puff — hair, face and body — that’s been dipped in shimmering particles of gold and pearl to make everything shimmer. (Confession: I vetoed the hair, but I can see how the 20-somethings might like it.) Your skin will catch the light, and the eye of every magpie. A fun thing, particularly in summer, when there’s more of it to see.

Anti-Aging Body Treatment at The Ritz-Carlton, Doha

Anti-Aging Body Treatment

Doha, Qatar

There are plenty of anti-aging treatments offered at spas, but about 95 percent of them are for the sun-damaged spots and fine lines on the face. An Anti-Aging Body Treatment offered at The Ritz-Carlton, Doha suggests that skin from the neck down should get the same opportunity. That’s a reasonable enough conceit, considering how much our hands, as well as shoulders, arms and décolleté, are exposed to the sun — and how little time we (OK, I) dedicate to applying antioxidants and anti-agers all over. And while I’m pretty diligent about putting on sunscreen every day now, I wasn’t for the first 30 years of my life.

This treatment is meant for someone like me, confirms Kristin Leib, assistant spa director at The Ritz-Carlton, Doha. “It’s for those who have lost elasticity and firmness and would like to revitalize their skin.” Check. “It helps lighten hyper-pigmentation.” Check. “It reduces fine lines.” Not necessary yet, but it can’t hurt.

To get results, the spa employs what strikes me as a pretty unorthodox practice — it uses products made for the face to do the work usually handed off to body-care products, which typically cost less.

In this case, cost is no object. (That’s Doha for you.) Your body is coated with Natura Bissé powerhouse skin-care products, including the GlycoPeel exfoliant and the anti-aging serum Natura Bissé Inhibit-Dermafill that targets and fills in lines and wrinkles (and retails for about $400 an ounce). Dermafill has been a best-selling Botox-like substitute at department-store counters. I don’t know if I looked any younger for having this off-label use of quality skin care, but my skin looked more even (pinkish-red tones gone; chicken skin on the back of my arms less chicken-like) and the glycolic gave it a supple smoothness that I’d like to hold onto. Plus I like the idea that a creamy topical emulsion, instead of a needle, is working hard to forestall my wrinkling.

In between these two stages are a marine algae body wrap, which has the pull-push action of drawing out impurities while infusing and firming the skin with nourishing vitamins and minerals, and a walk-to shower (it’s not in the treatment room). The treatment ends with a short, light massage using a firming cream. (You’re getting the firming theme?)

“Most guests see immediate results of the treatment, with firmer skin and reduced fine lines in a matter of an hour,” says Leib, who cautions them to refrain from direct sunlight right away and to layer on the SPF, since newly revealed skin is susceptible to burning and, of course, sun damage. No worries on my part. From now on I’m coating myself in my face cream.