Time to Relax
When busy woman Lisa Ratner wants a luxurious spa treatment, she looks no further than her own bathroom. Here, she lights a candle, pours some bath salts in the tub, and soaks away her stress. And while Ratner, 38, a senior business development advisor at Great Place to Work Institute in San Francisco, California, does enjoy the occasional destination spa splurge, she says that a home spa has some distinct advantages: “When you are at home, you don’t have to deal with the stress of having to interact with other people, or driving home afterwards,” she says, recalling one time after a massage when she almost fell asleep at the wheel because she was so relaxed.
Spa treatments can be a creative way for you to decompress and de-stress. But, stress relief isn’t just a nice thing to do for yourself—it’s crucial for your well-being and heart health. A study by the American Psychological Association found that one-third of all Americans live with extreme stress, which can cause fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and loss of sex drive. The study concludes that this kind of stress leads to many health problems, poor relationships, and lost work productivity. Sound familiar?
But sometimes, finding the time and money for a full-on spa treatment can be stressful itself. That’s why people like Ratner turn to home treatments. Creating at-home spa treatments provides similar health-enhancing benefits—such as stress reduction, glowing skin, and increased confidence—while allowing you to have more privacy, save money, and use the chemical-free and natural products of your choosing. “Instead of making a big production out of it,” says Ratner, “A home spa experience fits easily into my schedule.” So pick the time, the place, and the products. All you have to do? Show up for your appointment and turn off the distractions.
At the spa: $75-$200
At home: The options on a spa menu can seem endless. Swedish or Shiatsu? Hot rocks or deep tissue? Don’t worry: a home massage also gives you choices to reap the relaxing benefits of massage therapy, which has been proven to reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate; even if you don’t have a friend to rub you down.
Before your massage, spend a little time preparing: Print out a reflexology or chakra chart, or get your favorite essential oils ready. Start by creating a relaxing ambiance and setting up a towel and a pillow on your bedroom or bathroom floor. Depending on your mood, pick your technique: reflexology, self chakra connection, or traditional.
A reflexology massage involves applying direct pressure on the reflexology points on your feet, hands, and ears. These points correspond to other parts of the body, and when activated, it’s believed they promote healing in those organs and glands.
Or balance your energetic system with a self chakra connection massage, which connects, opens, and enhances the flow of energy in your body by massaging the body’s chakras, or wheels or energy. Starting with your feet, massage each of the seven chakra points, ending at the crown of your head.
Or go the traditional massage route, with or without a partner: Make a puddle of olive oil in the palm of your hand, and then add 3 to 4 drops of your favorite essential oil, blending them together. Work the oil into your skin, starting with your feet and working up towards your heart. When rubbing joints like elbows, move in a circular motion, and when on muscular areas like forearms, press up and down.
Whichever you choose, the mere act of setting time aside can be healing, according to Jennifer Worick, author of Girls’ Night In: Spa Treatments At Home. “Even the simplest thing like pulsing your thumb against your skin can help—and make you feel like you are caring for yourself.”
When choosing an oil, look for products that contain natural, essential oils. Many massage oil formulations contain parabens, PEGs, and synthetic dyes and fragrances. Be sure to read the ingredients lists before buying. Remember, you can always make your own using coconut and olive oils.
Try this: Nature With Love Lavender Essential Oil from Bulgaria; $21, 1 oz;
At the Spa: $65-$100
At home: During a spa exfoliation, you’ll get scrubbed and sloughed by a therapist to get rid of dead cells, stimulate circulation, eliminate toxins, and open up the pores. The result? Healthy looking and glowing skin. The drawback, according to Marilee Tolen, RN, a board certified holistic nurse and owner/founder of HomeSpaLady.com, is that you might not know — or like — the products they are using. Many professional exfoliation scrubs contain plastics (in the form of polyethylene), PEGs, and parabens. You can get the same benefits at home, she says, while also choosing natural products.
For your luxurious at-home exfoliation, she recommends creating your own exfoliating body scrub by mixing coconut oil, sugar, and 3 to 4 drops of your favorite essential oil for a natural, chemical-free product. For minimal mess, get into your empty bathtub, wet a washcloth with very hot water, and dip it into your homemade body scrub. Starting with your face, scrub your skin gently but firmly. Move downward — to the back of your neck, down your arms, trunk, lower abdomen, hips, buttocks, legs, all the way down to the soles of your feet. When you are done, start the bath and wash off. One last exfoliation tip from the experts: the tub will be extra slippery from the scrub— be careful getting out!
Try this: Tropical Traditions Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil; 16 oz; $20; tropicaltraditions.com; Derma E Microdermabrasion Scrub, 2 oz., $32, dermae.net
At the Spa: $65-up
At home: Most high-end spas don’t offer baths, unless they are part of a larger package or they involve a signature of a particular region, such as a hot springs or a cedar enzyme bath. All the more reason to have a bath party at home! When done slowly and with the intention of s-l-o-w-i-n-g d-o-w-n, baths promote circulation, help oxygenate the body, and relax the muscles and the mind, says Tolen.
While many of us conjure up a bubble bath as the image of ultimate relaxation, the truth is that most commercial bubbles use chemical-laden sudsing agents such as sodium laureth sulfate, parabens, and propylene glycol. That’s why the experts turn to natural ingredients. Tolen creates her own bath scrub by mixing together a half cup of olive oil, half cup of fine sea salt, and 10 drops of lavender essential oil in a clean dry jar. You can get creative by choosing your own favorite combinations of scents and salts.
As you run the bath, Worick recommends using a dry brush to buff your skin and get rid of dead cells before getting in. While bathing, place a small amount of your bath scrub in your hand and gently scrub your entire body in a circular motion, spending time focusing on each part of your body. There are really no rules to bathing— but it can’t hurt to lock the door, send the kids away, and let your troubles wash away.
Try this: Calming Bath Salts by Just Natural; 8 oz., $20; justnaturalskincare. com\; Soothing Organic Milk Oat Bath, 9.75 oz., $16, auracacia.com; Joyful Bath Oatsy Floatsie Bath Salts, 10 oz., $17, joyfulbath.com; J.R Watkins Calming Bath Soak in Lavender, 14 oz., $11, jrwatkins.com
Manicure and Pedicure
At the Spa: $65-$120
At home: Your feet are personal. While it’s nice to have someone give you a spa manicure and pedicure, sometimes you don’t feel like making small talk or having someone you don’t know picking at your cuticles. That’s when a home manicure and pedicure can be a welcome treat.
Worick recommends starting by softening up hard calluses and cuticles the night before. “Soften your heels [by putting] castor oil on your heels at night, and then wear socks to bed,” she says. When you wake up, your feet will be pedicure-ready.
Before you start your manicure, get the tools of the trade ready: nail polish remover, cotton balls, nail cutter, nail file, orange stick, almond oil, bowls, pumice, and nail polish. Sitting by the edge of your tub, start by soaking your feet in the bath, or in a bowl of warm soapy water. Give them a good scrub with a mixture of rock salt, olive oil, and tea tree oil—which is a great antiseptic. Pat your feet dry and remove any existing nail polish with remover and a cotton ball. Use nail clippers to cut your nails, and then file to remove any rough edges. Dab sweet almond oil on your orange stick, and gently push back your cuticles. Allow the oil to soak in while you scrub the bottoms of your feet and heels with a pumice stone. Moisturize your feet with your favorite lotion, then apply your nail polish. Don’t forget your topcoat! It makes all nail polish colors shine.
Try this: Butter London’s Baby’s Breath Collection, 4-pack nail polish, $45; butterlondon.com
Nora Isaacs is a freelance health writer in the San Francisco Bay Area.