There's something about the ocean, with its vastness, it's power, and it's mystery, that resonates with human nature.
Its a raw, elemental place where life thrives, and it beckons to us in an almost primal way. As it turns out, our connection to this great life source is more than just emotional. For centuries, cultures all over the world have looked to the ocean for its healing properties. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans were all known to use seawater and marine muds for medical purposes, and scientists today are still exploring the full extent of underwater wonders. We might not know all their secrets, but we do know a little more about how and why ocean based treatments are so effective: there's a very real link between humans and the ocean that you only discover when you look at a cellular level. We all know that a large proportion of the human body is made up of water. What you might not realise is that if you took a cup of that water and cup from the sea, the two would be nearly identical in composition.
In fact, the salts and trace elements are so similar that physicians during WWI were known to use seawater for transfusions when their blood supplies ran out. While using seawater intravenously is a still controversial issue (and we’re certainly not suggesting you invest in a syringe), its similarities to our own blood makes it the perfect source for all the minerals we need to keep our bodies in balance - and they’re already in proportions perfectly suited to our needs. Companies around the world are developing ways to harness this, from bottled deep-sea water, to pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, lotions, and creams. Algae is one of the most popular means of harvesting the ocean’s goodness, as it concentrates the vitamins and minerals into an easy-to-process form. Each type of algae, or seaweed, adds its own special nutrients to the mix, making some more effective than others for specific uses.
The beauty industry, in particular, is being taken by storm with the incredible effects of algae-based body and skin treatments. There are a myriad of products for both internal and external use, promising everything from weightloss, to detoxification and anti-aging effects. Of course, we prefer tangible evidence before we make up our minds here at Cirque, so we decided to send one of our own to see what all the hype is about. She chose a detoxifying algaebased body wrap for her investigation, and because anything worth doing is worth doing twice, she visited two of Cape Town’s premier spas, just to be sure. Read on for a detailed account of her spa experiences, and her opinion on the magical powers of seaweed. After my trip to Twelve Apostles I thought I had a decent grasp of what to expect from a body wrap treatment at a high-end spa.
While the basics remained largely the same at the Life Day Spa Cape Town, I was surprised by how different the experience was. Life Day Spa Cape Town, is a relatively recent expansion of the spa group that first opened its doors in Johannesburg. It’s tucked away on the first floor of the Crystal Towers Hotel in Century City - a sparkling multi-storey beacon of luxury in an otherwise fairly commercial area. I arrived for my treatment at 8am, and was surprised by the number of suits striding purposefully through the hotel lobby. It gave the place a decidedly professional feel, and I wondered how the spa would measure up in ambiance. As it turned out, the spa’s modern lines were softened with natural finishes, and while it retained a kind of corporate chic, the corridors and shared spaces were cosy. The changing room was elegantly appointed, with the kind of plush, upholstered furniture that you'd expect in a luxury hotel room. Even the robe that waited for me was beyond fluffy, although the disposable underwear was as flattering as always. After donning both, along with the ubiquitous pair of slippers, I ventured into the waiting area, where I was met by Heather. As we settled into the treatment room and she began to run me through what to expect, I was struck by Heather’s air of business-like competence.
It seemed perfectly suited to the atmosphere of the spa – a professional consultant in a professional environment where beauty was the order of the day. I could picture a busy CEO stopping by for a quick pick-me-up, and feeling totally at ease in the hands of Heather and her colleagues. I was far from uncomfortable myself, as I settled onto the plastic draped bed, underneath warm towels and a comforter, with a glowing colour therapy light above me. I secretly rejoiced to see a shower in the corner of the room, and as a single chime from a pair of tiny cymbals signalled the beginning of the treatment, I closed my eyes to enjoy wrap number two. Just like before, Heather started with a full body exfoliation, once again using a palm-shaped, cactus-bristle brush. This brush had little rubber nodules hiding between the bristles that helped massage as well as exfoliate and stimulate the skin. I'm not sure if it was these nodules, or the thoroughness of their application, but this exfoliation was a lot more vigorous than the last. Don’t let this put you off, though - there was actually something quite satisfying about it. It felt good for me, even if it didn’t quite feel good. After turning me a lovely, tingly shade of pink, Heather brought out a pot of what looked like warm honey.
This is the second preparation step of the Thalgo treatment –an iodine rich, marine-based plasma which acts as a catalyst for the algae. It smelt nothing at all like honey, unfortunately, but at least I wasn't wrong about the temperature – it was hot. As Heather smoothed the silky plasma over my exfoliated skin, I was particularly impressed by the fact that I didn’t need to roll over. By bending my knees and tilting me this way or that, she completed the full-body application with me lying on my back. While aslip-n-slide rotation might be good fora giggle, not needing to do it made the application a more relaxing experience. After being covered in plasma-gel, it was time for the main attraction: Thalgo’s Micronised Marine Algae. It’s a blend of three types of seaweed (Fucus, Laminaria, and Lithothamnion), harvested in the Atlantic Ocean, and micronized (made into a fine powder) to release rich trace elements for deep absorption.
It’s mixed with Thalgo’s potent aromatherapy essential oils and a little warm water, becoming a da rk, greenish paste with a vaguely swampy smell. The application was similar to the plasma – smoothed on warm, by hand – but the algae blend seemed to cool faster, leaving megoosebumpy by the end. I was more thanhappy when it was time to be bundled up warmly; Heather wrapped me very tightly in the clear plastic sheet that draped the bed, and then tucked me in with a space blanket and comforter on top. By this stage I could feel a definite heat coming from my skin, as the combination of plasma and algae began to take effect. The heat is a result of the stimulation of the body’s internal temperature control (thermogenesis), and the feeling was similar to sunburn, but all glow and no pain. Once I was toasty warm, it was time for a little bonus - an acupressure head massage.
If you prefer, you can have a personalised skinanalysis at this point, but I’m a sucker for pampering. After lulling me into deep relaxation, Heather left the room for a few minutes, to allow me to enjoy the peace and quiet while my body absorbed the mineral goodness. When she returned it was time for the dreaded unwrapping, which turned out to be far less uncomfortable than I’d expected. When the blankets were removed, all that was left was the layer of plastic, which peeled off easily enough with Heather’s helping hand. Having a shower in the room made a world of difference, with no skulking like a swamp creature through the corridors of the spa. The algae and plasma had also stayed moist and were a lot easier to rinse of f than they had been before. After a nice hot shower and thorough drying off, Heather returned to give my skin a final moisture kick. She chose to use Mama Mio’s OMega Super-rich body cream, which felt buttery going on, but absorbed quickly to leave my skin smooth, supple and soft. With two delicate chimes from the tiny cymbals, my treatment was complete.
I felt a lot less sleepy after this treatment, but very thirsty again, and I drank more water than usual for hours afterwards. Like before, my skin was soft and beautifully smooth, and I felt energised and ready to face the day.
While this treatment lacked the sense of ritual and indulgence that the Twelve Apostles excelled at, I really enjoyed the thoroughness of the application and the experience as a whole. I left Life Day Spa feeling like I’d done something genuinely good for my body, in more than just a relaxation way. As for Thalgo’s seaweed products: they may not have smelled great, but I could see a visible difference in my skin tone for several days.
Life Day Spa is the perfect place to swing by for an hour or two - you don’t need a whole day to make the most of the experience. If you do want to make a day of it, book the floatation tank before your wrap, and let the mineral salts begin the work that the seaweed will finish. Then, after your wrap, but before your therapist applies moisturiser, take a trip to the steam room to sweat out some toxins. For a really indulgent experience add a full body massage on at the end – it’ll finish things off with pure relaxation bliss.