A Day at the Spa--at Home

Recently a magazine article featuring classy -- and expensive -- spas caught my attention. I immediately began daydreaming about massages with scented oils, long soaks in a hot tub, being pampered with perfumed lotions and creams, special foods and personal attention. I was soon green with envy of those lucky women fortunate enough to be able to enjoy such luxury. I certainly couldn't afford the hundreds (often thousands) of dollars charged for such an experience.

As an advocate of a simple and thrifty lifestyle, I soon began thinking about how I could duplicate the event at home. Whenever I think of a spa, one of the first things that comes to my mind is water. Well, I have water. Luxurious lotions and bubbly bath salts? Those can be expensive, too, so I began to research options.

Helpful Resources

The public library and the Internet were valuable sources of information on herbs and for recipes for homemade cosmetics and grooming aids. Two of the sources that I found most helpful were "The Bathroom" section of The Country Store by Stephanie Donaldson (Anness Publishing Limited 1996) and The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants by Andrew Chevallier (DK Publishing Inc. 1996).

Websites that I found useful:

http://www.pathtofreedom.com/directoryfive_ie.htm
http://www.free-makeup-samples.com/beautyrecipes.html

NOTE: Always test your home-made cosmetics for allergic reactions by placing a small amount on your inner arm and waiting 24 hours. Do not use if you have an adverse reaction, such as itching or a rash.

Many of these recipes use common ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry. Others are more complicated and use beeswax (or other wax) and essential oils. If you really want to get involved, a scale for accurate measurements and pretty colored glass bottles for storing your herbal products are helpful.

Some may think this is more like work than simplification, but the fragrant activity of processing herbals into beauty and grooming aids can, in itself, be relaxing and therapeutic. If making your own products doesn't appeal to you, there are many store-bought items available in a wide range of prices.

Beauty and Grooming Aids from the Garden

If you grow your own herbal plants, they can be used fresh or dried for later use. I found that many of the herbs in my garden could be used in lotions, masks and bath aids. I began to experiment with mixing my herbs until I found pleasing and effective combinations. I knew that calendula is good for the skin. I learned that rosemary is said to eliminate mental fatigue and that mint is good for easing tension.

Recipes for Bath Aids

Rose water is a gentle cleanser and toner which may also be used as an after-shampoo rinse. It is simple to make. Use only fresh rose petals that have not been sprayed with pesticides. Simmer gently in just enough water to cover the petals. Cool, strain and bottle.

For an aromatic body scrub, combine equal parts of finely ground almonds and oatmeal, a few rose petals, and a couple drops of your favorite essential oil. This can be made with just a few tablespoons of each main ingredient for a single use, or you can make a larger batch and store it in a pretty bottle or large shell.

Herbal bath tea bags are muslin bags of combinations of herbs that are hung under the hot water faucet in the tub to release their fragrance. (Coffee filters may be substituted for muslin.) Two of my favorite combinations are lavender/chamomile and rosemary/mint.

My Spa Day Experience

I chose a day when I'd be alone and I even turned off the ringer on the phone. My attitude was, "This is my day and I'm going to make sure I'm not interrupted."

I started out by doing a few stretching exercises, then had a healthy breakfast of fresh fruit -- peaches, grapes and honeydew melon -- with a small bowl of instant oatmeal and a cup of chamomile tea.

I then spent an hour giving myself a professional-style manicure and pedicure. While I soaked my nails in a soapy solution, I listened to my favorite music and concentrated on just relaxing. Surprisingly, I didn't find this easy at all. I'm used to being "on the go" and I kept wanting to get up and do something or at least add a few items to my to-do list. I had to force myself to let go of my pressing timetable and soon I was enjoying my "down time." I also used this time to massage my hands and feet, using lots of body lotion. I was feeling pampered already!

Next I gave myself a facial using the homemade recipes I'd found. I made a simple scrub by mixing oatmeal with a little water and washed my face gently with this paste. Then I pureed half a cucumber with a tablespoon of plain yogurt and applied this to my face. I laid down and rested as it dried, then rinsed it off with a damp face cloth.

More gentle exercise before my lunch of soup and a tuna sandwich, and then it was time to pay attention to my hair. I applied mayonnaise and wrapped my hair in a warm towel. The mayonnaise was an old beauty aid that I remembered from my teen-age years. The oil and the egg in mayonnaise are great for hair. After half an hour or so, I rinsed my hair well with warm water.

Then I enjoyed the luxuriousness of a long soak in a tub of fragrant water. I chose to use fresh rosemary from my garden and placed several sprigs in a coffee filter. I tied this to the tub's faucet and ran just hot water over it to release the essential oils. Then I added cool water to adjust the temperature. A little vinegar and olive oil provided my skin treatment. [The tub needed a little extra cleaning when I finished, but it was well worth it.] More relaxing music, scented candles, and my favorite beverage nearby all contributed to the mood I wanted to create. I lost track of the time I spent in the tub, but it was long enough that I needed to run more hot water several times and long enough to relax my body completely.

After using a pumice stone to smooth the rough skin on my feet, knees and elbows, I shampooed my hair and rinsed it with rose water. As the tub drained, I rinsed off under the shower, then slowly and gently patted myself dry.

I rested for half an hour or so with my feet elevated and wet tea bags over my eyes, then applied make-up and styled my hair. I felt relaxed and pretty and pampered -- I'd done it all by myself and it didn't cost a penny!

Some Suggestions for an At-Home Spa Day

Choosing a day for your at-home spa day is important. A whole day alone is not always feasible, but you should try to have a large as possible block of time to devote to pampering yourself.

Mothers with young children could baby-sit for each other -- perhaps one of a group of mothers could watch all the children while the others enjoy their at-home spa day.

Although solitude can be a precious gift to oneself, sometimes sharing the spa experience can be advantageous, too. With a friend, you can trade manicures, pedicures and massage, and exercise is always more fun with a partner to encourage your efforts. Even alone, though, you can give yourself a partial massage -- feet, shoulders, scalp, hands (good with manicure) -- any place on your body that you can comfortably reach.

On the morning of your spa day, have a light but nourishing breakfast, such as fresh fruit and a whole-grain cereal. For lunch, a hearty bowl of soup with multi-grain crackers or a tossed salad, depending on the weather.

Prepare food in advance -- have fruits cleaned, peeled if necessary, cut up and placed in attractive bowls in the refrigerator. Presentation is important even if you are both the presenter and the presentee! Make the foods that are comforting and tasteful to you, but keep them light and nutritious. No junk food or processed food today.

Exercise is part of the spa experience, but I suggest gentle exercise, not strenuous aerobics. Stretching is good, also an exercise bike or a treadmill if kept at a moderate pace. The goal is relaxation, not stimulation.

Results

The results of your home spa day will be shining hair, soft smooth skin, and a relaxed calmness. Try to keep your serene mood throughout the evening hours. Perhaps a candlelit supper with special table settings would continue the relaxed tone. The final aim is to be physically refreshed, mentally revived, and spiritually renewed.

2002 Marie DisBrow

[This article first appeared in the September 2002 issue of Simple Joy.]