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Natural Living

Relax and Refresh

Rejuvenating masks, purifying clays, and healing baths make for the perfect do-it-yourself spa day

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If the stress of overscheduling or the buzz of technology overload has you longing for some quiet time, hang a “do not disturb” sign on the bathroom door and give yourself a spa day-or at least a few hours-right in your own home. Just dim the lights, light a scented candle to set the mood, and get ready to scrub your cares away.

Scrubs are cleansing treatments that exfoliate dead skin and remove impurities. When you exfoliate, you not only improve skin texture, but you stimulate circulation and encourage toxins to escape through your unclogged pores. Body scrubs are usually made with course sugar or sea salt mixed with oil. Rub gently in a circular motion, starting at your feet and moving upward to your neck. Rinse thoroughly in the shower.

Next, turn your attention to your face. A facial is more than just a way to cleanse; it also softens your skin and massages away tension in your forehead, around your eyes and mouth, and along your jaw, which can have a relaxing effect on your entire body. Spa facials generally include a minimum of five steps: cleansing, exfoliating, massage, applying a mask, and moisturizing. And with a minimum of fuss, you can duplicate this process right in your bathroom.

Choose a cleanser that’s suited to your skin type. Apply gently to lift away dead skin, and rinse with warm water. Then begin your massage by tapping your fingers lightly along your forehead. Gently rub your temples in a circular motion, then the tops of your cheekbone, jaw, and chin. Press your fingers up and down the back of your neck and then massage your scalp. Smooth on a mask made with clay or mud to draw out toxins. While the mask sets, it’s time to soak away your stress in a warm bath. Toss in a handful of relaxing bath salts, a capful of moisturizing oils, or a scoop of powdered mud or seaweed to detox.

After 15 minutes in the bath, rinse off the facial mask in the shower. Towel off and seal in the moisture by pressing a few drops of nourishing oil to your face and smoothing a rich lotion over your body. Cuddle up in a warm robe and lie down for 10 minutes to cool off. Take advantage of this quiet time to reflect on how healing relaxation really feels.

The feel-good scent
Looking for that perfect scent to complete your at-home spa day? Our vote goes to lavender. Used to create essential oils, lotions, sprays, and infusions, lavender has been clinically shown to create physiological changes that induce relaxation. One trial, reported in the 2005 annual report of the Cyclotron and Radioisotope Center at Tohoku University in Japan, found that sniffing lavender created positive changes in heart rate and brain function among 10 healthy young women. Lavender has such a pronounced effect on stress and anxiety that other clinical trials suggest that its aroma can reduce the intensity of pain, ease pre-test jitters in graduate students, and alleviate stress-related endothelial dysfunction (a contributor to atherosclerosis) among night-shift workers.

One 12-week Taiwanese study of 67 middle-aged women with insomnia found that those who inhaled lavender essential oil for 20 minutes twice a week experienced significantly better sleep quality than those in a control group. Other studies have found that lavender can help treat depression, respiratory ailments, fever, headache, skin problems, and muscle pain.

The good news is that you needn’t be stressed out or suffer from an anxiety disorder to benefit from a daily dose of lavender. Simply light a lavender-scented candle to help you unwind, or spritz some lavender essential oil on your pillow to help you drift off to dreamland. Soak in a tub with lavender bath salts or lavender essential oil (mix with a carrier oil, such as jojoba or coconut oil, first). Treat yourself to a cup of lavender tea whenever you need a bit of inner nirvana (try Pukka Herbs Love Tea, which contains a blend of organic rose, chamomile, and lavender).

Fill your home with a healing dose of lavender or other essential oils with a diffuser. We like the GreenairSpaVapor Advanced Wellness. This ultrasonic diffuser is extremely quiet and attractive (with rotating LED lights in six soothing colors). The unit’s microfine vapors stay suspended in air for an extended period of time, and its ultrasonic action helps purify the air. It makes a great gift, too.

Feel silky-smooth and squeaky clean with Suki BodyExfoliate Foaming Body Cleanser with Lemongrass + Sugar. Lemongrass oil, sugar, açai oil, and coffee extract work together to exfoliate dry patches, stimulate circulation, and help reduce cellulite. Unlike typical sugar scrubs, the synthetic-free foaming action leaves skin feeling sleek, and the invigorating aroma energizes the senses.

Soak in KneippAlmond Blossom Soft Skin Bath for skin that feels as soft as velvet. Formulated with 94 percent pure almond oil-and rich in essential fatty acids and vitamin E-this concentrated bath essence conditions skin while helping to strengthen its natural protective barrier. Pour one capful into a steamy bath and soak for 15-20 minutes. Emerge smelling of sweet almond blossoms, with a healthy, hydrated glow.

AuromèreHerbomineral Rejuvenating Mud Bath & Mask combines 12 Ayurvedic herbs, four types of clay (each with a specific purifying and nourishing effect), and several trace minerals to help exfoliate, detoxify, and re-mineralize. Use in the bath or shower as a soak or scrub instead of soap to draw out toxins and impurities, or as a deep-conditioning face and body mask.

Purify and balance your complexion with JurliqueIntense Recovery Mask. Green clay helps to absorb impurities and rebalance oils. Green tea, grape seed oil, turmeric, and vitamin C help protect skin from environmental damage. Aloe, carrot root extract, and rose hip oil hydrate skin to rebalance dryness. Vitamins E and A (retinyl palmitate) help soften the appearance of lines and wrinkles.

Sherrie Strausfogel is the author of Hawaii’s Spa Experience: Rejuvenating Secrets of the Islands. Writing about beauty, spas, health, cuisine, and travel, Strausfogel’s work has appeared in more than 100 magazines, newspapers, guidebooks, and websites. She is based in Honolulu.