From sea to shining sea, spas are using local flowers, herbs, and minerals in treatments to help keep complexions bright

Stephanie Rausser
| Credit: Stephanie Rausser

In the ever-expanding universe of spa services, the facial is probably the least luxurious treatment out there. Unlike purely indulgent aromatherapy massages, salt glow scrubs, and hot milk pedicures, facials serve undeniably practical purposes: they rehydrate thirsty skin, slough off flaky dead cells, and dig accumulated grime out of pores.

But a number of spas are incorporating local ingredients—and local folklore—to create sensual facials that are utterly indigenous to the places where they're performed. The Claremont Spa in California wine country uses a mask made from crushed grapes, and another spa in Aspen cleanses skin with a hot towel infused in pine-needle oil. In congested Manhattan, you can have your pores blasted with oxygen. And that's just the beginning. The following 12 facials, offered in spas from Hawaii to North Carolina, are more than a bimonthly chore for the dull-complexioned. They're mini-vacations for all five senses—and for your lackluster skin.

Hawaiian Pohaku Facial Spa Grande, Grand Wailea Resort, Maui, Hawaii; 808/875-1234; $200. The only indigenous element missing from this tropical facial is a hula dancer. The 80-minute treatment starts with cleansing and extractions, followed by a ti-leaf and mud mask, and a hot stone neck-and-shoulder massage. Essential oils made from native flowers—plumeria, tuberose, and gardenia—are smoothed onto the face and neck. In a word: Cowabunga!

Wine Country Journey Claremont Resort & Spa, Berkeley, Calif.; 510/843-3000; body polish and facial, $250. "Our face mask contains crushed seeds from forty-two wine varietals," says spa director Nancy Cauthorn, who teamed up with a manufacturer of body products made from local grapes. "The seeds have natural oils and contain vitamins A and E, which balance all skin types." Skin is first exfoliated and then further refined with a grapeseed paste. Warm towels are applied to different areas of the body and face, followed by either an oil or lotion massage. Alas, the spa doesn't serve wine to drink with the treatment, but "there's a constant red wine aroma," says Cauthorn. "It's very relaxing."

Champagne and Caviar Facial Verabella Skin Therapy, Los Angeles, Calif.; 310/278-4733; $150. Leave it to a Beverly Hills spa to concoct a facial loaded with luxe ingredients. Flat champagne mixed with wheat germ and yeast enzymes is used to exfoliate the skin; then a 30-minute essential-oil massage relieves stress. A threefold caviar treatment (ampoule, creamy mask, and collagen fleece sheet) is applied next, which leaves skin luminous (and doesn't smell the least bit fishy). "Caviar extract is rich in vitamins A, D, B1, and B6," says spa owner Vera Kantor, whose clients include Lisa Kudrow, Candice Bergen, and Michael J. Fox. "It makes your skin look smooth and fresh." The perfect pre-Oscar splurge.

Facial Hydration Plus Paris Spa by Mandara, Las Vegas, Nev.; 702/ 946-3322; $100. "Most visitors here aren't used to the heat and dryness, or the heavy water," says spa director Charlotte Bowdle. "The first thing they want is a facial." The Hydration Plus replenishes moisture-starved travelers with a multi-vitamin pack made from cereal grains. The skin's water level is then boosted a second time by one of four Phyto Skin Care hydrating masks: Oxygenating for combination/oily skin, Nutrivital for dry skin, Harmony for sensitive types, and Revitalizing for mature clients. "It gives you plump skin, replete with moisture. Any fine fatigue lines are alleviated and softened. And it smells divine."

Cleansing Clay Facial Green Valley Spa & Tennis Resort, St. George, Utah; 800/237-1068; $85. "Twenty-eight million years ago, the desert here was under a salty sea," says co-owner Carol Coombs. "When the sea receded, it left huge mineral clay deposits, which were pushed up into these great red cliffs." The clay in the Cleansing Clay Facial is mined from those same cliffs, along with preserved salt crystals. "Native Americans used the clay as soap. It also cools and reduces inflammation," explains Coombs. The brittle clay is painted on over a solvent made from Indian sage, juniper berries, and creosote bush, all harvested nearby. "People come in with ruddy, inflamed cheeks or grayish, coarse skin and walk out with a totally different skin tone," says Coombs. And, we'd imagine, a new appreciation for mud.

Southwestern Botanical Facial Spa at Marriott's Camelback Inn, Scottsdale, Ariz.; 480/948-1700; $115. As your skin absorbs sorrel and nettle—desert plants known to calm and hydrate— you'll almost forget you're in arid Arizona. But the views of nearby Camelback Mountain, seen from the hacienda-style, cactus-filled spa, will remind you. The facial begins with a deep cleansing, followed by a mask to increase circulation, and an enzyme peel that gently removes dead cells. "That prepares the skin for the extraction of any impurities and for a fifteen-minute massage with a cream containing the desert ingredients," says head aesthetician Gloria Roque. "It automatically gives your skin a softer look."

Alpine Herbal Facial Spa Aspen at the Aspen Club, Aspen, Colo.; 970/925-8900; $85. Since spa director Alison Van Doorninck can't slather overzealous skiers with sunblock, she offers the next best thing: a facial that "cleanses, exfoliates, and moisturizes skin that's been exposed to harsh alpine elements." The superhydrating treatment begins with a citrus, tea tree, or lavender cleanser and a cream exfoliant made from crushed almonds and oat bran. An aesthetician removes the cream with a warm, wet towel soaked in a concentrate derived from pine needles. "We wanted the aroma of pine to trigger memories of Aspen's ski runs and snowshoe trails," says Van Doorninck. After a birch-arnica oil massage, a cream mask and second warm towel are applied. Après-ski never felt so good.

Fleurs Facial Kohler Waters Spa, Kohler, Wis.; 920/457-7777; $150. When John Michael Kohler, founder of the eponymous kitchen and bath design company, settled here in 1873, his sisters planted hollyhocks all over the village. Today, the spa's 90-minute Fleurs Facial pays tribute to the family flower power. "You begin by lying on the massage table, facing down toward a ceramic bowl designed by Kohler and inscribed with words like peace, harmony, and tranquillity," says aesthetician Nicole Miller. Steam rises from the bowl, which is filled with hot water, essential oils, and rose petals, to moisten your face while your back is being scrubbed. After you've flipped over for an arm, foot, shoulder, and head massage, as well as a facial cleansing and toning, you'll want to continue the aromatherapy by taking home their special hollyhock lotions, bath oils, and candles.

Algae Derm DNA Facial Urban Retreat Skin Care Center, Houston, Tex.; 713/523-1701; $95. Houston is known for its humidity, pollution, and beauty-conscious Southern belles. The Algae Derm DNA Facial, which incorporates only water-based products, caters to all of the above. "The benefit of the humidity is that our skin stays moist and supple," says owner Francie Willis. "The bad part is that pores get clogged because of oil and sweat." The treatment begins with an exfoliation and a massage; then a lotion containing DNA, zinc, and hyluronic acid is smoothed on. "The acid and DNA bond water inside the skin cells, so sun-damaged skin can start to repair itself," says Willis. Consider it a modern take on the parasol.

Multi-Colored Masquerade Ritz-Carlton Spa, New Orleans, La.; 504/524-1331; $145. Everything in this town revolves around Mardi Gras, even the spa treatments: the Masquerade honors the festival's tradition of elaborate masks and extravagant costume balls. "After a cleansing and massage," says spa director Cecilia Hercik, "we use five different colors of clay to paint a mask on your face. The black clay contains hydrating minerals; green is for oily skin; red is for sensitive skin; yellow treats acne; and white is for sun damage." The colors create an intricate pattern on the face that clients keep as a souvenir (in Polaroid form) long after the facials—and the parties—are over.

Red Wine and Sourwood Honey Tap Facial Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa, Asheville, N.C.; 828/252-2711; $115. "People come here for mountain streams, fresh air, and botanicals," says spa director Ellen McGinnis of the month-old Blue Ridge spa. The treatment, as its name suggests, embraces those elements by combining red wine, which cleanses and exfoliates by means of natural fruit acids, and a mask of local sourwood honey, which tones and firms the complexion. "It tightens the skin unbelievably," says McGinnis of the wine and honey combination. The facial ends with an herbal steam treatment infused with flowers such as lavender, honeysuckle, and night-blooming jasmine, which grow right on the premises.

Oxygen Facial Peninsula Spa, New York, N.Y.; 212/903-3910; $160. "People who smoke, fly a lot, or have dry, tired skin need this," says head aesthetician Cornelia Zicu of her most popular treatment. She has just described her entire clientele, a mixture of Peninsula Hotel guests and Manhattanites who inhale bus fumes or stale office air most of the day. Zicu applies a creamy oxygen mask, spreads a hot towel on top, gets the steam going, and massages the head and neck for 15 minutes. Then she customizes the treatment to her client's skin: oily types receive extractions; dry types get a moisturizing massage. "I'm like a chef; I create things," says Zicu. "No two facials are the same."