From testing out the new 'waxing institution' in Hong Kong to exploring treatments tailor-made to an individual's Chinese zodiac sign, we've let ourselves be pruned, poked, prodded and even put through gym sessions in order to bring you four of our favourite spa treatments this year. Here's to a pampered life.
Relax and Wax
The fear of pain and embarrassment are no longer legitimate excuses for wax virgins. STRIP: The Ministry of Waxing has arrived in Hong Kong and is promising to 'save virgin forests one Brazilian wax at a time'.
'The whole philosophy of STRIP is to make waxing fun, relatable and quirky to the traditionally conservative Asian market,' says STRIP founder Cynthia Chua. 'It's no longer hush-hush. It has become a culture, and people can talk about it.'
STRIP is meant to be a hip, welcoming place and, with its funky urban decor, colourful products and friendly staff, it's not surprising that the resident 'waxpert' has conducted some two million 'prunings' worldwide.
Too many spas claim to offer the most pain-free wax in town only to subject people to excruciating experiences - here is one that delivers on that promise.
The first step was a short trip to the bathroom where a bidet is available for what Chua calls a 'wash and blow dry'. Then your therapist hands you your 'individual hygiene pack', which contains everything you'll need for the treatment, including a pH-balanced wipe, 20 spatulas, gloves and a face mask.
As the therapist goes to work, wearing a tag that says 'I don't double dip' - i.e. reuse the spatulas - you can choose one of STRIP's squeeze toys, which include a koala, the shop's orangutan mascot, a bear, a rabbit and a pig sporting green sunglasses.
As it turned out, the stuffed companion was unnecessary. Not only was the treatment painless but, what with the toys, upbeat music, professional therapist and aromatic berry chocolate wax, the process was quite enjoyable.
Chua says the wax, specially formulated by STRIP, is especially pliable so that it won't break easily, cracking the hair with it. The wax shrink-wraps each hair strand but does not stick to the skin, which means that while it can remove hair as short as 1mm, there is minimal skin tugging.
Chua says STRIP also offers post-wax kits 'so that people can enjoy the best post-wax care we have'.
The kit includes a squeeze toy, a loofah, a small container of STRIP's soothing 'Ice Cream' as well as 'X'ed Out Cream', which prevents ingrown hair and treats irritation.
The Spa at the Four Seasons Hotel offers an escape for those who want to take a breather from the stresses of city life.
The Amazon-inspired Rainforest Experience is not only 150 minutes of muscle-melting bliss. Spa director Helen Greene says it also 'relieves the effects of today's lifestyle on our faces and bodies, and supports an endangered place and a way of life'.
The ingredients used in the treatment are farmed by the Kayapo tribe from the Amazon forest. They include the cell-wall-rejuvenating Pfaffia ('the Amazon's ginseng'), white lily, acmella ('nature's Botox') and marapuama, which helps with cellular healing. It begins with a full-body exfoliation on a heated marble table, where a Himalayan salt and cinnamon bark scrub smooths even the roughest calluses. Then the therapist prepares the mud, a mineral-rich clay farmed by many Amazonian tribes for special rituals, applying it on your skin in the form of ancient symbols that represent the sun, water and earth.
'The special techniques used in the treatment are passed down by generations of the Kayapo tribe,' Greene says. 'These ancient healing techniques offer guests a feeling of protection.'
After the mud has done its job, the therapist turns on the Vichy shower above the table. This usually lulls the client to sleep, especially with an Amazonian elixir mist and a back, neck and shoulder massage on the treatment. The final Rejuvenating Rainforest Facial tops off the treatment. 'The experience takes guests on a restorative journey guided by the enduring spirit of the Amazon,' Greene says. 'I would recommend the treatment to everyone.'
If the Year of the Tiger has been less than satisfactory, the Langham Place Hotel is offering a range of treatments custom-made to counter the negative qualities and play up the positive ones of each of the 12 Chinese zodiac signs.
'Since the hotel's Chuan Spa is inspired by traditional Chinese medicine philosophy, we thought it would be fun to link Chinese zodiac signs to [our new treatments],' says Katie Malone, director of communications at Langham Place, Mong Kok.
'It has been far more popular than we expected. We've had a huge number of people calling up to find out more about their sign and that of their loved ones, with many trying the treatment.'
An expert in Chinese astrology provided Chuan Spa with information on the 12 signs. The spa's Chinese medicine doctor then matched key areas of each sign with certain treatments. The resulting treatments are tailor-made to the qi, wu xing (five elements) and yin and yang energies of each zodiac sign.
Most of the 90-minute treatments are split into two parts: a facial and a massage, for example, or a massage and a scrub. The treatments can be split into as many as four parts, and some include a personal training session.
'Some people do try to sneak out of the personal training sessions,' Malone says, laughing. 'We have about 20 per cent of our guests look through the list of treatments and pick another sign that they prefer the treatment for.'
Those who might be discouraged by the thought of having to work out prior to a massage should realise that the session only takes 30 minutes and is guided by a trainer who manages to put you through a warm-up, cardio and strength exercises.
Not only do you feel healthy and slightly superior to the people who opted for a treatment offering a facial instead, but the massage afterwards somehow feels much more soothing and well-deserved.
The promotion will be available until next February when the Year of the Tiger ends.
Aromatherapy and Chinese Elements
The Mira Massage is another option for those interested in combining aromatherapy and the Five Elements philosophy while doing their bit for the environment.
'The Mira Massage is by far our most popular treatment each month,' says Tracy Michelle Lord, director of MiraSpa.
'It is for clients who are looking for the ultimate in physical and mental relaxation and it is particularly popular with overseas clients who are interested in the Five Elements philosophy.'
The treatment begins with a consultation with your therapist who chooses two elemental oils best suited to you. They include wood for rejuvenation, fire for zest, earth for balance, metal to detox and water to soothe. You're then asked to choose the oil that attracts you most with its fragrance.
'This selection process allows us to customise the experience according to each guest's emotional state so that the treatment has a holistic effect,' Lord says. 'The treatment was designed in collaboration with our product house Elemental Herbology, and founder Kristy Goodger has 10 years of hands-on experience and knowledge of herbal medicine and Oriental physiology and pathology.'
The treatment uses biodynamic aromatherapy, which means that the plants and oils were harvested without the use of chemicals on soils and vegetation.
You can choose 60- or 90-minute sessions in which your therapist blends Eastern and Western massage, and sports therapy for a treatment that 'benefits you even after you leave the spa'.