Spa gazing

Kate O'Brien

TODAY'S SPA-SAVVY CLIENTS want more from their treatment than soft skin. They also want results.

As medicine continues to influence skincare, and dermatologists and plastic surgeons work with spa therapists, there are more treatments on offer.

Many of these techniques are based on Asian traditions, revived with a contemporary twist. But although they often sound exotic and enticing, what do they actually do?

Here's a rundown of what can be expected at day spas:

Indian head massage

Based on the ayurvedic healing system, the Indian head massage (or champi) has been used for centuries to ease headaches, muscle tension, eye strain and stiff necks. It remains popular, especially among Indian women, who believe that a regular head massage with natural vegetable oils keeps their hair shiny and strong.

Traditional Indian head massage combines physical massage with the more subtle form of chakra or energy centre balancing. With a firm but gentle rhythm, the massage helps unknot blockages, relieve tension and rebalance the body's energy. Advocates swear that just 30 minutes is all that's needed to calm the mind. But the real beauty of the technique rests in its simplicity. It can be done anywhere, as long as there's a comfortable chair and a willing pair of healing hands.

Available at: Body Conscious, Elemis Day Spa, Ellespa, Q-Yoga.


Les McClure, a shiatsu therapist and acupuncturist at Q-Yoga in Central, defines this ancient healing art as 'acupuncture without the needles'.

Originally developed in Japan, shiatsu is a marriage between Chinese acupressure and western massage techniques and uses a variety of hands-on movements, including holding, pressing (with palms, thumbs, elbows, knees and feet) and, when appropriate, rotations and stretches to improve the flow of chi or vital energy through the body.

Although based on massage, the big difference is that, by manipulating the body's acu-points, shiatsu works on the whole energy system rather than specific areas. The therapy is tailored to individual problems such as back pain, migraine, neck and whiplash injuries, menstrual issues, sports injuries, rheumatic, arthritic and asthmatic problems.

Available at: Body Conscious and Q-Yoga


When chi is disrupted, the acupuncturist's job is to nudge it back to equilibrium by inserting needles at specific points along the meridians (or acupuncture points), as well as pulsing the body with a low electric current to free blocked energy.

Although western scientists remain sceptical about how acupuncture works, they know that, in certain situations, it produces measurable changes in the brain.

Acupuncture gained official worldwide recognition in 1979 when the World Health Organisation issued a list of health conditions appropriate for the treatment, including stress, headaches and migraines, female fertility, pregnancy-induced nausea, menstrual cramps, morning sickness, constipation, ulcers, tennis elbow, insomnia and general muscle pain. Unlike drugs and surgery, it has virtually no side effects.

Available at: Q-Yoga


Moxa is a dried form of a herb commonly known as mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris). The most common form used is the moxa stick, a compressed moxa leaf resembling a mini cigar. It's lit and held above the skin to warm the acupuncture points and activate energy channels. Moxabustion can be used alone or with acupuncture or acupressure massage to relieve muscular problems, sports injuries and some stress-related complaints.

Available at: Body Conscious

Ear candling

Ear candling - or coning - is a simple therapy that cleanses the ear canal and sinus passages to remove blockages and help relieve headaches, tinnitus, migraines, ear infections, chronic sinusitis and inner ear pressure.

The client lies on their side and a lit candle is gently inserted into the ear, supposedly creating a vacuum that draws out wax and fungal deposits. The 30-minute procedure is painless and relaxing. For many people, two to three sessions are enough to get the ears clean.

Available at: Body Conscious, Ellespa and Frederique

Cranio-sacral therapy (CST)

Lawrence Brown, a shiatsu and cranio- sacral therapist, describes CST as 'a gentle hands-on method of enhancing the functioning of the body's cranio-sacral system, which comprises the membranes and cerebro-spinal fluid that surround the brain and spinal cord'.

By manipulating the central nervous system, CST is designed to improve overall health, as well as treat medical problems from chronic neck and back pain to migraines, scoliosis, and post-surgical problems in adults. It's also used on people with post-birth traumas, or children with colic or learning difficulties. The response to the therapy varies, as will the number of sessions required, from just one to as many as three a week for several weeks.

Available at: Body Conscious and Q-Yoga

AromaSpa ocean wrap

'Ocean algae are the richest natural source of many minerals, trace elements and rare earth elements,' says Vicky Neal, training manager for the Paua group in Hong Kong. Seaweed has traditionally been used to treat a range of ailments, including constipation, rheumatism and fluid retention, but it was through research carried out in the French coastal resort of Brittany (where an abnormally high percentage of older people who swim daily in the algae-rich sea appear to be mostly free from arthritis) that the benefits were realised.

Combining sea plants with aromatherapy, the AromaSpa ocean wrap therapy helps relieve arthritic and rheumatic pain, while detoxifying the body.

Available at: Elemis Day Spa and Pure Spa has seaweed-based therapies.

Facial therapy

So called cosmeceuticals are one of the fastest growing areas of skincare. Bridging the gap between cosmetics and drugs, these medically endorsed products are said to penetrate the skin's epidermis more deeply to repair skin damage and - working with specifically designed facial treatments - are designed to achieve faster and longer lasting results than traditional therapies and most over-the- counter products.

SkinCeuticals and NeoStrata products are available from some general practitioners in Hong Kong.

IPL facial

Intense pulsed light (IPL) helps reduce facial scarring, injuries, sunburn and acne. Pulses of concentrated light are directed onto the skin and absorbed by the melanin in pigmented skin lesions. The heat generated by the light weakens the walls of the lesions, reducing the appearance of scarring and blemishes.

Much like a laser (but using a larger, more diffused beam that works on the entire face), IPL doesn't hurt and is safe (except for pregnant women). The only obvious downside is that, although protective goggles are worn throughout (by both therapist and client), the bright light can be slightly irritating. And, although pigmented areas fade considerably, they don't disappear completely. Therapy isn't advised more frequently than once every three weeks, with a maximum prescription of eight sessions.

Available at: Elemis Day Spa

Treat yourself

Body Conscious 16/F The Centrium, 60 Wyndham St, Central. Tel: 2524 6171

Elemis Day Spa 9/F Century Square, 1 D'Aguilar St, Central. Tel: 2521 6660

Ellespa Shop G106 The Repulse Bay, 109 Repulse Bay Rd. Tel: 2537 7736

Frederique Spa 4/F Wilson House, 19-27 Wyndham St, Central. Tel: 2522 3054

Pure Spa 4/F Two IFC, 8 Finance St, Central. Tel: 8129 8883

Q-Yoga 3/F Winning Centre, 46-48 Wyndham St, Central. Tel: 2521 4555