By Paula Provenzano
Paula Provenzano is Regional Educational Director for
In recent days, you have not been able to restrain yourself from reading the increasingly depressing financial news. While perusing the dismal details of plummeting stocks you may have also noticed that alongside the gloom and doom, a number of pieces have appeared in the national media about the toll all this stress is taking on us. From skin breakouts to panic attacks, the effects of stress are real and in spite of the trend toward budgetary belt-tightening, many people are seeing the dollars spent toward stress reduction as a necessity.
In response to the increasing need to mitigate the health-threatening toll that heightened and prolonged stress takes on our minds and bodies, many spas have redoubled their efforts to focus on remedies to tame tension and help their clients sustain that relaxation at home. This “teach-a-man-to-fish” approach to stress-management is the cornerstone of Jeunesse “Spas for Life” located at Lincoln Center.
The Jeunesse-Spa, along with < comfort zone >, their signature line of products, have partnered to create a lifestyle-oriented approach to personalized spa and wellness programming, which includes yoga, pilates, acupuncture, chiropractic and nutritional counseling. This uniquely holistic approach bases your wellness on the cyclical needs of your body which wax and wane in response to a number of factors including the assault of stress.
This bio-rhythmic reality and the need to keep stress in check was illustrated to me several years ago when I awoke one morning to a very visible example of what stress can do. My morning glance in the mirror revealed a trail of red blotches streaking across my upper chest and neck, and rapidly ascending up the side of my face. My normally well-behaved skin was suffering from the effects of an unprecedented cascade of stressful events, and sending me an unmistakable message to do something more proactive than slamming a martini to address the situation.
Later that week, after the visible signs of the problem were more or less under control, I spoke with my uncle, who is a physician, about what had occurred. He did a simple test on the inside of my forearm by running his thumbnail from my elbow to my wrist with moderate pressure. Even before he had reached my wrist, an angry red welt began to appear. He explained that this simple diagnostic test indicated that my elevated level of stress had sent my immune system into overdrive and that my entire body, but most obviously my skin, was on red-alert for anything and everything.
As a spa and skin care educator, when I talk about this phenomenon I call it: The Barney Fife Syndrome. Just like the hyper-vigilant deputy, our immune system can become far too responsive for our own good. We can blame this little “cherry” on top of our Stressful Sundae on our relatively primitive internal mechanisms that still deal with stress the same way our woolly-mammoth-fighting-ancestors did. This was a handy mechanism at a time when the appearance of one’s complexion was a comparatively low priority compared to being eaten by a wild boar; because it allowed our lower body and critical organs the internal support they needed to “run or rumble”.
Vasu Nargundkar, who writes about wellness topics from an Ayurvedic1 perspective, explains it this way: “The “fight-or-flight” mechanism is the body’s built-in way of responding to stress. In times of “fight-or-flight,” the flow of blood (and nutrients) is directed to the areas of the body considered vital for responding to the stress and withdrawn from areas considered non-essential, such as the skin. So is the flow of oxygen, making it difficult for the skin to “breathe.” When “fight-or-flight” situations become frequent, the skin is consistently starved of both blood and oxygen, making it dull and lifeless, less supple, less hydrated and more prone to clogged pores and breakouts.” To that list, I would also add the development of hypersensitivity.
With this internal system functioning largely beyond our control, the result of our high-stress existence can often be seen on our faces. According to Dr. Wilma Bergfeld in her book; A Woman Doctor’s Guide to Skin Care, there are “a multitude of skin disorders that are triggered or worsened by stress.” This is no surprise to those who work in the skin care and spa industry. A spa’s treatment rooms have become havens for multi-tasking clients and spa services often provide the only form of real relaxation these busy individuals may indulge in. But, in addition to sending clients home with a topical treatment for their occasional breakouts, perhaps the best remedy would be a regimen of deep relaxation.
Relaxation may not only be the most obvious offering of the spa environment, it may be the most profoundly therapeutic. The benefits of deep relaxation are supported by numerous studies and these positive physiological responses enhance the more subtle functions of the skin by improving circulation, penetration, oxygenation, and the mechanisms of healing. Some of the documented effects that directly relate to the health of our skin and overall wellbeing include:
- Decrease in levels of the stress hormone cortisol2
- Boosting of immune function
- Increase in serotonin levels in the brain
- Increase in peripheral blood flow
- Decrease in the skin’s inflammatory response
While a trip to the spa may help you take a short cut to a state of relaxation, it should be said that, just like daily skin care, it is your daily practice of deep relaxation that will have the most profound benefits. It is important to note however, that all relaxing moments are not created equal. As calming and relaxing as certain activities (such as reading a book or walking though the park) may seem, they do not elicit the same physiological response that is engaged by developing a formal habit or method of relaxation.
If a meditation practice is not your style, perhaps you can access some qualitative relaxation by creating a profound moment of calm in some other way. The bath ritual lends itself well to this type of stillness and restoration and when combined with the mind-calming benefits of aromachology, it can offer a true respite from the stressors that inhabit our everyday lives.
Aromacology is the science that relates to the connection that exists between aroma and the emotional olfactory response. In the science of aromachology, aromatic blends have the power to create rapport between the physiology of the olfactory and the emotionality of a human being, sensitively influencing mood, emotions, life experiences and memories. The blend suggested by Jeunesse-Spa is aptly named, tranquility. The tranquility bath oil is characterized by the intoxicating olfactory notes of: rose, vanilla, and rosewood, which seem to have an amazing effect in relieving tension while bestowing a profound state of relaxation. The tranquility aroma has proven so universally pleasing in its effects that it was selected as the aromatic signature to many of the treatments at Jeunesse-Spa.
So, whether you choose the self-soothing method or enlist the help of a spa professional, carving out a slice of time for pure unadulterated relaxation may be more than an indulgence. While they cannot rebalance your financial portfolio, these types of profoundly restorative experiences may be just the prescription you need to restore your sanity, calm your corporal body and stabilize your stressed-out skin.
Paula Provenzano is a licensed master esthetician, massage therapist, makeup artist, and was a primary contributing author to the 2005 International Spa Association textbook – The Art & Science of Retail. She has been featured on television and in national publications for her industry expertise, and can currently be seen on the Beauty Buzz for The Morning Blend on FOX4-TV, Cape Coral, FL
1Ayurvedic medicine is an ancient system of health care that is native to the Indian subcontinent. The word “Ayurveda” is a compound of the word Äyus meaning “life” or “life principle”, and the word veda, which refers to a system of “knowledge”. Thus “Ayurveda” roughly translates as the “knowledge of life”. Ayurveda is concerned with measures to protect “ayus”, which includes healthy living along with therapeutic measures that relate to physical, mental, social and spiritual harmony.
2 The so-called “stress hormone”, cortisol, is released in the body during times of stress along with other hormones associated with the “flight or fight” response. But, while other hormone levels quickly return to normal, cortisol levels can remain elevated over a longer time period. In fact, they can remain persistently elevated in the body when a person is subjected to chronic stress. Numerous studies have shown that stress and elevated cortisol tend to cause fat deposition in the abdominal area. Whether or not your stress levels will result in high cortisol levels and weight gain is not readily predictable. The amount of cortisol secreted in response to stress can vary among individuals, with some persons being innately more “reactive” to stressful events. But it may be worth noting that studies have indicated that women who tended to react to stress with high levels of cortisol secretion also tended to eat more when under stress than women who secreted less cortisol.