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Hot and Cold Spa Treatments: What to Expect

By: Sarah Clark (ILEX) - Updated: 22 Mar 2011 | comments*Discuss
Spa Heat Cold Sauna Steam Room

Many spas and salons use heat or cold temperatures in treatments – if you go for a manicure you might have your hands encased in warm gloves to help the lotions sink in, and body wraps use heat to help the active ingredients in some spa treatments absorb into the skin as well as giving you a sense of well being as you’re treated and pampered.

Spas can be a minefield if you don’t know the difference between a laconium and caldarium, and if you find yourself drawn to kriotherapy, you really need to know what you’re letting yourself in for...

Hot Massage Therapies

The most well known spa therapy that uses heat and massage together is the popular hot stone therapy, often called ‘La Stone’ or other variations. All hot stone therapies use smooth, heated stones on specific areas of the body to relax the muscles, making the massage more effective than usual. To make the massage even more relaxing, stones are often coated in aromatic oils, which are released by the heat to induce a real feeling of tranquillity. In some cases, massage therapists use the hot stones along with cooled stones to intensify the massage and stimulate the nervous system.

More recently, some spas have added Lava shell massage therapies to their spa treatment menu, which are very similar to hot stone massage but use special sea shells from the Philippines , which heat up due to a chemical reaction from algae, minerals and kelp with an activator liquid added by the therapist.

Hot and Medium Heated Rooms in a Spa:

Don’t be confused by the bewildering array of names for different areas in a spa. The main places you’ll find therapeutic heat or cold in a spa are:

1. Steam Room

A small tiled room where you can sit and inhale soothing steam. Often the steam is scented with essential oils – menthol is a favourite as a steam room is often recommended for respiratory problems. The warm, wet heat isn’t too harsh and is designed to be calming and soothing.

2. Sauna

Most people have heard of or even tried a sauna. Although there are variations on the theme, a sauna is just a small heated room, in which you’ll experience a very hot, dry heat. Some saunas include rocks to which you can pour water and cool down slightly. You would normally follow a spa sauna session with a dip in a cool down pool, or a cool shower.

3. Sanarium

A sanarium is a cross between the sauna and the steam room, which uses less heat with a higher humidity than a sauna. This means it’s not quite as oppressive as a sauna can be and you can stay in there for longer, and can be used by some people with high blood pressure, who wouldn’t be able to use a sauna.

4. Laconium

A laconium is a slightly cooler version of the sauna which heats up gently and is less intense than a traditional sauna, although the heat is dry. It’s a relaxing, low humidity heat, and the room will often be tiled like a steam room and can also use aromatherapy oils to add to the experience.

5. Caldarium

A caldarium should traditionally be the hottest of all the heat rooms in a spa. It usually incorporates a hot plunge bath, in a room that’s hot and steamy, and often infused with essential oils to add to the experience.

6. Tepidarium

The area that people retire to while waiting between treatments, or even as part of a longer spa treatment, is the tepidarium. Sometimes also called a relaxation room, it will be comfortably warm and very relaxing, often with massage chairs and refreshments to chill out with.

Cold Rooms in a Spa

Cold temperatures are also used fior therapies:

1. Frigidarium

A frigidarium is another name for a large cold pool to cool down in after a heat treatment.

2. Ice Cave

Well, it would be difficult to mistake this one – but some spas now have sophisticated ice caves, often complete with crushed ice to rub on your skin and cool you down. It’s a place many people like to visit after a session in one of the heated rooms, as it invigorates and cools after the warmth of a sauna or steam experience. Some ice caves also feature ‘experience showers’ with cool showers that replicate rain or have a massage effect.

3. Kriotherapy (or Cryotherapy)

For real hardcore cold lovers, the most extreme cold is Cryotherapy, only currently available in Champneys, Tring in the UK, where it’s called Kriotherapy. It’s said to help conditions such as general fatigue and ME, and be good for muscle and joint pain. If you’re brave enough, a treatment consists of spending time in a cold chamber, between minus 100ºC – 135ºC, for up to three minutes. It works by making your body releasing endorphins - body’s own anti-inflammatory and pain killers.

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