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 Stone massage is the most commonly known type of hot massage therapy.
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Cold Massage Therapies
Salons and spas occasionally add cold treatments to their menus, but they’re not as common as you might think. Cold spa treatments are often used after heated procedures to cool your skin down, allowing for better absorption of topical hair removal creams, or to prevent sunburns.
Cold treatment spas typically contain a pool of water that is placed inside refrigerated domes, with air conditioning blowing out cold air around the dome and into the pool area. The temperature of the water in these pools can be from 10-15 degrees Celsius, which is extremely cooling when you add the cold air to the equation. Cold treatments can also be carried out using a specialist massage table, which is chilled to below 0 degrees Celsius with an integrated computer that controls the temperature of the surface of the table.
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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 , but you won’t relax too deeply and fall asleep in the steam room.
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.
There are various Sauna types:
the Finnish sauna with a small sleeping area and dry heat producing stove, Russian-style saunas with showers and cool changing rooms, and multi-person Turkish baths or hamams. These have hot dry air in the steam room (called the ‘soup’ room), a cold shower.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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Cold Rooms in a Spa
Cold temperatures are also used for therapies:
A frigidarium is another name for a large cold pool to cool down in after a heat treatment, or just for fun.
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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Tips for your visit:
Take various types of clothing – at least two or three layers – as you may get hot in a sauna or steam room, but might want to cover up when you go outside.
Avoid saunas on a full stomach – wait until you’ve eaten.
Don’t leave your valuables unattended at the spa – it isn’t that kind of place! Bring along a waterproof MP3 player to listen to music as you relax.
Experiment with the various types of room available and see which ones you like… there’s nothing to say you need to do them all in one go!
And finally, don’t forget the most important thing: enjoy yourself – you deserve it!
You might not have access to all of these in one spa. But if you do, give them a try and see how they go. It’s great fun trying new things, and each type has its own benefits!