This is a very familiar scene for wellness reporters—after all, crystals and energy work are becoming just as integral to a modern beauty pro’s toolkit as tweezers and serums. But today is different: I’m not waiting to be seen at a bohemian spa with macramé wall hangings and Pothos plants in the corner. No, I’m at the Los Angeles outpost of Illuminate Face & Body Bar, a medspa staffed by nurses wearing scrubs, with a menu that includes injectables, fat freezing, and microneedling.
Yes, even hard-core cosmetic procedures are starting to get the woo-woo wellness treatment.
Yes, even hard-core cosmetic procedures are starting to get the woo-woo wellness treatment. “Medical treatments can be intimidating for clients who may be nervous, have skin sensitivity, are stressed, or prone to pain,” says Illuminate's medical director Orna Fisher, MD. “Anything we can do holistically to lessen these effects and induce calm and contentment is important—and certainly worthwhile.”
According to the American MedSpa Association, there are around 4,200 medical spas in the US. Illuminate claims to be the first one to incorporate holistic healing modalities, and industry sources confirm that they haven't heard of any others that are currently doing so. Yet, if trends in the broader day spa world are any indication, women are seriously craving a side of mysticism with their beauty treatments—so it's likely only a matter of time before other medspas follow suit.
"Natural and holistic modalities add an element of completeness and unity to the spa experience that modern spa goers are looking for in an increasingly digital world," says Lynne McNees, president of the International SPA Association. Adds Heather Mikesell, executive editor of American Spa: "It’s refreshing to rely on ancient practices that have been tried and tested throughout the years, especially when people realize what a profound impact they can have in counteracting the constant assault on our senses we experience daily with today’s relentless pace. It’s not enough to work out and eat right anymore—now we want our chakras aligned, as well."
In addition to crystals and custom-blended aromatherapy, patients at Illuminate have the option of listening to custom guided meditations before, during, or after their treatments. The spa's also got a retail offering stocked with “inside-out” beauty loot such as Vital Proteins collagen peptides, Philosophie’s superfood powders, and VitaJuwel crystal water bottles (a runaway best-seller). There’s even a roster of holistic healers on speed dial for referrals—so if a client mentions during her treatment that she wants to make some changes in her life, staffers are able to suggest, say, a local life coach or meditation guide to work with independently.
And the holistic approach is proving irresistible to Illuminate’s client base—since the brand’s first medspa opened in Las Vegas two years ago, it’s quickly grown into a mini-empire, with five other locations now running in California (and more on the way). “If you're coming in for an injectable, at a lot of medical spas want you in and out in 15 minutes,” says Illuminate founder Jeff Seery. “Our viewpoint is really different—if you want that treatment room [to yourself] for two hours, that’s fine. We want to be a little oasis from the hectic world.”
But is it spiritual appropriation? These tools have traditionally been embraced by those preaching self-acceptance and here they’re sitting side-by-side with procedures that resist what is and identify with surface-level appearance.
A nice sentiment, sure, but I still wondered if there was a bit of spiritual appropriation going on. We’re talking about tools that have traditionally been embraced by those preaching self-acceptance and detachment from the physical world—here, they’re sitting side-by-side with procedures that are all about resisting what is and identifying with surface-level appearance. I asked fashion stylist-turned-shaman Colleen McCann for her thoughts, and it turns out she doesn't agree with that viewpoint. "I support these traditionally ‘mystical’ remedies reaching a broader audience," the Style Rituals founder tells me. "Spiritual teachings and tools have been kept behind closed doors for so long, and they can’t help if people don’t have access to them or education to how they work."
McCann also agrees with Dr. Fisher when she says these metaphysical aids can influence the outcome of a not-so-pleasant procedure. "If adding these items to a services menu can help reduce the need to turn to Xanax to ease nerves or Lidocaine to numb pain, then let’s go for it," she says. Indeed, some small studies have shown that aromatherapy and meditation may have an impact on anxiety and pain perception, both of which could be helpful in the context of a cosmetic procedure—and Dr. Fisher has seen it happen firsthand. "While we haven't conducted clinical research, we consistently hear feedback from our clients that [our] holistic approach has made them feel less anxiety prior to the procedure and more relaxed and confident leaving Illuminate," she says.
For my part, I actually fell asleep during my facial thanks to the soft meditation playing in the background—and my skin looked notably less inflamed than it normally does after a treatment that involves extractions and chemical exfoliation. Could it have had anything to do with the crystal in my pocket or the essential oil smells wafting through the air? Impossible to say. But it all made the experience feel a lot warmer and less clinical, and I'll raise my post-treatment cup of locally sourced 'booch to that.
Are you more of a DIY beauty fan? Here's how to turn your bathroom into a spa-like sanctuary for under $100, plus the beauty tools everyone should have in their shower.
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