Beauty in Bloom
Tagimoucia, an exotic red flower with a small white center, only grows on the shores of a lake in the high mountains of Taveuni, Fiji. According to legend, a woman and her young daughter lived on a hill above the shore. One day, the girl sat outside playing instead of working, prompting her mother to spank her with a broom and tell her to leave and never return. The girl ran away sobbing, and, blinded by her tears, ran straight into a thick green vine with large green leaves but no flowers. As she cried, entangled in the plant, her tears turned to blood, which fell on the vine and turned into beautiful flowers. Finally, she freed herself from the vine and went home to her mother, who was no longer angry. They lived happily ever after—and gave Fiji a gorgeous flower, to boot.
Like the naughty little girl, modern-day Fiji visitors can experience blissful contentment, encouraged by the abundant exotic flowers. Guests at the Mandara Spa at Sofitel Fiji Resort and Spa can start each treatment with a Floral Wash Ritual ($84, 25 minutes), a bath with fresh tropical flowers to symbolically cleanse life’s stresses and tensions away, before moving on to the Elemis Exotic Frangipani Body Nourish Wrap ($200, 50 minutes; $284, 75 minutes), which blends fragrant coconut and frangipani flowers, more commonly called plumeria, to produce monoi oil, which is traditionally used by Polynesian women to protect and condition their bodies from environmental stressors. The service also includes a 25- or 50-minute massage.
As with the Tagimoucia, exotic flowers tell stories. They’re earthy and also ethereal, almost magical in their ability to delight the senses and soothe the soul. While we may not use legends anymore to explain their existence, spas can draw on their traditional medicinal uses to provide exotic, healing treatments. For centuries, South Pacific and Fiji islanders have used flower extracts to nourish and moisturize skin and hair. Pure Fiji uses these traditional blends and exotic flowers, including frangipani, passionflower, and white ginger lily, to create hydrating body oils and lotions and fresh sugar scrubs. “Exotic flower treatments are appealing because they are from the earth, and their beauty reminds us how beautiful nature can be, and therefore how beautiful we can be,” says Suzie Sommer, senior vice president of marketing for Pure Fiji USA. “When you read how these flowers and plants nurture the earth, they in turn nurture our skin.”
Passionflower, Sommer explains, was traditionally used in the Americas and later in Europe as a calming treatment for anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and hysteria. “It is believed that passionflower works by increasing levels of a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, in the brain,” she explains. “GABA lowers the activity of some brain cells, making you more relaxed.”
Plus, passionflower contains flavonoids, powerful antioxidants scientists believe may reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, asthma, and stroke. They also protect the skin from environmental damage. “The skin is one of the most important organs of the body and creates a first line of organism defense against the external environment,” says Sommer. “Scientific research has confirmed a wide influence of flavonoid compounds on various levels of the skin. The uppermost layer of the skin, the stratum corneum, is a structure very rich in lipids and other easily oxidizable compounds. In this layer, flavonoids can play an efficient role as antioxidizing agents and free radical scavengers. Their antioxidant properties enable them to influence deeper epidermal skin layers, preventing UV radiation damage and inhibiting some enzyme functions. In the dermis, the deepest skin layer, flavonoids influence the permeability and fragility of the microvessel system.”
According to Geraldine Howard, co-founder and president of Aromatherapy Associates, exotic flowers are best suited for relaxing treatments, calming therapies, or those designed to lift the spirits. “Exotic flowers take clients to a metaphoric place of happiness, often taking them back to a relaxing holiday or reminding them of a summer garden—happy places that instill an instant feeling of calm and relaxation,” she says.
Aromatherapy Associates’s at-home treatments include Enrich Body Butter, a blend of natural oils, sweet jasmine, and patchouli to give it an exotic scent and deeply nourishing properties. “Jasmine is a wonderfully euphoric oil, and ylang ylang helps to balance the skin,” says Howard.
Plus, whether in a lei or a lotion, exotic flowers simply smell good. “It goes back to the sensory/olfactory experience that enhances memory and boosts mood,” says Lisa Polley, director of education and business development for Jurlique. At Jurlique Wellness Day Spas (New York City and Santa Monica, CA), the Skin Brightening Facial ($130, 60 minutes) uses flower power to reduce the visible appearance of skin discoloration, relying on a blend that includes kakadu plum, an exotic flower indigenous to Australia. According to Polley, this flower is one of the world’s richest sources of vitamin C. “Exotic flower extracts can be included in water-based essence and essential oil formulas,” she adds. “These make excellent blends with facial masks, body lotions, body oils, and hand creams.”
In fact, exotic flowers can be combined with a number of other ingredients to create distinctive spa services. Howard suggests blending them with other calming ingredients. Guests at Spa Mirbeau at Mirbeau Inn & Spa (Skaneateles, NY), can sink into maximum relaxation—from the comfort of a deep-footed soaking tub—with the Deep Relax ($40) in-room bath experience, which combines exotic flowers and sandalwood.
Or, maximize the tropical appeal of the treatment, and combine exotic flowers with coconut milk, Dilo nut oil, and infused sugars. These provide a sensual treat for spa-goers, transporting them to a warm, sandy beach while also healing and polishing the skin. At The Spa at Jupiter Beach Resort (FL), guests can indulge in the Fijian Refuge: Dilo Nut Wrap ($120, 50 minutes). It uses Pure Fiji passionflower products combined with the Dilo nut from Fiji, which accelerates the body’s natural healing process and protects the skin from further cellular damage. This nourishing treatment is ideal for sunburned, damaged, or irritated skin, because the therapeutic wrap calms inflammation while replacing lost moisture and restoring nutrients. The resort’s Tropical Sugar Scrub ($120, 50 minutes), which also uses Pure Fiji’s passionflower, takes place in a wet treatment room under a Vichy shower. The blend of tropically infused sugars and warm coconut milk improves circulation and polishes the skin, leaving it silky and glowing. “While in that treatment, the alluring aroma and the soothing nature of the treatment will relax spa clients and make them feel good,” says Sommer. “When you walk out of a treatment and your skin feels and looks good and you feel relaxed and happy, you have started to understand the secrets of the South Pacific.”
This is the power of flower-themed spa treatments: Guests can breathe in the exotic scents while the skin drinks in the moisturizing benefits and take a little bit of island paradise home.