What did the ancient Polynesians know about the sea and its healing properties? Long before the first European sea therapy center was instituted in 1899 by Dr. Louis Bougot in France, Polynesians were reaping the benefits of sea water and seaweeds (limu) in their healing practices.
Many of the ancient remedies using seaweeds are still used by locals who make poultices from fresh seaweeds, detoxifying seaweed baths, and use dry seaweeds for internal and external healing treatments. The use of sea water and sea plants to promote health and beauty is called Thalassotherapy. The theory is that the chemical composition of sea water is almost identical to human plasma and contains all the elements necessary for optimum cellular function. Seaweeds have a rich abundance of all the building blocks of life: minerals, trace elements, amino acids, vitamins and a host of other nutrients.
Thalassotherapy has found a renaissance in spas and seaside retreats around the globe. Thasso-treatments vary from region to region, depending on the nature of the sea water, seaweeds and sea minerals. Often seaweeds and sea salt are combined with other natural healing ingredients to rejuvenate the skin and stimulate internal balance.
Seaweeds have a remarkable softening, remineralizing, moisturizing and firming effect on the skin. Applications of seaweeds help to detoxify the tissues and regulate blood circulation throughout the body. The high iodine content stimulates the thyroid gland. This increases the metabolic action, speeding up the detoxification process. Seaweeds provide three essential skin health needs: it quenches free radicals with its beta carotene, improves skin color and tone, and reduces the effects of aging.
So if you are interested in turning back the clock on your skin, a seaweed body treatment is a most pleasurable way to do so. Never mind that you will look like a human sushi roll while your body is enrobed in these Neptunian nutrients. You will emerge a new tuna with a better feeling of well-being and skin as soft as a sharks’ belly.
The Hawaiians are one of the few groups to use sea salt in their healing practices. They were also the only Polynesian people of the four groups that used salt for seasoning food. Paakai (red salt) is a common local treatment to increase circulation and to heal bruises. The salt is often mixed with Lepo Alae (red clay) and plant oils to tone and build better tissue integrity.
Herbs and fruits are also traditionally used in Hawaiian cosmetic and medicinal preparations. Two of the most popular plant oils are from the kukui nut and the macadamia nut. Body care manufacturers have only recently discovered what Hawaiians have had on their hands for so many centuries and the use of these oils in skin care products is becoming increasingly more popular.
The Kukui nut tree is the official state tree of Hawaii. It has culturally been one of the most important trees in the islands. The trees grow on lower mountain slopes down to the sea shore, and can grow to heights of 80 feet or more. I love to hike the pali slopes when the Kukui is in bloom; its small white green-tinged flowers exude a far-reaching redolence of wild tropic nutty/floral/fruity/green harmony.
When the hard shell is removed from the fruit, the kernel is lightly roasted to release its oil. Kukui oil was used as lamp oil in ancient times, as well as a healing and easily penetrating skin and hair aid. It is high in linoleic and linolenic acids, both essential fatty acids necessary to healthy skin metabolism. It was the main protectant of skin from damage by sun and sea. Newborn babies were bathed in it, and it was used on skin irritations, wounds, and burns. Kukui nut oil has a distinctly redolent odor.
The high fatty acid content helps control the skin barrier function of the stratum corneum and prevents excess transepidermal water loss. Recent work suggests it has some natural sunscreen capabilities. The natural silky emolliency absorbs quickly, leaving a smooth, non-greasy feeling.
The Macadamia nut tree was introduced to Hawaii via Australia in 1881. Hawaii is now the largest producer of macadamia nuts in the world. The tree flowers between November and February, another heavenly tree friend to picnic under while simultaneously receiving a most efuviant Aromatherapy treatment.
The nuts are cold-pressed, yielding oil that is 80 % mono-unsaturated fatty acids. It is almost 60% oleic acid and over 20% palmitoleic acid. The overall fatty acid content most closely resembles human sebum. Macadamia oil is often used in skin care products as it has a lower price (generally 1/4 the cost of Kukui nut oil) and does not have any odor.
More rare are the essential oils of Polynesia. The most well known is Tahitian Tiare Gardenia, made famous in French Polynesian body products. Pikake (Jasmine) yields a light but exquisite scent. Plumeria (Frangipani) is perhaps the most affordable of tropical flowers, and yields a sweet and somewhat intoxicating scent. These flowers are the cornerstones of tropical Aromatherapy.
Unfortunately, there are not enough of us making tropical oils in Hawaii. A very small amount of essential oil is produced on Maui: on the slopes of Haleakala, there are a couple of Lavender farms, which produce oils and infusions, and Jack Chetham, Aromatherapist and essential oil provacateur produces some local floral oils.
I spend the month of May each year, infusing upwards of 3000 gardenias into fresh pressed kukui nut oil. This infusion becomes the base of my favorite sun care product, Hawaiian Aloe Sun Oil. In addition to the sun protectant qualities of kukui nut oil, I add a fresh green coffee extract that I make on an organic coffee farm in Hanaunau, above the bay where Captain Cook first landed. There are herbalists and others who make flower essences with tropical flowers in the islands, but we all look toward future essential oil production as a viable business opportunity in the 50th state.
Here are a few recipes using ingredients mentioned in this article.
1 cup any type clay
1 cup powdered kelp
1/4 cup Spirulina powder
20 drops essential oil
Mix and store in air-tight container. Mix 2 T. powder with enough hot water to make a paste. Brush or pat over clean face and neck. Rest for 15 minutes or until mask is dry. For very dry skin, remove before mask is fully dry.
For a full body treatment, mix 3-4 ounces powder with hot water to form paste. Rub over entire body. Wrap in warm sheet for 15-20 minutes. Shower off or soak in bath. This is the treatment I do on the beach (see the photo below).
Here's Alexandra & her client relaxing while getting a treatment.
1 cup fine sea salt
1/2 cup coarse salt or Hawaiian red ‘Alae salt
1/4 cup kukui nut or macadamia nut oil
20 drops essential oil
Mix and store in tight container. While standing in shower, rub skin in small circular motions from extremities toward torso. Continue circular scrubbing until all salt has been rubbed off. Shower off salt residue. No soap needed. Your skin will be moisturized and glowing.
Tropical Skin Blend
1 oz. kukui nut oil
2 oz. macadamia nut oil
1/2 oz. aloe vera oil
6 drops ylang ylang essential oil
4 drops jasmine essential oil
5 drops sandalwood essential oil
Combine all ingredients and shake well. Store in glass perfume bottle and use over face and body while skin is still damp from bathing.
Nutrition Reviews, Vol47, Issue 4, 126-128 (1991).
D. Ricks, Cosmetic and Toiletries, Vol 106, 77-79 (1991).
Hawaiian Kukui Nut Company, Waialua, HI 800 367-6010.
Visit alexandraavery.com for information on products mentioned, and for more sea weed recipes in her book, Aromatherapy and You, A Guide To Natural Skin Care.
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