Pulse has covered Long Island’s spa scene and vetted the experimental, the luxurious, the quirky and the tried and true. We looked back through the archives as well as adding some new treatments to come up with our top picks. These four spa offerings showcase innovative approaches to looking and feeling better, whether in mind, body, spirit or shiny skin.
Sacred Self Wellness, West Babylon; sacredselfwellness.com
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Owner Louise Scalza describes amma massage as relaxing but medically therapeutic. The masseuse has been practicing amma since she first studied traditional Chinese medicine 10 years ago. Scalza begins every session with a detailed Chinese medicine intake: a review of symptoms and complaints and a tongue examination. Amma works on the same theory of energy meridians and pressure points as acupuncture, she explained. By briskly applying pressure up and down the body’s natural energy pathways, according to traditional Chinese beliefs, Scalza said she can open blockages and restore the body’s natural balance and health.
THE EXPERIENCE: The hour-long session was relaxing and at the same time invigorating. Scalza demonstrated a standard revitalizing treatment for a generally healthy person, which addressed the entire body, including the chest, heart, stomach and organs. It felt a little disconcerting to have areas like my stomach and organs touched, because it was unusual and unexpected, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. She adds some elements of traditional Swedish massage into her amma work to enhance the overall relaxation. The combination of the medium pressure she applied and her quickly moving hands encouraged blood flow around my body and left me with an energized feeling after the session instead of that familiar post-massage stupor. Although there is no scientific evidence, amma therapy has tangible health benefits, Scalza said some of her needle-shy clients use it in lieu of acupuncture. “Amma is actually the origin of modern-day acupuncture, which developed from the theories of amma in ancient China,” she said. Scalza’s technique has a lot in common with a Swedish massage, as she works up and down the body in both face-up and facedown positions.
LED Light Facial
Red Door Spa, Garden City Hotel; reddoorspas.com
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The Color4 Light Therapy Facial at Red Door Spa is among the first LED light facial treatments on Long Island. The novel technique utilizes four different colored LED lights, each of which is said to have a specific cosmetic benefit. According to proponents, red light targets aging by stimulating healing in damaged cells; blue has anti-microbial properties to fight breakouts; amber stimulates collagen growth and infrared promotes circulation. Technician Morgan Emery said visible results are possible after one hour-long treatment. To see the most results, the spa prefers to space out six treatments one week apart for optimal results. Exactly how LED lights work in the human body is still a bit of a mystery, but it is believed that they spur skin cells to produce fibroblasts, which in turn encourage collagen production and activate compounds that kill bacteria in the skin.
THE EXPERIENCE: The procedure starts with a cleansing, followed by an enzyme mask to stimulate blood flow during the first LED light application, which includes all the colors and lasts five minutes while clients recline on the facial table. The enzyme can sting those with sensitive skin (it can be washed off) but the LED lights are painless and produce little heat. Protective goggles are a must, however. The lights do seem very bright at first, especially the first blast of bright red, but they gradually dim through the session. The second LED light session lasted 15 minutes, but time passed quickly, thanks to Emery’s skillful arm and neck massage. The remainder of the facial includes blemish extractions, if necessary, and the application of a moisturizing or hydrating serum depending on skin type. Unlike many facials, LED therapy doesn’t tend to aggravate sensitive skin, but anyone using Retin-A or other topical prescription creams is advised against the treatment. After one session, my skin looked dewy and refreshed and my pores were noticeably smaller. Red Door Spa also offers a half-hour LED mini facial, built around the necessary 20 minutes of light time.
Gurney’s Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa, Montauk; gurneysmontauk.com
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: This East End mainstay might be as close to a European spa as is possible on Long Island. Gurney’s, perched on the dunes west of Montauk, overlooks the Atlantic and attempts to bring the spirit of the sea into the spa, with a saltwater pool, fragrant seaweed-based skin care products, seawater shots to drink and the unique thalasso salt water therapy pools, the only ones in North America. A French treatment, thalassotherapy is a soothing salt-water soak that fans believe addresses sore muscles and “imbalances” in the body.
THE EXPERIENCE: The massage starts with a half-hour soak in a private tub. Then an attendant uses a hose attachment to spray powerful streams of warm, salted water on the muscles. Spa manager Laurie Bellavance explained that some clients start with a soak before moving to other treatments like the spa’s signature massage and facial combo. The two-hour session starts with a relaxing Swedish massage, then continues with a facial and the application of a seaweed mask. While the mask sets, a half hour reflexology foot massage ensures any lingering bodily stresses are fully annihilated.
After thalasso and massage, clients can take advantage of the other therapeutic effects of seawater: the views. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the pool and lounge area and are opened to the ocean breezes in warm weather. The idea that soaking in the sea is therapeutic is a timeless one: Ancient Greeks and the 19th-century French both believed that the chemical balance of the body could be restored by absorbing the elements magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium and iodide found in seawater.
Sensory-Deprivation Tank Therapy
The Float Place, Farmingdale; thefloatplace.com
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Tom Wunk opened the Island’s first stand-alone flotation center for isolation tank floatation therapy after first hearing about it from celebrity comedian Joe Rogan. The comic often enthuses about the tank experience on his podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience.” Wunk, intrigued by the claims—and after floating himself in New York City—bought a tank so others could experience motionlessness in a foot of salty water inside what looks like a tanning bed. “When I first heard about it, it sounded like hippie mumbo jumbo,” he said. But when he tried it, he felt more relaxed than he ever had before. Wunk explained that the constant bombardment of rapid stimuli during daily life prevents the brain and body from ever shutting off.
“You give yourself a break. A lot of people call this a shortcut to meditation.” Because tank users levitate on their backs in the heavily salted, body-temperature water, they don’t need to expend energy fighting gravity or to stay warm. Those who’ve tried this relaxation homeostasis describe it as effortless relaxation or something in between being awake and asleep.
THE EXPERIENCE: Enthusiasts who pay for hour-long “floats” say they experience improvements in mood, creativity, muscle repair and even quality of sleep. A float starts with a shower, then in a dimly lit room, floaters lower themselves into the salty water and get accustomed to the sensation of weightlessness before closing the hatch-like door above them. After a few minutes the room lights shut off and floaters enter a meditative state for the remainder of the float time. Research shows that the brains of floaters enter a theta waves pattern—the same one observed in early sleep and associated with deep relaxation, suggestibility and meditation. Time passed quickly while I floated in the salty darkness of the tank. When music came on as a gentle signal that the therapy was coming to an end, it was hard to know if 5 or 45 minutes had passed. For the rest of the day I felt clear-headed and especially creative, even before learning of the supposed boost in creativity associated with floatation therapy.