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Food for Thought--and Your Face

A new crop of spas offers food-based treatments. Pumpkin-pie peel, anyone?

February 20, 2001|LESLEE KOMAIKO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Used to be that about the only food found at local day spas consisted of a few apples and bananas for the pampered hungry. These days, those apples and bananas are just as likely to end up on someone's face.

Studio City's Spoiled A Day Spa offers a Spoiled Salad Facial that begins with tangerine steam and ends with a homemade mask of fresh ripe bananas and warm honey. Cucumber slices cover the eyes. Cheryl Cook, one of Spoiled's owners, insists the facial is far more than gimmickry.

"The warm honey and banana mask is very hydrating and a mild exfoliant. The cucumber slices soften and calm the skin around the eyes and feel very refreshing."

Alyson Fox, 29, an event coordinator, is a believer. She has had two Spoiled Salad Facials since the spa opened in December. "I've had a lot of different facials all over the city and on vacations," says Fox. "This was really neat and interesting . . . The whole thing smelled delicious" and "tasted good. I was waiting for the chocolate syrup." Postfacial, says Fox, her skin "looked beautiful. It was glowing."

Not everyone is convinced that raw food is the ticket to healthier, more supple skin. Pat Davis, spa director at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, says "real fruit can be a little too harsh." It can even trigger allergic reactions. "Everybody is so fad oriented, they're not thinking about what is actually good for the person. Raw produce is very hard to maintain the purity of. You don't really know what you're getting. It's like that mystery smoothie." But, she says, "a lot of fruit enzymes are great for exfoliating the skin."

For these reasons, the Peninsula Spa employs a specially formulated line of products from a company called Epicuren, rather than using whole foods, in its Pineapple Papaya Enzyme Scrub and Green Tea and Ginger Seaweed Mask. "Epicuren is pretty fastidious about purity and quality control," says Davis. "All of the products are natural and very finely honed in a lab."

The Century Plaza Hotel's Spa Mystique, set to open in March, has taken a similar approach with its Paprika Herbal Facial Treatment and Parsley Cucumber Treatment. "Our ingredients are the real thing," says spa director Bruce Taylor.

Although more spas are using food in their facial treatments, women have been incorporating food into their beauty regimens for thousands of years.

"Cleopatra had milk baths in ancient times," offers Vera Kantor, owner of the Verabella salon in Beverly Hills. Today, Kantor encourages her clients, especially those with dry skin, to wash their faces with milk. "It has to be Vitamin D fortified whole milk," she says, "because the grease of the milk fatty acids is really what's good for your skin. Inside you can take whatever."

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Kantor has experimented with a number of kitchen concoctions over the years. Growing up in Russia, she regularly applied hydrating egg-and-honey masks and used chamomile tea as an astringent. "My grandma's motto was, 'Everything that is good for you to eat is good for your skin.' "

Kantor agrees. Recently, she introduced two foodie facials at her salon. The first, called Fall on Your Face, incorporates a Thanksgiving-ish cranberry-apple scrub and a pumpkin-pie peel. The second is a Champagne and Caviar facial. While very few of the products Kantor uses are homemade, the champagne she employs is the real thing. Kantor lets it go flat, mixes it with a powder containing wheat germ and oatmeal, and applies it to the skin.

The enzymes in champagne, Kantor explains, act as an exfoliant. The caviar is not eggs in a tin, but a "spongy sheet of paper, a frozen extract of collagen and caviar." And, she adds, it has the bonus of not smelling like caviar.

Such newfangled treatments aren't necessarily any better than their more traditional counterparts. All, says Spoiled's Cook, are "a different means to the same end."

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But with consumers more interested in natural and organic products as well as holistic medicine, it makes sense that they would want the same in skin treatments.

Plus, food is in.

Never before, it seems, have so many people known what a papaya is, or the difference between champagne and sparkling wine.

Not surprisingly, dermatologists are skeptical about many of the claims associated with food-based spa treatments. "I don't think there's any science behind them," says Los Angeles dermatologist Millard Zisser, who is also an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA's School of Medicine. "A facial is a way to relax yourself and treat yourself and feel better, like a massage. It doesn't have any long-lasting benefits. It's fun more than therapy."

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