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A woman receiving a mud masque.

Mud: Dig It!
By Melinda Minton

As you may know, the word spa is the acronym for salus per aqua, Latin meaning "good health through water." But did you know that all of that good water also produces great mud? • Mud is one of the healthiest components of spa therapies, when it comes from the correct source and is used appropriately. In fact, mud is the cornerstone of many spa therapies. What’s more, there are a variety of types of mud, each notable for its own specific qualities. Let’s dig into mud, from a historical perspective to its 21st -century presence. • Spas have been around for hundreds of years. One of the oldest, Karlovy Vary in Karlsbad, Czechoslovakia, was founded in 1338. Karlovy Vary’s grounds boast 132 springs that have flowed nearly 15 million years and vary in temperature from 95-160 degrees Fahrenheit. Beethoven and Napoleon are just two among scores of sheiks, maharajas and European rulers who have enjoyed the therapeutic waters and mud in this area.

"Our mud is high in mineral salts, CO2, argonite, calcite and trace iron deposits," said Mila Syznovich, spokesperson for Karlovy Vary. "This area is a river valley formed by granite tectonic blocks, which created a rift valley. Subsequent basalt lava flows and argonite mineralizations are also present. The thermal water infects the earth surrounding it, lending the mud curative properties."

Interestingly, mud has a different curative effect from each spring, varying from digestive healing agents to vascular and metabolic aids.

A variety of mud with different curative effects.Andrew Weil, M.D., a proponent of complementary health care, acknowledges that mud seems to have something going for it. Research on the therapeutic properties of mud has been much more intense in Europe and Russia than in the United States, so Weil is cautious about endorsing mud carte blanche.

Weil said that based on the application of thermal mud promotes long-lasting beneficial effects for people with dry and seborrheic (flaking) skin. In 1999 another Italian study reported that the combination of mudpacks and antidepressants helped fibromyalgia patients both physiologically and psychologically.

"In Israel, medical researchers at Ben-Gurion University found that rheumatoid arthritis patients who were treated with daily mud packs, daily hot sulfur baths, and a combination of the two, improved significantly compared to those who didn’t receive any of these treatments."

Weil also raises some cautionary issues, such as sanitation, indicating that single-use baths that are completely sanitized and then replenished might be safer than group-shared thermal facilities.

"I once took a mud bath at a spa in Calistoga, California, and noticed that quite a number of people got in and out of the mud before it was changed. You could pick up a skin disease this way," said Weil. "Some of the bugs responsible, such as pseudomonas, survive in high temperatures."

Muds used in spa therapies are found throughout the world. Each mud has a different content based on the geologic area from which it originated. Several governments, including those in Italy and Israel, have actually conducted in-depth studies as to the effectiveness of the mud found in their countries.

Dead Sea Mud
Just 16 miles east of Jerusalem lies the Dead Sea, with its healing water, salts and mud. More than 1,300 feet below sea level and with water 10 times saltier than that of the ocean, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth and the most saline of all natural lakes. The setting of the Dead Sea is unique not only in the waterbed itself, but also the atmosphere above it. The atmospheric pressure is so high around the Dead Sea that the sun’s harmful UV rays are filtered out. There is more oxygen in the Dead Sea area than at sea level. The waters are so salty that they contain absolutely no life. The Dead Sea is so dense that individuals buoy to its surface. In fact, every liter of water from the Dead Sea contains 320 grams of salts and minerals.

According to Imar Levy, an American dermatologist practicing in Chicago, there are several beneficial elements to Dead Sea mud: magnesium, which is known for its healing properties and soothing influence on the skin; bromide, which is soothing, relaxing and has a tranquilizing effect on the nervous system; iodine, which is important for the correct functioning of the thyroid gland and a key factor in the body’s metabolic exchanges; sulfur, which is a natural disinfectant and a great remedy for acneic conditions; and potassium A, for moisturizing and emulsion.

Levy tested a Dead Sea mud mask on 30 women of different age groups and varying skin tones. He found that the facial mud mask both cleanses and moisturizes the skin.

"The clay’s drawing qualities reach deep into the pores, thoroughly cleansing and removing grime, which impedes the nourishing process," Levy said. "Through reverse osmosis, minerals from the mud nourish the skin and restore its vitality. The mineral action also works to tighten the pores."

When coupled with massage, a Dead Sea body treatment can help speed lymphatic drainage, thereby ridding the body of toxins, according to a study initiated by the Israeli government and conducted by Levy.

At the Dead Sea Medical Center, patients from all over the world come for treatments and relaxation. A combination of mineralized water; black mud, highly oxygenated air and filtered sun make for a curative combination of therapeutic choices. Among the skin disorders seen at the clinic, the most common are psoriasis, vitiligo, ichthyosis, acne, eczema and arthritis.

Without committing to thousands of miles of travel and the expense of staying at a five-star resort, Dead Sea mud is widely available throughout North America for home and professional use, from a variety of companies.

Fango
Fango is an unglamorous grayish-brown slime. It is made up of a solid, clay-like component, thermal water and an algae-based flurry. Fango is organic and undergoes a maturation process before being considered therapeutic. Fango can be used on clients, and it must be in direct contact with thermal water, sunlight and air during the maturation process, according to Reinhard Bergel, Ph.D., and a physical therapist who practices in Calistoga, California. This permits the fango’s enrichment by mineral salts and the growth of a particular form of algae at its surface. This strain of alginate thrives in environments that offer very high temperatures with a rich mineral content. Two actions are produced in a cycle of fango therapy. Therapeutically, a local anti-inflammatory, analgesic effect occurs in a localized area. Secondly, increased resistances to pathogenic agents occur in the area being treated.

"When the fango has sufficiently matured, its efficacy is strengthened by its ability to give off heat, which leads to perspiration from the client," said Bergel. "Circulation is increased, as is stimulation and elimination of toxic substances in the body."

Based on a 1999 study by Bergel on the biology and physics of peloid fango - a by-product of mineral water, he concluded that the substances contained in fango actually affect the coetaneous nerve endings. In turn, they facilitate a release of hormonal substances by the endocrine glands, said Bergel.

"These hormonal substances are effective in stopping inflammatory components in articular applications of fango. This reaction helps the individual fight off disease-causing agents through neurovegetative modification and hormonal stimulation that modifies the connective tissue components, where primary and principal alterations of chronic diseases are produced," he said.

A fango therapy cycle lasts an average of two to three weeks, with 12-15 applications of fango in a daily cyclical treatment. A shorter fango session often produces short-lived results. Aldo Cimi, M.D., a dermatologist at the Beatitudo Spa in Veneto, Italy, describes the classic fango session: "Each session is divided into four phases: the application of the mud, a bath in thermal water, perspiration reaction and stimulating massage. In Europe this type of a treatment is always physician prescribed and supervised."

"Typically, a sweating grotto or thermal cave is also utilized with a steam bath of thermal water. Fango therapy mixed with time spent in the grotto is particularly effective for treating obesity, gout and diabetes," said Cimi.

The mud is applied at a temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit and left on for 15-20 minutes, followed by a hot shower and thermal bath for 8-10 minutes, he said.

"After the client is dried off, it is essential that the individual be allowed to rest in a warm bed for 30-60 minutes for the sudoral reaction to occur. This is the point at which the biological effects induced by the fango treatment are most intense," Cimi said. "After this reaction the client receives a full-body stimulating massage to obtain a toning effect on muscular and nervous activity."

Moor Mud
Moor mud is another type of therapeutic mud, derived from peat. According to the International Peat Society (IPS), peat lands are mires of wetland ecosystems characterized by an accumulation of organic mire. More than 90 percent of peat lands can be found in the temperate and cold belt in the Northern Hemisphere.

Peat is a heterogeneous mixture of decomposed plant (humus) material that has accumulated in a water-saturated environment and in the absence of oxygen. Its structure ranges from decomposed plant remains to a fine amorphic, colloidal mass. The warmer the climate, the quicker the plant material will decompose. The rate of accumulating plant material is greatest in areas where the temperature is high enough for plant growth but too low for the vigorous microbial activity that breaks down the plant material.

Chairman of the U.S. National Committee of the IPS, D.N. Grubich, said that the society tries to keep moor-mud standards high. "We classify the nutrient status of mire vegetation and the substrate based on several factors. The term ombrotrophic describes a site receiving nutrients only in the form of precipitation or wind-borne dust. Ombrotrophic conditions represent the extreme situation at the lower end of nutrient availability, and ombrotrophic sites usually have a thick peat layer. Sphagnum mosses are the most typical bryophytes for ombrotrophic bogs," said Grubich.

According to Grubich, a site is minerotrophic when the nutrient concentration in the surface peat and mire water is significantly higher than that of precipitation. This may happen where the depth to underlying mineral soil is shallow, or if mineral-rich surface water or groundwater is supplying nutrients.

"Moor mud quality is therefore dependent on the bog from which the substrate was taken," said Grubich. "Every mire is somewhat different in organic makeup. The processing and handling of the moor is also a crucial aspect of determining the substance’s organic value."

Mud In Spas
At Glen Ivy Hot Springs Spas in Corona, California the natural red clay unique to that region has a purifying effect on the skin.At Glen Ivy Hot Springs Spa in Corona, California, water is the main focus. Long before Europeans inhabited North America, Native Americans frequented the springs and deemed the area a sacred site. By Native American law, conduct at the spring had to be peaceful, even if enemies showed up there at the same time. When the Spaniards came, they named the valley Luisenos and called the hot springs Temescal, meaning "sweat lodge."

There was a small hotel nearby that kept the springs busy from1870 to 1884, when the hotel burned down. In 1879 the first Glen Ivy hotel was built closer to the springs and named Glen Ivy Hot Springs by natives of England, where a canyon is referred to as a glen. This gave way to the first part of the name that stuck. Wild grape ivy grows profusely in Coldwater Canyon where the spa is located, so Ivy became the second part of the name.

"We actually call it Club Mud," said Marketing Director Cindy Capen. "We have a natural red clay unique to this area of Southern California. The clay has a purifying effect on the skin. The fine clay actually draws from the pores, absorbing impurities and helping to release wastes from the skin. The effect is a gentle exfoliation, tightening and revitalizing of the skin."

In addition to the health benefits, Capen said she thinks clients find mud to be fun. The mud is left on for about 20 minutes and is then showered off. Glen Ivy also offers the red clay in the form of mud baths.

Spa-goer Cindy Gunthrie, from Springfield, Illinois, had her first mud treatment at a spa in Chicago just a few months ago. She was a little afraid at first and didn’t know what to expect. Once she discovered the "mud scene," she loved it.

"I got a facial and a thermal mud wrap," Gunthrie said. "One of my friends went to the spa with me, which made the experience fun. Afterwards my skin felt smooth, and I felt completely relaxed. I would do it again in a heartbeat."

Mud In Smaller Practices
Mud is certainly interesting and has an exceptional history. Mud is healing and therapeutic; some would even say medicinal. But what does this mean to your business? Believe it or not, there are several ways to incorporate mud into your spa or practice without spending a lot of money or revamping your facilities.

Sheila Wymand, a massage therapist in Boone, Vermont, incorporated Dead Sea mud into her practice by starting with foot masquing.

"I begin the massage with 15 minutes of reflexology and then apply the masque. After the massage I wipe off the mud with hot, peppermint-infused towels," said Wymand.

Mud applied as a masque, which is later removed with warm towels.She works in a small office with no running water in her immediate room.

"I just use a crock pot to warm the towels. After the massage I simply clean out the pot and throw the towels into the wash."

Wymand advises using dark towels, as the mud stains. The increase in revenue for a foot treatment is $20, with only $1.40 spent per treatment.

Susan Upmyer, a massage therapist with a private practice in Atlanta, Georgia, believes in parafango, which is heated paraffin mixed with fango.

"For under $300 I got set up with a parafango kit. The kit comes with an electric pot of fango and paraffin, plastic wrap and everything else needed to do a full-body treatment. Once the service is complete the wrap is simply removed from the client, leaving no mess. No water is necessary, and my clients love the treatment," said Upmyer. The charge for the wrap is $80, with only $3.60 spent on the treatment.

Robin Ingram, trainer for Neydharting Moor in Stuart, Florida, said it is important to research the purity of a product.

"Research the product: where it comes from, how it is put together. Think about who the company is, what they are about and their business philosophy," Ingram said. Clients today want basic, simple products that work. People want simplicity. Think about how versatile the products are.

"Our body paste can be directly applied to the skin. It is pure peat. Once the paste is applied the client can be wrapped in a plastic sheet for 20 minutes before a massage is given," said Ingram. "To remove the mud, warm towels can be used. Cotton towelletes or cloth diapers may also be used to remove the mud. If you don’t have wet facilities in your working space, the client can also enjoy a soothing moor bath at home before the massage."

Jaiyson Dillon, a massage therapist practicing in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, has become enthusiastically proficient with using mud in his practice. "I use mud that is water-soluble so it doesn’t clog drains or leave stains on towels or tubs," Dillon said. "Because I just have a small one-person practice, I do not have wet facilities. As a consequence, I steep towels in mud water and drain the clear top water that has all of the nutrients still in it. I use the hot, mineral-enriched towels to loosen up muscle groups as I do massage. I also use the cold water to offer cooling forehead compresses during the end of my massage sessions, to revitalize the client."

Dillon said he thinks that his client base appreciates the amenity, which is offered without extra charge, and he encourages them to take mud home for at-home baths and treatments.


Melinda Minton, L.M.T., is an esthetician, cosmetologist and former spa owner. She currently works as a spa and salon consultant, E-business expert and free-lance writer. She calls Fort Collins, Colorado, home.