Grape Escapes

Wine And Grape Treatments Have A Long Tradition

By Meagan Bernabe

Originally published in ASCP's Skin Deep, May/June 2008.

Americans have known for nearly two decades wine isn’t just good for the soul: it’s also good for the heart. The French paradox—the seeming disconnect between French slenderness and their rich-food habits—spurred extensive studies starting in the early 1990s, concluding wine, especially red wine consumed in moderate amounts, can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. But only recently have we begun to rediscover wine is also good for the skin. Vinotherapy, a collective term for the wine- and grape-based treatments and products beginning to pop up on spa menus across the nation, is a natural addition to today’s eco-friendly spa, and it’s sure to quench your clients’ thirst for a fresh experience with tangible results.

New Product Possibilities

Vinotherapy is the American derivation of the French term Vinothérapie, a registered trademark of Mathilde Cathiard-Thomas and her husband, Bertrand Thomas. In 1999, the couple opened the world’s first official wine spa, Les Sources de Caudalie, in Bordeaux, France. Today they offer Vinothérapie in several of their own spas around the world; their next, slated for Manhattan, is due to open June 15, 2008. In their sense of the word, Vinothérapie refers not just to a single treatment, but to a central concept around which to construct a spa.

The American way of incorporating grape-based treatments into the spa, however, is much more flexible. Rather than switching over a whole spa to a single theme, U.S. skin care professionals, spas, and salons have chosen simply to treat vinotherapy as they would any other new product line. Cabernet scrubs replace sugar scrubs; grape seed oil ousts almond oil. And in the end, says Cara Solomon of Body Restoration Spa in Philadelphia, many customers see vinotherapy as the healthier choice.

“(Vinotherapy) is different from the typical muds and chocolate because its benefits are more scientifically based,” she says. “People really see it as healthier for their skin.”

Healthful Practice

For thousands of years, grapes and grape wine have been valued for their salubrious qualities. The Roman natural philosopher, Pliny the Elder, wrote in 77 C.E. that by “the use of wine, the human vigor, blood, and complexion are improved.” He wasn’t just talking about drinking it, either. Several of his remedies included crushing grape skins and mixing them with other ingredients to create topical pastes for curing snake bites or improving circulation.

The topical application of grapes seems to have faded from practice over the years, but people around the world maintained that drinking wine was good for one’s health. In some cases, it was used as a safer alternative to water, as its acids and alcohol kill off many disease-causing pathogens found in untreated water. In other cases, it was used as a digestive aid or sedative. In the United States, wine suffered a long setback during and after Prohibition, but is now the most commonly imbibed alcoholic beverage.

Despite what we might like to think, most of the health benefits of wine are actually present in greater quantities in its much healthier ingredient, the grape. A grape consists of four main parts: the pulp (where all the juice is stored), stem, skin, and seed. In wine making, the latter three are all discarded as waste. But those are the very parts that contain the highest concentration of nutrients and are most beneficial in a variety of spa treatments.

Most quality treatments and products contain either grape seed or one of its derivatives. A highly concentrated source of antioxidants, the grape seed contains a polyphenol called resveratrol, which has been shown to inhibit growth of cancer cells, including skin cancer. Some studies have demonstrated that grape seed extract, when applied to broken skin, promotes faster healing while reducing the formation of scar tissue. Grape seed oil maintains the healing properties of the seed, while providing an excellent emollient for a wide variety of spa treatments.

Grape skins are also an excellent source of resveratrol, the healing powers of which are so extraordinary some experts have called it the fountain of youth. In addition, skins contain flavonoids, which protect against free radicals, reduce inflammation, and help prevent skin damage. Grape skins can be crushed and blended with emollients to create wraps or masks; their extract can be infused into soaks or baths.

Vinotherapy products, including grape seed oils and extracts, masks, wraps, and scrubs are available from a number of online wholesalers, but the trend is not yet widespread. Treatments may be more popular in areas where there are many wineries because spa-goers in those areas tend to be in a wine-friendly frame of mind. Unfortunately, the isolation of vinotherapy to major wine-producing regions has resulted in a rather limited variety of products on the market.

Saving Seeds

Cara Solomon may have figured out a way to change all that. In early 2006, she arranged a deal with Chaddsford Winery, just outside Philadelphia, to collect grape must—grape skins, seeds, and pulp—during the harvest. With the assistance of Ellen O’Neal, owner of the massage cream company, Ellen’s Epiphany, Solomon dehydrated grape seeds in an oven, ground them several times in a food processor, and experimented with adding grape seed oil until they found the precise consistency for a grape seed scrub, the first in a line of vinotherapy products they developed.

By relieving the winery of a wine making by-product, she provided herself with the raw materials she needed to concoct a vinotherapy line while using otherwise wasted materials.

Solomon may have been one of the first to realize the potential of partnering with a neighborhood winery, but she certainly won’t be the last. “Everywhere I look, people are starting to take pressed grapes from wineries, taking the nutrients from them, and making them into skin care products,” she says. Spas are becoming an integral part of the wine touring tradition as well; many wineries now offer spa services along with resort-style accommodations. With wineries now in every state, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Whether skin care professionals choose to follow Solomon’s example or simply build on a few ready-made products, they will certainly find plenty of vinotherapy opportunities.