'Organic' sounds good, best tactics feel better

Spa Ja's front room and store on West 56th Street.
Spa Ja's front room and store on West 56th Street. (Nina Roberts for The Boston Globe)
By Nina Roberts
Globe Correspondent / January 11, 2009
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NEW YORK - Can a spa call itself organic?

For now, there is no organic spa certification. For the spa-goer who wants treatments using organic ingredients without perfumes, parabens, and chemical preservatives, there are exquisite facials, massages, scrubs, and wraps to be experienced in New York. For those who want only products with the USDA Organic seal touching their skin, they should make prior arrangements and bring their own.

Of the following spas with organic leanings several believe in their treatments as part of a larger no-chemical, ecological philosophy, while others see their nontoxic treatments as part of many offerings and could be injecting Botox or spraying on tans in the next room.

Clients at the sleek Spa Já are greeted by an exceptionally friendly staff, organic snacks and teas, Brazilian music, and scents of mint and lavender essential oils. Spa Já is known for its use of Dr. Alkaitis and Farmaesthetics products in its facials and body treatments as well as offering one of the city's largest selections of paraben-free beauty products.

"Your face is alive!" said esthetician Eka after administering the spa's popular Dr. Alkaitis organic facial, which includes masks made from Dr. Alkaitis powders mixed with milk, yogurt, and honey. The blissful treatment lasts 80 to 90 minutes. Included in the $160 facial is a massage of the neck, shoulders, hands, and time permitting, reflexology, leaving both face and spirit aglow.

Those looking for a fresh haircut visit John Masters Organics, a clean air hair salon located on one of SoHo's quieter streets. Standard salon activities are abuzz yet there is no ammonia smell, just rosemary. The salon doesn't perform any chemical processes; coloring is done using herbal and clay-based products.

"I was thought of as peculiar, now I'm looked upon as a pioneer," says Masters. He started his salon and concocting his own products in the mid-1980s. His contemporary, elegant approach to using and selling organic beauty products made the salon appealing to the mainstream. "I've been working on this for 20 years. I didn't start last week because it's cool and popular," says Masters. "It's frustrating when these green divas pop up and are suddenly the experts."

Clients look forward to lavender and rosemary lathers and rounds of rinses and conditioners with intoxicating smells of herbs and citrus, specifically neroli. Cucumber slices rest atop the eyelids while hands expertly massage the scalp. It's almost jarring when it's time for the actual haircut, which costs $80 to $100.

Any spa connoisseur looking for a day of escape should consider the modern, multilevel Great Jones Spa in NoHo. It is not billed as organic, but it uses many products with organic ingredients such as Naturopathica. The cafe makes fresh juice concoctions, wraps, and salads that can be eaten there or brought to any part of the spa.

"Most people that come here know, or they assume, there will be no chemicals in the products we use," says esthetician Karen Terranova. She suggests that clients who are concerned about ingredients do some research. "You can have 'organics' written all over the box, but you have to read the ingredients."

"For an upscale spa, you really get a lot for your money," says Aliza Rabinoff, who recently celebrated her friend's 40th birthday at Great Jones with an hourlong Swedish massage for $140. Visitors can use the spa's eucalyptus steam room, sauna, and the Aqua Lounge, a subterranean set of pools, for three hours around their appointment. One of the most popular treatments is the Coconut Sugar Glow aromatherapy massage for $150. The hourlong treatment leaves clients relaxed with vibrant skin.

One of the most unusual treatments using organic ingredients offered in the city is the Geisha facial at Shizuka New York. Spa owner Shizuka Bernstein reveals the main ingredient: nightingale droppings. Bernstein, a native of Japan, tells how in 18th-century Japan, kabuki actors and geishas used heavy, lead-laden white face paint. "They would get sick and sometimes even die," Bernstein says. "They tried various treatments to counteract the lead's effect and discovered nightingale droppings."

After months of research and experimentation, Bernstein came up with a creamy concoction using organic, pulverized Japanese nightingale droppings mixed with Japanese rice bran, an exfoliant. After the one-hour, $180 facial of steams, toners, masks, including one of camellia oil and green tea, the face radiates.

"I have the best organic products, but so what? Products don't do anything unless you know what to do with them," says Laszlo Friedman, owner of Le Cachet Day Spa NYC. The spa is not exactly chic. There are big bouquets of fake flowers, a chandelier, and a mirrored wall, but it's spotless and specializes in holistic Eastern European skin care. Le Cachet's approach is all about circulation and blood flow, as oxygen gives people energy and helps reproduce skin cells. "It's so simple it's beautiful," says Friedman. "Half of a good facial is the massage."

The spa uses products made by Éminence Organic Skin Care, an artisinal Hungarian company. There is little to no information about the ingredients, and when pressed how the consumer can be sure the products are even partially organic, Freidman says, "They've been making it since 1958, not recently just because it's trendy." Herbal, seaweed, and mud body wraps cost $95 to $150. The Rejuv-Thermal Oxygen treatment, which has the client lying in a high-tech pod contraption that acts like a car wash for the body, is $140 to $210.

Nina Roberts can be reached at

If You Go

Spa Já

300 West 56th St.


John Masters Organics

77 Sullivan St.


Great Jones Spa

29 Great Jones St.


Shizuka New York

7 West 51st St., 6th floor


Le Cachet Day Spa NYC

39 East 30th St.


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