Mud Wraps and Mud Baths

The Therapeutic Use of Mud at the Spa

mud wrap
••• A spa on Ishchia makes its own mud fresh, every day. Anitra Brown

Mud often shows up in spa treatments, most commonly body wraps, facial masks and mud baths.  The therapeutic use of mud is called pelotherapy from pelos, the Greek word for mud.  And though most people don't know it, has been around a long time. Greek physician Galen wrote about mud treatments for arthritis and rheumatism nearly 2,000 years ago. 

Does that mean you can go out in the back yard and create your own mud treatment?

 Definitely not!  The mineral composition of muds differ based on where they come from, and the muds used at spa have been selected for their therapeutic properties.  These muds are mildly exfoliating, increase circulation to the skin, help draw out the body's natural waste products, and are a rich source of minerals and trace elements.  The mud can also be combined with mineral springs or geothermal waters, which bring even more potency to the treatment.  

Types Of Therapuetic Mud  

​While therapeutic mud can come from a variety of places -- coastal rivers, volcanic mountains, inland lakes, peat bogs -- but here are some of the main types used in spa treatments.

Hot Springs Mud comes from areas where natural thermal hot springs are found. The earth has a high mineral content, especially when combined with the mineral water.  The mud baths or wraps replenish the body while drawing out waste products and relieving muscular aches and pains.


At the mud baths of Calistoga Spa Hot Springs in Napa Valley, mineral-rich volcanic ash is blended with local mineral spring water and peat moss and guests climb in the concrete pools of earth and lie suspended up to their neck.  (Perhaps not a great choice for people claustrophobia.)  It's even nicer when combine it with time in the natural mineral pools, steam baths, and a Swedish, deep tissue, or sports massage.

 Located in downtown Calistoga,  the 56-room hotel and spa was completely redesigned in 2013.

Italy is also famous for its fangotherapy (fango is the Italian word for mud) and one of the finest places to experience it is at L’Albergo della Regina Isabella, a luxury thermal spa on the island of Ischia.  They make their own therapeutic mud in a complex next to the hotel, mixing volcanic soil with the island's geothermal water.  They allow it to sit for six months so beneficial algae can grow and enrich the mud.

Every morning the hotel brings over a fresh batch to the spa, and therapists use a whole bucket of deliciously warm mud in the heavenly fango treatment.  (They do recommend a series of at least six treatments, and preferably twelve.)  L’Albergo della Regina Isabella and other spas in Europe also use mud packs on particular areas of the body -- knees, shoulders, back or hips -- to relieve pain and inflammation.  The hotel's fango therapy and thermal water baths are true therapeutic treatments which require a prescription from the on-site doctor.

Dead Sea Mud is harvested from the banks of the Dead Sea, an inland salt lake bordering Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west.

 The very black mud is in fact alluvial silt washed down from the surrounding mountains and deposited on the shores of the hyper-saline lake. Layer upon layer of fine silt deposited over thousands of years has formed a rich black  mud containing  high levels of magnesium, calcium, potassium, strontium, boron and iron.  The spas there are first rate: ornate sandstone temples with indoor-outdoor hot tubs, saltwater pools and amazing mud wraps.   

You can do your own Dead Sea mud body mask at home -- Ahava has one for $16 -- but products packaged for the commercial market have chemical preservatives in them to keep them from spoiling.

Moor Mud is actually 1,000 varieties of flowers, grasses and herbs (300 of them with medicinal properties) that have decomposed into bogs over 20,000 to 30,000 years.

 Unlike the other types of mud, it has very little clay, and is technically a peat moss with minerals, trace elements amino acids, phyto-hormones, vitamins and enzymes.  It is known for its detoxifying, anti-inflammatory and anti-aging effects, and helps resort the body's mineral balance.  It is used in treating skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, sports injuries,  and arthritis.  

One of the nice things about Moor Mud is that it doesn't require any preservatives, so you can give yourself Moor Mud baths and body treatments at home without the parabens or PEGs.  It is usually recommended that you give yourself a series of treatments to detox.  

Clays are composed of fine particles of specific rocks containing a large proportions of aluminum silicate and are most commonly used in facial masks. Clay masks help draw oil and dirt to the surface of the skin. Clay stimulates circulation, temporarily contracts the pores of the skin and soften the skin. Different types of clay include kaolin, bentonite, and French green clay.  

Sometimes these clays are blended with other substances to create a mud that can be used in a body wrap.  For instance, some spas (especially southwestern ones) using a commercial product that combines Sedona's red clay earth with bentonite, kaolin, laminar, sea salts, essential oils and preservatives.  

I am super careful about what I put on my skin, so I always recommend asking the spa what product it uses, then check on the ingredients online. Make sure you get ALL the ingredients, not just the "active" ingredients.   If the ready-made product uses synthetic ingredients like PEG-100 stearate, dimethicone and parabens, just pass and get a massage.  Then save up to go to one of those fabulous destinations that makes their own mud fresh every day!