The Hot New Spa Treatment: Sand Baths

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••• The Japanese have been sand bathing in Ibusuki for more than 300 years. Getty Images: Junko Kimura

Do you love strange spa treatments?  Here's a new one to try: a sand bath, also known as psammotherapy, or sand therapy.

Sand bathing is on the rise, according to SpaFinder in its 2015 Trends Report. But, like so many spa treatments, sand baths are part of an ancient healing tradition that helps reduce pain.  Sand warms the body uniformly, helping relieve musculoskeletal and arthritic pain.  Like a sauna or steam room, the heat also causes you to sweat, detoxifying the body.

and the moisture is wicked away by the sand.

The first written description of a therapeutic hot sand burial was recorded in Siwa in ancient Egypt.  Today it's on the rise in the deserts around Merzouga in Morocco, where local Berbers have a brisk trade burying tourists.  On this level, how it worked then is pretty much how it works now.  Someone digs a shallow hole in the morning, so the sand will warm up.  The "customer" reclines face-up in the sand, keeping his head free while his body is covered in heavy sand sand.  The Berber buries the customer, shields him from the harsh sun, and gives him drinks of water.  Twenty minutes later, the customer is unburied and (ideally), feels greatly enlivened. 

More luxurious versions of sand therapy can be found in Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resor  by Anantara in Abu Dhabi. And the Saudi government’s massive tourism/entertainment city, Al Uqair, set to open in 2017, will feature an entire sand bathing center.

One of the best places to get a sand bath (or suna-buro) is in the warm volcanic soils of Kyushu, a southern Japanese island with a balmy subtropical climate and volcanic hot springs.   Wearing a light robe called a yukata, you lie down next to a row of fellow sand bathers, place your head on a wooden block, and are covered with sand by an attendant.

 The sand is heavy (attention claustrophobics!) and you cannot move.  You'll sweat, but the sand wicks the moisture away.  

Brenner’s Park in Baden-Baden, Germany, has offered hot sand therapy for 20 years, but today sand bathing is happening from Madeira to Uzbekistan to Korea, and in spas in the Middle East, Europe and Asia, according to SpaFinder.

For the rest of us, new sand massage tables are bringing the penetrating heat of Arabic sand baths to any spa. Pioneer Gharieni has rolled out their MLX Quartz sand table.   Spa-goers are immersed in a heated bed of warm sand and quartz, with technology that allows the shifting sand to gently massage from below while therapists massage above.

These innovative sand tables are going into many top spas, from Spa Nalai at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan to the just-renovated Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh in Saudi Arabia to Awaken Whole Life Center in Unity Village, Missouri.  Sammy Gharieni, Gharieni’s founder and CEO, notes that, “Sand tables are so popular, that in five to ten years they look to become standard at spas.”

Sand baths are part of an overall trend to more Islamic influence spa treatments and ingredients, according to SpaFinder. Middle-Eastern and African medicinal plants, spices, ancient grains and fruits such as freekeh, fenugreek, teff, turmeric and harissa are sought-after “superfoods” –  freekeh, fenugreek, teff, turmeric and harissa.

Camel’s milk, blackseed oil, baobob fruit and frankincense are being used for food, medicine and beauty products.   And more Middle Eastern/African spas moving beyond “Asian” menus, to go deeper into indigenous ingredients.