News & Politics

Spas That Are All Natural

Day spas where the nail polish is formaldehyde-free, massage lotions have no parabens, and facials feature organic products.

Photograph courtesy of Natural Body.

Style > Spas & Beauty > Natural Beauty

Getting a pedicure or massage should be relaxing, right?

But for some spagoers, it’s hard to relax knowing that most nail polish is made with formaldehyde, a possible carcinogen. Or that massage lotions may contain parabens, which have been known to cause allergic reactions.

More consumers are paying attention to what beauty products they put on their bodies and into the environment—and that extends beyond cosmetic counters to salons and spas.

“We’ve been open for three years, and in that time I’ve seen a huge change,” says Pilar DiVittorio, owner of Pilar’s Organic Skin Care in Vienna, which uses products that are certified organic and biodynamic. “Even just a few years ago, people were questioning what I do. Now 90 percent of the reason that people choose us is because they are looking for something healthier.”

In the past few years, the number of products claiming to be free of toxic ingredients has skyrocketed, says Julie Smalfelt, owner of Comfort & Joy Wellness Spa in Fairfax. So has the hype.

“You can now find endless products that have added the word ‘natural’ to their name, and all they have done is throw in a couple of ingredients from tree bark or plant leaves and changed nothing else about the otherwise dubious contents of their products,” says Smalfelt, whose spa carries organic products including nontoxic nail polish.

Because there are no official standards for “natural” products, DiVittorio says she created her own guidelines for what natural means at her spa: Products are free from genetically modified ingredients, petrochemicals, synthetics, and animal ingredients except for “cruelty-free” bee products. She also avoids products containing propane, paraben preservatives, triclosan, urea, and other ingredients that have been linked to health problems and even cancer.

The owners of natural spas are so passionate about what they do that they will not offer certain services—such as fake nails and hair coloring—because the products can be toxic or damaging to the environment.

Jacki Barnett, director of the Natural Body Spa & Shoppe in DC’s West End, suggests that when picking a spa, clients consider the entire experience, from product lines to the spa’s business practices.

“Look at the whole package,” says Barnett. “Do they have a recycling program? Is the spa involved in the community in a positive way? Does the spa carry natural and organic product lines?”

Some Natural Body spas use low-flow faucets, compact fluorescent bulbs, and a checkout counter made from recycled newspapers.

Concerned spagoers can ask what products will be used during a treatment. “Seek out a business that provides the research and information you need to make an informed decision,” says DiVittorio, “and don’t be afraid to ask for brochures and reading material on the product lines.”

That way, when you’re up to your neck in mud or kicking back getting a facial, you can focus on what going to a spa is all about—pampering and relaxation.

All-Natural Spas

More area salons are adding “natural” services to their menus. But these eight companies and spas have built their reputation on using the most natural and organic products available while taking a greener approach to business.

While some of the spas on the following list are on the luxe side, most are low-key, with an emphasis on treatments and not necessarily on ultrapampering.


Now a household name, Aveda was founded in 1978 to provide industry professionals with botanical products that not only work but are good for the planet. Aveda is now one of the largest buyers of organic ingredients in the industry. Among its green practices, Aveda has been phasing out parabens from its products.

Aveda, locations in Maryland, Virginia, and DC;

Comfort & Joy Wellness Spa

Besides stocking natural and organic products such as Two Green Cents, Suki, and Aubrey Organics, Comfort & Joy offers everything from “chemical-free” facials ($85 to $135) to hair removal using soy wax instead of petroleum wax ($15 to $110). Manicures and pedicures ($25 to $65) feature nontoxic, vegan SpaRitual nail polish. For hair color ($65 and up), it uses EcoColors, which owner Julie Smalfelt says is “the best line we can find at the moment for safety and performance, short of using organic henna, which we also offer.” (One drawback to henna is that it won’t dye hair certain colors—it can’t take you from brunette to blond.)

Comfort & Joy, 9514-A Main St., Fairfax; 703-425-8800;

Derma Hair Care

Natural treatments here include herbal spray tanning ($55 full body), organic facials ($60 and $95), soy-wax hand and foot treatments ($15 to $30), and aqua detox ($60), a procedure said to detoxify the body through the 2,000 pores in the feet. The medispa is nearly all green, with an emphasis on recycled and biodegradable materials. Owner Honi Borden says most of the products she uses are 100 percent organic, synthetic free, vegan, and as natural as possible. Lines include Aubrey Organics, Suki, and Farmaesthetics herbal skincare.

Derma Hair Care, 111 Rowell Ct., Falls Church; 703-241-4004;

Natural Body Spa & Shoppe

“We used recycled, renewable materials at every chance,” says Jacki Barnett, director of the DC location. The floors at the DC and Ashburn locations are made from recycled school-bus tires, furniture is partly crafted out of reclaimed wood, and countertops are fashioned out of recycled newspaper. The spa’s own product line is seaweed-based, and it carries organic Jurlique products. Among the most popular treatments is a body wrap with mud from the Dead Sea ($110); runners love the massage with plant-derived arnica oil ($90 to $125), which Barnett says reduces soreness.

Natural Body, Northwest DC, 202-775-2070; Arlington, 703-243-4015; Ashburn, 703-726-9935; and Potomac, 301-610-5004;

Nusta Spa

This sleek spa is housed in a building that uses renewable and recycled material throughout as well as paints and varnishes that contain few or no environmental toxins. Owner Elizabeth Snowdon features several lines of organic products, including the spa’s own line, which uses ingredients harvested in an ecofriendly way from South American rainforests.

Nusta Spa, 1129 20th St., NW; 202-530-5700;

Pilar’s Organic Skin Care

This small spa specializes in custom facials ($100 to $150). The estheticians use products from organic and biodynamic lines such as Suki, Starflower Essentials, Éminence, Naturopathica, John Masters Organics, and Weleda.

Pilar’s Organic Skin Care, 123 Church St., NW, Vienna; 571-214-8689;

The Still Point

Among this spa’s offerings are a massage featuring Sacred Earth vegan cream ($80 for 60 minutes); acupuncture; and foot and leg treatments such as the Rock and Sole ($85), featuring a sea-salt soak, clay mask, and hot-stone massage. It has recently introduced an express mani/pedi ($50 for 45 minutes) using SpaRitual nail polish, which doesn’t contain dibutyl phthalate, a potentially toxic ingredient.

The Still Point, 7009 Carroll Ave. (lower level), Takoma Park; 301-920-0801;

The Spa Life

Enjoy a green spa party with your friends courtesy of this mobile ecospa. The company will even send someone to your home or office to do just one organic botanical facial ($120) or a manicure using formaldehyde-free Zoya polish ($35 to $50). The company also sells Miessence, a line of organically certified skin and bodycare products from Australia.

The Spa Life, 703-647-9605;

This article is from the July 2008 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from the issue, click here.