You may have heard the term ‘mud bath’ but be a bit confused about what it means. Is it a bath full of dirt? Not exactly…
Despite the name, a mud bath spa has been the preserve of royalty and celebrities for centuries. The original queen of spa, Cleopatra reputedly took trips to the Dead Sea and Marmaris in Turkey to coat herself in miraculous mineral-rich mud. Napoleon and Beethoven often visited the Czech mud baths at Karlovy Vary. What’s so great about mud, you may ask?
‘Mud’ in spa terminology is not wet, squidgy soil, ie don’t try this at home with a bag of compost. It refers to a mix of mineral-rich substances such as seaweed, volcanic ash, clay, combined with spring water and maybe aromatherapy essences and herbs to create a thick paste. Certain minerals found in spa mud baths are only present under specific geological conditions such as the Dead Sea, the European moorlands, volcanoes and natural hot springs.
Each location will have different minerals and benefits predominant in their muds.
Dead Sea mud is said to soothe skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and rosacea.
Rhassoul Mud is natural mineral clay from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and has been used for centuries to care for skin and hair. It contains silica, iron, magnesium potassium, sodium, lithium and trace elements.
Volcanic mud is said to be good for deep cleansing - helping with acne and balancing the hydration in skin.
Mud is also said to have anti-inflammatory properties, alleviating aches and pains, and pain from rheumatoid arthritis. Some people use mud to simply de-stress, relax and boost their wellbeing - or have a bit of fun painting it onto their skin in a rasul with a partner or close friends.
To allow the minerals and goodies in mud to seep into your skin, ideally you want to add heat to open your pores and get your circulation moving. There are several ways to do this.
In a bath: Literally, you can pour the squidgy stuff into a rolltop or modern spa bath, adding either local hot spring or warmed mineral water (see Calistoga and Hell’s Gate below). Then bathe. At Artisan Mud Baths in Queensland, Oz, wallow in your outdoor mud-filled rolltop bath with your nibbles and wine and admire the sunset. The local milky-grey mud from shales deep beneath the earth’s surface is estimated to be 20,000 years old and rich in silica magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron and zinc.
With steam: A mud bath at a spa in the UK will usually take place in a tiled steam room called a rasul or hammam (see below).
In a wrap: In a normal spa treatment room, the mud will be pasted onto your body and you will be wrapped in towels or a plastic sheet to activate your body heat.
Mud Bath Spas in the UK
A mud bath at a spa tends to take place in a special steam room – not just any steam room as it could get messy. The rasul chamber is normally lined with mosaic tiles to give you the traditional experience. You, and maybe a partner, will perform the mud ritual yourself (usually well explained with instructions from a therapist). There may be a separate steam room, a shower and a main drying off area with a bench. Lather yourselves in mud in the steam chamber and let those lovely minerals soak into your skin. Then rinse and rest. Your skin should feel smooth and zingy.
In a hammam, you may have a spa therapist (or tellak, a hammam assistant) apply the mud for you on a warm marble bed at the centre of the room. The mud treatment may begin by cleansing your body with savon noir (black soap) and exfoliating with a kessa glove. You can enjoy a spa hammam at SenSpa, in the New Forest and Dolphin Square Spa. For a traditional experience, try Old Hammam and Spa, London.
You can also enjoy a mud body wrap, which combines a mud mask with a thermal covering. Your therapist may begin the treatment with a scrub to open your pores and slather away any dead skin, then after a shower, invite you to lay down on a sheet of plastic or towels or a thermal blanket. She will then apply the mud all over your body and wrap you in the covers for 20 minutes or so, the heat of the wrap relaxing your muscles and allowing you to absorb the good stuff. For a hammam-inspired mud wrap, try Agua at Sea Containers, London. For a volcanic mud wrap, try Aqua Sana at Center Parcs.
Mud Bathing Around the World
For the love of mud, you can visit hot springs and wallow in warm, mineral-rich mud all over the world. The Calistoga Hot Springs in Napa Valley, California began with the eruption of a volcano that coated the region in mineral-rich mud. The native Wappo tribe were the first to use it for baths. Spas in the area add hot spring water and peat moss to help the body suspend just below the surface.
Hells Gate in New Zealand is famous for its steaming geysers and 40-degree centigrade waterfalls: local spa complexes centre around mud, from warm mud pools, to facials and foot pools.