Our Internal Sea

Thalassotherapy and the Spa

By Edy Eliza

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, October/November 2005.

Humankind has always turned to the ocean for balance and well-being. Ancient Egyptians understood the power of long soaks in seawater. Greek philosophers Euripides, Hippocrates, Plato, and Herodotus praised its therapeutic value. The Greeks and Romans used seawater for general hygiene and physical care, and they even built temples in seawater where soldiers retreated to recover after battle or during celebrations to receive underwater massage. Today, we still desire this stress-free experience of relaxing at the seashore while our worries melt away.

But this widespread draw also holds a deeper meaning, which may be explained by the belief that life originated in the greatest depths of the sea. At the beginning of earth’s existence, the only area that provided nourishment and protection from harsh UV rays was far under the surface of the ocean. Because of this nurturing environment, marine life began and flourished. Sea flora emitted oxygen that eventually led to the formation of a protective ozone layer, which allowed more advanced sea and land plants and animals to evolve. Some may say our natural attraction to the sea for healing and relaxation is a natural attraction to our origin.

In more recent history, scientific research explained this attraction by proving that seawater can indeed restore balance to the organism. At the turn of the 20th century, a French physiologist named Rene Quinton established that seawater contains all 104 indexed trace elements — the only other naturally occurring fluid that contains all vital elements is our blood plasma. Seawater has an uncanny chemical similarity to our bodies’ inter- and extra-cellular fluid, so it seems we have internally retained a portion of this compelling water. Seawater is so close to our bodies’ internal environment that if white blood cells are removed from the body and placed in a sterile seawater solution, they are able to maintain normal cell function for up to five weeks; this is the only solvent that will accommodate cellular activity.

“The living organism is a sea aquarium in which a few billion cells are bathing.” Quinton’s quote and famous experiments exemplify the parallels between a marine environment and our internal sea.

Curative Serum

As Quinton’s research gained acclaim and was backed up with evidence, the medical community began to construct a defined program of marine healing. In 1899, the first thalassotherapy center was born in the Brittany region of France.

Thalassotherapy is defined as seawater healing in a medically supervised environment as a form of preventative or curative healthcare, utilizing seawater, seaweed, marine mud, sand, and all substances coming from the sea. Throughout the last century, thalassotherapy centers have gained popularity and credibility as the most natural source of alternative healthcare, so much so, the French healthcare system partially reimburses patients who have a prescription to attend a center. Today there are more than 40 thalassotherapy centers in France alone, visited by those seeking well-being or cures for certain health conditions.

True thalassotherapy centers have a spa with a doctor on staff and a hotel structure built right on the seacoast. A plumbing system pumps seawater into the facility and distributes it to all hydrotherapy equipment throughout the center. Most thalassotherapy centers also have a large central pool filled with heated seawater where patients are advised to immerse themselves between scheduled services so they can spend the maximum amount of time enveloped in this curative marine serum.

Upon arrival, guests of a thalassotherapy center visit with a physician who performs a physical evaluation to determine what the patient will be treated for. A series of treatments can help with a wide range of conditions, which encompass stress reduction, immune system health, pain management, accident rehabilitation, depression, anorexia, improvement of circulation, prenatal and postpartum programs, cellulite and weight reduction, rheumatism and arthritis, and preventive health. A series of treatments is then created for patients to follow for the duration of their stay, lasting from two days to two weeks. The guest is now free to enjoy a daily combination of seawater body treatments administered by professional curists.

How does this single resource positively affect so many different people with so many different ailments? Trace minerals (trace elements) are vital for every chemical and enzymatic reaction taking place within the body. All cellular functions occur because of specific enzymatic reactions, whether it is an adipocyte breaking down fat for energy, a red blood cell carrying oxygen, or a melanocyte producing melanin. For each of these biochemical reactions that occur, the enzyme responsible needs some sort of cue or catalyst to begin this specific activity. These trace elements found in seawater are the catalysts that provide energy to activate the enzymes.

Balancing the mineral levels in the body is vital for optimum cellular function. Those who lack trace minerals will have sluggish cellular activity, and these lazy cells cannot efficiently perform their duties. Nutrition that is ingested by a demineralized body cannot be completely absorbed by cells and used by the body. Cellular energy is also essential to expel metabolic waste to prevent raised levels of toxicity. Cellular stagnancy causes symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, edema, slowed metabolism, poor micro-circulation, a repressed immune system, and poor cellular exchange, which lead to greater health risks and skin conditions.

By introducing a perfect combination of minerals and trace elements, we are providing the body with critical nutrients to function efficiently and maintain proper balance. When the body is balanced, it can proficiently regulate its own systems. This is an important first step for any treatment program where long-term results are sought.

Replicating the Program

Thalassotherapy is a wonderful remedy for those fortunate few who regularly travel abroad or reside in Europe where thalassotherapy is readily available. But what about the common spa-goer? These centers are nonexistent in the United States because the coastline is typically too polluted to pump seawater indoors. However, there is a way to give our clients this rich source for remineralization. The use of skin care lines revolving around ocean-derived ingredients can bring the sea and its natural therapy to the spa. Some companies have been bottling the powers of the sea for more than 30 years. The foundation of such a treatment line should provide necessary tools to focus on replicating a thalassotherapy program in a spa environment. Allow-ing your client to splash around in a sea recreated in the hydrotherapy bath will automatically alleviate feelings of mental and physical stress and fatigue, while physically improving skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, severe dehydration, and acne. Even if your clients’ primary goals do not fall in these categories, remineralizing the body before starting any other program (i.e., contouring, cellulite, or antiaging) is imperative for
optimal results.


Processing can make or break a wonderful thing.
It can determine the potency, freshness, and efficiency of the entire treatment. Seawater that has been freeze-dried is the best choice, because this processing technique preserves 99 percent of the biological actives present in fresh seawater. (Dehydrated ingredients only maintain 5 percent to 50 percent of the actives, depending on the processing temperatures.) Freeze-drying also proves to be the most effective way to ensure that stringent purity standards and shelf life are maintained, since 99 percent of the moisture content in seawater is removed. When moisture is left in a stored material, it creates a perfect breeding ground for contaminants. Aside from seeking a freeze-dried product, also look for seawater concentrates that are partially desalinated to promote true cellular balance and avoid dehydration. Once the ideal product is found, giving spa guests the sea is as simple as adding water.

Warm Treatments

Using seawater in a heated skin or body treatment is ideal. When warmed to 96–102 degrees F, the minerals become ionized or negatively charged and are absorbed rapidly by positively charged skin. The body benefits from ionization during a warm bath treatment or body wrap, but the skin must be first immersed in seawater for 15–20 minutes. In order for the cells to completely absorb and utilize minerals that pass through the skin, the wrap or bath phase must be followed with a 15- to 20-minute relaxation period. For estheticians wishing to incorporate thalassotherapy into a facial treatment, vaporizing equipment can be used to heat and pulverize the minerals into a fine mist sprayed on the skin before applying a final mask. The minerals balance the skin and increase receptivity, while simultaneously administering an inhalation to remineralize the body via the lungs. This is also a great way to detoxify a smoker’s upper respiratory system.

To truly follow the thalassotherapy philosophy, it is important to have a thorough client consultation to identify the program goals, client receptivity, and commitment level and to adapt a treatment series to the client’s needs.


The French say, “One week at a thalassotherapy center will bring six months of good health.” The concept of thalassotherapy has made a big splash lately and offering a treatment program that revolves around this unique philosophy will help to clarify the facts versus fads for all of your clients. After just one treatment, a difference will be noted physically, emotionally, and mentally. For long-term balance, a one-week program of seawater treatments is advisable, to be repeated twice a year or as necessary. With the availability of spa-replicated thalassotherapy, well-being is no longer a journey.