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Kale, hot yoga, and the rise of the wellness market

That there is a symbiotic relationship between our inner reality and our outward appearance is all too obvious for millenials. For these 20 and 30-somethings, looking good is synonymous with feeling good, an expression of physical, emotional and psychological health.

It’s a far cry from the “plastering the cracks” approach to cosmetic perfection that saw us through the last few decades. Rather than camouflage flaws, the focus is squarely set on identifying root causes and fixing them with the energetic gusto of a soccer mum on stimulants.

And so Instagram is saturated with pictures of cold pressed green juices, punishing workouts and cringe-worthy motivational memes from the #fitfam: “Sweat is just fat crying!” And those who aren’t on social media to boast about last week’s colonic are no doubt on a “digital detox”.

Quest for beauty

These faintly LA-ish idiosyncrasies are part and parcel of the quest for beauty in 2015. The cleanses and detoxes used to be typical among yoga pals, but today they’re as mandatory as moisturiser. Never before has the idea of suffering for one’s beauty been so true.

Wellness means different things in different countries but, broadly speaking, the term encompasses fitness, nutrition, mental health and altogether ‘mindful’ living

“I think millennials are very conscious of how their parents have handled their health and how they’ve aged,” says Sue Harmsworth, an outspoken advocate of holistic living and a grande dame of the spa industry.

With this awareness, the very act of beautifying has become a lifestyle choice rather than something that is done from time to time, like a facial or a crash diet. Retailers have followed suit. Where traditional beauty unguents once lined shelves, department stores now offer the Face Workout, a £120 cardio sculpting gym session for your face, and beautifying beverages hydrolysed with marine collagen. Elle “The Body” McPherson has bottled the secret to her perfection, an organic alkalising greens supplement called the Super Elixir, while everyone from Dove to L’Oréal have concocted high-tech “nutraceuticals” for your skin.

The emergency of wellness

The term “wellness” has sprung from nowhere, a bizarre amalgamation of fitness and wellbeing that implies health is ultimately about balancing all aspects of ourselves, psyche and soma. The problem, however, is that the term is often misunderstood and misused. “Everybody wants wellness, but nobody knows what it really means,” says Ms Harmsworth. “A spa might have a healthy option on the menu but, to me, that isn’t what wellness is about.”

Wellness means different things in different countries but, broadly speaking, the term encompasses fitness, nutrition, mental health and altogether “mindful” living. To its credit, it has finally given the otherwise fluffy beauty industry some much-needed currency. The Global Wellness Summit values the market at $3.4 trillion, 3.4 times larger than the pharmaceutical industry. Of that vast sum, beauty and anti-ageing accounts for $1.025 trillion, fitness and mind/body $446.4 billion, and healthy eating $574.2 billion. The spa industry, the epicentre of the wellness movement, accounts for $94 trillion.

Global wellness market

The desire to detoxify quite so dramatically is, in part, a response to the rapid technological progress of the last 20 years. Working at a computer and living with an iPhone welded to our right hand means we’re consuming far more information than we can mentally process. “And don’t forget the impact of all that blue light on sleep,” says Ms Harmsworth. “I think sleep deprivation is a major problem today and one that has very real health consequences.” Couple this with the fact that many of us work well in excess of 40 hours a week, and it’s no surprise that fatigue, illness, low-level pain and depression are an epidemic in 2015.

Granted, there’s an air of middle-class smugness about the passion for kale and hot yoga, but the truth is we’ve never been exposed to as much psychological stress as we face today. The realisation that we may be on the brink of expiring – “frenetic” occupational burnout, as it is sometimes called – is as much a driver for wellness as the desire to look beautiful.

The destination spa

For Ms Harmsworth, nothing epitomises the wellness movement more completely than a destination spa. “They’re life-changing places, but there are only a handful of them in the world,” she says in reference to the big names such as Mayr in Austria, and Kamalaya and Chiva-Som in Thailand. Oases of calm, their preventative approach to healthcare is far less intimidating and cold than a visit to the GP.

 Whale music and aggressive massage are a thing of the past. The pioneering destinations in the industry now have a strong medical, sometimes even spiritual, slant. They offer results-driven programmes devised by resident nutritionists, naturopaths, personal trainers, mediation teachers and a variety of highly effective “alternative” therapists, (if you don’t know the difference between your Chi Nei Tsang and your Shirobhyaga, you will soon). Customers will invariably check in with a very clear objective in mind: to lose weight, stop smoking, sleep better and detox.

The catch is these goals take weeks and, being so time poor, many people overlook the fact that not much can be achieved in seven days. “You used to be able to go away for two or three weeks and actually rest – completely disconnect – but that just doesn’t happen anymore. We live very ‘tight’ lives,” says Ms Harmsworth. “Health farms didn’t believe in short breaks, which is what people take now.”

Rather than attempt a radical rehabilitation at a destination spa in ten days or less, the aim should be to make a consistent change over a longer period with the tools and education to take better care of ourselves.

“That’s what a wellness spa should be about,” Ms Harmsworth concludes. “Prevention is important – people leave things too late.”


Beauty foods

 So-called functional foods and beauty beverages constitute a growing portion of the wellness market. Fountain beauty drinks, containing hyaluronic acid and the antioxidant resveratrol, remain a bestseller in the UK, while the recently launched Beauty & Go is the first skincare drink to contain patented MacroAntioxidants along with collagen. In Brazil there is Sunlover, a drink that super-charges your tan, while Germany has produced a “drinkable facial” in the form of Crystal Light’s Skin Essential. In the Far East, there are anti-ageing marshmallows and fat-burning candies, many of them now available in the UK as imports.

Collagen is one of the most common age-defying ingredients found in beauty foods for the simple reason that it’s the glue which holds everything together. Paired with keratin, it makes for stronger, more resilient skin. The thinking behind collagen-infused beverages is plausible: production of collagen declines after 30 and ingesting it is a far more effective way to replensigh supplies than relying solely on a moisturiser.

The reality, however, is more complex. The body will not reliably use the ingredient to improve your skin over, say, muscle mass or immunity unless it is delivered in a very specific way. Moreover, bioavailability – the amount of a critical ingredient that a body absorbs – is a crucial factor in determining whether any supplement (multivitamin or beauty food) is actually worth taking.