More than Skin Deep

We tested the island's top spa therapies. Here's our report on the massages, facials, and wraps that work wonders.


Story by Shannon Wianecki | Photography by Nina Lee

maui spa massage therapyNative Hawaiian massage therapist Maryann Barros dips a ti leaf in saltwater, anointing me with it as she chants. After this ritual cleansing, she and fellow therapist Claire Stucklin welcome me into a private beachfront hale. A more inviting refuge can’t be imagined: thatched palms frame the ocean view. The salt breeze carries the scent of plumeria.

Facedown on the massage table, I’m asked to state my intention—what I hope to transform during this treatment—after which both women say, “Let it be done.” Together, they pour warm oil on my legs and back. Using forearms and hands, they navigate my entire body, unearthing hidden tension with strong, fluid movements. At one point they reach beneath me and roll me over. Feeling completely supported, I lose track of where I begin and end. Later I reflect: I haven’t experienced such profound touch since I was in the womb. I feel reborn.

Back inside the spa, an esthetician applies cool, pressurized oxygen to my face, followed by twenty minutes of patented DermaLucent light therapy. I emerge brighter, with noticeably fewer wrinkles.

Welcome to the new, yet old, resort spa experience. Responding to clients’ quest for genuine healing, spa directors have revived ancient traditions and embraced futuristic technologies. So which Maui treatments deliver results? MNKO publisher Diane Haynes Woodburn and I recently sacrificed ourselves, enduring hours of massage, scrubs, and facials to find out. You can thank us later.

The Hawaiian Ceremonial Lomi Lomi (110 minutes, $575), the delicious massage I described above, may be the island’s most luxurious. Offered by the Spa at the Four Seasons Resort Maui, the ceremony culminates in a four-handed lomi lomi massage. Give the spa enough notice, and you can book ten hands.

The Four Seasons has taken a leading role in holistic health, filling its spa menu with indigenous treatments, acupuncture, Ayurveda, and energy therapies.

For the Aquacranial Therapy (25 minutes, $135) offered at the resort, Diane followed massage therapist and marine-mammal naturalist Rebecca Goff into the ocean. Goff developed the treatment after observing craniosacral work with whales and dolphins. Applying precise, gentle pressure to the skull and bones along the spine stimulates spinal-fluid circulation and improves the nervous system’s functions. In the ocean, natural currents accentuate these manipulations.

“The experience was extremely relaxing,” says Diane, who lost track of time while floating in chest-deep water with Goff. “I felt nudges and manipulations, but never anything jarring or out of sync with my body or mind; in fact, body and mind merged as one floating entity. I resurfaced relaxed, calm . . . and a little wobbly. Goff said this was typical. She helped me back to shore and had me rest in the sand, covered in light towels. Thirty minutes passed before I felt like moving.

“To my surprise, the treatment eased a chronic pain in my jaw, which Goff said had been caused by scoliosis. I’ve been to other therapists and a chiropractor for that pain, none of whom were able to address it. After my session with Goff, the pain went away.”

“Cactus brush,” “colon,” and “adventure” might not be three words you imagine finding together on a spa menu, but the Elemis Body Sculpting Cellulite and Colon Therapy (60 minutes, $150) is a lot more fun than it sounds—and it’s effective. In the sunny, corner treatment room at the Wailea Beach Marriott’s Mandara Spa, Diane found herself being scrubbed from head to toe with an exfoliating cactus brush, then painted with a cellulite-reducing fennel mask.

“I had fun with this treatment; I felt like a child,” she says. “First, I was instructed to put on these one-size-fits-all paper panties—a nod to modesty, since my legs would be bent and lifted during the treatment. I was still draped, but the panties provided extra comfort.

Thus outfitted, our intrepid reviewer’s adventure began: Diane’s therapist pummeled her lower body with short, chopping movements, activating circulation and breaking up any fat deposits beneath the skin. “The pummeling was borderline heavy duty, but I liked it,” says Diane. “It certainly got my circulation going.”

Afterward, the therapist applied a firming lotion, then massaged Diane’s hands, feet, and scalp. The treatment concluded with a deep abdominal massage, beginning at the colon, progressing up and across to the small intestines, and downward again.

“I recommend this to anyone who truly wants to see improvement—and who can take a vigorous treatment with a sense of humor,” says Diane. “My thighs were much, much smoother and tighter. I was impressed.”

As we entered the newly renovated Waihua Spa at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, Diane and I admired the lobby’s undulating wall of river rocks. We let our cares evaporate in the eucalyptus steam room before embarking on separate treatments: for me, a facial; for her, the Kapalua Castaway (80 minutes, $225), an indulgence beginning with an exfoliating pineapple-papaya scrub and finishing with lomi lomi massage.

“I loved this treatment,” says Diane. “What stands out the most was the absolute luxury. At every transition my hands and feet were wrapped in warm towels and gently moved into position. My therapist was one of the most skilled I have ever experienced. She explained that the word “Hawai‘i” can be translated as ha (breath), wai (water), and i (spirit), and that the rhythmic lomi lomi stroke was designed to emulate the ocean. The massage is meant to be deeply therapeutic and actually ‘penetrate to the bone.’ She achieved that goal.”

Meanwhile, down the hall, lead esthetician Megan Wood cleansed my face with a Clarisonic brush. Confiding, “Madonna has an oxygen machine in each of her homes and on her jet,” Wood prepared me for the exceptional Vogue facial (80 minutes, $325), named for one of the superstar’s hits. Wood examined my skin, and, noting that I fight dryness, asked how much water I drink and what kinds of foods I eat. She suggested adding fish oil to my diet. I appreciated her candor; few therapists are willing to suggest that eating habits might be the root of their clients’ beauty complaints.

She performed a few extractions, then applied a series of Dr. Murad exfoliators and brighteners, including an antioxidant-rich peppermint mask, and luxuriant eye and lip treatments. My hands and feet were wrapped in warm mitts, my hands later treated with the same products used on my face. Then came the superstar treatment: oxygen infusion.

Moving methodically over my face with a wand connected to a pressurized tank, Wood infused my skin with liquid oxygen and vitamin C serum. It felt pleasantly cool. I could actually feel my skin plumping up. My face was hydrated and glowing when I left. “Your skin looks amazing,” Diane told me. The brochure claimed results would last four to seven days. They did.

I arrived an hour early for my scheduled ‘Awa Cacao Lomi Wrap (80 minutes, $210) at The Kapalua Spa at Kapalua Resort, wanting to take full advantage of Maui’s newest facility. After soaking in the lava-rock hot tub, running beneath the outdoor rainwater showers, and swimming laps in the gorgeous, coed infinity pool, I was ready for just a little more relaxation.

In the serene confines of the dimly lit treatment room, my therapist handed me a coconut cup brimming with ‘awa, a mild narcotic, diluted in pineapple juice. I sipped and clapped three times, according to Polynesian tradition. I was then slathered in cacao paste and snugly wrapped in a warm, space-age blanket. ‘Awa relaxes the mind, while cacao invigorates skin and muscle tissue. In my cocoon, I drifted to the edge of sleep. After receiving a neck, head and foot massage, I rinsed off the paste and returned to the massage table for an application of rich, moisturizing lotion.

Diane also had the treatment. “The cacao wrap was sensational,” she says. “My skin never felt so good, and I do mean never. I’ve had dry skin, with little itchy patches coming up recently. This treatment completely eliminated those problems. And weeks later, my skin still feels wonderful. It is a very personal treatment, however. If you are modest, I recommend requesting a female therapist.”

Thanks to the patented DermaLucent light therapy, the Ultimate Kate Somerville Facial (80 minutes, $350) at the Spa at the Four Seasons Resort Maui outshines the rest. Hollywood facialist Kate Somerville’s signature product line is lovely, but the real miracle workers are her Dermal Quench and DermaLucent treatments. With the Ultimate Kate Facial, I got it all. First, an exfoliating micro-peel, then extractions, followed by a calming mask. Next, the Dermal Quench: oxygen, vitamins, and hyaluronic serum delivered under hyperbaric pressure, resulting in plump, ultra-hydrated skin.

My esthetician relieved the tension hiding in my jaw and between my brows with a pressure point massage. Then, handing me blackout glasses for the DermaLucent therapy, she informed me that the room would grow brighter in three stages. By stage three, I felt like I was on Broadway. Light can be powerful medicine; it’s a proven antidepressant. Low-level red light waves penetrate the dermal layers, stimulating cell regeneration and collagen production. As light waves wiped my wrinkles away, my therapist drained any remaining tension from the soles of my feet with a soothing goat-milk foot massage. I left feeling like a movie star. One of my wrinkles had disappeared! Sure, it eventually returned, but my skin’s youthful, even tone lasted weeks.

If you are committed to all-natural products, the Westin Maui’s Heavenly Spa is for you. The top estheticians there are excited about the new Priori Coffee Berry Facial. Priori’s antiaging cosmetic line employs the antioxidants found in ripe coffee fruit to protect cells against free radicals, the major cause of skin aging. “This is the most powerful natural antioxidant on the market today,” Diane’s therapist informed her. The trademark facial began with a vanilla-and-coffee-scented cleanser, followed by a botanical enzyme mask, tightening serum, eye treatment, and “a wonderful facial massage,” Diane adds. “My therapist was skilled and well-schooled in the various products. I found the prices reasonable, and gave the line a try at home. My skin really does look brighter.”

The Spa at the Four Seasons Resort Maui
3900 Wailea Alanui, Wailea
(808) 874-2925

Mandara Spa at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa

3700 Wailea Alanui, Wailea
(808) 891-8774

Waihua Spa at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua
1 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Kapalua
(808) 665-7079

The Kapalua Spa at Kapalua Resort
100 Bay Drive, Kapalua
(808) 665-8282

Heavenly Spa at the Westin Maui
2365 Ka‘anapali Parkway, Ka‘anapali
(808) 661-2588


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