I am sitting in a warm bath as seaweed fronds gently tickle my limbs.  A candle flickers next to the bath as the sea crashes outside the window – I tip my head back and breathe … 

I am on the West Coast of Ireland at the Voya Seaweed baths in a little town called Strandhill – one of the best surfing spots in the world…bet you didn’t know that! The seas here are some of the purest on earth due to the currents, but I am not here to hang ten, I am here to experience seaweed in all its forms as a guest of VOYA, the natural organic skincare and spa brand founded by Mark and Kira Walton, who quit their city jobs to join the family seaweed bathing business and ended up founding a skincare brand in 2006.

The benefits of Seaweed bathing

Seaweed bathing has been around for hundreds of years and at the beginning of the 20th Century, there were an estimated 300 seaweed bath houses in Ireland, 9 of which were in Strandhill. It is an indigenous therapy in Ireland and is lauded for its many health benefits. The alginate, which is a jelly-like substance that the seaweed releases is said to be very beneficial for skin and is used as a therapy for a variety of skin and rheumatic conditions. Many swear by a weekly seaweed bath to this day.

The benefits of seaweed bathing are many: 

  • re-mineralising the body
  • detoxifying and helps remove unwanted toxins from the body
  • hydrating and moisturising for skin 
  • helpful for healing skin conditions such as acne, dermatitis, and eczema
  • helps soothe aches and pains, from arthritis and rheumatism but is also great after a workout to reduce lactic acid buildup
  • boosts the immune and lymphatic systems to improve blood circulation

In modern VOYA baths, a steam shower before bathing is recommended to open the pores before soaking in the warm seaweed bath for 40 minutes. The baths are all individual, unless you want to book one of their twin bathing rooms to go with a friend and have a natter, there is also a couple of luxury suites on the roof which benefit from plunge pools and a view of the sea …   

Seaweed is a super ingredient!

Seaweed is having a bit of a moment and I have been wracking my brains to think of another ingredient that you can eat, bathe in, but also include in your skincare routine. 

Over 80% of the seaweed plant is made up of minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron and is well known for its high iodine content, which all goes towards supporting the maintenance of healthy skin.  In addition, seaweed contains key vitamins such as A, B and C and is almost unique in that it is one of the few plant sources of vitamin B12. 

Different seaweed types have different benefits- and VOYA have done considerable research into the benefits of the different species with the Shannon Biotechnology Centre Institute of Technology in Tralee in order to ensure that they are using the right type in the right products to get the best results.

Tests show that not only does it have a moisturising effect on the skin, but it contains Algal polyphenols and carotenoids which are powerful antioxidants, and benefits include protection against premature ageing, improved skin barrier function and in some cases, certain types of seaweed can boost collagen production by up to 202% which in turn, improves skin firmness and elasticity.

Seaweed harvesting sustainably

The next day, we head off to the coast to pick some seaweed for ourselves.  John, who has been working with the brand for many years is our guide and points out the different types of seaweed as we make our way down the reef to the water’s edge, picking sea lettuce to nibble on the way. 

VOYA are very proud of the fact that they harvest their seaweed on the West Coast by hand, with each piece being selected by eye by the harvesters to ensure the best quality at sustainable levels, ensuring that the plant can regrow, and spawn again as opposed to being ripped from the seabed by the roots as is sadly an all-too-common practice.    It’s akin to pruning your garden borders, to ensure the plants come back stronger season after season. 

We pick our seaweed and John sends it off to the drying houses to be turned into their best-selling product LAZY DAYS which enables you to re-create your very own seaweed bathing experience at home.  This can be used 2-3 times over the course of the week and once finished with, you can pop on your flower beds or in your compost bin – seaweed is excellent for the garden!

Mark and Kira’s mantra when developing their brand has always been “There must be a better way” and something they ask themselves constantly when introducing new products to the range. They always use natural fragrances from plants and flowers and sustainably sourced organic ingredients and are extremely proud to be certified by the Soil Association.  VOYA also have a thriving spa business and you can experience one of their treatments near you.  In the meantime, I would thoroughly recommend a seaweed bath this weekend for relaxation and detoxifying ahead of a new week. 

Products to reap the seaweed benefits:

Angelicus Serratus body oil – contains Fucus Serratus seaweed and rosehip and evening primrose oil to lock in moisture and promote skin elasticity.

Renewal eyes – 100% seaweed eye masks – contains Laminaria Digitata seaweed to soothe and hydrate the under-eye area – reducing puffiness and dark circles – pop in the garden after use!

Fennel Fusion – a delicious herbal infusion of organic fennel seeds and seaweed!

words by Nicola de Burlet