“In wine, truth” — Alcaeus of Mytilene
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” — John Keats
Wine. It’s the nectar of the Gods, and the liquid of celebration, a social staple and a conversational lubricant – and, of course, a health and beauty tonic. Though we know that drinking too much wine can lead to disastrous outcomes – some research even says drinking any wine at all is a bad idea (I choose to ignore those studies), its use as a beauty treatment makes perfect sense. If we believe Alcaeus of Mytilene and John Keats, who respectively said that wine is truth, and truth is beauty, then it only stands to reason that wine is beauty.
We hear a lot about wine baths, and wine-based spa treatments and skincare these days, and about “vinotherapy” dating back to the 1990s, but using wine as a health and beauty treatment has been around for much, much longer than 25 years.
Women of ancient Rome used wine dregs as makeup, to colour their cheeks. Rather than a luxury treatment, however, it was used by the poor a cheap alternative to rose and poppy petals and Tyrian vermillion (cinnabar).
Later, in the 16th Century, ill-fated Monarch Mary Queen of Scots is said to have enjoyed taking baths in white wine, either as a means of whitening her complexion, or pain relief, or perhaps both.
More recently, an 1890 article in the Pittsburg Dispatch, stated that “A few favoured beauties in California know the tonic of the wine baths,” which were taken by bathing first in warm water and, “when the pores are open, entering a wooden tub containing a cask of red wine.” Alternately, “bath towels are soaked in wine and laid on the person after a warm dip.” These treatments were said to be refreshing and refining to the skin.” The article also said that soaking the hands in a basin of red wine would whiten and soften them.
A 1902 article in the St Louis Republic refers to a circular stating that “for the wealthy a wine bath is recommended,” going on to explain that “a twenty minutes stay in 100 liters of Malvoisie wine can be used a hundred times without losing its invigorating properties… after the 100 baths the Malvoisie may be distilled, and the result will be found to be a delicious brandy.”
And in 1908, an article in the Jasper Weekly Courier stated that the French fashion of washing the hair occasionally in wine, “white wine for blondes, and red for brunettes,” would leave the hair “wonderfully stimulated.”*
Today, you’ll find wine baths in luxury spas around the world, and in skincare products such as those made by French skincare company Caudalie, which established its first wine spa in Bordeaux, France, in 1999, and is largely credited with popularizing contemporary “vinotherapie” (a “caudalie” is said to be a unit to measure how long the flavour of wine lingers n the tongue). The purported benefits of vinotherapy come from polyphenols in the grapes, particularly resveratrol, which has made quite a name for itself in recent years for its alleged anti-aging and cancer fighting properties.
Caudalie offers baths in red vine extracts at its spas, not in actual alcohol, as founder Mathilde Thomas says alcohol is “not good for the skin.” I would make a joke about drinking your bath water but those are tired. Others mix wine into the water.
According to Caudalie, grape-seed polyphenols are the most powerful anti-oxidant in the plant world, resveratrol from grapevine stalks are the anti-ageing revolution, and viniferine from grapevine sap is the most effective natural molecule against dark spots – which may give credence to the 19th Century tales of skin whitening.
In Tribeca, New York, Aire Ancient Baths offers a Red Wine Bath, also without the alcohol. Spokesperson Sylvia Barnett tells us, “The experience is magical. You enter a private room that transports you to wine country. With wine bottles, barrels, a vine….You enter an Antique stone tub surrounded by candles and there you soak for 30 minutes while you enjoy some Spanish wine and get a scalp massage.” What does it feel like? “Like being immersed in cream, your skin feels extremely soft and glowing. It is an instant feel.
In Argentina, France, and the USA, here are three examples of spas and skincare companies offering wine-based therapies, baths, treatments, and products.
Entre Cielos offers grape-based treatments in one of the largest wine regions in Latin America, the Mendoza countryside, “overlooking Malbec vines and the snow-capped Andes.”
Treatments include Divino, which “Reinvigorate the senses with the essence of the finest grapes,” and includes a body exfoliation using grape seeds, a wine bath of grape extracts, and a 50-minute oil massage.
Treatments include the Merlot wrap, a “detoxifying and perfecting wrap for skin in need of intensive pore cleansing,” in which “a warm mixture of bentonite clay, five deep-cleansing essential oils and nourishing grape-seed oil envelopes the body in a sumptuous, soothing cocoon.” And “In minutes, impurities are gently dissolved and pores breathe free. When the wrap is removed, tone, color and texture are visibly improved. Your skin feels wonderfully clean, refreshed and balanced, aglow with a deep sense of health and well-being.”
At Aire, the Red Wine Experience uses products from the grapes in the Matarromera winery in Spain. Aire says, “Immerse yourself in the antioxidant qualities of the Ribera del Duero tempranillo red grape.”
The experience includes a soak in a private antique thermal tub in a concentrate of tempranillo grapes while you enjoy a soothing scalp massage as well as a facial massage. This is followed by “a relaxing full body massage using grape seed oil to nourish and hydrate the skin.”
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Image: Maja Petric