Back to nature

Spas and salons, once sinkholes of waste in energy, water, packaging and laundry, are moving into the green-sustainable world — and have a new book by Ashlander Shelly Lotz to guide them.

Lotz, a local esthetician for 25 years and director of the Sustainable Building Advisor Institute of Southern Oregon, has just published "Green Spas and Salons: How to Make Your Business Truly Sustainable." The 262-page study is at Amazon and, locally, at Bloomsbury Books.

On a tour of Waterstone Spa and Salon in downtown Ashland, where she works, Lotz points out an array of simple and affordable steps owners can make, including low-flow showers, compact flourescent lighting, filtered drinking water, reuseable drinking glasses, hot, wet towels instead of constant streams of water and — a big trend now — lotions and creams made of organic materials instead of chemicals.

"Spas have really started to get on board in the last few years," says Lotz. "I'm seeing it in the trade journals. Five years ago, there was nothing discussed."

Lotz interviewed many spas around the nation, including Waterstone, and profiled them in her book, noting their advances in green technology and practices.

Ironically, spas started in the 19th century as retreats in nature, with mineral waters and everything natural, says Lotz, "then came the industrial-chemical age, then plastic surgery and now it's swinging back to natural and organic."

Chief among new practices is buying locally, thus shrinking greenhouse gases from global shipping, says Lotz. This supports local producers of lotions, such as Buddha Blends (now moved) and Applegate Botanicals, which morphs waste grape seeds and skins from wineries into anti-oxidant body lotion, body butter and sugar scrub, says Manager Deb Cleland.

Saunas, steam rooms and showers gobble water, so Cleland has put them on timers that click off shortly. Showers have pull-chains to operate.

Attention is paid to building materials. Some floors are marmoleum, made of natural materials, including flax seed, linseed oil and pine resin. When historic codes forbade double-pane glass, they screwed lucite to inner walls. Fans are used instead of air conditioning. Compact spaces are used. A skylight bathes the foot room.

Paper products are made of recyclable materials. Large tub baths are discouraged. Laundry soap is environmentally friendly. Candles are LED. Decor such as rocks and sea sponges are from nature and local.

The spa used to toss spatulas and brushes after one use, but now sterilizes and re-uses them. Tiny, individual bottles of lotions have been replaced by large, refillable bottles and wall dispensers. Lunches from the Lithia Springs Hotel across the street are now organic.

Are customers adapting to the changes?

"The customers are asking for it now," says Lotz. "They're more educated, care more, ask more questions about what we're using, what's in it and if it's natural and organic." Organic costs more. It often has to be hand-made, but, she notes, "it's more effective so you don't need as much." Her book says there are 85,000 synthetic chemicals in the nation and 80 percent of them have not been tested for their impact on the human body.

"People are realizing that products you put on your skin can be damaging," says Lotz. "Europe is way ahead of us on this and has banned 1,100 products. We've only banned a fraction of that. The FDA and EPA can't be relied on to do it, so people are taking it on themselves to certify what's healthy for you ... . There's a huge surge in organic. Green chemistry is getting really popular."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

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