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As a kid growing up on the shores of Cape Cod and Duxbury, Massachusetts, seaweed was the obstacle standing between me and the clearer waters and waves. Little did I know at the time that those sea plants were actually good for me, and would reemerge in my life as a staple in my beauty and wellness routine.
Contrary to the immediate associations we may make with the word “weeds”–think invasive and undesirable–seaweed plays a much grander role in the ocean than weeds do in the garden. Utilized in ancient times as fertilizer and a source of food, seaweed has long been known as a valuable resource. The list of different ways to make use of the plant has only continued to expand in recent years, growing in the health and wellness worlds as a favorable supergreen. And considering it’s a reliable, renewable natural resource, it doesn’t look like this movement is going anywhere anytime soon.
VOYA, a family-owned and 100-percent Irish luxury beauty brand, is continuing Ireland’s 300-year-old tradition of seaweed bathing by creating an organic range of seaweed-based products and spa treatments. The coastline where VOYA’s seaweed is sourced, known as the Wild Atlantic Way, is an extraordinary journey along northwestern Ireland that takes you in and out of small villages and showcases breathtaking views of the beaches and bays along the way. The waters here are some of the cleanest and most unpolluted in the world. In order to create high-quality products while still protecting these remote waters and marine life, VOYA’s harvesters are out on the reef daily, sustainably hand-harvesting the seaweed. No machinery is used. I traveled out to the western coast of Ireland to see the harvesting process firsthand.
Harvesters are on the lookout for la crème de la crème, only selecting seaweed that has matured and holds up to VOYA’s standards. The brand has perfected which types of seaweed they collect and which products have each type of seaweed in them based on the variety's strengths and the product’s goals. For example, VOYA relies on the benefits of Laminaria digitata–also known as Tangleweed—for its facial skincare range and spa treatment body wraps, as this variety has high levels of anti-oxidants that result in immediately noticeable effects on dry and dehydrated skin. Fucus vesiculosis, or Bladder Wrack, is used in seawater baths and in treatments like the Stimulating Body Buff. The benefits of bladder wrack go deeper than the skin, including stimulating your metabolism, circulation, and lymphatic system, as well as lowering high blood pressure, and even easing arthritis and rheumatic pains. And Fucus serratus, or Serrated Wrack, is used in almost every product.
Air pollution, air conditioning, central heating, stress, sun exposure, and a poor diet are just some stressors that our largest organ battles on a regular basis and cause visible, lasting damage to our skin. VOYA has tested the efficacy of their seaweed independently with the Shannon Biotechnology Research Centre at the Institute of Technology in Tralee, and their research has shown that their products help to not only replenish, heal, and repair damaged skin, but also protect it from free radicals and increase the skin’s ability to fight against them, creating a dual retroactive and preventative benefit.
“Seaweed naturally absorbs its nourishment from the sea. As a result, it contains countless minerals, vitamins and beneficial ingredients in high concentrations,” VOYA’s team explains. “[As] nature’s most powerful antioxidant from the marine world, it fights against harmful environmental aggressors, thus slowing down the signs of aging. Seaweed-based treatments can deeply detoxify, hydrate and nourish the skin, hair and body.”
VOYA’s team has also found that their wild seaweed helps to balance the skin's natural moisture levels, reduce the appearance of cellulite, improve collagen production levels, and strengthen the immune system. To boot, the brand has had positive findings with their seaweed contributing to the treatment of common skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, and acne. VOYA says it even “contains a high concentration of iodine, which is essential to regulate the thyroid gland and in turn helps to kick start the metabolism.” If I didn’t call this plant a supergreen before, I do now.
Throwing on my wellies with the team, I was geared up to head out onto the reef to witness the brand’s routine hand-harvesting process. They keep close attention to the tides and to the harvest area as they wait for a minimum of three years before harvesting in the same section again. This allows the plants time to fully regrow and re-claim as many minerals and vitamins as possible.
After slicing the root of the plant a few inches above the sand, tossing the piles into buckets and bins, and loading them up into their custom built harvesting jeep, the seaweed was immediately taken away to VOYA’s lab to begin the dehydration and extraction process, which ensures the greatest amount of nutrients are locked in. No harmful preservatives or chemicals are used in the products. Instead, essential oils and aloe vera keep them authentically organic and pure.
A large part of the VOYA business and history are their seaweed baths. Opened in 2000 in Strandhill, County Sligo, the baths use seawater straight from the Atlantic–directly across the street–and seaweed that was most likely harvested that very same day. Guests begin by stepping into a steam shower to open up the pores and get your skin ready to reap the benefits of the mineral and vitamin-rich bath water. With the tranquil music and VOYA candles burning around you, it’s all too easy to lay back and relax as you slip into the silky, seaweed-infused bath. You can rub the seaweed on your skin and through your hair, or simply relax and let the water do the work. There’s plenty of drinking water in arm’s reach to stay hydrated throughout the hour-long session, and don’t be surprised if the staff warns you to take it easy in the hour or two after you leave (i.e. be wary of going to the pub for a pint of Guinness directly following) as the bath will have detoxed you quite a bit.
You can also enjoy VOYA products and treatments in over 400 luxurious spas and resorts located in over 30 countries. One of their partner hotels, Ashford Castle is perhaps the most perfect place to enjoy a VOYA spa treatment as the hotel is also located along the western coast of Ireland, only about a two hour drive south of VOYA’s home village. As par for the course for Red Carnation Hotel Collection properties, a guest staying at Ashford Castle gets nothing short of a glimpse into life as a royal. Through the grand stone gates and over the barbican-lined bridge, it is immediately clear that you are entering a very special, magical place. The staff is spectacular, the cuisine options are exquisite, the walls are filled with history, and the rooms–all 83 of them, plus the Hideaway Cottage–are each individually designed and equally as beautiful as the next.
Following an extensive refurbishment in 2014 and 2015, much of the original castle has been restored and revamped with luxurious upgrades, including The Spa. Between the pool with a Tree of Life mosaic backdrop, the steam room, the relaxation room, and the fitness center, it’s almost difficult to choose where to start. But with only five treatment rooms, guests needn’t worry about finding serenity and seclusion. From the moment I walked into The Spa to the moment that I walked out, I had only crossed paths with one other guest. Thanks to the layout of the rooms down different hallways and floors, and the staff expertly spacing out guest appointments, The Spa turned into what felt like my own private sanctuary.
After slipping into my plush robe and slippers, I entered my room and spent the next 75 minutes in utter bliss with the deluxe VOYA treatment. With careful consultation before and after, my masseuse and I discussed the strengths and weaknesses of my skin, and as a result, the products in the range best suited for me.
VOYA began in 2006 with family and tradition, and the company follows that mantra through each branch of their business. After meeting Mark Walton (VOYA co-founder, alongside his wife Kira Walton) and brother Neil Walton (founder of the VOYA seaweed baths), as well as other fabulous members of the VOYA team, it’s no wonder the brand has taken off. The dedicated, passionate people behind the company believe in showing the world this special piece of Ireland—and now it's clear to me why.