Dr Claudia Aguirre
Dr Claudia Aguirre is a US-based neuroscientist and has a specialist interest in the relationship between the brain and the skin. She is also a scientific committee member for Comfort Zone and inputted into the development of the brand’s recently launched Tranquillity Pro-Sleep Massage treatment.
What are the most interesting areas of current research for the spa and salon sector?
I think the next big thing will be the gut microbiome, so how nutrient intake affects the skin, because this relationship between the brain, skin and gut is essential. I’ve been teaching this for a long time but not every product company or spa applies this research and really offers that holistic approach.
If someone comes to your spa, the food you provide, if you provide food, should complement the treatment. So, if it’s a treatment to address an inflammatory condition caused by stress then you want anti-inflammatory ingredients in the products, a relaxing touch, then antiinflammatory foods – this combination is really going to have an effect.
I’ve been talking about stress and skin for a long time and I think that reached a critical point – we’re at a stage where we may know how to control stress but we need to focus on related areas, such as sleep.
How might research around skin and sleep impact ingredients in skincare or nutrition?
More pharmaceutical-grade things could impact spas. For example, there’s research showing that applying hormones to the skin can rejuvenate it, but it’s a drug, so within this realm it’s more challenging.
This is where touch comes in – a massage that’s going to help you fall asleep rather than putting something on the skin that’s actually going to physically work on your circadean rhythm.
Lifestyle tips are also great; a recent paper I wrote talks about some of the lifestyle modifications that medical doctors recommend, like avoiding blue light and caffeine after 4pm, and sleeping on a specific side of the body.
We’ve gone through different waves of sleep research but we’re in this new scientific era of research that is probably going to change how we work, what light bulbs we use in 10 years, the products we see in salons and, especially, consumer technology. We’re talking a lot more now about the whole experience and how to prevent sleep deprivation and chronic inflammation. Ultimately, the best way to translate these benefits to the skin is to be kind to the mind that controls the body.
What areas of sleep-related research can spas draw from?
This is a really interesting area because neuroscience and spa don’t traditionally go together but the trend now is that consumers want to “de-tech” and there’s a feeling that some sort of sleep crisis is happening. We’re seeing more clinical data from people going in with sleep disorders and the rise in gadgets and procedures aimed at helping you get to sleep is huge. So, that catalyses the research into how this impacts what’s going on in the brain and the body to help you sleep.
There are loads of areas of research but smell, hearing and touch are the primary ways spas can help to relax the body during treatment.
Spas know a lot about the use of essential oils to relax, but the simple act of inhaling and exhaling deeply also plays a major role. Exhalation reduces heart rate.
Inspiration is not talked about as much but a very recent paper showed what happens to the cerebral spinal fluid during inhalation. This fluid coats the brain and it’s washed down through the spine and is basically the juices of the central nervous system. During inspiration you see a flow of cerebral spinal fluid, which flushes out toxins in the brain and oxygenates it, so the process of inhalation is actually cleaning the brain. So, definitely look at how to combine breathing into a relaxation treatment.
Research into sound is also interesting. A recent study from MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] found that music is sent to a different part of the brain for processing than speech, and if you play music that has a tempo of 60 beats per minute – the same as a normal resting heartrate – or slower then you actually lower your heart rate.
There’s also some new research looking into the specific effects of slow strokes on the back, which is showing that they can reduce anxiety, and that’s currently being used in patients undergoing chemo or other aggressive therapies, but this is very new.
Which other areas of research can spas or salons get involved in in a way that’s accessible to their clients?
I think the science of touch is what they’re already doing but it’s about reframing it. If there’s a way to get at least one element of science into their conversations with clients that could shift the whole dynamic, because if you only focus on spa talk like “this is soothing and you’re going to feel really relaxed”, you’re only telling half the story.
Explain how that’s going to happen with at least a little bit of science: “this is all going to help the lymphatic flow, which is connected to the immune system, which is important to maintaining your health”, for example. Always bring that knowledge into treatment.
That’s where continuing education is vital – by going to seminars and classes – because science is always changing, with research bringing new understanding about how the body works.
What would be your advice to therapists who don’t feel confident bringing up the science side of treatments?
Some people worry their knowledge might not run deep enough but nobody expects you to be an expert in absolutely everything – that’s where referrals come in. If a therapist sees something on a client that might be a sign of nutritional or hormonal imbalance, they should feel confident to say “have you seen a thyroid specialist?”, for example, but they should know why. They need to know that thyroid hormones affect the skin, hair and nails.
If you see someone with very dry skin, is it because they don’t have enough oils in their diet? Is it because they’re stressed? There are so many things and therapists have to play a bit of a detective game. Some love that, and to be a really successful therapist I think it’s continuing education all the way.
Where should therapists look to keep up to date with relevant research?
Maybe you don’t have the time to go to a four-hour lecture but bite-sized education should be available. Even posts on Instagram; as long as its reliable it all helps. I provide some on my social channels, that’s how I save information.
Therapists should seek out experts or companies that put out solid information backed by science. There is a lot of misinformation out there. For example, anyone can call themselves a health coach – you don’t need a degree, but I wouldn’t trust most of them. It comes down to expertise; look into the person’s background – are they being paid to say something or is it what they really believe? It’s not easy to find experts in this industry. I tend to look to science more than medicine because it’s more thorough and moves faster.