Home » Practical Information » Services » Indonesian Customs and Culture

Traditional Indonesian Spas and Beauty Treatments

Although spas have existed since Roman times, it is only recently that the “spa experience” has become affordable and popular with the masses as people associate spa treatments as part of a holistic approach towards healthy living. People are becoming more aware of the rejuvenating powers of these treatments and are using them to look good, feel good and rejuvenate their souls.

Today the spa philosophy is moving towards a preventive and pampering approach for their clients. The experience is not focused so much on self indulgence as a spiritual, harmonious and natural treatment for the body. A balance between inner and outer beauty is back in vogue and the Indonesian spa experience helps to gain this harmony.

One of the biggest allures in the Indonesia spa experience is often how the spa can effortlessly blend with the natural setting and almost become one with nature. Often treatment rooms fuse indoor and outdoor space so that being treated with natural materials lends to natural harmony with the setting. Modern science has now proven that when a person is relaxed and happy the biochemical rhythms in our bodies are significantly different to those when we are under heavy stress or are unhappy. What happens internally in the body will have a direct effect on how the outer body looks externally.

Indonesia is the birthplace of many tropical beauty products and secrets. Many of today’s natural treatments for hair, skin, and even medical cures can be found in the vast botanical variety of Indonesia’s 6,500 species. 4,500 of these species are native to Java. Some of the beauty treatments that are in use today were once guarded secrets within the palace walls of the Central Javanese royal family and are just recently becoming available to the public.

Asian ideology believes that the desire to be beautiful is valid and not a pursuit of vanity. Beauty is believed not only to be external but also internal so that any treatment that is associated with the pursuit of inner peace is desired. Taking the time to indulge in spa treatments helps the client get back in touch with their bodies – a rewarding ritual. It is difficult not to feel at peace in the setting of a wonderful tropical spa. Although few people are completely satisfied with the natural shape of the body they are born with, they can always improve what they have by paying respect to it. This is achieved by taking time to look after your health. Unfortunately, many ignore this simple task until some sickness or life-changing event shocks them into doing so. It is almost ironic that by taking a couple of hours out of a busy schedule, it is possible to rejuvenate the body and spirit with a relaxing session in the spa, enable people to better cope with the demands of our hectic lifestyles.

Traditional Indonesian Body Treatments

Mandi susu is a traditional beauty bath that has been used by Javanese princesses for centuries as an elixir of youth. This bath is known to make the skin radically soft and pure to the touch. Milk from goat’s, sheep, or cows was often used prior to the development of modern formulas that have taken out the taste and the smell of the milk but maintained its softening proteins. It is suggested that the client soak in a both of milk for at least 20 minutes and not rinse after the soaking. For a more intense treatment buttermilk or yogurt is used; however most clients do not like the after smell that is left on the skin.

Mandi luhur is a common traditional treatment that is carried out in many beauty salons and spas in Indonesia. This treatment has also been practiced in the Javanese palaces since the 17th century. This process is an exfoliation and polishing of the body that leaves the skin soft, supple and shiny (lulur is Javanese for “coating the skin”). This exfoliation and massage process involves a paste made up of herbs and other ingredients (including turmeric, temu lawak sandalwood, jasmine oil and rice powder) that have been soaked in water and blended into a scrub. Sometimes kencur is mixed in to give a warming effect. This paste can also be bought in pre-made packages to which warm water is added. The paste is then massaged into the entire body and left to dry for 20 to 30 minutes. After the paste has dried, it is then rubbed off to complete the exfoliation. The remaining paste is then washed or showered off. A slight yellow tinge may be left on the skin because of the turmeric in the paste; this will easily wash off with soap. The resulting effect is softer skin and improved skin quality.

Balinese Boreh is an all over deep heat experience and is used to warm the body at the first sign of a chest cough coming on. This treatment is used both as a curative and a preventative treatment. Because of the entire body heating sensation, it is recommended for the treatment of headaches, muscle aches, arthritis, and chills. This scrub is an herb and spice mix. This century old village recipe uses ingredients that are more commonly associated with cooking than beauty treatments. Sandalwood, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, coriander, turmeric, nutmeg, and rice powder are formed into a paste with galangal water or spice scented oil. This paste is then applied to the body producing a heating sensation. It is left on the body for five to ten minutes and then rubbed off to complete the exfoliating process. Grated carrots or any other natural moisturizer are then rubbed into the skin to replenish the moisture of the skin. The remnants of the treatment can then be showered off and the body moisturized again. Pregnant women are advised against this treatment as the ingredients direct heat away from the body core and into the extremities.

Fragrant Wraps

Floral baths are often considered a highlight of the Indonesian spa visit. A bathtub of warm water is prepared with petals of jasmine, gardenia, hibiscus, magnolia bougainvillea, pinciannna, and rose. These flower petals are chosen not only for the fragrance that they give off but also for their rich colors. Normally the floral bath is not offered as a treatment by itself, but as a finale to a spa session. It is used to savor the cleansing experience and relax for an additional 20 minutes.

Herbal wraps are often used for their healing qualities as well as the smoothing effects they have on the skin. An herbal wrap is used to draw out impurities from the body and heal any blemishes on the skin’s surface. Often herbal wraps use mud as a base and the mud is then combined with milk, turmeric, herbs, and sesame oil which gives off a wonderful smell as it is applied to the skin. The color of the wrap paste depends on the original color of the mud that is used as the base. After the paste is applied to the skin, the body is wrapped in a plastic sheet and the topped with hot towels. The body is then allowed to perspire for 20 minutes allowing the mud paste to extract any impurities. The mud is then showered off leaving the skin smooth and satiny to the touch. Normally there is no need for moisturizing after this treatment.

Also the traditional spice/herb-infused mud can be used to scrub the skin; this mud scrub serves as an exfoliant and to give a fresh and glowing look to your skin.

Java Wraps have been used by Javanese women for centuries as the answer to slimming. This body wrapping was used as a process for women to regain their figures after giving birth. It is still commonly used today and is done for 40 days after having a baby to rid the midriff from post birth bagginess. It is thought that the Java wrap flushes out bacteria from the body and helps the lymphatic system rejuvenate. It is also thought to help in the cleansing and healing of the new mother’s body.

A mixture of eucalyptus, crushed sea stone or coral, lime juice, betel leaf, and oil are mixed together into a paste and then applied to the abdomen area. Then a very long cotton cummerbund (about 6 inches wide and 8-10 yards long) is tightly wrapped around the body starting from under the breasts until the lower hip area. Someone has to assist in the process as it is almost impossible to do this by yourself. The cummerbund almost immobilizes the wearer and is not very comfortable. This treatment really reinforces the saying that “you have to suffer for beauty”. Some women use a gerita instead of a long cummerbund which is a corset like garment that is made from cotton. The gerita also fits the body from under the breasts to the lower hip, however it wraps around the body once and has ties in the front allowing the wearer to fasten it herself. Some jamu companies have “after birth” kits, which contain premixed amounts of the paste as well as pills that are taken for the 40 day period. Some women prefer this as it is much less hassle than mixing the paste from scratch every day.

Traditional Massage

A Traditional Indonesian Massage is normally a medium pressure massage using coconut oil and prepared with tropical flowers to give the oil a light scent. Sometimes a lighter oil is substituted in some spas. The oil is worked into the body using long sensual strokes spanning the length of the muscle to relieve tension. After the initial strokes are completed the sequence is finished with upwards strokes towards the heart. The skin is also rolled between the thumb and the forefinger to awaken nerve endings and increase blood flow. Circular thumb movements are used for the same purpose. Pressure points on the hands and feet are also massaged to relax the body.

Aromatherapy Massage is one of the most popular treatments at spas in Indonesia. Although it is practiced throughout the world, the sensual experience is elevated to new levels thanks to the practiced hands of expert practitioners. Through massage, active ingredients of essential oils that are blended with a carrier oil are smoothed into the skin allowing them to calm the central nervous system. Most oils will contain hints of citrus, as well as floral and spicy ingredients that have a physiological appeal. Our nasal passage can recognize up to 10,000 different aromas making it one of the most sensitive organs in our bodies. The physiologies of smell and emotion are very closely linked and have a direct effect on each other. As the massage is activating the nerve ending and stimulating the blood flow, the smells of the oil act as a calming agent to the brain. Some oils contain medicinal properties that can have an effect on internal organs and treat ailments. Normally the oils will only remain in the body for three to four hours before being extracted however they have already served in a soothing and healing process.

Tukang Pijat

Many expatriates and Indonesians prefer to call tukang pijat (masseuse) to their homes for traditional body treatments. Although a trip to the spa can be a total pampering experience, sometimes it is not always convenient to go. Many ladies have a favorite masseuse that they can call on short notice and ask them to come to their home. If the masseuse comes to your home, you can enjoy the convenience of massage and skin treatments at a time convenient to you, after which you can shower in the privacy of your own bathroom. Depending on the quality and skill of the person, this can be more economical than going to a spa facility. Some masseuses bring their own products, however most of the time the client is expected to supply the oils and lotions that she would like used during the session.

Creme Bath Hair Treatments

Cème Bath Hair Treatments are synonymous with hair salons throughout Indonesia. Regular treatments help to maintenance sleek and shiny hair. Although crème baths are often referred to as a traditional treatment, most often the treatment is preformed with a manufactured product. Sometimes natural products are added to this base such as carrots for hair growth, henna for nourishing dry or damaged hair, and avocado for dry hair, or celery to increase hair elasticity. A very thick conditioning crème is massaged into the scalp and hair for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the length of the treatment. Usually the massage continues down the neck and the upper shoulder area. This conditioning cream coats the hair. The hair is them steamed before the cream is washed off leaving the hair superlatively soft and shiny.

There are many traditional remedies to hair conditions. Talk with your traditional beauty consultant or esthetician to find out more information about what they can offer for your hair condition.

Domestic Cosmetic Firms

A lot of the Indonesian traditional treatments and cosmetics are now being mass produced and marketed by domestic cosmetic firms such as Martha Tilaar, Mustika Ratu, and Nyonya Meneer.

The beauty products industry in Indonesia is not heavily controlled by government bodies as it is in the developed world. Ingredients in traditional cosmetics and treatments may not have been tested clinically in human or animal trials for allergic, toxic or carcinogenic effects; so some people with sensitive skin may have allergic reactions to them.

Fresh ingredients are used in some of the lotions utilized for massages and body treatments. This is a factor in the life span of the product as once the bottle is opened it cannot be kept for any length of time. Traditional treatments have a very strong herbal smell that most find appealing, yet some uninitiated expatriates may find overpowering. Whether or not you find the smell unpleasant or not depends on each individual.

See also Beauty Salons and Skin Care in Indonesia