Free radicals. Antioxidants. Environmental toxins. This is the lingo of the detox health craze that has made its way into the world of beauty. There are some pretty interesting beauty and wellness detox methods on the market today — think facial steam detox, lymphatic massage and ionic foot treatments. The objective? Free the body of toxins and allow your natural beauty to shine.
Have you ever wondered how — and if — these detox methods work? Me, too! I stayed at a hotel earlier this year that offered IonSpa detox foot treatments and had to give it a whirl. My thoughts on IonSpa follow below, but first, let’s dive into the science — and lingo — behind the detox craze:
According to MedicalNewsToday, free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage cells and are thought to contribute to the aging process. What exactly are unstable atoms, you ask? Let me take you back to high school chemistry class ....
You might recall that atoms are surrounded by electrons that make up layers of shells. Each shell layer has a specific number of electrons required to fill that shell. Atoms with complete outer shells are stable; atoms that are missing electrons, or free radicals, are unstable and seek to bond to other atoms or molecules.
The problem with free radicals is that in the process of trying to bond to other atoms or molecules to become stable, something called oxidative stress occurs that can damage the body’s cells. Two methods are used to combat the effects of free radicals — neutralizing them or removing them.
Which brings us to antioxidants. It is nearly impossible to peruse a grocery aisle without being bombarded by claims of antioxidant powers. Antioxidants, in theory, give electrons to the free radicals to neutralize them, thus preventing further cellular damage. According to Jolene Sim of 10FAQ Health, antioxidant supplements have not proven effective; nutrients work best. She recommends blueberries, red cabbage, beans, raspberries, strawberries, kale, artichokes, dark chocolate (hooray!), pecans and goji berries.
Detox can also be achieved, in theory, by physically removing toxins from the body. The IonSpa detox foot treatment I enjoyed claimed to do just that — remove toxins and heavy metals accumulated in my body through the soles of my feet by soaking them in ionized water.
The experience itself was fantastic. I situated myself in a comfy chair, and my aesthetician placed my feet in the IonSpa foot bath, which was a fairly standard tub with a submerged electronic device that ionized the water molecules. The aesthetician gave me a fizzy drink akin to lemon-lime Alka-Seltzer that she said would expedite the detox process. Then, she offered me a mimosa (win).
The aesthetician told me that the water would begin to change color as the toxins seeped from the soles of my feet, and she gave me a chart to help identify exactly which toxins had been wreaking havoc on my body:
Color or Particles and Material or Body Area Being Detoxified
Black Flecks: Heavy Metal
Brown: Liver, Cellular Debris, Tobacco
Dark Green: Gallbladder
Red Flecks: Cellular Debris, Blood Clot Material
Yellow: Kidney, Bladder, Urinary Tract
Foam: Lymphatic Drainage, Mucus
My foot bath turned all the colors, with the exception of orange and red. Apparently I was extremely toxic. The aesthetician told me that I would begin to feel lighter and refreshed within the next 24 hours. Although I was very relaxed from soaking my feet in warm water for half an hour — and the mimosa probably helped, too — I did not notice any particular difference otherwise.
After my treatment was complete I decided to do a little online research and was disappointed to learn that the water in the footbath will change color with the ionizing device only — no feet! The color change depends on the mineral content of the water. Further, a small 2012 study of six participants collected water samples before and after the foot bath — as well as urine samples — and found no change in toxin levels in the samples.
There are two takeaways .... One is that detoxifying foot baths such as the one I experienced are relaxing at best. Though not harmful, they likely do not pull any toxins from your body. The second takeaway is a winner any way you slice it — dark chocolate is an antioxidant, which means it is good for you! In moderation, of course.