The Spa Queen

Susan Harmsworth, who has 40 years experience in the industry, talks exclusively to The SPA Traveller about ESPA Life, wellness and her secrets for surviving long-haul flights…


ESPA founder Susan Harmsworth

ESPA founder Susan Harmsworth is currently celebrating the successful launch of her flagship spa ESPA Life at The Corinthia Hotel in London.

She has also just opened the world’s highest spa on the 116th floor of The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong and is looking forward to over-seeing another spa opening at Mason Rose in the Maldives along with an ESPA Beauty Room in Liberty.


Mother-of-two Harmsworth (whose two sons now work for the family business) launched the business in 1993 and has always been ahead of her time by introducing holistic and complementary therapies.

Harmsworth starting out life as a beauty and health journalist at Vogue in London's swinging 60s, her marriage to Vidal Sassoon's right hand man took her to the US and then Canada. But faced with no magazine industry to work for in Toronto, she set up a forward-thinking hair and beauty salon in the 1970s, which was turned into a multi-million dollar spa by the time she sold it in 1980, and returned to Europe.


The next 10 years were spent designing and creating spas and treatments in France, for cruise liners, and in the UK and in 1993 she launched ESPA which is now one of the leading spa companies in the world.


As Harmsworth catches her breath from jetting in from Bali where she attended the Global Spa Summit she talks exclusively to JANET BRICE of The SPA Traveller:


Q: Can you tell us about ESPA Life which has just opened at The Corinthia Hotel in London?
A: The spa is very close to my heart and I believe will take the spa industry to another level. ESPA Life offers a fully integrated wellness approach alongside the luxury spa experience and is set to become the leading voice in the next generation of spa.


The spa, which is very glamorous, is housed over four floors of The Corinthia Hotel, has attracted globally acclaimed, holistic health professionals, influential specialists and outstanding spa therapists who will be on hand to create revolutionary lifestyle solutions and exceptional spa treatments.
As we are spread over four floors we have the space to offer 17 treatment pods, nail studio, Daniel Galvin hair studio, nine-meter silver steel swimming pool, amphitheatre sauna, black mosaic steam room and a state-of-the-art gym.

I have been in the spa industry 40 years and I don’t think anyone in the world is doing what ESPA is doing. Today, people want more from their spa; they want effective treatments with long-term benefits and this is what we are offering. Prevention is better than cure.

A spa that’s thinking out of the box »


Q: How has the spa-goer changed over the years?

A: In the 70s, spas tended to be focused on health, wellbeing and weight loss, and targeted at wealthy people. In the 80s, with the advancement of technology and women in the workplace again, demographics changed, and week-long spa retreats were in demand. But, by the 90s, short spa breaks at luxury hotels were the new thing, and very much geared at stress reduction and relaxation.


Spas used to be the domain of the affluent; then everyone began using them as a treat or a gift. Now we're seeing spa-goers who want more and a new generation of kids that have to cope with work stress and environmental factors. They're not looking for a holiday with massages; they want sophistication, knowledge and seven days to learn how to eat right and stay healthy.



Q: Can you explain the success of ESPA’s legendary Pink Hair and Scalp Mud?

A: This is an absolute classic which I formulated with a natural chemist using a blend of essential oils and pink mud which leaves your hair intensely nourished, healthy and manageable. This has been one of our best-selling products since 1988. I think it’s the combination of the mineral-rich red clays with the oils which make it so effective.


Q: What are your personal favourites?

A: I can’t live without essential oils. When I travel I always reach for the oils as I love the smells as they remind me of home. I am also very excited about our new Lift and Firm range which has a very powerful effect.

Lift and firm intensive by ESPA »


Q: What are your top travel tips for long-haul flights?

A: I do tend to use Resistance Body Oil massaged on the décolleté. I do stretches in the bulkhead – hamstrings, shoulder and neck rolls, I’m always stretching.

The drone of engines can contribute to jet lag as it’s psychologically intrusive so I always travel with Bose Noise Cancelling headphones.

I always remove make-up using Hydrating Cleansing Milk and slather Botanical Rescue on my face and neck to combat dehydration. Floral Spafresh Spritzer is also on constant duty.


I always have a swimsuit in my carry-on bag and swim whenever I get the chance.

And finally, I only take my loyal Chloe tote as a carry-on bag.

Q: When you arrive at your hotel how do you relax?
A: I try to make my destination as much like home as possible as this is my anchoring point. This means travelling with essential oils such as ESPA Restorative Oil because that’s what my bedroom smells like.

I also try to have a steam and massage. We have developed the ESPA Jet Lag Reviver treatment to suit day or night arrivals using energizing or soothing aromatic oils. I am always looking for a pool as I love to swim.


ESPA Life at The Conrinthia, London »

History of ESPA

The inspirational force behind the ESPA brand, Susan Harmsworth was recently awarded an MBE for her outstanding services to the spa and beauty industry.


The honor acknowledges Harmsworth dedication to the spa world, with her involvement in the industry stretching across the globe and most of her professional life.


As one of the most influential leaders in the international spa arena, Harmsworth sits on a number of international Spa and Hotelier Boards, but the hub of her entrepreneurial and creative spirit is anchored in ESPA, the total spa and skincare company she founded in September 1993, located in Farnham, UK and operating in 55 countries internationally.


Harmsworth recently gave up a 40 per cent stake in the business she set up 17 years ago, to Istithmar World Capital, part of a Dubai sovereign wealth fund, in return for a cash injection that will boost the business globally – quadrupling the number of ESPA products manufactured at their Surrey factory, expanding their training schools and growing their projects worldwide.


Not that they weren't global already. With 100 staff and an annual turnover of £7 million previously, ESPA has a long and highly respected history in the spa world.

A spa that's thinking out of the box »

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