Tucson’s resort spas make the most of the Sonoran Desert’s bounty

by Rita Connelly

There’s something special about the Sonoran Desert—the way the sun sets into the mountains in burning gold, deep purple, and bright orange. The symphony of wind and wildlife when you trek through it. The scent of creosote that gives the desert its distinctive fragrance when it rains, which locals associate with monsoon season and home.

These distinctive sights, sounds, and smells can only be found here, and that’s not all.

Tucson’s resorts and spas have created treatments from indigenous ingredients to capture this special place and its beauty. Discover how I—through Arizona copper, blue corn, aloe, and more—took full advantage of the region’s bounty to relax, rejuvenate, and break free from the weight of the world. Then, book appointments for yourself.


Westward Look Resort MassageWellness Garden Ritual at Westward Look’s Sonoran Spa

Just outside the Sonoran Spa at Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa is a quaint Wellness Garden filled with a wonderful assortment of herbs and flowers (most of which are native to Tucson). This is where Julia, an aesthetician and a massage therapist, and I began my customized farm-to-body pampering.

Using small garden shears and a pail, Julia cut the fresh botanicals of my choice, which were all labeled with names and their medicinal purposes. I chose lavender, chamomile, jasmine, sage, and lemongrass to stimulate and restore my skin’s youthful glow. She blended my selections into a mixture with a light oil and Dead Sea salt to create a regional body scrub made just for me.

The scrub was thick and she applied it over my body using firm yet gentle motions. The “roughness” of the salt was stimulating. Aromas of my chosen herbs lightly filled the air and Julia helped guide my breathing with her own soft exhalations. The overall effect was immediate. My skin tingled and my mind began to let go of any distractions. A shower followed by a soothing massage, helped the tension melt away and the energy flow.


Hashani Herb Bar at JW Starr PassArizona Copper Peptide Facial at JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa

The key ingredient in the Arizona Copper Peptide Facial is essential to Arizona’s history and was a main source of income for thousands of people in the state for decades. As a beauty treatment, copper firms and heals damaged skin and is excellent for anti-aging.

My aesthetician, Anna Lisa, began with a simple, soft cleansing followed by a deeper cleansing using a gentle sonic brush that refreshed my skin. A skin assessment followed and she even removed tiny blemishes that had been there for a long time.

Prickly pear and white sage toners were next. Prickly pear cactus grows in abundance in the area and its large fruits are a favorite food source for many wildlife. You could say it’s Tucson’s natural treat. Sage is an ancient herb that has long been used by native tribes as a healing agent and spiritual cleanser.

There was also a pumpkin enzyme and two masque layers. The first masque contained aloe and jojoba (both native to the Sonoran Desert), which acted as an anti-bacterial/anti-microbial healing moisturizer. The oil produced by the jojoba plant’s dark nut moisturizes the skin while the aloe heals the skin with its gel-like consistency. The second layer, made of Sedona’s famous red mud, is rich in skin-firming antioxidant copper. Then a prickly pear fruit seed serum was brushed on my face followed by a spritz of a copper firming mist. I left feeling liberated with my skin breathing new life.


Loews Ventana CanyonAloe Vera & Blue Corn Skin Healer at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort

Located high above the city, Loews Ventana Canyon is sleek and modern, but the Aloe Vera & Blue Corn Skin Healer Treatment at the Lakeside Spa uses ingredients that have played important roles in Native American life for centuries. Blue corn was a main food source for local tribes (used here to exfoliate) and aloe is the desert’s go-to treatment for almost any skin ailment.

I’d been advised that the blue corn scrub might be a bit abrasive, but any concerns were quickly allayed by the sleek softness from the aloe and jojoba oil in the scrub. Christine, the aesthetician, applied the oil from neck to legs. I felt my body and mind relax immediately.

I liked how my skin tingled when I rinsed off the scrub in the shower. Next, using the medium pressure I requested, Christine spread aloe-based lotion over my exfoliated skin. The lotion was creamy and silky. The calming feeling was enhanced once she loosely wrapped me in a healing cocoon of blankets, and continued to perform a face and neck massage with slight pressure and light tapping. Even my hair was “massaged.” I left feeling lighter, freer, and refreshed.


Hiapsi at Casino del Sol ResortThe Golden Sol Body Treatment at Casino del Sol Resort

I began face down and JoShonnah, the aesthetician, slathered my back with a silky almond-honey scrub. Her touch was light and soft, but stimulating. I turned over and as the scrub was applied to my arms, neck, and décolletage, a gentle aroma from the scrub’s main ingredients of mesquite honey (from a native tree that grows at the resort’s doorstep and is made locally in small batches for the spa), and almond wafted over me. In the shower, I noticed that my skin literally glistened and felt soft and supple.

The mud wrap was next. The mineral rich Sonoran Desert mud contains sweet orange and ylang ylang, and was much lighter than I expected, both in color and how it felt on my skin. While the mud air-dried, I was given a scalp massage with eucalyptus oil, relieving my stuffy sinuses. By the time the mud had dried, I was covered in a papery layer that looked odd but my skin definitely felt firmer.

The perfect ending was an horchata moisturizer with its nutty, toasted aroma and a soft, silky touch. Horchata is a creamy Mexican beverage made with cinnamon and almond.

When all was said and done, my skin had a silky feel and a wonderful golden glow.


Miraval Zen Aqua MassageSweet & Savory Desert Succulents Body Renew Rituals at Miraval’s Life in Balance Spa

Miraval is known worldwide for its focus on enhancing balance in mind, body, and soul. The Sweet & Savory treatment is a fine example of that philosophy.

There are two options for this treatment: Sweet or Savory. I opted for the savory, which uses jojoba oil sage butter as a finishing step. The sweet utilizes jojoba oil prickly pear butter.

Lolita, my Energy & Body Work Practitioner, showed me the brush she would be using for the first step. Made from agave, a native succulent made of broad, spear-like leaves, the bristles seemed course but the treatment proved otherwise. The strokes were gentle and moved towards my heart to increase lymphatic flow.

A cool layering of aloe vera gel followed. Although the gel looked sticky, it felt light and cool as the air flowed over me.

Next, a warm, damp towel was draped over me, which felt heavenly.

Finally came the sage butter. Butter is a most apt description, as the cream melted into my skin. Lolita used gentle pressure while adding deep pressure where she found knots. Time seemed suspended, and before I knew it, the treatment was over.

My skin felt renewed and refreshed, but more importantly, was the overall inner sense of calm and quiet.

Resorts & Spas

With wide-open spaces, sun-drenched skies, unforgettable sunsets, and a dramatic yet soothing desert landscape, Tucson, AZ, attracts countless visitors worldwide. Pair this with a seemingly endless selection of award-winning resorts and spas, and it’s no surprise that visitors return year after year for all the…