Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Professor's Monthly Homework Assignment: Ancient beauty tips


The Curious Professor Z has asked us to post about old-fashioned beauty treatments and vintage beauty products. My chosen topic is quite ancient and it is used in a sauna. 

Sauna tradition in Finland is thousands of years old and I am guessing this beauty treatment I am about to introduce is not much younger. It is a sort of an instrument but at the same time it functions as aromatherapy too. 

It is made out of delicate birch branches tied into a big bunch. It is called vihta or vasta, depending of the geographical area. In some areas of Finland people say vasta and in other areas it is definitely vihta. As you can see from this picture, a vihta is also very useful if you suddenly need to camouflage in summer.


Super short introduction to what is sauna 

Mainly for those who might not be familiar with it. 
  • The Finnish Sauna is a place to wash yourself and to relax
  • It is a small-ish room that is usually heated to 80 - 120 degrees of Celsius, which is about 160 - 250 Fahrenheit. There is a stove filled with rocks that is doing the heating. 
  • You stay in a sauna exactly as long as you feel comfortable whether it is one minute or an hour. Nobody judges.
  • You bring a bucket of water and occasionally you throw some with a scoop on the burning hot rocks and release steam into the room. 
  • In another bucket you have icy cold water but that one is reserved for a vihta. You dump it upside down in the water, so that the "handle" of the bunch is up above surface. And later I tell what for.  
  • In Finland we go to sauna naked. It is perfectly normal and there is nothing sexual about it. Human body is nothing special, everybody has one. So we do not make a fuss about it and do not see why we should cover it while washing. Of coarse we usually go to sauna with family or close friends instead of hobbling nude with strangers. Even with family or friends some prefer to divide turns for women and men. Some don't. If even one person of the party wants to divide turns, people tend to honor this wish, or let that person go to sauna alone first. 
  • The usual rhythm is that you go to sauna for a while, get out and swim in a lake or take a shower or just sip a drink for a while to cool off and then repeat these two steps as many times as you like. 
  • More detailed description can be found in here.

Now, I am not going to post photos of me naked in a sauna, but there are going to be some tongue-in-cheek instruction photos. I also would like to feature a photo of a contemporary sauna. The old ones are often heated by burning wood instead of electricity, have no lights and are situated separate from the house. This one is inside a house and is heated with an electrical stove. 
On the right is the stove and I guess you already figured that people are sitting on the top "shelf". Now, to the beauty traditions!

How to use a vihta

As described, vihta is a bunch of birch branches tied together and they are brought to a sauna in a bucket of cold water. The branches are dipped into water and then people will gently slap their skin with the bunch. Why is this a beauty treatment and not some weird sadomasochistic fetish? 

Because first of all it does have a beautifying effect. when you gently and repeatedly slap your skin it activates the small veins on the surface of the skin and it gets the blood flowing better. Better blood circulation revives tissue. Second of all, it is supposed to be gentle slapping, not spanking. 

Not like this:  


But like this: You can still smile after a vihta

In the old times (when our mothers and grandmothers were young or not even born) people believed the birch and the sauna could revive almost anything. To prevent wrinkles people would hold a vihta on their face for a few minutes while sitting in a sauna. Do not know about anti-aging effects but at least the bunch of leafs would cover one's face from the most excruciating heat. 

One rather superstitious way to use birch was to pluck the leafs from a vihta in the end and place them on face's skin and for example, on closed eyes. 

Does not really prevent wrinkles either, other than maybe by placebo effect. Sauna is a place to relax and if you close your eyes in a sauna and slowly inhale that mild scent from the plucked leafs you probably relax even more and in the end feel better and look better. 

People tend to do this even today but it is more likely in a beauty spa or in a home version of a spa. You could put on a mud mask and then kind of decorate it with leafs. Your mud covered face will have some color and the birch smells quite nice. Yay!

Vihtas are mainly used during summer, though some people tend to store  few of them in a deep freezer and use them during winter too.

This was my vintage beauty treatment; how to boost your blood circulation while relaxing and thus getting prettier body and skin. 

Thanks for reading and do click the Professor's Monthly Homework Assignment logo and check what lovely Professor Z herself and all other participants have shared!

21 comments:

  1. That is a really cool interesting and informative take on the assignment. I love reading about different customs and traditions. Thanks for posting this!

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  2. So that's what the birch was for! There're a few Russian bath houses in a nearby neighborhood, and they mention the birch branch. Now I know! Interesting post!

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    1. I definitely recommend you try one birch branch bunch, if you decide to go to one of the bath houses! :D It is super nice and skin feels lovely afterwards.

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  3. This is amazing! I didnt know about the vihta. Aromatherapy and blood flow?! Count me in! I'd love to try it someday (adding it to my buckect list of things I could try if I ever travel to Finland). ❤

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  4. I loved Finnish sauna! I actually went to my first sauna in Helsinki 3 or 4 years ago. Every hotel had one and I was there everyday with my travelmate. And when I came back to Germany, imagine my surprise that there are rules in sauna: Like you should stay for 10-15 minutes and dip into cold water for 2-3 minutes... I could not handle that and everyone kept staring when I left after 10 minutes and came back when I liked...

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    1. German saunas have those sort of rules? :O How odd!

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  5. The demo photos are what really sold this post.

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    1. Thanks. :D I love to make a fool out of myself on the internet. It is never a good thing to take oneself too seriously! ^_^

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  6. I have to admit I love the Finnish culture as you guys are so laid back about the being naked around each other. While in the UK there are some prudish remnants of our Victorian culture, sadly. After a great swim, there is nothing better than a sauna. It strange to think despite the practices being around for so long, and yet, are still being practised, amazing to think.

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  7. Haha, detta var ett intressant och kul inlägg - du är rolig :)

    Jag växte upp med en bastu/sauna i huset, men eftersom jag har lågt blodtryck har det aldrig fungerat för mig.

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    1. Tack! :D Tyvärr du kan inte gå till bastun så mycket. Jag hoppas att du har något annat sätt att ta det lugnt!

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  8. sauna is awesome for sure but i didnt know about the birch stuff yet! (and yes, i agree with leslie, those pictures are the best!!) in germany most of the saunas ive been to people wear a towel around themselves... and as mindless said, the rules, THE RULES -_-

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    1. Thanks. ^_^ I enjoyed taking those photos! I am still a bit shocked about all the rules, though I do know that one time some Finnish tourists in another country (possibly Germany, can't remember) got banned from a local spa's sauna because they threw water on the stove and the local rules did not allow that. :D

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    2. definitely sounds german *lol* - the finnish people do not know the rules of finnish sauna.

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  9. That sounds so relaxing. The only sauna experience I've ever had was at a run down YWCA gym when I was a kid. Definitely doesn't sound as nice as using the vihta!

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    1. Vihta is awesome and so summery! :D

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  10. This is such a great contribution! I've always wondered why some cultures honored the sauna as almost a ritual of sorts. Good grief, count me in! I could use something like this once a week. Sigh ....

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    1. Thank you! :) Sauna is super relaxing, even if it is in a public spa.

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  11. That's so interesting. I'd heard of saunas but didn't know all that stuff about them. Thanks for sharing.

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  12. Wow this is such an awesomely informative post and the pictures just made it so hilarious. I've always been interested in saunas, but I've never found myself in a culture where sauna was practiced. Now that I find myself in the multi- cultured Los Angeles and that I have your tips on it, I might just try it out.
    thanks again for such a great article. Cheers

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  13. Saunas are an important part of the cleaning and relaxing ritual in Finland. In the USA, there are saunas in many gyms but, in my experience, they are rarely used. In fact, one gym I belonged to never even turned the heat on, so the sauna could not be used. I think people should emulate the Finnish as they are generally healthy people.

    Ronni Casillas @ JNH Life Styles

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