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What It’s Like Getting a Clamshell Massage

At the Bar du Fouquet, inside the lobby of Le Majestic Hotel in Cannes, France, mixologist Emanuele Balestra hands me a cocktail of gin, champagne, and scented water full of herbs he handpicked from his aromatic garden. As I sip my edible perfume drink, my mind wanders to the symphony of sensations on the French Riviera. If the salty breeze from the glistening water, the delicate sunshine, and the baked croissants weren’t enough distractions from the trials and tribulations of regular life, I was about to get another treat: my very first clamshell massage.

These indulgent treatments, which feature clamshells as their primary massage tool, trace their origins back to the idyllic island of St. Barths in the Caribbean. And thousands of miles away, in France, they’ve begun to gain popularity.

What is a clamshell massage?

A clamshell massage, of course, starts with a clamshell. The shells used in France are sustainably sourced from different areas of the Pacific Ocean, says Mathilde Fillon, the lead trainer at the Spa Diane Barrière.

“We intentionally target multiple areas of the ocean to avoid emptying entire regions. Our goal is to make sure we are handling them in a responsible and sustainable manner and not disrupting the ocean’s environment,” says Fillon. “We then clean the shells, smoothen out its exterior and wash them thoroughly so that we can reuse them.”

Once the shells are clean and smooth, they’re warmed to evoke the same sensations as a hot stone massage. Before the treatment, a therapist prepares the shells by putting dry minerals inside them and activating them with salted water for about 30 minutes. This combination of ingredients provokes a natural heating of the clam shells, to which she later adds avocado oil and leaves to soak. Avocado oil is an excellent moisturizer that improves the skin’s elasticity, reduces inflammation, and strengthens the skin’s barrier.

Chemically speaking, the shells’ natural calcium carbonate composition allows them to retain heat, ensuring a soothing and therapeutic experience. The warm shells release tension and knots in the shoulders, back, and lower body while promoting blood circulation and relieving stress. A massage therapist rubs them in intentional, rhythmic, and sweeping motions.

“The therapist is trained to apply the right amount of pressure on the shells to release tension in all the right places and improve stimulation so the body feels soothed without causing any abrasion on the skin,” says Fillon. “When we work on the lower body, the heat on the shells also has the same effect as the lymphatic draining massage.”

Unlike other massages, which are recommended occasionally, Fillon confirms that the massage can be performed daily because it’s a great muscle relaxer. Unfortunately, there’s no way to replicate this at home, as the heating and application methods require serious training to do correctly. For example, any overheating of the clam shells can cause slight burns on the skin.

What happened when I tried a clamshell massage

Although the spa had a gentle aroma of lavender, my biggest concern was whether the clam shells would smell fishy and, consequently, if that smell would linger on my skin. However, the therapist reassured me that the shells were cleaned multiple times to remove any fishy odors and then hand-polished to create a perfectly smooth finish.

As the warm clams glided across my skin, I appreciated how the natural contours of the shells conformed to my body—even in hard-to-reach places!

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Throughout the 60-minute treatment, I didn’t feel a massive physical benefit, but I did feel mental ease. The repetitive motion of the clams on my skin, coupled with the rejuvenating sound of the waves in the background and the subtle smells of the avocado oil, put me in a meditative state.

Moreover, the experience made me feel connected to nature in a whole new way. The sensation of the shell on my body made me reflect on all of the ways we’ve learned to harness the resources gifted to us by Mother Nature, and the profound relaxation that these humble mollusks were able to impart on me was something worth shell-abrating.

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