Meet Sue Harmsworth, Founder of the ESPA Brand

Sue Harmsworth

Susan Harmsworth is 70, but you wouldn’t know it. “I don’t look anything like my age, thank God, and I don’t act like it either!” As a leading spa expert, Sue has devoted her life to spa and wellness and now boasts a portfolio that spans 55 countries.

We recently sat down with the glamorous septuagenarian and the force behind the ESPA brand to learn more about her business, her personal beauty routine, and her overall outlook on life –  read all about it below!


1. As a wellness pioneer, how did you start ESPA and why?

I’ve had a passion for health since childhood – my grandmother was a herbalist and my mother was in medicine, so it has always been an inherent interest of mine. My early career began in health and beauty journalism, though a deeper interest in spa therapies soon developed and I opened my first business, a salon, in Toronto, where I learnt therapy from a medical perspective through my Eastern European therapists. On my return to Europe I managed a Thalassotherapy Resort in France and on my return to the UK I spent four years as General Manager of a destination wellness resort before I founded my own spa company in 1988 and launched ESPA the brand in 1993.

The spa industry back then didn’t exist in the way that we know it today, and it was my early experiences that gave me the vision of combining health and beauty, mind and body, natural and scientific. It sounds so straightforward now, but back then it was quite revolutionary!

2. What is the ESPA Brand Evolution?

While reflecting on the last 25 years, it was clear that our original brand philosophy was even more relevant today with anxiety and sleep deprivation being so prevalent.   My original goal was to create a brand that considered the impact of health and wellness on beauty combined with a holistic approach to deliver natural beauty and inner calm. 

We’ve refocused on our original philosophy and taken cues from the simplicity and purity of the brand when it first started. The ESPA evolution refocuses on ESPA’s founding philosophy but brings it up-to-date for the modern day, helping our customers to look and feel their best at every stage of life, have naturally beautiful skin and a renewed sense of inner calm.

3. How do you achieve inner calm?

I have quite a particular relaxation regime in place… exfoliating my face and body, layering oils, serums, and a mask, and then lying back in a bath using my preferred blend  of ESPA Detoxifying Seaweed Bath, Epsom Salts and either ESPA Restorative or Fitness Bath Oil. I also like to do some deep breathing exercises before I go to sleep using my favourite ESPA oils. I breathe in through the nose for four seconds and out through the mouth for eight seconds.  During this time I go through my day from end to beginning so that I can let any anxiety or stressful situations go.

4. Can you describe the sensory experience that is offered at Acqualina Spa by ESPA?

On arrival at the spa the whole area is infused with sensory aromatherapy oils designed to calm the senses and give a feeling of well-being. The unique Himalayan Salt Wall in the relaxation lounge helps improve well-being and relaxation, while encouraging increased vitality and energy as it fills the room with detoxifying negative ions that purify the air naturally so really great to help anyone with respiratory issues. The personalized ESPA approach to well-being includes our own sensory experience offering a choice of powerful aromas to bring back balance to the body and mind. Pending on the chosen treatment, the therapist will sense test the two most appropriate face or body oils to suit your individual needs. The one that you are drawn to most is what your body needs at that particular time  – this could be Energizing to invigorate, Soothing to relax,  or possibly Detoxifying to help cleanse and stimulate the body.

5. Your favorite treatment?

For a facial, it must be our Ultimate LifeStage Facial. Launched alongside our LifeStage collection in 2012, it’s a highly results-driven treatment that powerfully revitalizes, lifts and regenerates the complexion by targeting every sign of skin aging. I use the Lifestage serum every day, it’s  a wonder worker in only 90 minutes!

6. Favorite spa product?

Pink Hair and Scalp Mud was one of the first ever products I created in 1989 and remains a firm favorite of mine today. The ESPA scalp massage continues to feature in almost all our spa treatments, and the multi-benefit Pink Hair and Scalp Mud proves as popular as it was 28 years ago!

7. Favorite way to relax?

Relaxation for me comes from good music, good friends, good wine and a good man in my life!

8. Which spa product should every woman use?

There are two – a face oil for strengthening the structure of the skin and a serum for feeding, repairing and maintaining the health of the skin. Serums are very concentrated and ESPA has different ones for different skin types.

9. How do you keep looking so young?

I’m 72, though I work as hard as I did at 35. To achieve this I take every personal opportunity to stay healthy, both physically and mentally. I stay fit, only eat organic, nutrient-rich foods, have a rigorous skin and hair care regime, and go on a retreat twice a year, but most of all keep a sense of humor. Most of what we worry about doesn’t happen. Focus on the important things

10. An at home spa tip?

For rejuvenated healthy skin, massage in your favorite face treatment oil, pinching along the jawline to release stress and stimulate circulation. This brings blood and oxygen to the surface of the skin to create a healthy radiant glow.  Apply our overnight hydration mask on top and leave on all night. 

11. Tell us about your fondest memory at Acqualina Spa by ESPA

There are so many – from meeting Jules and Stephanie when it was just a building site and seeing our vision coming to fruition to training the original team for the opening. Winning so many prestigious awards including the Forbes Five Stars has been amazing, but most of all I appreciate the brilliant team who deliver great treatments each and every day.

12. And our vibrant city of Miami – what do you find so magical about it?

I love the eclectic mix of culture, vibrant art, architecture and people.  It has a magical and unique chemistry all of its own.  The beaches are world class, the food continues to excel, the sun shines year round and Miami is constantly evolving.

13. Do you have someone who inspired you?

My Father always told me I can achieve anything I want to. He was self-made and taught, challenged and inspired me every day until the day he died. He would continuously put me in demanding situations and tell me I could succeed… a mentor like this is so important in life, especially for women

14. Best quote.

I believe in having a positive mental attitude. Wake up every day and be grateful for what you have, not what you don’t have.