Unless you are a spa connoisseur, knowing how to conduct yourself or what to expect from your spa experience might be a bit of a mystery. I love a good day at the spa, but I must admit, I am hardly an expert and don't frequent spas nearly enough, but I have discovered, that each spa has its own offerings and protocol. So doing your research and asking questions up front is the best way to ensure you enjoy your visit and there are no surprises.
First up, how to select a spa?
I reached out to Shawn Hallum, AS, BS, MS. He is the Professor and Chair of the Spa Management Program at the American College of Healthcare Sciences. I asked him for some tips on what to look for when selecting a spa and what he thinks are the top things to look for when selecting a spa for treatment? Licensing? Accreditation? Health department ratings? Staff credentials?
It turns out that in most states, a Spa needs to be licensed to operate. Almost all states license estheticians and massage therapists, but it pays to check and a call to the health department can be a quick way to do that. You should also look at the staff's credentials. If they are using aromatherapy and essential oils, for example, do they have someone qualified on staff or are they just relying on vendor training?
Shawn added, “Once you've selected a facility that is licensed, credible, clean, professional, and convenient, take some time to study their service offerings and ask them to explain the offerings that pique your interest. Don’t be afraid to ask questions." His examples include:
- Where to park
- When to arrive
- What the service entails
- Contraindications for the treatment
- Who your therapist will be
- How to prepare (i.e. can you shave on the morning of the treatment?)
- What to wear during the treatment
- What amenities you should use before/after the treatment (i.e. steam, sauna)
- When payment is expected (before or after the treatment)
- Suggested gratuities
These things will help you feel comfortable about your selection of facility and the services offered and prepared for your visit so you can focus on relaxing!
But how do you select the spa itself? Keep in mind, not all spas are created equal. Unless you have personal knowledge of a facility, you must do your research in order to select the treatment provider and services that is the best match for your needs and expectations.
Are you looking for a sports or aromatherapy massage? Or maybe you would like the latest herbal infused wrap treatment and a soak in a hydrotherapy tub.
When researching a facility, you should read reviews. Some good places to do that are Spafinder.com, Yelp, or The Luxury Spa Edit. Keep in mind that reviews are all opinion based which can involve emotions, so areas you want to focus on are cleanliness, professionalism, variety of services, and overall experience of the reviewers. Each person will have their own takeaway from their spa treatments but looking for those key points will help you weed through the baseless bad reviews as well as the fluffy reviews and get down to just the facts.
Again, you may also want to check with the state health department to inquire about whether the facility is in good standing and if there are any concerns that have been filed as a matter of public record. In the About Us section of the spa’s website, information about their credentials should be listed. Things to look for are certifications and education like spa management, massage therapy, and aromatherapy.
Once you are satisfied with your research of the spa facility, it’s time to use the above checklist and plan your visit.
The spa’s website is likely to answer a good majority of your questions. Often times, the information you seek has been included in a F.A.Q. (frequently asked questions) section. Some may have a link in the menu but others you may have to dig a bit more. If there does not seem to be adequate information, do not hesitate to contact them via phone or email. Make sure if you do decide to call that you have your list of questions ready to go so that you can cover all the bases and feel good about the results.
Spa services and treatments will be detailed in their menu. You might find that there is some terminology that is unfamiliar so again, do not hesitate in contacting the spa to find out what the treatment entails, whether the products or procedures used will have any contraindications with health issues or concerns. If you do have health concerns that a treatment may affect, consult with your physician before booking the service. Many spas are willing to customize your services so ask if that is an option if something about the treatment needs to be modified.
Be sure you understand your booking such as cancellation policy, deposit (if any), when payment is expected, find out methods of payment that is accepted, how much gratuity is expected, and the preferred method for tipping.
It is also important to know if the establishment offers attire for you to wear like robes and footwear. Many spas do not want clients to wear outside shoes or garments as otherwise they are unable to ensure no contamination is brought in the treatment areas. Be sure to ask about clothing requirements - usually co-ed areas require clothing but it pays to check if guests are allowed to be naked in the various common areas and to make sure you understand what areas are co-ed. In some spas, such as the remodelled Hammam Drift Spa at the Palms in Las Vegas, the hammam itself sits between the mens and womens section and requires a bathing suit.
Make certain that there is a locker room or secure place to stow your belongings. Even if there are lockers, leave valuable items at home; taking only what you absolutely need. That will provide you with a peace of mind that you don’t have to worry about your stuff being swiped while enjoying your spa encounter.
Be aware that most spas do not allow cameras or camera phones of any kind in or around the locker room, treatment, or common spaces. It is to ensure the privacy of their clients and besides, who among us wants to end up undressing in the background of a video that goes viral? We all know how important it is to disconnect from technology regularly, but few of us actually do it, so think of this as an added mental health benefit of your spa experience! (If you want to write a blog post about a spa, reach out to their PR department to ask for approved photos to use.)
Lastly, if the spa offers use of the facility amenities take full advantage of that benefit. Before or after your treatment, it is a lot of fun to try out the spa’s various offerings and it certainly adds to your experience. Check with the spa staff when booking to see how long you are able to arrive before your appointment or stay afterwards. Some of the destination spas will allow you to use their facilities for the entire day of your service, making the treatment a very affordable way to enjoy a spa day either alone or with friends!
The most important part of going to a spa is leaving the world at the door and once inside, allowing yourself to indulge, luxuriate, and treat yourself well.
What surprises have you experienced when visiting a spa? Feel free to share in the comments below!
For more information about the American College of Health Sciences click here.