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Is Your Spa Safe?



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A growing number of spas in the past several years have shifted from a focus on pampering to overall wellness. Of course, you can still book a massage or facial. But you’re now more likely to see options such as healthy sleep workshops, too.

If you want to make sure your goal doesn’t backfire, however, experts recommend checking out your spa or medical spa as thoroughly as you would any doctor. That means asking lots of questions. The risks of failing to do so range from a minor nail infection to i the extreme.

“Anytime you feel your questions are not being answered correctly, freely and completely, walk,” says Hannelore Leavy, executive director of The International Medical Spa Association, a professional organization focused on promoting quality consumer care. “This is your health.”

Healthiest Massages

Experts say the first step you should take to ensure the safety of your spa is a straightforward one–visit it. If you see anything that appears unclean or makes you uncomfortable, trust your gut, says Lynne McNees, president of the International SPA Association, a trade association with more than 3,000 members in 75 countries.

While requirements widely vary, it’s also worth asking whether the facility and staff hold licenses, as well as inquiring about the level of the staff’s training. Cosmetologists and therapists who work hard to keep their papers up to date tend to proudly display their qualifications, says Alicia Slifko, general manager of the Weston, Fla.-based Red Door Lifestyle Spa.

Doctor Download

Don’t even think about skipping this step if you’re seeking a medical treatment, such as a shot of Botox or laser skin resurfacing, from a spa, says Dr. John Anastasatos, a board-certified plastic surgeon based in Beverly Hills, Calif. Make sure whoever is administering your procedure is an experienced, licensed physician or a well-trained nurse or physician’s assistant operating under a doctor’s supervision. Be aware that a medical spa also may have a medical director who has no training working with lasers or injectables, Anastasatos says. Directors aren’t always required to be on site, either.

To be safe, insist on a consultation with a doctor and ask who will be performing the treatment, how many times the person has done it, how far away the doctor will be during it, in case of an emergency, and what to expect overall.

Another way to make sure you’re visiting a reputable spa is to check whether it’s a member of a professional organization with a code of ethics. It’s also a good idea to peruse online ratings and spa reviews on sites to read about other spa-goers’ good and bad experiences.

Good spas also will ask you lots of questions. Staff, whether verbally or via an intake form, should inquire about your allergies, medications and conditions, and it’s your responsibility to be upfront. People with high blood pressure, for instance, need to know they should avoid warm wraps, which could cause a spike in their numbers. And if you’ve had shoulder surgery, you should tell your massage therapist, who can cater his or her treatment or possibly add in a heat pack, McNees says.

“The more you share,” she adds, “the more they can help.”


When you first walk into a spa, everything from the receptionist’s desk to the massage table should appear spotless. Ask to take a tour of the facility, if possible, to check it out. A clean appearance doesn’t necessarily guarantee a safe spa trip, but it’s an essential starting point.

Book A Consultation

If you’re seeking a medical treatment, such as an injectable or laser procedure, experts say it’s worth it to have a consultation first. Find out who will be administering the procedure and how much experience he or she has performing it. If a doctor won’t be doing the work, find out how far away he or she will be in case of an emergency. Ask to see before and after pictures or for client references.

Intake Time

Good spas will ask about your medical history, experts say. This will alert anyone working with you about your allergies, medications or supplements you’re taking, as well as any conditions or surgeries you’ve had. People with high blood pressure, for instance, should avoid certain wraps, which could cause their numbers to spike.


While licensing requirements vary from country to country, state to state and even county to county, it’s worth looking into whether a spa and its staff are licensed. Trained therapists tend to prominently display their qualifications. And check to see if your spa is a member of the local chamber of commerce and a trade association with a code of conduct.

Proper Protocol

Keep an eye on your cosmetologist’s tools and the spa’s overall sanitary practices. During manicures and pedicures, expect to be treated with sterilized or new equipment to prevent the spread of bacteria, which could cause infections. If something looks used, ask why. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your massage therapist and facialist to wash their hands before touching you and make sure the towels and sheets being used are fresh.

Compare Costs

Beware of no-frills spas that charge rock-bottom low prices, some experts warn. If a spa’s goal appears to be moving people in and out as quickly as possible, it may be cutting corners in other areas, such as employing unlicensed staff. Low prices also could indicate that a spa is less than diligent when it comes to sanitation.

Read The Spa Reviews

If you generally read reviews of movies and restaurants before hitting them, why wouldn’t you do the same when picking a spa? Web sites, provide ratings and detailed customer reviews of spas, as well as list awards spas have won. Look for reviews that mention the spa’s cleanliness, for better or worse.

Ask Questions

Never be afraid to ask questions about a spa, its staff and the treatments being offered. What should you expect, for instance, from a lymphatic massage? Should you feel any burning during a laser treatment? Will your facialist wear gloves? Spa staff should never be offended. It’s their job to make you feel safe and comfortable.

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