You're not loaded, you don't have the perfect body, and you hate your feet. Chances are that the 32 million Americans who, according to the International SPA Association (ISPA), headed to spas in 2006 have the same issues, only they pushed them aside for the greater good -- themselves.
ISPA's 2006 survey reveals that the spa industry is growing in the U.S., with almost 14,000 facilities, about a 16% increase from 2004. Day spas make up the bulk of the country's spas, with the southwest and northeast housing the majority. And, it's not just women who are seeking relaxation -- 31% of all spa-goers in the U.S. and 29% of those in Canada are men, who site stress relief and soothing sore muscles as their main reasons for visiting spas. The number of male spa-goers jumps to 36% when it comes to spa travel, which is often linked to specific destinations and focuses on treatments that employ indigenous ingredients and practices. The U.S. and Mexico are the top picks for people planning spa vacations, and travelers are more likely to spend their extra cash on a visit to the spa rather than a day of shopping. "Going to a spa is like investing in yourself," Julie Lindh, spa director at Townhouse Spa NYC, says. "There should be no price tag when it comes to making yourself feel good."
A high price tag no longer needs to be a road block between you and a path to pampering, with facilities for every price range popping up everywhere from your neighborhood strip mall to your local airport terminal. If you're not one of the millions who spent the last year getting massaged, exfoliated, or moisturized, it's likely that the fear factor is what's kept you from treating yourself. But fear not. We've taken all your unasked questions to the experts, everything from how much to tip to what the therapist is really thinking when you're naked on the massage table.
Ready, Set, Spa
The number one reason people head to the spa is for relaxation, Lynne Walker McNees, ISPA president, says, but if you're a first-timer, just getting started can be overwhelming. The key to overcoming this is having a goal in mind, she says, and asking yourself what you want to get out of the experience. Are you looking to de-stress, is an old injury flaring up, or do you want to freshen up your skin for a new season? Figuring out the purpose of your visit will also help you decide on the type of spa you should choose.
According to ISPA, there are seven spa categories, but the big three are destination, resort, and day. Destination spas offer guests the chance to immerse themselves in the culture with traditionally week-long programs that include everything from treatments and education to food and exercise programs. While resort spas are more about pampering, you'll find that they are adopting some of the same principles as destination spas, McNees says. Day spas offer basic treatments such as massage and facials, but lack the heat and water facilities (Jacuzzi, sauna, etc.) that are found at destination and resort spas.
If you're set on a place but not sure about the treatment, Lindh recommends "finding out what the spa specializes in and going with that." When booking, be sure to note your preferences for a male or female therapist, and be prepared to take notes on what you should bring (bathing suit, loose clothing, etc.) and how early to arrive. Denise Vitiello, spa director at the Mandarin Oriental New York, suggests at least 45 minutes for a resort spa and about 20 minutes for a day spa, depending on the facilities available. "People tend to show up at the front desk at the time of the appointment," she says, "and that throws off the system."
Laying Down the Law
Let's face it, everyone wants to look better naked, but contrary to popular belief, a perfect body is not a prerequisite for a spa visit. While therapists are OK with clients who would rather not shed their outer layer, Vitiello says, it keeps them from being completely comfortable during the treatment. "Only the part that's being worked on is exposed," she says. "People shouldn't be afraid that a therapist is looking at their legs or cellulite. They are looking beyond skin deep to see how they are going to help that person."
If at any time you feel uncomfortable, don't be afraid to speak up. Most people talk during spa treatments because they're nervous, Vitiello says, while others are just interested in having a step-by-step talk through their service. A good therapist will take cues from the client, and if you find your therapist to be a bit too chatty, kindly let them know you'd prefer a little quiet time.
While a visit to the spa can have immediate effects such as softer skin or relaxed muscles, don't expect miracles. Sometimes more than one service, or even a lifestyle change, is needed to get desired results, Mimi Cozzi, spa director at Willow Stream Spa Newport Beach, says, and following up with at-home care can make a big difference. While light-headedness is a byproduct of massage, scarring from facials is not, Vitiello says, and you should express any concerns before you leave the spa.
After you've spent a few hours in the hands of a good therapist, the last thing you want to worry about is tipping, McNees says, which is why many spas are now including gratuity in the price of their services, while others don't accept them at all. If you're confused about a spa's rule on tipping, ask at the front desk, where you'll leave your tip rather than handing it to the therapist directly. When it comes to the question of how much, expect to spend 15% to 20% depending on how happy you were with the service.
When you're checking out you might find that your therapist has pulled products for you or is there to discuss products for an at-home regimen. While there's no pressure to purchase products (you can always politely decline), there's a reason why your therapist is recommending certain products, Vitiello says. "The idea of allowing an at-home line of products is education. Sometimes people are doing more harm than good when using other products."
For example, when it comes to finding products that are travel-friendly, Vitiello never boards a plane without the Mobile Kit from Somme (each of the bottles is less than 3 oz., making them carry-on friendly). "It's clean and simple," she says. "It's natural and feels good."
Cozzi likes B. Kamins' Maple Treatment Hand Cream and Moistening Maple Lip Balm, while almost all of our experts recommend a hydrating spray. Cozzi likes Kerstin Florian's Neroli Water. (The spray comes in a 4 oz. bottle, so you may want to transfer it into a smaller one so you can take it on-board. However, keep in mind that all your 3 oz. bottles need to fit in a quart-size, clear plastic, zip-top bag.) The spray, made from bitter orange blossom, "is hydrating and uplifting," Lori Grant of the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Banff Springs says, "therefore it's great for air travel. It also works as an anti-depressant."
While upkeep at home can help you prolong that spa feeling, there's nothing better than making another visit, whether it's monthly or just once a year. Whatever you do, Lindh says, "you should never make your first time your last time."