A First-Timer's Guide to Visiting the Spa

Enjoying the luxury of total spa relaxation
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Don't have time to go on a whole spa vacation? A day at the spa can give you a chance to relax and enjoy some treatments without packing your bags. Book a massage or a facial and you'll be amazed at how much better you feel.  We all need nurturing.

Most spas have half or full-day packages that give you a price break on multiple services and sometimes serve you lunch. A day spa might be the only possibility if you live in a smaller market.

But if you live somewhere like Phoenix, Austin, Miami or Los Angeles, you can research what resort spas offer as well. Sometimes just by getting one treatment (which will more expensive than a day spa), you can spend as much time as you want to enjoy the amenities. 

Choosing A Spa

Most of us make our decisions based on convenience -- what's close by, and within my budget? But there are other things you should take into account.  Look for friendly, nurturing staff, from the person at the front desk to the massage therapists, estheticians, nail technicians, and make-up artists. Of course, all therapists should be licensed. (If the treatments are really cheap, this might be one reason.)

A well-trained staff starts with the person at the front desk, so if they're not polite over the phone -- forget it. When you arrive, you want a quiet, relaxing, well-designed environment with soothing music, low lighting, and pleasant aromas that is also clean and sanitary.

It's great if you can find special equipment such as hydrotherapy tubs, whirlpool tubs, steam rooms, sauna, steam cabinets, Vichy shower, etc., which will help you spend more time relaxing. A good spa menu should explain the treatments, and staff that can answer any questions in detail.  It's always a good sign if the spa asks you to complete a medical disclosure questionnaire.

Select Your Spa Treatments

The basic spa treatments are massage, facial, body treatment, manicure, and pedicure. A massage will help you relax and get rid of muscle tension. (A Swedish massage is a good place for beginners.) A facial is a deep cleansing of your face, and a body treatment exfoliates and softens the skin on your body. Most spas offer manicures and pedicures as well.

You can also combine services -- a massage and a body treatment is a good combination (get the body treatment first) or a massage and a facial (get the massage first). The quality of the therapist determines the quality of the treatment. Get a personal reference if you can. Also, think about whether you prefer a male or female therapist.

Before You Go

Don't eat for at least an hour before or after your massage. Drink plenty of water after your service to enhance the benefits of your treatments.

Arrive early so you have time to enjoy the sauna, steam or whirlpool before your treatment. If you get in a whirlpool, shower to get rid of the chlorine before a massage. Allow your mind to calm down before your treatment. Although most spas have lockers that lock, you might want to leave valuables at home.

Enjoy Your Spa Experience

Most people know generally remove your clothes for massage and body treatments, but you are draped with sheets or large towels.

(Read more about nudity and the spa.) Relax -- no one is judging your body. Take slow, deep breaths before your treatment begins. Envision every muscle in your body relaxing, and simply be open to the experience.

Communicate with your therapist. If you have any feedback on the temperature or amount of pressure, let them know. You can talk or not, as you prefer -- the therapist will usually follow your lead. When the treatment is over, take the time to slowly reintegrate, rather than rushing off.  A tip of 15% to 20% is appropriate.

When you get back home, continue the good feeling by taking care of yourself. Most spas sell the products they use but don't feel pressured to buy, although it's a good idea to get into a proper skin care routine at home.