Spa Smarts

Whether you’re headed for a single indulgent treatment at a day spa, or a weekend of revitalization, here’ how to ensure your money is well spent.


Taking time for yourself is a luxury, and you don’t want it to be anything less than perfect. So start out right by settling some basic matters. “When you make the appointment, ask questions such as, ‘Are robes and slippers supplied? Should I bring a swimsuit? What personal amenities are supplied?’” advises Liz Conway, marketing director of Premier Spas of Ontario. “Find out what personal amenities are supplied – everything from shampoo to toothbrushes and toothpaste in the bathroom.”


One hallmark of a good spa is membership in a national or international spa association. Leading Spas of Canada, for example, is a national association with some 150 members from coast to coast who must adhere to a protocol of standards and practices. “Complaints such as an unkempt facility or an unpleasant experience lead to tough inspections,” says Donna Holton, president of the association. In Canada, Premier Spas of Ontario and Spas Relais Santé in Quebec are the only provincial associations that conduct regular inspections. Members of Premier Spas of Ontario, for example, are inspected a minimum of every 18 months to check on over 80 quality standards – everything from the size of treatment rooms and staff qualifications to whether the towels are fluffy enough and all of the equipment is in proper working order. .

Check staff qualifications
Ask about the training of the massage therapists. Although training varies from province to province, if massage therapists are registered (that is, they have an RMT designation), it means they have not only received intensive training, but can provide reimbursable receipts for a medical benefits plan

Arrive a bit early
For a day spa, arrive at least 20 minutes prior to your appointment. That way you can complete the health form, enjoy the amenities and relax. I you are running late, your treatment will still end at the appointed time, but you will leave feeling frazzled and short-changed.

Fill out the forms
Reputable spas require clients complete a health assessment form prior to treatment. Some establishments go even further, requiring that therapists sign that they have read it. If you haven’t been asked to complete a form, be sure to tell the therapist or aesthetician about any pre-existing conditions such as recent surgery or diabetes. “They should also be aware if you have skin allergies that preclude using certain products or any contagious skin conditions such as cold sores or plantar warts,” says Dr. Lili Nasseri of Port Moody B.C. “Anyone with a heart condition should avoid the sauna,” she cautions.

Turn off your cell phone
Come prepared not only to enjoy, but also make the most of the experience. “Check your worries and your Blackberry at the door,” recommends Kelly Jamieson, manager of Zest Spa at the Westin Nova Scotian Hotel in Halifax.

Get the silent treatment
Treatment time is your time. A good massage therapist or aesthetician should put you at ease from the start. Treatment time is your time. Relax and enjoy. Don’t talk a lot, except to tell your therapist whether you prefer light or heavy pressure or if, at ant time, you are uncomfortable. Don’t hesitate to gently but firmly tell a chit chatty employee that you prefer not to talk. Say something as simple as, “ I would like to just listen to the music, unless you need to explain a procedure to me.”

Skip the makeup
If you are having a facial avoid wearing makeup (if possible) both before and after. Unless absolutely necessary, don’t wash your hair immediately after a scalp massage. Let the massage oil work its magic for a few hours.

Extend a day spa visit
With a day spay, find out if there are extras such as a hot tub, swimming pool, sauna or gym and relaxing lounge so you can extend the experience and its benefits. Is there a café or restaurant should you decide to make a day of it and wish to have lunch? Allow at least half an hour to relax after you’ve finished your treatment(s) so you can melt into a comfy lounge chair with a cup of tea before re-entering the real world. Consider getting a ride home instead of having to cope with stressful city traffic. Or, when planning an out-of-town spa visit, ask whether the spa offers transportation from a train or bus station, to save having to drive.

Express your thanks – or not

While the amount of any tip is up to the individual client, the spa industry norm is15 percent. Most establishments provide gratuity envelopes at the reception desk so you can leave individual envelopes for each employee – a discreet way to show your appreciation. “If you have a less than stellar experience, fill out a comment card or bring your concerns to the spa director immediately,” says Audrey Rivest, a marketing and communications representative of the 30-member Spas Relais Santé in Quebec. “You are there for your personal well being. It is important that everything is just right.” If a spa is a member of an umbrella association, complaints can also be directed to the association.

Go with someone special
“Because a spa experience is such a wonderful way t de-stress,” says Julie Simcox, spa director at the luxurious Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa in Cambridge, Ont., “enjoy it with someone you love.”

Best Health April 2009