First time at a spa? It’s always helpful to know spa etiquette. Here are ten commandments for spa virgins.
This popular, previously published post was updated on 9/25/21:
Now that we’re still in the thick of the pandemic – which we all thought and hoped would be over by now – you might need a spa getaway now more than ever. But keep in mind that spa trips have drastically changed.
Many spa resorts have adopted strict COVID-19 protocols like temperature checks, masks, frequent disinfecting (some, like the Westin Houston Medical Center, have turned to disinfecting robots), and social distancing. Some resorts have made changes to accommodate clients who might feel vulnerable or crowd-averse, like adding more outdoor activities, mental health programming and smaller class sizes.
You’re not the only uncomfortable spa virgin
Being a spa virgin can be a bit daunting. It feels like everyone else knows what he or she is doing –except for you. It feels like everyone else is experienced and worldly – except for you.
You’re likely to witness people floating through their day, wrapped snuggly in white cozy robes or slinky exercise clothes, feet clad in slippers as fluffy as bunnies or cool-looking sneakers.
Here’s the good news: The first time I visited a spa, it took me just one short day to unwind and get swept up into the spa fever. By the second day, I was one of “them.” And the other visits I’ve had since then? Instant relaxation; I fell right into the pulse of the place.
Things you need to know before visiting a spa for the first-time
I’ve learned a lot about spa etiquette since my first spa visit. And while each spa has its own special personality and rhythm, there are a few basic things to know whether you’re scheduling a spa treatment near home, taking advantage of a visit to a spa while at a hotel or on a cruise ship, or indulging in an overnight or several night stay at a destination spa.
1. Getting around
When you arrive, you’ll get a tour of the facilities (if it’s not offered, just ask). This way, you’ll become familiar with the property’s various areas like the the gym, dining area and treatment rooms. Generally, the use of services like the sauna, steam and relaxation room (where you wait for your spa service) is complimentary when you book a treatment so allow time in your schedule to take advantage of this freebie.
2. Spa treatments
Whatever treatment you book, feel free to ask the technician to modify his or her technique if you’re not happy. For example, if the pressure of the massage is too heavy, speak up and ask the masseuse to use a lighter touch. If the music is too loud or not to your liking, ask to turn it down. If the therapist is chatty and you’d rather be silent, it’s okay to say that you’d like to close your eyes and mellow out, even nap.
You get the idea. Any aspect of any treatment can be easily modified to suit your taste; even the temperature in the room if need be. Remember: The technician is there to please you.
You won’t see many fancy outfits; not even for dinner. Many spas allow – and even encourage – their guests to dine in their robes (some have an exception for dinnertime, but even then, many people dress very casually). And leave your jewelry at home. If you have a massage or facial, you’ll have to remove it, so why bother? You won’t need any, trust me. If you can’t go without it, the technician will usually give you a little dish to hold the family jewels until you’re done. At a day spa, arrive in something that is easy to slip off and on.
I’m not one to venture too far without my requisite “face” of mascara, blush and lip color (at the very least). But when I’m at a spa, I don’t even bother. In fact, most people don’t. It’s a real – and rare – treat to get up in the morning and get right out the door without having to spend time grooming myself. Barefaced, hair pulled back, I’m off. There are too many important things, like exercise classes and treatments, to be done…who has the time or inclination for makeup? And who is looking, anyway? And makeup has become less of an essential now that we’re all masked up.
Another reminder: Bring a comfortable mask and proof of vaccination.
4. Be punctual
Although they’re relaxing, spas run a tight ship (you usually don’t see the behind-the-scenes management). Try not to be late for an appointment; in fact, it’s best to arrive prior to your appointment to allow yourself time to change and relax (most spas have beautiful relaxation rooms where you wait for your treatment; many of which have assorted teas, healthy snacks and comfy lounges or chairs).
If you think you will be late, always call and let them know you’re delayed. But don’t expect to get your full service; chances are there is another person booked right after you.
There are treatments that are better done nude, like table massages, body scrubs and wraps. But, this doesn’t mean it’s an absolute requirement. If you’re not comfortable, you can certainly leave some clothing on (perhaps your undergarments. Some spas will give you disposable underwear to wear during a body wrap or scrub).
Remember that during a table massage, your entire body is draped with a sheet, except for the area the therapist is working on. Your private parts remain covered at all times. (Note: For a Thai or chair massage, you are fully clothed). If you prefer a same-sex therapist, make sure to mention that when you schedule your appointment.
6. Going solo or with friends
If you come with a friend or group of friends, you may want to reserve your own table at mealtime. If you’re traveling solo, you can request a table for one – but most spas also set aside a “community table” where you can join other spa-goers.
Many people come to spas for solitude so don’t feel guilty about dining alone. However, you might want to be open to some socializing, too – I’ve met wonderful, fun people unexpectedly while away at a spa.
Silence any electronic devices; even better, leave them in your locker or in your room. Be mindful of other people and speak softly, like you would in a library. Remember, people around you are trying to relax, too.
Some spas include gratuities in the cost of the service; others don’t. If they don’t, the main desk at the spa will provide a small envelope for gratuities, which should be between 15 to 20 percent of the treatment’s total (providing you were happy with the service. If you weren’t, feel free to express that to the manager).
Feeling too blissful and relaxed to figure it all out? Tell them what percentage you’d like to leave, and let them do the math for you.
If you’re planning on an afternoon challenging hike or hour-long spin class, don’t schedule your massage or other treatment earlier in the day. You want to keep that blissful feeling going for as long as possible; better to book your relaxing services for the end of the day.
Speaking of that, you’re not the only one with that idea – so do your best to book early; even better, at the same time you make your reservation at the property.
Be aware that not all spa services all all-inclusive. For instance, you might be asked, during a facial or body treatment if you’d like to include an enzyme peel or another “add-on.” Don’t be embarrassed to ask if it’s included in the service.
If it’s not, don’t be afraid to ask how much extra you will be charged (in fact, I’d encourage it!). And if, after the service, the aesthetician recommends specific products, it’s okay to ask him or her to write them down and give yourself time to think it over.
Any tips/advice you might add about spa etiquette for other spa virgins?
About the author:
Sheryl Kraft writes about health, nutrition, fitness, lifestyle and healthy travel for a variety of major magazines, websites, and blogs. She is the contributing spa writer for More Time to Travel and also blogs at My So-Called Midlife and is a regular contributor to HealthyWomen.org/ You can follow her on Twitter @SherylKraft.