Spa Etiquette: Ten Commandments For Spa Virgins

Ten Commandment Tablets (Credit Wikimedia Commons)

First time at a spa? It’s always helpful to know spa etiquette. Here are ten commandments (and a couple more) for spa virgins.

Note: Although many travel restrictions have lessened and there are more shots in arms, we’re still in the thick of the pandemic.

One which we all thought and hoped would be over by now. Seem like you might need a spa getaway now more than ever.

But keep in mind that spa trips have drastically changed. 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.

Once required, masks are now usually optional.

You’re not the only uncomfortable spa virgin

Whether you are going to a destination spa or a day spa, 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 in cool-looking sneakers.


You bet.

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 in 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. I’ve even fallen asleep during a message (yes, that’s okay).

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. Sign-in

When you get to the spa, you’ll most likely be asked to fill out a form disclosing any medical conditions or ailments. You may also be asked to list the medications you are currently taking. 

It is essential to fill out the form honestly. You don’t want to risk worsening an existing problem and also want to help the spa understand the best ways in which they can help you.

2. Touring

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 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.

3. 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.

4. Attire

You won’t see many fancy outfits; not even for dinner. Many destination 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).

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.

5. Makeup

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: Find out whether the spa has any COVID health precautions in place. If so, bring a comfortable mask and/or proof of vaccination.

6. 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 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 another person is booked right after you.

7. Nudity

There are treatments that are better done nude, like table massages, body scrubs and wraps.

But this doesn’t mean that nudity is 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.

8. 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.

9. Shhh

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.

10. Tipping

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, provided you were happy with the service. If you aren’t, feel free to express that to the manager. A professional spa will welcome your feedback so they can be their very best.

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.

11. Timing

If you’re planning a challenging hike or hour-long spin class in the afternoon, 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.

12. Add-Ons

Be aware that not all destination spas 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 them 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 You can follow her on Twitter @SherylKraft.

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  1. Good tips! We’re not the best with the “punctual” one though. But it’s good to be early, to relax a little and get in the mood. It’s hard otherwise to race in to your appointment and hope to de-stress suddenly.

  2. Great tips and especially good advice to leave your jewellery at home. I’ve lost more than one watch by leaving it in my robe pocket. I wish more spas would have clocks discreetly posted so we didn’t have to worry about losing track of time and being late for a treatment.

    1. I agree with you on both counts, Michele. It’s easy to leave something behind in your bathrobe pocket (especially when you are so relaxed!)…AND it’s easy to lose track of time, too!

  3. I must be the only person, well, female person anyway, who would not enjoy a spa vacation. I might enjoy the activities—exercise classes, hikes, swimming and it sounds like the food is pretty tasty and healthy, but with one notable exception, I don’t enjoy other people messing with my body. I kind of have to psych myself up to get a haircut or go to the dentist (well, a lot of people do for that second one). Do you think it is worth going to a “spa” (I guess I’m not talking about a day spa) for the things other than massages and treatments?

    1. I can relate to how you feel, Susan. You’re not alone. I often feel uncomfortable being pampered. Dentist aversions have another genesis:-) In answer to your question, it depends on the destination spa and what they have to offer that appeals to you!

    2. Hi Suzanne – Thanks for weighing in. Now, I’ll weigh in with my thoughts…

      A spa is a valuable vacation for many reasons other than massages and body work. That’s only a small part of reasons to visit, in my opinion.

      The exercise classes/hikes, and educational classes (if they’re offered, which they usually are), are often state-of-the-art, with the instructors being aware of the most current trends and research, and bring you up to date on best ways to care for your health.

      To me, there’s nothing that beats being cared for in a relaxed, clean, calm environment. After a spa visit, not only is my body restored, but so is my soul.

  4. Some great tips, Irene. One suggestion- go light on scent. People have allergies and scent can be hard on them. Stick with the essential oils the spa uses in treatments.

    On tipping: don’t assume if gratuity is included that the therapist gets it- they don’t always. Ask the therapist discretely if you can- many places will take an included gratuity off your bill if you request it. Then give the tip directly to the therapist. They’ll appreciate it. I don’t like being told what to tip and what if you didn’t think the service warranted it. Like luggage fees at airlines- tips can be a way to pad the bottom line.

    1. Well, Suzanne, it’s certainly not for everyone. Maybe some day you’ll crave some sitting and you’ll go for a spa vacation! Until then, keep moving…

  5. Informative post and I also enjoyed reading the comments, lots of different perspectives. I’m not a spa girl either, I’ve had exactly 1 facial in my life and that was only because my 2 friends were getting massages. I admit I enjoyed the facial, but I think I’d always find something else I’d rather do. But I bet being pampered for a week would be pretty great! Ha! Ha! That made no sense at all!

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