The Good, Bad and Ugly of Spas

When you have a couple hours to yourself, what is the perfect way to relax and recharge? When I ask my male patients this question, I hear answers like, “watch the game and have a beer,” or “shoot hoops with the guys.” When I ask the same question of my female patients, they laugh out loud. Then, they explain that having ten minutes to themselves, much less a few hours, is an extremely rare occurrence.

SpaJust saying the word, “spa,” is relaxing.  We imagine the soft lighting, muted colors and melodic sounds of a meditation CD at low volume.  Open any travel or lifestyle magazine, and you’re sure to find a spa story complete with gorgeous photos of people wearing plush robes and being pampered by skilled estheticians.  While spas can be pristine, well-run businesses, there is sometimes a not-so-savory side to the spa experience that the lavish photographs don’t tell you.

Breaking the Stress Cycle

Spend some time and do a little research and get a few recommendations before spending your money at a spa that isn’t up to snuff.  Like everything else, spas have their share of pros and cons.  The greatest benefit of a spa visit is that it can be a truly wonderful stress reliever for both men and women.

Many spas market themselves as havens where guests can escape the pressures of the outside world.  If you are living in a house with your spouse, two-point-five kids and a dog, it is nearly impossible to spend quality time alone.  How can you recharge your batteries if there is always someone or something to take care of?  Even if you manage to send everyone off to the park for a few hours, there’s still a dirty kitchen, a few loads of laundry or a messy garage calling your name.  Spas truly are a refuge because they eliminate all the distractions that otherwise keep you from feeling truly relaxed.

Looking Your Best

Besides just providing an escape, spas provide many valuable services. Sure, you can perform an at-home facial or use candles and fancy bath products to turn your bathroom into a mini spa, but we all know it’s not quite the same.  You don’t have the training of a skilled esthetician, and it’s hard to find time for a soak in the tub with a family to take care of.  A good esthetician will not only relax you, but advise you on the best way to care for your skin and recommend products to suit your individual needs.

Other types of spas can do even more to enhance your appearance. The sub-category of spas, known as “medi-spas,” have doctors or nurses available to perform more involved procedures like facial peels, microdermabrasion, or other treatments that fall into the medical category.

The Dark Side of Spas

Unfortunately some spas are run by amateurs who do not adhere to public health standards, either out of ignorance or carelessness.  The best way to get the low-down on a spa is to talk to someone you trust who has been there.  Don’t have a lot of spa-going friends?  All you have to do is casually stop by the spa, as if you were in the neighborhood and are just curious.  Go in the mid-morning when things aren’t too busy, and the receptionist should be happy to give you a quick tour and tell you about their services.

This is where you can use your investigative skills.  Are all the treatment areas sparkling clean and tidy?  Are the whirlpools and showers free of puddles and standing water where bacteria can grow?  If you see dirty towels, tools strewn haphazardly about or any sign of mold, find a different spa, pronto!

When it comes to medi-spas, always ask about the credentials of the person performing your procedure. Essentially, you want to see their resume or a history of their recent experience.  If the person is a doctor, you can check his or her certification at sites like or  If you plan to spend a good deal of money on a major procedure or a series of treatments, always have a consultation before you make a final commitment.  A good spa will not hesitate to offer this service.



Healthy Answers Editorial Staff

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