The modern-day spa experience is designed to boost the physical, mental and spiritual health of guests through a selection of therapeutic and restorative treatments inspired by ancient culture and modern innovation alike.
Visiting a spa is like entering into your own little world of luxury and relaxation well away from the stresses and strains of day-to-day life. Spas are designed for optimum comfort to give you the chance to focus solely on you. Everything inside the spa - from the comfortable loungers to the soothing music - is designed to help you get back in touch with your body, explore your senses and take a relaxing breather from your life.
With the help of cool pools, hot baths, saunas, steam-rooms and a huge array of pampering face and body treatments, your spa trip should leave you feeling happy, revived and ready to face the real world again.
A spa is born
For thousands of years humans have flocked to natural pools and hot springs to reap the relaxing, healing and therapeutic benefits of drinking and bathing in fresh water. Of course, no other culture embraced and harnessed the power of water more so than the Ancient Romans who, as well as pioneering thousands of miles of complex waterways and inventing the aqueduct, also provided the world with the first ever spa.
With the use of some clever plumbing and heating skills, the Romans managed to pump spring water up from the ground into large pools, which were then heated to a comfortable temperature via a hot-room known as a 'caldarium'.
Around these baths they built beautiful arches, columns and floors - often adorned with pictures and patterns made from thousands of colourful mosaic tiles. The grander complexes featured ornamental fountains, civilized changing facilities, games yards (for sports and weight-lifting), social areas and even slave-guarded locker rooms. Bathhouses soon became a regular pit-stop for any Roman who fancied (and could afford) a spot of exercise, a pampering session, or just a good old gossip within a luxury setting.
And so the spa was born. The word 'spa' is an acronym of the Latin phrase Solus Per Aqua, which translates as 'health from water'. However, some people argue that the modern use of the word spa is actually a reference to the town of Spa in Belgium, famous for its cool healing springs.
Natural spas (with mineral water from natural springs) can be found all over the UK in locations such as Bath, Leamington Spa and Tunbridge Wells. However, today the term 'spa' is used more generally to describe any facility dedicated to boosting one's physical, spiritual and emotional well-being. Most modern spas have chlorinated pools instead of natural spring water, and guests go to experience professional treatments designed around three aspects of 'wellness' (the balance of physical, emotional and spiritual health):
- health and wellbeing
- relaxation and pampering
- beauty enhancement.
Why go to a spa?
People have been visiting spas for health reasons since ancient times. Back then, physicians thought the body consisted of four fluids, or 'humors', that existed in perfect balance with one another. The man behind this idea was Hippocrates, the Ancient Greek 'father of Western medicine', who famously believed water held the cure for all disease. Patients suffering with conditions such as arthritis, rheumatism and even infertility were sent to natural spas to drink and bathe in the healing waters.
Even now, thousands of years later, many doctors in mainland Europe (Czech Republic, France and Germany) still send their patients to spas for 2-3 weeks at a time, with meals, accommodation, medical examinations and spa treatments all thrown in completely free under government health insurance.
This might seem strange, what with the easy access we now have to modern healthcare and more technologically advanced treatments, but spas really do offer an excellent environment for rehabilitation and healing. Spa treatments can:
- be cheaper than conventional treatment methods
- be less invasive than many hospital procedures
- statistically reduce the need for hospitalisation
- statistically reduce employee absenteeism.
Here in the UK, spa trips are not usually offered under the NHS, although occasionally specialist cases (usually people with skin conditions) can be awarded government funding to visit European spas.
The main reasons Brits visit spas are:
- for relaxation and stress management (28.7% of people)
- nail, hair and waxing maintenance (19.2%)
- to improve their appearance (15.3%)
- for skin care (12.2%)
- for a gift (10.1%)
- for pain management (7.18%)
- to socialise (6.2%)
- medical reasons (0.9%).
All spas tend to have the basic facilities - changing rooms, treatment rooms and relaxation areas; however, depending on the size and type of the spa, facilities can differ from place to place. Most spas in the UK do provide the following:
Treatment rooms - Comfortable, private rooms in which qualified professionals administer a variety of treatments.
Changing rooms - Secure places for men and women to change out of their clothes and into their spa robes or swimming things. Changing rooms usually also have toilet and shower facilities.
Personal lockers - Cabinets with padlocks for guests to keep their possessions and valuables in while they enjoy their spa experience.
Bath and hand towels - Most spas provide their guests with freshly laundered towels for the duration of their stay.
Pools, Jacuzzis and hot tubs - Smaller, boutique spas are less likely to have pools but most larger spas, especially those located in hotels, will.
Sauna and steam rooms - Again, larger spas are more likely to offer sauna and steam room facilities, both of which are designed to open up and refresh the skin's pores.
Refreshments - Some spas offer standard water, tea and coffee, while others offer a larger variety of healthy juices, cocktails, wine and champagne among other refreshments. Some larger spas also have cafes, bars and restaurants.
Specialist spa facilities include:
Mud chambers - Where guests are coated in exfoliating mud and left to relax in infused steam which is then washed off in a refreshing shower.
Experience showers - Guests can choose their shower 'experience', from a warm tropical rainfall to a refreshing cool mist, enhanced with specialist lighting effects.
Hydrotherapy pool - Special pools with jets of water designed to massage the body, repair damaged tissue and relieve aches and pains.
Aromatherapy room - Steam is infused with specific herbs and oils, which penetrate the skin to relieve stress and tension.
Relaxation rooms - Rooms designed specifically for relaxing in; some feature loungers and chairs, and some feature beanbags, hanging 'pods' or hammocks. Low lighting, relaxing music and soothing aromas are often used to encourage deep relaxation. Some relaxation rooms are private and some are designed for conversation.
How to choose a spa
Do you need help choosing a spa? Spa treatments are not cheap so it pays to be fussy. With so many new spas popping up all over the UK offering hundreds of different treatments under the guise of hundreds of different names, it can be difficult to make a choice. Do you choose a day spa? A health spa? Or a wellness centre? What is the difference and how will your choice affect your spa experience? Take a moment to ask yourself the following questions:
What exactly do you want to achieve? First of all - why are you going to the spa? Are you looking for clear skin? Nail maintenance? A relaxing massage? Pain relief? Detox or relief from bloating? Weight loss? Different spas have different focuses. For instance, if you're looking for pain relief then you might want to choose a spa that offers a wider variety of massage rather than one that focuses on skin care.
Do you want health or indulgence? Some spas offer champagne and Belgium chocolates on arrival. Others offer gluten-free snacks and wheatgrass smoothies. To avoid disappointment you need to first decide whether you want the emphasis to be on health, or on indulgence. If you're looking for a detox then being offered chocolates and alcohol on arrival isn't going to do you much good. Similarly, if you're looking forward to a weekend wrapped in a big robe beside a chocolate fondue fountain, a smoothie and a gym programme probably isn't going to cut it.
Who will be going? Are you looking for some solitary pampering, a weekend away with your friends or some quality time with your partner? Different spas cater for different clientele. Some cater for the quieter, private customers, some encourage the celebratory spirit of hen and stag parties, and some are keen to entice couples in with his and hers robes and rose petals floating in the hot tub. The last thing you want is to be a solitary guest surrounded by loved up couples, or a hen party told to be quiet by other customers.
Do you have a budget? Not all spas cater for the super-rich. Whatever your budget, there should be a spa experience out there to suit you. Do you want no-frills service with one or two budget treatments, or the whole works with champagne, Michelin-star dining, butler service and a 24k gold facial?
Types of spa
Now you've decided what you want to get from your spa experience, it's time to look at the different options available.
Different types of spa include:
Day spa - Sells one-off and lunch-hour treatments for people who want something specific such as a massage or manicure. Day spas also cater for people who wish to spend the day moving between the pool, saunas and treatment rooms (usually with lunch included).
Destination spa - For longer stays that include accommodation and meals. Destination spas usually place emphasis on health programmes involving detoxes and fitness plans. This is a good option for people looking to lose weight.
Medical spa - Medical spas are traditionally built around natural 'healing' springs. People visit medical spas for a huge range of ailments, from skin disease to terminal cancer.
Hotel spa - Hotel spas are usually free of charge to hotel guests and open to the general public for a reasonable fee. They usually include gyms, swimming pools and saunas as well as some pampering treatments.
Ayurveda spa - The ancient Indian practise of Ayurveda is becoming increasingly popular in the West. For 5,000 years it has been used to strengthen the immune system, delay the ageing process and encourage general wellbeing. Specialist Ayurveda spas often offer yoga and meditation as part of their programmes.
It's estimated that Brits buy over 6.5 million spa treatments every year. It seems the temptation of hot mud wraps, rose-petal baths and full-body massages is too much for us. In order to meet this rising demand for spa treatments, spas have been forced to develop more variety and offer even more treatments than before. With hundreds of different treatments on offer, each with its own array of different names and unique spins, how do you decide which to choose?
Popular spa treatments include:
- body treatments
- beauty treatments.
The facial is one of the most popular spa treatments available. It is designed to cleanse the skin on the face with a mixture of exfoliation and massage using face masks, creams, essential oils and special serums. Different spas often put their own spin on the traditional facial by introducing signature ingredients such as seaweed, avocado and, in some cases, more unusual substances such as chocolate and even gold leaf.
The skin peel is a safe, comfortable and popular treatment designed to freshen the skin and unclog pores by removing the top layer of dead skin cells. Clients opt for this treatment to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, calm spots and blemishes and to give the face a clean, healthy, youthful glow.
There are a huge range of massages to choose from for all areas of the body. The massage type you choose will depend on what you want from the treatment - do you want to relieve a headache? Ease muscle pain? Boost circulation? Or do you simply want to experience the pleasurable and indulgent sensation of a full body massage? Different types of massage include:
- Swedish massage
- deep tissue massage
- sports massage
- hot stone massage
- aromatherapy massage
- neck, shoulder and back massage.
Body treatments focus on pampering, cleansing and exfoliating the body. Popular body treatments include: Body scrubs - luxurious scrubs with ingredients like sea salt, jojoba beads, coffee granules and apricot seeds designed to remove dead skin. Body wraps - a detox treatment designed to rid the body of toxins through metabolic stimulation. Body wraps involve coating the body in a special mask, before wrapping it in a soft cocoon of bandages.
Spas are just as much about looking good as they are about feeling good. Many spas offer services more commonly found in beauty salons, including:
- manicures and pedicures
- eyelash tinting, eyelash perming, eyebrow tinting and threading.
Going to a spa for the first time can be daunting. In such a luxurious setting, it's easy to feel unsettled and unsure about the correct way to behave. Do you bring your own towel? Do you go naked in the sauna? Can you talk in the relaxation room? These are all questions you might feel too embarrassed to ask on the day, but that can all add to your feelings of anxiety and apprehension. Here are our top tips for spa etiquette:
Don't be late - Spas often run on a tight schedule and if you miss your slot, the therapist may move on to the next client. Turning up early often has its own rewards: some spas operate serene relaxation lounges with soothing music, comfortable loungers and hydrotherapy facilities to get you in the mood for your upcoming treatment.
Turn your phone off - This is as much for your benefit as it is for your fellow patrons. Phones, with all their distractions, can prevent you from relaxing properly and limit your enjoyment of the spa experience. From everyone else's point of view - they didn't pay to sit in a room and listen to a one-way conversation.
Don't cancel at short notice - Make sure you find out about your chosen spa's cancellation policy before you book. Some spas will charge a cancellation fee.
Male or female therapist? Some treatments require partial nudity and a great deal of physical contact. This may mean you'd like a say in who administers your treatment. A good spa will pay attention to its clients' needs but you may be required to book in advance to avoid disappointment. With more specialist treatments, you may not have much of a choice.
Naked? Lots of people are put off spas because they imagine they'll be required to amble about half-naked all day. The reality is that spas take the utmost care to protect their guests' modesty. Big, fluffy robes will be provided for use in public areas and swimwear is perfectly acceptable for use in hot tubs, steam rooms and saunas. During body treatments where partial nudity is required, the therapist will cover certain parts of the body with towels so guests never feel too exposed.
Use of towels - Spas usually provide guests with as many towels as they like - from large through to small. However, these are not for the taking and they must be returned at the end of the session.
Noise levels - Designed predominantly for relaxation, spas are generally quiet, tranquil places. Some spas have VIP rooms for parties of people who want a more social experience, and some relaxation rooms are designed for clients to meet and talk with each other if they wish.
Leave a tip? It is customary to leave a tip if you feel happy with the service you received. If you received multiple treatments from different therapists, you can usually specify which therapist you wish to tip at reception. Always check that gratuity isn't included in the bill before tipping.Remember - spa employers are there to look after you. Emphasis is on you, your body and your state of mind. If you have any questions - just ask!
Beauty Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.