Top 5 Tips for Choosing a Day Spa

By: Ed Grabianowski

Getting Beautiful Skin Image Gallery Day spas offer a variety of facial treatments to moisturize and revitalize skin. See more getting beautiful skin pictures.

A trip to a spa is the ultimate in pampering and relaxation. Whether you're there for a massage, a facial, a manicure or just some time in the sauna, the spa's staff works hard to make sure you leave feeling refreshed and reinvigorated.

In decades past, a trip to a spa was like a mini-vacation. Spas were more like resorts because you'd stay for a few days, and their expense meant they were luxuries most often reserved for the rich and famous. These types of spas, called destination spas or resort spas, still exist (and you don't necessarily have to be a millionaire to visit one), but there's another type of spa available now -- the day spa.


A day spa may have most of the treatments and facilities available at a larger resort spa, but you only go there for as long as the treatment takes, typically an hour or two. Since you're not spending the night, a day spa is quite a bit cheaper than a resort spa.

How do you know if a particular day spa is the right place for you? Here are five tips for making sure your day at the spa is safe, sanitary and utterly relaxing.

5. Check the Menu

There isn't any kind of universal certification for day spas (though there are usually state licensing requirements). Just because a place calls itself a day spa doesn't mean it's going to have the specific services you're looking for. Most day spas have a selection of services listed with the price for each, which is generally referred to as "the menu." Call ahead or stop in and go over the menu before you schedule an appointment. Smaller day spas might offer beauty salon services and massage, but if you're looking for a full-service day spa, here are some services to look for:

  • Manicure and pedicure
  • Facial treatments
  • Body wraps
  • Hydrotherapy, steam room or sauna
  • Therapeutic massage

Some spas may offer more advanced services, including areas for meditation or yoga, electrolysis, laser hair removal or therapeutic treatments under the supervision of a physician.


Should you take off all your clothes for a massage? Find out in the next section.

4. Know Spa Etiquette

Your masseuse will swaddle you with towels beforehand, but you don't have to strip down for your massage if you don't want to.
Your masseuse will swaddle you with towels beforehand, but you don't have to strip down for your massage if you don't want to.

If you're a spa first-timer, the spa's employees will help guide you through the various services and procedures, letting you know what's expected of both you and your esthetician. Still, it's a good idea to learn about spa etiquette ahead of time. These are general rules that most spas adhere to, but if you have questions, you should call the spa to find out how the staff does things.

It's usually preferred that you remove all your clothing and wear the provided bathrobe for services such as massages or body wraps. The esthetician will drape your body with towels, so nothing more than necessary is uncovered. However, the client's comfort is a spa's primary responsibility, so if you prefer to wear a swimsuit or undergarments, you should be allowed to do so.


Be aware that spa employees have other appointments, so it's important to arrive on time. This way, you can enjoy maximum relaxation and be on your way before the next appointment starts.

Some spas include a gratuity in the base cost of a service, but if they don't, it is customary to tip your therapist or other service provider. You can call ahead to find out how your day spa operates.

Next up: some inside info on picking a sanitary spa.

3. Make Sure the Spa is Clean

Spa treatments, if performed improperly or in unsanitary conditions, could potentially spread germs and bacteria and lead to infections. Body wraps, facials, massages, saunas, pedicures and manicures -- any of these procedures or treatments could be a vector for disease or infection. This is especially true once you consider how many different people visit a spa each day.

For that reason, it's definitely a good idea to visit a spa before your appointment. Feel free to ask them about their safety and cleanliness practices, and take a tour of the facility. Keep an eye out for good sanitation practices and staff that behaves in a professional and courteous manner. If you see something that doesn't meet your standards or appears to be unsanitary, find a different spa.


A good spa will have clean towels, bathrobes and sandals available for all clients.

Find out how to make sure a spa is licensed in the next section.

2. Check for the Spa's License and Registration

Some spas may offer more exotic treatments like stone massage.
Some spas may offer more exotic treatments like stone massage.

While there's no universal code or set of regulations for day spas, most states in the U.S. have certain licensing requirements for them. Typically, these require spa owners (and possibly employees) to pass background checks, submit the spa to regular health inspections, and ensure that any medical procedures are performed by trained and licensed individuals. Your state attorney general's Web site is usually to go-to place for this kind of information. You can also ask spa staffers about them about it once you arrive there.

Medical spas, which might offer microdermabrasion or botox injections, may have more stringent licensing requirements. Even if they don't, ask who performs these more advanced procedures and if there's a doctor on the premises supervising at all times. Make sure that you also ask how old the spa's equipment is. Obviously, newer is better, but an older piece of equipment can be fine if it's well-maintained.


Our last tip for picking a day spa will help you separate myth from fact.

1. Have Realistic Expectations

The primary function of a day spa is to help you relax and feel pampered. Many of the treatments can certainly improve your health and leave you looking your best, but don't expect the fountain of youth. Some spas make pretty outrageous claims, but chances are that your chosen day spa isn't going to get rid of your cellulite, slim and tone your body in a week and erase a decade from your face.

Especially when it comes to medical spa treatments, don't put too much stock in recommended services -- even if the staff physician is the one pushing the product. Remember, spas exist to make money. If you have a medical condition and you think a spa treatment is the best thing for it, visit your regular doctor first.


Your experience at a day spa should leave you feeling refreshed and reinvigorated, and probably eager to go back again. If that's the kind of treatment you're looking for, most day spas should leave you feeling quite satisfied.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • California Day Spas. "Spa Etiquette." Accessed Jan. 4, 2010.
  • Spa London. "Spa Advice." Accessed Jan. 5, 2010.
  • Soule, Alexander. "Day spas report revenue gains." Fairfield County Business Journal, April 27, 2009.
  • The Day Spa Association. "Spa Etiquette." Accessed Jan. 4, 2010.