An Insider’s Guide: What to Watch Out for at the Spa

As someone who has worked in the beauty and wellness industry for a long time, I have developed this series to share the knowledge I’ve gained from the business with you!

Whether you are a spa regular or a spa newcomer, most of us go to the spa in order to invest in self-care and relaxation. But in order to relax, you need to trust that those taking care of you are experts and are applying the best practices to your service. Regardless of ambiance or decor or style, there are a set of standards all spas should be following to ensure the health, hygiene, safety, and comfort of their guests. Below is a guide of what to look for to ensure that your spa experience is one that you can trust.

Worry About This:

Hand & Foot Treatments

  1. Nail Files/Foot Paddles: Here is the deal with nail files and foot paddles. Most spas use reusable nail files/paddles and spray them with alcohol/sanitizer to sanitize them. This isn’t a bad practice, so it’s alright if your spa does this. But know that the best practice is the use of disposable grits, such as the Septifile brand, which is essentially a smooth paddle to which you adhere a new grit each time you work on a new guest. The grit is disposed of after the service and the smooth paddle, while it never touches the guest, is nonetheless sanitized  afterward. They do cost a little more money for the spa, but it’s the most sanitary practice and guarantees no spreading of any bacteria from a previous client.
  2. Pedicure Bowl: 1. Make sure the bowl has no jets. Yes, jets feel nice, but they are also the #1 cause of fungus and bacteria spreading in spas. Even if the jets aren’t turned on, I just wouldn’t risk it myself. 2. The highest quality material for pedicure bowls is stainless steel because it does not retain bacteria. Other materials, like ceramic or plastic, are porous, and so they can absorb bacteria. If not sanitized properly (or sometimes even if they are), they could pass on an ugly fungus that you would simply rather avoid.
  3. Ingrown Nails: If you have an mild to medium ingrown nail, it’s perfectly alright to have an aesthetician look at it before going to see a doctor about a surgery. They, too, are trained in how to deal with this condition. But look for a spa with certified master podologists – the last thing you want is an inexperienced technician digging at your nail, causing additional pain and inflammation. If you find yourself with an aesthetician who is digging at your nail, ask them to stop immediately so as not to exacerbate the problem for you. Ask your aesthetician if he or she can apply a nail brace, such as the BS Nail Brace system, which has been proven to be incredibly effective and pain-relieving with only one to two applications. Additionally, ask if the spa sells tea tree oil, a recommended at-home remedy that soothes the pain and greatly reduces inflammation.
  4. Pedicure Slippers: Some spas clean and reuse pedicure flip-flops. I just can’t get on board with this method because flip-flops are made of porous materials and can retain bacteria. Disposable slippers are simply the best way to go. If your spa reuses flip-flops, bring your own with you.


  1. Wax Sticks vs. Wax Spatulas: Wooden wax sticks, disposed of after each individual dip into the wax pot, is the absolute best practice, guaranteeing zero spreading of bacteria or fungus. Some people argue that a stainless steel wax spatula is equally effective because the material does not retain bacteria, but the fact is that not all of the wax is transferred from the paddle to your skin, and so necessarily some of the wax that touched your skin will return to the pot. You might be fine with double-dipping for your skin, but you never know who used the wax pot before you. If a wooden stick or spatula is being reused, reconsider the service entirely.
  2. Soft Wax vs. Hard Wax: Soft wax is the most commonly used wax for most services, except brazilian services, which often use hard wax. What is the difference? Soft wax is applied to the skin and removed with a wax strip whereas hard wax is applied onto the skin and allowed to dry and removed by simply pulling it off with a quick motion after it has hardened. Soft wax is fine for most skin types, but if your skin often rips off from wax, if you experience discolouration, or if you have very sensitive skin (you note intense redness or bumps for several hours following service), request the use of hard wax. Because it only attaches itself to the hair and not the skin, there is significantly less irritation to the skin, and results in a better waxing experience.


  1. Sanitizers & Sanitation Practices: Because spas deal with skin and body services that could potentially spread bacteria or fungus (think waxing, pedicures, facials), you need to ensure your spa is using medical grade sanitizers that are being applied for the right amount of time (some need to sit for at least 15 minutes). Don’t compromise on this because the last thing you want is to come home to an infected toe from a poorly sanitized implement, or a skin fungus from double-dipped wax.
  2. Bathrooms: You can tell a lot about the quality of an establishment by the condition of their bathrooms. Top hygiene is one of the highest priorities for my staff, and a clean and well-maintained bathroom is a big tell in regards to a spa’s sanitation. Dusty corners, toilet paper on the floor, water marks all over the mirror? Not exactly the best maintenance, suggesting not much care is placed with regards to hygiene. It would definitely make me question how much of the sanitation practices are by the book and how much are for show. A beautiful spa means nothing if it is not clean and up to standard.
  3. Hot Towel Cabines: Hot towels are one of the best elements of a spa experience, enhancing manicures, pedicures, facials, etc. But the hot towel cabine can be a cesspool of bacteria due to the moist environment, so don’t be afraid to ask how regularly they clean it. Because the hot towels are applied all over the body, there is no telling where bacteria will spread if the towels are not stored in a clean space. Don’t worry, it’s totally acceptable to ask questions! Spas that practice good hygiene will not be afraid to share this information with you.

Don’t Worry About This:

1. Your aesthetician is new to the field: It’s okay, everyone has to start somewhere! If you trust your spa, then trust that they educate their new team members about their practices and their services. Quality spas always highly train new team members and will not let them work on guests if they are not ready. If you’re really uncomfortable with this, you can always request an experienced aesthetician, but know they might be booked in advance and will have less availabilities on short notice.

2. A service that isn’t perfect: I am all about an expert service, but even experts can accidentally over-nip and cause a small bleed during a manicure. If it’s a one-time thing, it’s okay to let it go. If it happens regularly, find a new aesthetician.

Ask About This:

1. Add-ons: If you are offered an add-on to your service, such as a French polish, extended wear polish, reflexology massage, etc., know that these are upgrades and they are going to cost you money. Don’t be afraid to ask how much the upgraded service will cost because you need to determine your budget and decide accordingly. If you’re shy about discussing prices, say something along the lines of: “That reflexology massage sounds lovely. Is it an add-on?” This way, they will let you know if there is an added cost attached to the upgrade, while you never had to ask for a cost. You can then respond by saying: “Sure, I’d love to add that to my service,” or “let me think about it and I’ll let you know,” which takes the pressure off of an immediate response.


Once again, these are just a few tips and things to watch out for when you go to the spa. If you have any other questions about best practices or hygiene practices, let me know in the Comments section below.

Have you had any wonderful experiences, or shady experiences at the spa? Let me know about them!

I hope you enjoyed this post and are looking forward to the rest of the Insider’s Guide series!
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