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How to Spa Like a Pro—Even if it's Your First Time

Here's your ultimate guide to getting relaxed and refreshed before your big day.

Parker Palm Springs massage
Photography by: Courtesy of Parker Palm Springs

If it's your first time at a spa, you may be unsure of what to expect when you walk through those doors. Don't worry—we've got your foolproof guide on how to navigate the inside of those walls (full of relaxation!).

 

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Before you dive right in, you should get familiar with the different types of spas:

Destination Spa

What is it? Totally immersive and often all-inclusive, a destination spa is centered around wellness and aligning mind, body, and spirit through spa services, healthy meals, fun activities, informative classes, and endless opportunities to break a sweat.

 

What to expect: A full itinerary. This is the place where you can opt for a tarot-card reading or handwriting analysis, along with the chance to build a terrarium or learn to DJ (a skill to show off at your reception, perhaps?), all neatly scheduled between yoga, massages, and scrubs. You'll also receive a lot of guidance and support on how to live a healthier life.

 

Resort or Hotel Spa 

What is it? Here the spa is just one amenity offered by the property. The resort may offer fun things to do, such as cooking demos and horseback riding, but it doesn't have the extensive roster of fitness classes or the educational component of a destination spa.

 

What to expect: A more self-guided experience. Spa-ing is only part of your visit. You're free to devote the rest of your time to nightlife, museum trips, or other diversions with your friends.

 

Day Spa

What is it? As the name implies, this is your best option when you don't have a lot of time. A wide range of pampering services are on offer, but there are few, if any, fitness and wellness activities.

 

What to expect: A mini retreat. To enhance the experience, book multiple treatments, allowing time between services to enjoy the spa's lounge area, sauna, steam rooms, and facilities for a healthy meal (or Champagne toast!).

 

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Now that you've chosen your type of spa, here's your 10-step process on how to book, prepare for, and relax into your day of indulgence:

 

1. Don't wait until the last minute to book services.

Once you make lodging reservations, schedule your spa treatments. That way, you can ensure you get the services you want before all the prime slots are taken.

 

2. Arrive with time to spare.

Most spas have relaxation rooms where you can decompress pre-treatment with tea and snacks (and sometimes wine!). You may be asked to fill out paperwork during this time, so be sure to note which products or prescriptions—both ingested and topical—you're using, as these can affect what the therapist chooses for you. Don't forget to highlight medical conditions, like a wonky knee, so the therapist has a heads-up.

 

3. Lock away your phone and valuables.

The whole point of a spa is to unplug. But if you can't live without taking some pics, turn off the ringer and stash the phone in your robe during your treatments. As for jewelry: It's just going to be you and your robe (and even that won't always be on your body). It will be all too easy for your favorite pair of earrings to get lost.

 

4. Pass on the perfume.

It's bothersome to those around you, and if you're doing anything involving aromatherapy, your fragrance may overpower the essential oils, depriving you of their benefit.

 

5. Consider the gender of your therapist.

Maybe you'd be more comfortable getting scrubbed down by a woman. Or you feel that only a man's large hands can get the knots out of your back. Whatever your preference, inform the booker when you're making your appointment. Most spas can accommodate such requests if made in advance.

 

6. Remember that you're the boss.

If something isn't to your liking—say, the temperature is too hot, or your therapist has you squealing in pain—speak up. No spa wants its guests to be unhappy, especially if the problem can be addressed immediately.

 

7. Prepare to go nude.

This is particularly true in the case of wraps, massages, and scrubs. But even if you're having a facial, the therapist will likely ask you to remove your top so that she can massage the creams on your neck and chest. Remember: These are professionals, and they're going to be draping you throughout your service to preserve your modesty, not leaving you lying there naked as a jaybird. Still not comfortable with the idea? Let the staff know (remember, you're the boss!), and they can hook you up with some paper panties or other‑wise try to put you at ease.

 

8. Think about the order of your services (and when you want to eat).

Give yourself an hour or two to digest before any bodywork, or eat lightly before a massage. Schedule massages before facials, or else all the products that have been applied to your skin may come off on the face cradle. Plan for manicures and pedicures last.

 

9. Wait to shower or apply makeup.

You paid for all these skin-pampering creams and oils, so allow ample time to absorb their benefits. If you absolutely can't
go barefaced postfacial, just do eyes and lips so the rest of your skin can breathe.

 

10. Don't forget to leave a little something behind.

And by that, we mean a tip. Gratuities are often included in the price of a service at destination spas and some resorts; be sure to check when you schedule your appointment. Otherwise, 15 to 20 percent is standard. Cash is always appreciated—and many spas won't even let you place tips on your credit card.

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