The Spa, a place for relaxation, relaxation and more relaxation. Just saying the word seems to lower the blood pressure, each of its three letters are a wave of calm that wash away adult responsibilities and restore the vigour of youth. There’s only one question: what on earth do spa treatments actually entail and, more importantly, do they work?
Fortunately Optiat have carried out the hard work so you don’t have to, assembling a handy guide to the most popular spa treatments around. Yes, we know. Sometimes it’s a hard life.
Before we start
Think of a trip to the spa like a trip to the beach, just with less seagulls. With this in mind, it’s advisable to pack some swimwear, a pair of flip-flops and, if your spa has an outdoor pool, some sunscreen too. Fluffy robes and towels are normally provided but feel free to bring your own if it’s particularly stylish or makes you more comfortable. It’s also worth packing a change of clothes in a spare bag. After all, it seems a shame to jump from a deep clean into some mildly musty jeans.
When most people think of a day at the spa they tend to think of massages above all else, so much so that 90% of those surveyed by good spa guide put a massage as a must for their spa visit. There’s more than one style though, so it’s important to know just what you’re getting yourself into when you lie down on that bed.
If you’re ever bored enough to image search ‘generic massage’, this is the kind you’ll probably get. It’s the most popular kind, and is normally offered by gyms and wellness centres by a fellow who thought he was signing up as a personal trainer. It’s primarily based on western ideas of sports science and anatomy, using broad oily strokes to promote blood circulation before transitioning to more specific areas.
Pros: The strokes have exceptional Swedish names including, effleurage (long smooth strokes and tapotement (percussive back slapping etc.)
Cons: If you can get it at a gym, why come to the spa?
Despite pretending otherwise, an aromatherapy massage is simply an excuse for the Swedish massage to make itself look a little more exciting. By adding pleasant smelling essential oils in the massage oil, the experience is heightened in the sense that you now have something to distract you from the feeling of a large Swedish lady pressing between your shoulder blades. Also, essential oils do have a range of health benefits.
Pros: You’ll leave smelling like a fabric softener. But the good Waitrose kind.
Cons: It’s best to check that you’re not sensitive to the oils Ӧlga uses.
Hot stone massage
Anyone familiar with the cult “classic” Big Momma’s House 2 will no doubt recall a scene where Eddie Murphy experiences a hot stone massage. The stones in question end up melting through his fat suit (of course) with predictable family-friendly consequences. It should be noted that the hot pebbles placed across the back in this kind of treatment are not actually that hot, instead providing a pleasant warming sensation that loosens tired muscles while the masseuse works their magic. Because the stones (normally volcanic basalt) target specific areas it makes this type of massage great for rejuvenating problem areas.
Pros: You can pretend you’re Eddie Murphy in his prime.
Cons: You might need to get a medical thumbs up if you take blood thinners or suffer from conditions that affect blood pressure including, diabetes, varicose veins or heart disease.
If you want to feel like you’re getting your money's worth then a Thai massage is the way to go, incorporating a variety of yoga-like stretches with applied pressure to loosen joints and muscles. Therapists use their whole bodies to manoeuvre you into an ungodly array of pretzel-esque poses, in doing so realigning your energies. They’ll also use hands, knees and elbows to pummel you into a heavily relaxed pulp - even walking on your back on occasion. All in the name of de-stressing of course.
Pros: You know when dry spaghetti softens in the saucepan? That’s you.
Cons: Sometimes spaghetti snaps.
It’s believed that different areas of the feet are linked to different areas of the body. For example, pressing the base of the big toe stimulates the thyroid while a cheeky jab to the inner heel can help digestion through activation of the small intestine. Whether the science stands up or not is a source of great debate, either way, it is known that it helps reduce anxiety and relieve sore feet. One benefit for the serially lazy is that you don’t have to get changed, just pop off your shoes and socks and voila! You’re ready to go.
Pros: What other way are you going to reach your thyroid?
Cons: Does it actually reach your thyroid? Who knows!
Things that aren’t massages
There are two theories as to how acupuncture works. The first says that diseases are the result of disruptions to energy flow around the body, otherwise known as ‘qi’. By applying tiny needles to the skin it’s possible to release this qi from special acupuncture points and thus restore the natural flow of energy. The second is less exciting but no less intriguing, suggesting that the needles stimulate the body to release certain ‘feel-good’ chemicals, including those that help reduce pain and inflammation. This latter theory is actually backed up by a fair bit of science and has even reached a stage where it’s being trialled for use in hospital patients.
Pros: You can empathise with the plight of the Hedgehog.
Cons: Admittedly it’s not great if you’ve got needle phobia.
The importance of gleaming skin was known as far back as Roman times, where guests would have a slave lather their sweaty bodies with olive oil before scraping it off with a strigil (a big curved scraping tool). Enjoy that mental image. They’d also use a variety of salts as well as steam rooms and saunas at the bathhouse, leaving with a healthy glow before running off to the Colosseum.
Surprisingly not a lot has changed in the days since. Sure, we use softly spoken staff instead of slaves but fundamentally the principle of body care has stayed the same - testament to its effectiveness. Normally a body-scrub, sometimes known as a ‘body-polish’, will involve lying on a covered surface while a massage therapist rubs an exfoliant such as sea-salt or coffee-grounds, oil and aromatics on the body. This helps rejuvenate the dry skin and remove dirt, leaving it soft as a newborn baby.
Pros: As a wise man once said, ‘do as the Romans do’.
Cons: Hope you like skin on skin contact.
Although it sounds like something found in a meal deal, a body wrap is actually a spa treatment; one that involves getting slathered in mud, seaweed and/or algae before being bundled up in a thermal blanket. This temporary cocoon is great for detoxification, helping to sweat out various nasties from the body. This normally happens after a body scrub, and is great for those committed to the cleanse.
Pros: Go in as a hideous caterpillar and emerge as a beautiful butterfly.
Cons: Grab a drink of water afterwards, dehydration isn’t cool kids.
It’s the classic towel on the head, cucumber on the eyes treatment, made famous through countless pop-culture references. There’s actually a huge variety of things you can cover your face with, so many in fact there’s no room to go into the benefits of all of them here. However, they all work to rehydrate and cleanse your skin, leaving your face blemish-free and glowing. Whether it’s a collagen cream, essential oils (again) or the kind of clay Shrek would use in his swamp, it’s worth asking which kind of facial is most suitable for your skin type before jumping in. Oh, you can also get gold leaf facials, for that ultimate Midas touch.
Pros: They leave your skin unfairly radiant.
Cons: You might be mistaken for a Mediterranean salad.
Or stay at home…
Q: What’s more relaxing than going to the spa?
A: Bringing the spa to you of course!
Fortunately, there exists a wide range of spa treatments available on shelves to bring to the comfort of your own home, cutting out the travel, cost and risk of having a masseuse who is stronger than they realise. Take Optiat's range of organic coffee scrubs and hemp face masks, for example, bringing the same brilliant results without all the hassle. Just remember those three magic words; relaxation, relaxation and relaxation…
Pros: A day at the spa without the eye contact.
Cons: Somewhere a single tear falls from an oil-covered spa attendant.