Spa etiquette

Do I have to get naked? How much do I tip? Pressing questions answered.

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Relax on Cloud 9

Relax on Cloud 9 Photograph: Flint Gennari


RECOMMENDED: See this year's New York spas guide

Clothing

You don't have to strip down if you don't want to.
"We recommend wearing no underwear for all body massages, but it's perfectly fine if people feel bashful," says Ashling Farrell, general manager for Bliss Soho (blissworld.com/spa). "It does offer more access to the glutes, but it's a personal preference." Your comfort is ultimately what's most important.

If you're feeling shy, opt for a lighter massage.
Your best bet is a light massage that will release tension in your noggin and neck; try craniosacral therapy. "You don't need to disrobe at all," says Doreen Zayer, owner of Staten Island's Relax on Cloud 9 (relaxoncloud9.com).

Different rules apply to facials and steam rooms.
"[During facials], people often remove their bras because they don't want to get lotion on their clothing," says Farrell. She adds: "Clients should wear towels in steam rooms, but if they prefer to go nude, preferably they'll be clean and showered."

General housekeeping

Get to your appointment early.
Spagoers should arrive at least 15 to 20 minutes before all nonwax services. "This allows enough time for a client to shower, settle in and fill out their medical information form prior to a treatment," says Farrell. Many spas have additional amenities (saunas, steam rooms, etc.) that you can enjoy beforehand, so plan accordingly if you want to lounge.

Put your cell phone away.
Chatting away in the waiting room is not kosher, according to Zayer. "Loud talkers should keep their voices down too," she adds.

Don't leave anything out on your medical forms. Seriously.
Disclose any allergies you may have (such as nuts or latex), since you never know what will be used during a treatment. "Almond oil may appear in some products, and some gloves are made from latex," says Farrell. And don't forget to pinpoint any physical issues. "The worst thing is finding out that somebody's been sitting there for an hour and we've been massaging an area that should have been treated differently," explains Zayer.

Prior skin care

You don't have to shower beforehand, but you probably should.
"It actually benefits the customer, especially if they've booked a massage or facial, because it helps to loosen the muscles up," says Farrell. Being freshly showered also allows therapists to "get deeper into the muscles," according to Zayer. And, duh, if you're coming from the gym, make sure to clean yourself up first.

Waxing and shaving beforehand is okay...
But be careful—you don't want to come to an appointment with inflamed skin. The best idea is to take care of that unwanted hair a few days beforehand. (We speak from experience: Getting a salt scrub on freshly shaved gams is bad news.) If you're getting defuzzed at the spa and your epidermis is easily agitated, request wax for sensitive skin. "It's more gentle overall, leaving the skin less prone to irritation," says Maggie Santos, the manager of J. Sisters Spa and Salon (jsisters.com), which is known for its Brazilian waxes.

...so is leaving in your piercings.
Therapists can barely feel navel piercings, even when working on your stomach. "Facial studs are fine too," says Farrell. "It would be up to a client and what they preferred."

Feedback

Yes, tipping is expected.
This should be a no-brainer. Anywhere from 18 to 20 percent of the full service price is the going rate, though you won't get yelled at if you fall short. "If a client didn't tip, we would be concerned that they weren't happy with the service," notes Farrell.

Whenever possible, tip with cash instead of a credit card.
"We like it to go directly to the therapist, in an envelope if possible," explains Zayer.

Speak up if you're not satisfied.
Spa technicians won't be offended if you tell them you don't like their services. "We'd like to know about it, to ensure it doesn't happen again," says Farrell. "If you're in the middle of a service and you're not enjoying it, you can always ask to end it early." Zayer agrees: "We encourage people to speak up about their service, so we know how they liked it. And if you don't want to start a conversation, we'll shut up."


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