Spa safe this summer

Posted: July 24, 2009 | Post Categories: Elmwood Spa Blog

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about spa hygiene

(but didn’t quite know how to ask)

Have you ever gone to a spa and wondered how safe it was for the aesthetician to be using those tweezers lying on the counter, but you didn’t want to step on her professional toes and ask?

Here is the lowdown on spa hygiene from the professionals at Elmwood Spa: what you need to know about safe hygiene practices so that you truly can relax.

Feet First

Q. I’ve heard news stories of people getting diseases from pedicure footbaths. Are they truly safe?

A. Salon-spas and nail bars that have older equipment may still employ a re-circulating water jet system, created by pumping water through a network of pipes. These pipes can retain bacteria and are hard to clean making it difficult to disinfect them between each customer, which could lead to infection. Some salons use pedicure chairs with “pipeless” bowls, where the jet feeling is created by a propeller rather than moving the water through pipes where bacteria can collect. Still, in order to prevent infection, the filter would have to be removed and cleaned between each customer. At Elmwood Spa, in order to prevent infection, we use stainless steel foot bowls. After each treatment, the bowls are thoroughly washed with anti-bacterial soap, rinsed out, and set aside to dry.

Q. “Yes, but I’ve been to one of those places where they have the big comfortable chairs with the whirlpool baths. After I’m done, they drain out the water and they wipe out the tub with some kind of cleanser – so can’t you have both? Luxury and hygiene?

A. It’s not just about cleaning out what’s left in the basin. It’s about what gets left in the pipes. The basins in some of those big pedicure chairs work like a whirlpool. The water circulates through the pipe, so to disinfect, a special hospital-grade disinfectant must be circulated through the system while it is turned on and then the bowl needs to be drained and rinsed with clean water after each guest. Otherwise, you may risk sharing infections or fungus—certainly not a luxury.

Q. Why when all the other spas have those plush, oversized pedicure chairs with whirlpool tubs and jet sprays, does Elmwood Spa have those foot bowls? Where’s the luxury in that?

A. Yes, we know those luxurious chairs can seem quite appealing. But when we investigated aesthetic services equipment at the time of our renovation, we chose to go with the more individualized approach to preserve your safety. Bacteria can live in pipes. Our stainless steel bowls eliminate that possibility. After each guest’s treatment, the bowls are thoroughly washed with anti-bacterial soap, rinsed out, and set aside to dry.

Smoothing Over the Rough Spots

Q. I get built up calluses on my feet that make it painful to walk. My old aesthetician used to remove those with a blade. My new one she says she can’t use a blade. Why is that?

A. You’re right. Old-school aestheticians were taught how to remove calluses using a blade, but it is no longer a common practice in Canada. Health Canada has changed its rules and regulations to prevent the misuse of the blade.

It is actually not in your best interest to remove all calluses. Calluses develop in areas that are in constant use or pressured by our daily activities; they develop as a protective layer on the foot and other parts of the body.

At Elmwood Spa, we use pumice stone to reduce the build-up of heavy calluses for several reasons. Pumice is natural. It’s packaged for individual use, so you can reuse it in your own shower. It’s also not as abrasive to the foot compared to other materials. Some spas use foot files that are wood, metal, or sandpaper-like, which they soak in water but this may not result in complete sterilization. In order to be as hygienic as possible, it is best to use one pumice stone or foot file per client. At Elmwood Spa we use a foot file that is pre-packaged and never used on anyone else, and we also have our orange wood sticks prepackaged for individual use.

Q. I just find that unless they remove my callus with a blade, my foot still hurts.

A. In that case, you may want to visit a podiatrist or other foot care professional as they can use blades and other instruments to significantly remove the amount of calluses. But remember, a podiatrist won’t give you a pedicure!

Handle with Care

Q. Why do aestheticians wear gloves at Elmwood Spa? Are they afraid they’re going to catch something from me?

A. The majority of our Spa Care Experts™ wear gloves, although it does depend on where they have been trained. This is to protect both the guest and themselves from exposure to any cuts or openings in the skin, particularly during sterile procedures such as facials.

Q. Are there chemicals used in your nail polish?

A. Each nail polish contains different ingredients. We use our own ElmLine nail polish at Elmwood Spa. ElmLine is specially formulated as a protective film that still allows oxygen to flow through the nails. It doesn’t contain formaldehyde, which is actually a component in many glues, nail hardeners and nail enhancements. Our polish also doesn’t contain toulyene or dibutal or camphor. Who needs harsh chemicals?

“Double Dipping” on the Wax

Q. How can I be sure that I’m not being contaminated by another person’s infections when I’m being waxed?

A. The spa you choose should clean equipment after every session, dispose of spatulas after each use, and should never “double-dip.” You want to make sure that they are not using a metal spatula, because that would result in double-dipping and increase the risk of burning your skin during the waxing. At Elmwood Spa, we’ve always used a fresh, new spatula for every guest, but now we’ve introduced a roll-on wax, which means a recyclable fresh cartridge for each guest.

Keeping it Clean

Q.How do spas sterilize their equipment? Sometimes when I get waxed, there are a few stray hairs that my esthetician tweezes out. The tweezers have often been left lying around on the counter. Is that hygienic?

A. A reputable spa should be well-equipped to sterilize and sanitize tools and equipment. When you’re choosing a spa, it’s a good idea to ask them what their sterilization techniques are. At Elmwood Spa, our aestheticians take the following precautions after every guest, to ensure your safety.

1. Scrub tools with an anti- bacterial soap and rinse.
2. Place in sterile pouches and seal.
3. Place in Autoclave – Set at 250 F for 10 min and dry time for 10 min.
4. Remove from Autoclave and do not open packages until the next guest.

We use a medical grade autoclave, the same caliber of equipment that you’d see in a dental office or hospital. The temperature used by the system is so high that it kills any airborne or surface bacteria, so that, if by some chance, there was a speck of blood on an implement, you can feel secure knowing first that it has been washed, and if there was any residue left, the high heat of the autoclave would kill off any bacteria or any virus.

We also take a regular culture test from our autoclave on a monthly basis that is sent to Microbex, a third party lab, to ensure that our equipment is bacteria-free. This is not required in the spa industry, but something we think is the right thing to do.

Spa Confidential

Q. Why do spas ask you for all that health information? Isn’t that personal? What do they do with the information?

A. Spas ask for health information to ensure that we have a better understanding of skincare and health care conditions that could impact on your services such as allergies to certain ingredients. Elmwood Spa introduced electronic health information forms quite some time ago for guests who have massage therapies and aesthetic services. This information is kept confidential and only available to the therapist or aesthetician who is providing you with services.

Assuring Quality Service

Q. Are there some government standards that I should be looking for when I go to a spa?

A. Buyer beware really counts when it comes to choosing a spa. There is no national system of standards or regulations for the Canadian spa industry. Furthermore, many provinces have little or no licensing requirements for spa practitioners – especially hair, skin and nails. Schools do not have equivalent educational programs and/or requirements for graduation.

Elmwood Spa is an accredited and proud member of Premier Spas of Ontario, which requires demonstrating a major commitment to quality assurance and a code of ethics. In fact, Elmwood Spa is a founding member of Premier Spas of Ontario and worked with the association to develop a quality assurance program based on a 200 plus items inspection procedure to ensure that the highest standards, services delivery, code of conduct, operating ethics, and use of quality products are used. As a member of PSO, we have been inspected and passed the industry standards and best practices.

We are also a proud member of Leading Spas of Canada and ISPA (International Spa Association).

Do you have a question about how to Spa Safe that we have not answered? Please send it to us at and we will do our best to find out the answer!