5 Very Icky Reasons Spas Can Be Toxic

They may seem like the healthiest places on earth. Until you learn these reasons spas can be toxic!

By Lora O’Brien

The stresses of life can at times be too much, and we all seek some kind of way to relax and unwind. For many of us, visiting the spa is the perfect way to rejuvenate the mind, body and soul. And what’s not to feel relaxed about when it comes to a spa? The serene aesthetic, the fresh cucumber water, not to mention the beautiful people milling around who are truly living their best life thanks to these peaceful havens.

From day spas to weekend spas to weeklong getaways, spas have become one of the healthiest forms of relaxation. People may visit to reduce stress, soothe sore joints and muscles or to simply feel better about themselves. But before you switch off from the modern world and step inside the spa, you may want to ask yourself one thing: just how clean is your spa?

From the ingredients in the face masks and body wraps, to the candles burnt to create the chilled atmosphere, have you ever wondered exactly how good for you these things really are? You visit the spa to overhaul your body and to come away feeling better, but is it possible that you could actually come away having inhaled some seriously toxic stuff?

Here below, I’ve researched five reasons spas can be toxic, so you can ensure your next spa visit is as healthy as can be!

5 Very Icky Reasons Spas Can Be Toxic

5 Very Icky Reasons Spas Can Be Toxic

1. VOCs All Over The Place

One of the things many of us love most about a visit to the spa is the heavenly scents that engulf us when we’re there. From the heady candles to the sensual aromatherapy used during treatments, everything smells so good. But these scents can be causing more harm than good. From candles to air fresheners, the products used can emit numerous kinds of toxic air pollutants.

Spas can have elevated levels of indoor air pollutants that can be potentially harmful, known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors. VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products, including:

  • paints, paint strippers and other solvents
  • wood preservatives
  • air fresheners, candles and room fresheners
  • aerosol sprays like deodorant
  • cleansers and disinfectants
  • nail polish remover
  • stored fuels and automotive products
  • hobby supplies
  • dry-cleaned clothing
  • pesticide

As you can imagine, a spa will usually have loads of cleansers and disinfectants, air fresheners, candles and sometimes nail products, while clients may well be spraying all kinds of aerosols in the changing room.

The solution: Ensure you spa only uses all natural cleaners, candles and scent

2. Too Much Chlorine

A great way to relax at the spa is with a visit to the hot tubs and swimming pool. Many people find the warm water soothing, and they don’t think to question whether or not this is healthy. Sure, the water contains chlorine, but we’ve all just accepted that this is a tool used to keep water safe and clean, right? Well, it turns out that chlorine not only dries out our skin and hair significantly, but it actually poses a real danger to our health when it comes to spas.

Chlorine is essentially a strong bleaching agent and the smell of it alone when reacting with organic matter in the water can be enough to make your eyes burn. Breathing in chlorine fumes can irritate the respiratory system, and if you’re visiting the spa with your children, you may want to be careful as it’s believed that chlorine fumes can trigger asthma symptoms in children.

The bleaching agent in chlorine can also have an effect on our hair, swimsuits and other materials that it may come into contact with. Who amongst us with lighter hair hasn’t suffered that green tinge after a long day at the pool?

If it’s strong enough to alter the colour of your hair, you may wonder what it can do to the rest of your body, right? Well, one of the most significant dangers of chlorine in pools relates to the biggest fear for many: cancer. Some studies have indicated that there are links between the absorption of chlorine through our skin and cardiovascular disease. Yikes!

The solution: Find a spa that uses ozone to decontaminate the water in their hot tubs and pools

5 Very Icky Reasons Spas Can Be Toxic

3. Scary Mold

The last thing you think of when envisioning the spa is probably mold, but low and behold, it’s a growing problem (literally!) This is, of course, more so in spas that are not maintained properly or are used infrequently.

If you choose to use the sauna or steam room at a spa, you run the risk of breathing in mold and mildew spores. If these hot places are not cleaned regularly, their growth becomes worse with each subsequent use.

Remember that the benefits of the sauna come from the ability to make you warm and sweat. As a result, there is plenty of moisture and warmth for the sauna to use to create mildew. If the sauna in your spa is along an exterior wall, then venting the moisture and heat is simple, as it goes directly outside. However, if the sauna is in an interior room with no ventilation, then it’s more likely to have mold and mildew.

If you’re especially sensitive to mold, you may develop irritation in your throat and nasal passages, often immediately upon exposure. But not all symptoms are respiratory related. In sensitive individuals, these toxins can produce numerous symptoms, including:

  • Chronic burning in the throat and nasal passages
  • Coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath
  • Dizziness/loss of balance
  • Eye irritation
  • Fatigue and headaches
  • Heightened sensitivity to chemicals and foods
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Skin rashes

and more.

The solution: If you smell or see mold in a sauna or steam room, do not go in! Ask your spa manager how often they clean these places, and with what kinds of products.


4. Toxic Products

Another of the reasons spas can be toxic is related to the products they use. Have you ever questioned the safety of the creams and scrubs in spas? I hadn’t, until recently. I would usually pay to visit the spa to feel pampered and good about myself. Until I started working for Eluxe, I just had blind faith that the treatments are naturally good for me.

But now I know it’s pretty naive to think that way, especially since I learned the importance of checking labels to ensure my skincare products are clean and chemical-free. Why would I just assume that the procedures at a spa use ‘clean beauty’ products?

If, like me, you’ve never before now paid much thought to what goes into those body wraps, scrubs and skin procedures, you may be in for a shock. While we all like to think that the masks slathered across our faces are made from fresh ingredients, more often than not, the brands used by spas are pretty much laden with chemicals. And that’s true for even the so-called ‘luxury’ spa brands, like Givenchy or La Prairie. Suddenly it’s not so relaxing, right?

Oh, and when spas claim to be using natural ingredients in a treatment, they’re not lying. But they’re also not telling you the full truth, always. For example, a wrap may indeed use natural Irish algae…plus a whole host of nasty preservatives and chemicals, too.

The solution: Always ask to read the label of any products used before they smear them all over your skin. Or better yet, go to an organic spa.

5. Dirty Tools

This is perhaps one of the most important of all the reasons why spas can be toxic. For example? I once read a story about a woman who lost all her fingernails after a salon used dirty instruments on her manicure, and honestly, it scarred me for life. I’ve had one too many mani/pedis in my life that have been painful when they shouldn’t have been, but I never thought to question the cleanliness of the products being used. Until now!

Our skin is at risk for increasing germ transmission when we attend the spa, especially if there’s a break in our skin. Remember that when you get a manicure or pedicure, there’s a high likelihood that you may get a teeny cut in your toes or fingers. This may normally be fine, but if the instruments used are not properly disinfected (or better yet, used new, just for you), you could get a nasty infection.

Often, spa attendants don’t wear gloves, which only further increases the risks of diseases being transmitted. Scarily, it’s not uncommon for bacterial infections to be traced back to the conditions in a manicure-pedicure salon or spa.

The solution: Insist that all tools used for your treatment are disinfected in alcohol, or are new. If you see your manicurist using an emery board that’s covered in white nail dust, or clippers with other people’s skin stuck inside, run!

5 Very Icky Reasons Spas Can Be Toxic

Have you ever been to a nasty spa? Do you know of any other reasons spas can be toxic that we may have missed here? Let us know in the comments, below!

Lora O'Brien

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