Spa Wellness: Toxin-Free Spas

How to allow clients to breathe easier? Make your day spa into a toxin-free haven.

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As leaders in the business of health and wellness, trend-setting spas across the country have mastered eco-conscious practices such as recycling, organic treatments, and water and energy conservation. Nowadays, however, being sustainable is only part of the equation. As the topic of toxins—potentially harmful substances found within microorganisms and synthetic materials—heats up, consumers are becoming increasingly wary of their effects on public health.

Scientific studies have consistently pointed out possible links between chemical exposure and significant health issues including (but not limited to) cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, obesity and diabetes. These scary findings have spurred enlightened people such as Andrea Pierce, founder of Vancouver’s Calixica Holistic Spa Boutiques, to adopt chemical-free lifestyles. It was after Pierce’s two-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer that the spa proprietor became hyperaware of toxic exposure. “I didn’t want to let any chemicals through my spa door,” she says.

Curious about how to transform your business into a purified paradise? DAYSPA consulted with Pierce and other toxic avengers to compile 10 simple tips that will help purge common toxins from your facilities and services.

1. Inspect your building’s walls, ceilings and floors.

When it comes to keeping harmful chemicals out of a spa, Cici Coffee, founder and CEO of Natural Body Spas, with several locations throughout the Southeastern U.S., notes that the process becomes much easier when you’re building, rather than inheriting, your spa’s space. “Whenever we’re constructing a new facility, we’re able to work with our contractors to ensure that no formaldehyde—a government-classified carcinogen—enters the site during construction,” she says.

But for spa owners like Pierce, who recently relocated Calixica to an existing spa facility, this step means ridding a space of all toxic relics. “We obviously had to use new paint,” she says. “We first stripped off the existing, lead-based coats and replaced them with VOC-free paint, which doesn’t smell and dries more quickly.”

In addition to safeguarding your spa’s walls, Amy Ziff, founder and “chief capidealist” of healthy living website Veritey, stresses that owners should hire a state-certified inspector to examine their ceilings for signs of asbestos: balls of fibrous fuzz that look like insulation and are known to accumulate in human lungs, causing some forms of cancer, as well as major respiratory problems. If the risks involved in removing asbestos are deemed greater than those of leaving it in place, the material should be sealed with rubber or plastic, which will prevent its toxins from becoming airborne.

Ziff also recommends having inspectors look at your floors, as “carpeting generally contains toxic synthetic materials.”

2. Stock up on non-toxic cleaning supplies.

Sanitation is an obvious concern in the spa environment. Despite beliefs to the contrary, many experts now attest that chemicals aren’t necessary to disinfect a space. Coffee raves about a microcloth from e-cloth that only requires water, and also notes that her staff keeps the facilities clean with “water and a little bit of vinegar.” Pierce found that concocting her own cleaning supplies from ingredients such as baking powder and lemon served her well in keeping her spa free from questionable chemicals—and in saving money, too.

3. Read all labels.

Look beyond unregulated “organic” and “natural” labels to determine what is actually in products and cleaning supplies.

Coffee has “blacklisted” the following ingredients within all of her Natural Body locations: ammonia, EDTA, chlorine, NTA, ethylene-based glycol ethers, perchlorethylene, hydrochloric acid, sodium acid sulfate, trichloroethane and nitrobenzene.*

4. Improve ventilation.

Until recently, most people gave little thought to indoor air pollution; however, the Environmental Protection Agency has long labeled it a pressing concern. Ziff recommends having your ventilation system regularly inspected to ensure that no toxins can escape. “At a minimum, open your windows every day,” she says. “Letting the fresh air in will help to naturally clear out traces of chemicals.”

5. Avoid anti-bacterial hand sanitizer.

Spa therapists should, of course, wash up before and after working with clients, but Ziff cautions against using conventional hand sanitizers. Citing studies that soap and water is 99% effective when it comes to killing germs, Ziff recommends sticking to this old standby. Of course, not all employees have immediate and easy access to sinks. “In that case,” Ziff says, “there are waterless cleansing sprays made with herbal solutions that do the job.”

6. Blaze alternative candles.

Candles contribute to spa ambiance, but many also release toxic chemicals like toluene and benzene, according to a recent study from South Carolina State University. And, the candle industry is unregulated by the government, so it’s “buyer beware.” For these reasons, Pierce lights exclusively soy candles at Calixica. Not only is soy a renewable resource compared to the traditional, petroleum-based alternatives, but it also burns more slowly, meaning you’ll get more bang for these purchases.

7. Clean up your laundry and fabrics.

Like the air and products in your spa, linens are in continual contact with employees and clients, and should be carefully considered in your facility’s detox. Despite its reputation as a fabric staple, Ziff urges spa pros to steer clear of cotton, which has been cited by organic groups as a toxic crop. In fact, experts estimate that cotton farmland, which is known to be particularly water-, fertilizer- and labor-intensive, accounts for 25% of overall pesticide usage. Check out your buying options and talk to distributors: In recent years, a number of manufacturers have developed eco-friendly linen alternatives made from more sustainable plants such as hemp, flax and bamboo.

When it comes to laundry, Pierce steers clear of white linens “to better avoid bleach,” and suggests using vegetable oil-based laundry detergents. And if you employ outside laundry services, do your due diligence—recruit a responsible local company that takes chemicals into account to help put your eco-conscious mind at ease.

8. Flex your green thumb.

Many spa owners already see plants as naturally serene décor that do much to help set a calming mood. What’s more, pesticide-free greenery also serves as a natural air-purification system. “Big green plants help pull toxins out of the air and oxygenate a room,” Ziff explains. Although she concedes that plants might not thrive in darker treatment rooms, they do make healthful additions to reception areas and lounges with windows.

9. Develop an approved product list for the staff.

Adopting a chemical-free product philosophy is a big step toward creating a toxin-free haven. But, as Coffee notes, “It’s only as strong as your staff’s commitment.” Not every employee will be savvy as to the various toxins hidden within common materials, so get organized and create a specific list of items that have your seal of approval. Train your managers to monitor all purchases and incoming orders to ensure that clients aren’t exposed to any harmful materials.

10. Hit up your local farmer’s market.

Spas may not be in the food service business, but most offer complimentary fruits and vegetables as lounge snacks or beverage infusions. Do your guests a favor, and ensure your offerings are safe and organic. “You wouldn’t want to do all that work to prevent chemicals from entering your clients’ bodies, and then reverse that effort by serving them water containing cucumbers that were grown with help from pesticides,” Ziff points out.