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Guide to What To Wear at Spas Around The Globe

One of the biggest fears for spa goers is the issue of nudity. This isn"t just a source of anxiety for those hitting a spa for the first time- it can be an issue for even the most seasoned spa enthusiast who is experiencing a new spa treatment for the first time, or is in a foreign country where nudity "etiquette" and customs may be different

No one wants to be the only one in a sauna without a bathing suit on, or the only one in a sauna with a bathing suit on. Should one be naked for a massage, Vichy shower or hydrotherapy bath? What about when getting a salt scrub with a therapist of the opposite sex?

Most guides give you a few tips and then simply suggest you ask the therapist if you have questions. While asking for precise guidance is a good idea, the fact is very few people actually do; after all, those who are confused and anxious about nudity issues are generally not likely to want to even discuss them with a stranger. So here are some tips that will hopefully give you the information you need before you visit a spa in any country around the world - so you can achieve what you came for in the first place: total ease and relaxation. (Check out our guide to specific country customs.)

The "skinny" on spa nudity

Locker room

Most spas have separate locker rooms for men and women where you change into a robe and slippers. While some spas have private changing cubicles, many do not and you have to change in front of others. If you"re uncomfortable, you can always change in a bathroom stall. Some spas will invite you to change in the actual spa treatment room.

Relaxation room

People generally go to a spa"s relaxation room before or after a treatment in their robe and slippers with nothing, a swim suit, or underwear underneath. Be careful with how you are positioned/sitting in the waiting room, especially if the robe is small for your body size. Many spas have extra large robes but you need to ask for them specifically.

Sauna, steam, and Jacuzzi

Spas offering these facilities generally incorporate them into the men and women"s locker room area. In that arrangement you can go totally nude, go nude and wear a towel around you, or wear a swimsuit (unless you"re in a country that doesn"t allow swimsuits in these facilities). (See details below.) In coed facilities, one generally wears a swimsuit except in countries like Austria or Germany where coed nudity is the norm.

Massage room

For popular massages such as Swedish and Deep Tissue most people like to be naked, although if you prefer to wear a swimsuit or underwear you can. The therapist will generally explain the treatment, advise whether you should be face up or face down on the table, and then (and this is the law in some countries) step out of the room while you take off your robe and slip underneath the sheet. The therapist will knock before reentering. Therapists in more modest countries such as the U.S., Canada, and the UK, use a technique called "draping" where only the body part (arm, leg, back, or feet, etc.) that is being massaged is exposed and the rest of the body is draped with a sheet and possibly a light blanket. Private parts remain covered throughout and are not massaged. When you turn over half way through the massage, the therapist holds the sheet up so they can"t see you. When the massage is over the therapist generally steps out of the room while you get up and don your robe and slippers.

Facial room

Similar procedure to the massage, however many people wear their robes or a curtain-like towel with Velcro during the facial. Note: because the therapist will massage your upper back, shoulders and dcollet, it"s best to remove any upper body garments that might get in the way.

Body treatments such as salt scrubs and Vichy Showers

Some spas offer disposable panties for both hygienic and modesty concerns and they may or may not be required. You are more likely to be exposed during these kinds of treatments.

Hydrotherapy treatments

Many spas suggest you wear a swimsuit although in some you can go nude.

Nudity and National Nuances
Spa nudity etiquette is becoming less of a problem as spa travel increases around the world. Spas, in their endeavor to attract an international demographic of visitors, make an effort for all to be comfortable. So attention is being paid to communicating policies clearly, giving options and anticipating that many people will have questions and are used to different customs.
  • UK/ US/Australia/Caribbean: There is greater modesty in these areas and traditionally most people wear swimsuits in saunas, steams, and Jacuzzis.

  • Japan: In onsens (hot spring) and sentos (public bath), the sexes are generally segregated these days, although coed nudity can still be encountered in a minority of settings. You will be given a small "modesty" towel that you wring out and put on your head while in the bath. Wash your body with soap and rinse thoroughly before entering the bath.

  • India: One receives ayurvedic treatments in the nude but only administered by someone from the same sex.

  • Middle East: There is always a separation of sexes. Muslim women are naked in the hammam, although Islamic strictures require men to cover their genitals.

  • Scandinavia/Sweden/Finland/Russia: Nude co-ed bathing is the norm among family or with friends the same age however public saunas or bathhouses usually have separate sections or different hours for men and women. Swimsuits are not worn in saunas and bathhouses for hygienic reasons and it is customary to sit on a towel so that no part of the body touches the wood directly.

  • Germany/ Austria/German speaking part of Switzerland: These are regions with a very relaxed attitude toward nudity as well as some firm hygienic beliefs that affect nudity customs at the spa. It is very natural for people to be naked in front of others - and group nudity at the spa, even with the opposite sex, is a complete non-issue. Saunas are often co-ed, and swimsuits are prohibited in saunas and steams as it is considered extremely unhygienic. The proper etiquette is to sit on a clean towel in a sauna and even place a towel underneath your feet. You should enter or exit these heated rooms quickly (and during appropriate times) so as to not let the heat escape. Loud conversation is not appreciated as the sauna is envisioned as a place of healing rather than socializing. Pouring water on hot stones to increase humidity is done only by staff.

Quick Quips on Nudity
  1. Shower with soap before entering a hot tub, sauna or steam if you"re in a country where you will enter the facilities — whether nude or with a bathing suit on.

  2. If provided, wear plastic sandals in the shower to protect your feet from coming into contact with the floor and to keep from slipping.

  3. Spas often allow you to select the gender of your therapist (usually early in the spa treatment booking process and/or if your preference is available). Did you know that 75% of preference requests are for female therapists? Most females prefer a female therapist and most males prefer a female therapist as well.

  4. If you do feel like asking about spa nudity protocol on the phone or in person, try these questions: What is the custom here regarding what I should wear for my spa treatment? What is the custom regarding clothing in the sauna? In the hot tub? Etc.

  5. While your "privates" are generally covered during spa treatments and genitals are not massaged, in a few countries, a medical massage might include breast massage - however usually only upon a woman"s request. (And a post-mastectomy lymph drainage massage could include massaging the female breast area.) Buttocks are often massaged as these are large muscles often in need of treatment.

  6. And finally, for those who want to dispense with the minutiae above and simply make the process as simple as possible; here is the best way to prepare for nearly 99% of all spa nudity possibilities:

    Undress completely in the locker room, put on a swimsuit, a spa robe and spa slippers. Carry a large towel with you and head to whatever part of the spa you are planning to use. Look around to see what everyone else is wearing and consider following "suit." Remember: it"s always easier to take something off than it is to find something to put on.