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The Risks of Spa Treatments

Though indulging in a spa sounds nice, all also have the potential to pose not-so-nice public health risks.

WebMD Feature

Planning on treating yourself to a spa treatment? Before you plunge into a mineral bath, get kneaded like a ball of dough, or indulge in any of the other countless treatments available today, you should know the risks involved.

Sure, spas have been around a long time -- since ancient times, in fact, when Roman soldiers in a small Belgium village called Spa first discovered the soothing effects that hot mineral springs had on their aching bodies. Up to the turn of the 20th century, doctors from various cultures routinely sent patients to soak in baths they believed to have restorative powers. But most of the spas of today bear little resemblance to those first "curative" spas.

Yet today, operators of the 10,000 or so spas in the U.S. continue to tout the treatments' health benefits. While most of today's spas promise to restore, refresh, and renew -- and some offer even more explicit health claims -- they generally don't warn you of the potential risks involved. But they do exist. Certain spa treatments can worsen chronic and acute health conditions. All spas can pose risks to the general public, particularly when operated in a state of uncleanliness.

We talked to medical experts and public health officials to learn just what these health risks entail and how you can avoid them.

Chronic Conditions

Pedicures: Dangerous with DiabetesPeople with diabetes need to take extra precautions when getting foot treatments. "Any break in the skin, potentially from aggressive trimming of a callous or cuticle, can increase the risk of foot infections called cellulitis," says Sharon Horesh, MD, an internal medicine doctor with Emory University's department of medicine.

That's not the only reason for precaution.

You can't always tell how clean a spa's water or supplies are. But you can minimize your risk of becoming infected by contaminated water or supplies. "If you have diabetes and you have ulcerations on your feet, bring your own container of water for a pedicure," says Louise-Ann McNutt, PhD, an epidemiology professor at the University of Albany. She also suggests bringing your own equipment, from bucket to emery boards. "It puts you in charge of how clean the supplies are," she tells WebMD.

Massage: Finding the Right Touch

When it comes to massage, experts say that the degree of risk involved depends on the type of touch applied. "The most important adaptation for chronic disease, like cancer, is touch level," says Kathleen Clayton, a licensed massage therapist and spokeswoman for the American Massage Therapy Association.

"In that instance, I might do a light touch, or foot reflexology."

Finally, she urges all potential massage-goers to receive massages only from licensed massage therapists. "Find somebody who will know what to look for and what to ask the patient," she says.

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