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Spas: The Risks and Benefits

Can spa treatments deliver on their promises – and are there health risks you should know? WebMD investigates.

Spas: Are They Safe? continued...

"When spa attendants don't wear gloves -- and most of them don't -- the risk of disease transmission is even greater," says Marmur.

Tierno says other risky spa treatments include manicures and pedicures, particularly if the cuticles are cut and especially if the instruments are not properly cleaned. Indeed, in the recent past an outbreak of a nasty bacterial infection causing skin boils was traced to unsanitary conditions in a manicure-pedicure salon.

"I always suggest bringing your own instruments. It's much safer than being treated with anything they supply," he says.

Spas: Can They Deliver Their Promises?

Among the biggest spa draws are the exotic treatment offerings -- and the equally exotic promises. From body rubs that attack cellulite, to lymphatic massages that promise to cleanse your body of toxins, to mud baths and anti-aging seaweed wraps guaranteed to soothe your skin and your psyche, the promises can go from the simple to the outrageous.

Assuming the spas take steps to prevent germ transmission, do any of the treatments themselves have risks? And do they even work? Experts say some do, and some clearly do not.

"As a dermatologist and a spa owner, I think that there is a place for some of the more exotic spa treatments. But does that mean that a caviar wrap from head to toe is going to transform you? No, just your wallet," says Ken Beer, MD, director of Palm Beach Aesthetics in Palm Beach, Fla.

Likewise, he says treatments that promise to banish cellulite offer, at best, a temporary change in skin texture and nothing more.

Marmur agrees. "What can happen is that the treatment causes swelling so the little spaces in between the dimples fill in. But the result is only temporary," she says.

A full body seaweed wrap may be another treatment to be cautious about.

Beer says seaweed wraps - with their high iodine content -- can be helpful to some folks and harmful to others. "Whatever you are applying to your skin can get into your bloodstream. ... If [iodine found in seaweed] is applied in high concentrations [it] may result in a nasty breakout on the skin, and other minerals can work the same way," he says.

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