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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: Can They Deliver Their Promises? continued...

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.

Moreover, Sadock warns that some folks can get extremely claustrophobic in a full body wrap of any kind - and end up with an experience that is anything but stress reducing.

"Some people like the feeling of being cocooned or swaddled, and others feel like they have to get out - if you think you might feel that way, ask if the spa will leave your arms out of the wrap, which lessens the anxiety," she says.

Moreover, if you are the anxious type, Sadock suggests doing a walk-through or even observe treatments before you sign on for one.

"The one thing you don't want is for a treatment to increase your stress," she says.

Spa Treatments: What Works

While some spa treatments may do little, experts say others can do a lot. Among the ones frequently recommended by some doctors is the lymphatic draining massage.

"Lymphatic draining does help, particularly in areas that have been affected by surgery. Many of my patients that have had lymph nodes removed develop swelling that can be improved with lymphatic draining, which returns fluids back into circulation," says Beer.

Lymphatic draining massage should not be done if certain conditions are present or suspected, including active infection or inflammation, cancer, blood clots, and congestive heart failure.

Another helpful treatment: Mudpacks and mineral water mud baths, which Marmur says have anti-inflammatory activity that can remedy some skin problems including psoriasis.

In one small Italian study, doctors found that mineral water mud baths yielded a significant reduction in symptoms caused by psoriasis. A second study found mud baths offered promising relief for those suffering with osteoarthritis.

"The only thing to look out for is that psoriasis can flare from any trauma to the skin - so if the massage is rough, or the mud not well refined, it could actually make problems worse," she says.

But while it may be a specific spa promise that draws you in, experts say that for many folks the real value still lies not in the treatment itself, but in the pampering feeling that is universal to the spa experience.

Says Sadock: "The treatment is less important than the whole concept of being coddled - that's really what going to a spa is all about."

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