Paper knickers, I can’t wait: What to do when spa treatments go wrong

Massages and facials should leave you feeling Zen, but what if you’re just sore?

Anyone who has ever had a spa treatment will relate to the moment of panic when the therapist leaves the room and the clock is ticking: you have no idea how long you have to tear open the plastic bag, throw off your clothes and pull on the hugely unflattering (but super tiny) paper knickers and get under the towel on the treatment bed before the masseuse comes back in.

It should be a small price to pay for the wonderful relaxation which will follow – the combination of pummelling, kneading and aromatic oils resulting in a blissed out mood for the rest of the day.

But sometimes it doesn’t all go to plan.

I still shudder when I think of the Mermaid's Purse treatment where I was swaddled in seaweed, what seemed like cling wrap, and then a blanket that felt as if it was made from iron shavings

Over the years I’ve had some glorious spa treatments which have left me feeling totally zen. But I’ve had more than my fair share of horrors, too.

Being of a claustrophobic disposition, I have learned that anything involving being wrapped up is to be avoided at all costs. I still shudder when I think of the Mermaid’s Purse treatment where I was swaddled in seaweed, then in what seemed like cling wrap (my eyes were covered with a mask), followed by a “blanket” which had the weight and texture of something filled with iron shavings.

The therapist was obviously aiming for a calm, peaceful ambience, so having covered (read trapped) me in all these layers, she retreated silently. I had the horrible sensation of being left alone, with my eyes covered and my hands pinned to my sides inside this bizarre cocoon.

I waited until I could bear it no longer then politely asked if she was still in the room. When she responded to tell me she was, I asked to be released from the “purse” as I was beginning to have a panic attack.

The relief was so immense that I felt fantastic; which, thinking about it, could actually be the point of the treatment, as I had a similar feeling following a hot oil scalp massage.

It sounded lovely – a sure-fire way to release built-up tension in my head, neck and shoulders, and a nutritious moisturising of my scalp to boot. The therapist began with a slow, continuous drip of warm oil into the centre of my forehead, which slid slowly down my face and into my scalp. Initially it was mildly irritating, but by the time she started massaging my head, I could focus on nothing other than the sticky, gloopy mess and the drip, drip sensation on my forehead. I couldn’t wait for it to be over, and hurried out with a headache and a mop of greasy hair.

Suffering from a bad back, I like a strong, deep massage. To avoid an ineffective kneading which offers little more than a tickle, masseuse Jean Duffy advises me to always ask for someone who specialises in deep massages, and not to be afraid to speak up if the pressure isn’t strong enough.

“Not all treatments suit everyone, so I would encourage people to have a think about what they want beforehand, then discuss with their therapist, as each spa might do a variation on treatments; it might not be exactly as you had it before,” she says.

“Also, if something is making you feel stressed, don’t wait until the end of the session to speak up. Your therapist wants to make your session as comfortable and relaxing as possible – after all, that’s what we are here for.”

I know now that if the stones are burning my back, the essential oil is running into my eyes or the body wrap is suffocatingly tight, all I have to do is say so

If you are not sure about what treatment to have, just stick to the basics, she advises.

“Some people love an alternative therapy with oils, hot stones, or wraps, but I would advise anyone who is confused by the menu to go for something straightforward,” she says. “A deep tissue massage if you want to release tension, a facial to give your skin a lift, or some reflexology if you want to unwind from your feet upwards.”

And if you don’t like the paper pants? “Feel free to wear your own, but remember they may get covered in oil.”

So from now on, I know if the stones are burning my back, the essential oil is running into my eyes or I am in danger of suffocating due to the tightness of the body wrap, all I have to do is just say so.

Paper pants, here I come.

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