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Beauty Salon Versus Spa

2 January 2010
Under the aegis of the Federation of Spa and Wellness Professionals SPA-A, Galya Ortega, examines the difference between the world of the spa and that of the beauty salon and take note – this is a very important distinction to make as clients have a very different expectation from a spa.

(Article supplied coutesy of Les Nouvelles Esthetiques Spa Magazine.  For more information and articles from Les Nouvelles Esthetiques Spa Magazine, visit: www.lesnouvelles.co.za)

Beauty Therapy

For me, beauty therapy is the most effective in terms of beauty both as it pertains to the face and body.  If I were looking for an anti-ageing facial treatment, I would consider going to a beauty salon.  Currently, spas are offering excellent facial treatments but these are geared towards well-being in a global sense, which is an entirely different experience altogether.  Beauty therapy has a proven track record when it comes to skin treatments.  That is also why you will see many recognised beauty therapy brands in spas today and why spas are also focusing more on their anti-ageing skincare offerings, so ensuring they can offer clients a comprehensive spectrum of treatments.


Is well-being the domain of the beauty industry or the spa?  It is not beauty therapy.  A well-being massage is a tailor-made, personalised treatment.  In the beauty industry, you will also find personalised treatments but these are not the same.  A true well-being massage is one that is specifically tailored to the client's needs.  In a spa or a salon, one can look at the principles underpinning massage protocols, but that is a completely different matter.

The universe is the limit

The spa industry benefits from the endless possibilities of the universe.  When a client enters a spa, they are searching for a sensorial journey.  Of course, they are also looking for beauty and wellness but, in addition to this, a sense of balance and harmony.

The boundaries of each world

There is an almost imperceptible line between the world of beauty therapy and the world of the spa because these days we are seeing many beauty salon brands in spas and there are also a number of spa brands that are now launching facial skincare products.

These two worlds are constantly rubbing shoulders.  Beauty therapy necessitates a great deal of training, a level of competency and skill, a thorough understanding of the skin's functions as well as excellent product knowledge.  A client who has just had a beauty treatment wants to see results.  She won't continue going for treatments just because of her therapist, even if she has an excellent relationship with her.  An independent wellness practitioner, with her own premises, who has learnt certain techniques and traditions can administer psyhco-physical treatments that take both the body and mind into consideration and the treatments, can be tailor-made to the client.  In a spa, the therapists are obliged to reflect the spa creator's concept and theme to the letter and are expected to communicate the essence of the spa as they have been instructed.  For spa employees, the most difficult element is to be familiar with the philosophy of the spa where they are working, to know its treatment menu, to understand the theme and the “story” that is being told.  They are required to adapt from one spa to the next.  The challenge for therapists who are administering treatments is to change their modus operandi and update their know-how according to the specifics of the spa where they are currently working in order to accommodate new themes and concepts.  They need to practise humility.  Clients visit a particular spa because they want to experience that spa's unique treatment and product offering, they do not come because of a particular therapist who works there.  That said, a number of spa goers say that the therapist accounts for 50% of the success of their spa experience.  And so the debate begins!

The real development in the spa industry has taken place since 2000.  Before that, spas existed on a somewhat more “experimental” basis.  One thing is certain, in that era; beauty therapy had been around for many years and was already part of people's “routines”.

Once the spa trend hit, any beauty therapist was able to see that something big was unfolding before their eyes.  These therapists love their job and want to see their industry develop.  They have ideas of their own.  The evolution of the spa has unlocked people's imaginations.  Some therapists were ready for a change of environment and to change their way of doing things.  There have been some grand successes as well as failures because the spa is a real, professional, specific industry.  Just adding some lavender and a few candles is not sufficient to say that you have now made the transition to spa! This, however, is another discussion entirely.

There are more and more “spas” appearing who are, in fact, beauty salons but who are calling themselves a spa.
 It is in the best interests of Beauty Therapy to learn from the wellness and spa industry in order to benefit their own clientele. 


The spa client goes to a spa because they are seeking ways in which to combat their stressful lifestyle, see to their beauty needs and also because it offers them a taste of luxury and pampering...

Gift vouchers

Often a spa will generate 30 - 40% of its turn-over through the sale of gift vouchers.  That is a huge figure!  And it has been verified.  In general, the world of the spa is a luxurious world that oozes attention to detail and service.  For R 500.00 – R 1000.00, a person is given the opportunity to experience something that they otherwise might not have treated themselves to, thanks to a spa voucher received as a birthday gift or Christmas gift.  On the other hand, we have seen that gift vouchers do not necessarily translate into regular clients.  The voucher recipient may come to the spa once in order to redeem their voucher but they may not necessarily come back.  Fortunately, they will spread the word about their experience.

hey may not have had a spa experience prior to this and may not be familiar with spa industry standards and therefore they will not be very critical and will often have very positive things to say about it.


The client can enjoy giving in to their desires and extracting a real sense of delight in the experience.


More and more, clients are looking for authenticity in a spa.  Authenticity means different things to different people.  For some, authenticity means ecological soundness, for others it means unapologetic luxury, for others it extends to the sincerity and personal investment of the therapist.  Authenticity is thus a huge variable.

In some spas, you will find the most incredible décor, exceptional products and a superb environment but if the client finds themselves receiving a poor massage and if their treatment experience is poor, everything falls flat. 

Green principles are playing an increasingly important role in the spa industry.  Clients are becoming more conscious of their impact on the earth and more demanding of their service providers.  They will not be placated with some made-up stories because they are educated about carbon footprints and ecological issues.  The principles surrounding sustainable development are going to shape the future growth of the spa industry.  Two examples are: water and laundry, which can be crazy.  Sometimes we use up to 10 towels for one client during a 2-hour spa ritual!


A spa client expects service.  They expect to be welcomed to the spa and in a particular manner and with a certain degree of flair.  The clientele is also a different target market.  Spa goers tend to be younger. 

So, we have established that clients expect a certain level of service from a spa but they also expect a spa to have certain formalities in place: for example, being offered a welcome drink upon arrival, being asked to wait in the reception area, being guided through the spa rituals, being offered underwear...  The client expects a great number of things, we could almost say that they expect perfection.  Spas do not have the luxury of being able to make mistakes because due to the fact that they are at the upper end of the scale in terms of pricing.  

In a spa, a client must be taken for his or her treatments on time and these treatments must also finish on time.   Everything must be spick and span before the client arrives.  In a spa, a client should also never be disturbed by noise.  In a beauty salon, often one can hear the murmuring of a conversation in the next door cubicle, the noise of the door buzzer as clients arrive and leave, clients purchasing products at the counter.  That would never be acceptable in a spa!

In a spa, a client should be made to feel like royalty.  Because, in fact, this is what is expected. In our SPA-A association, we have a service committee who enquire as to what levels of service should be upheld in spas.  The feedback is constantly shifting.  A number of beauty schools are trying to include modules that deal with spa criteria and the training required to be a spa manager.  Should a spa manager be a previous beauty salon manager?  Is it preferable to hire someone previously involved in the hotel industry because they have good understanding of what is required in the service industry?  The only problem with the latter is that after they have been hired, they need to be brought up to speed on all things relating to the spa industry.  Some think that it is better to hire someone from the beauty industry and teach them management skills and how to maintain service levels rather than employ someone from the hotel industry and try to teach them about spas.  


Spa rituals are very closely linked to the products used.  There needs to be a link between the product that is being used and the massage being administered.  When people ask me whether they should create their own range of products, I strongly advise against it.  Creating a cosmetic line is a very costly affair.  It is far better to create an alliance with recognised cosmetic brands that work within the overall theme and concept of the establishment

All members of the SA Spa Association receive a complimentary copy of the Les Nouvelles Esthetiques Spa Magazine.  To subscribe to the magazine, please visit www.lesnouvelles.co.za 
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For more information contact the SA Spa Association on 011 447 9959 or e-mail: info@saspaassociation.co.za


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