A spa experience will help you relax, improve the circulation to your entire body including your brain, soothe sore muscles, increase your levels of endorphins (or 'happy hormones'), and leave your skin feeling silky smooth.

Spas are the perfect antidote to our stressful modern lifestyles, and the ultimate me-time. One of the main reasons why spas and spa treatments have become so popular is that they are no longer seen as luxuries, but instead are viewed as necessities.

There are distinct health benefits to be derived from spa treatments, both on a physical and an emotional level, plus a spa offers the ultimate escape where you can enjoy some undisturbed time to yourself.

Your first visit to a spa could be a slightly intimidating experience. Most people want to know what to wear, whether they'll have to get undressed, if the therapists are male or female, or whether they'll need to take anything specific along.

Don't be afraid to ask these questions when booking your spa treatment. Most spas provide robes and slippers that you can wear for the duration of your stay. Although some treatments – a full body massage, for instance – require that you not be fully clothed, you can keep your underwear on if it makes you feel more comfortable.

The therapist will leave the room to give you time to undress, and only the part of your body that is being treated will be exposed, while the rest remains covered with towels. You should feel comfortable at all times. Having a spa treatment is exclusively for your enjoyment and relaxation.

Feel free to tell the therapist if anything is making you feel uncomfortable – this includes things such as the temperature of the room, the amount of pressure during a massage, the volume of the music, the amount of light in the room, and so on.

Spa treatments range from standard massages or sauna sessions, to more exotic detox treatments that use herbal products and plant extracts.

Most spas have a signature treatment that is either named after the ingredients used in the treatment, a unique treatment ritual or a special package of treatments. A package might contain various treatments, including a facial and massage, plus a light lunch consisting of salads or fruit.

Vinotherapy is a good example of a signature treatment. This revolutionary treatment, which was first used in the famous wine region of Bordeaux in France, is now done very successfully in South Africa.

Vinotherapy employs the health benefits of grapes and wine. Grape-seed oil is rich in antioxidants such as bioflavonoids, polyphenol and resveratrol, which are all powerful anti-ageing agents, and are widely used in massages, hydrotherapy treatments and for full-body exfoliation treatments.

The Santé Winelands Hotel and Wellness Centre in Franschhoek offers a Shiraz Body Wrap, where crushed grape seeds and essential oils are used to remove dead cells from the surface of the skin, followed by a Chardonnay Cocoon Wrap,where a purée of grapes and grape skins is used to moisturise the skin.

Then a Massage Cap Classique is administered before the treatment ends with a Cabernet Sauvignon wine-casket bath. The Moya range of spa products is uniquely South African and is used by a number of spas.

The products are made from indigenous plant extracts and fynbos, and contain ingredients such as Cape chamomile, geranium, zinziba and Cape snowbush.

The Theravine range is another example of a uniquely South African product that is widely used at spas. Products in the range contain grape, fynbos and herbal extracts.

Pregnant women
Most spas offer special treatments for pregnant women, and if you are pregnant, you can still enjoy a number of general spa treatments, including massages, facials and reflexology.

However, you should always inform your therapist that you are pregnant before the treatment starts.

Different types of spas
Your choice of spa will depend on your specific needs – wanting to escape for a day, seeking to kick-start a healthier lifestyle, or perhaps to combine your spa experience with another favourite pastime.

Choose your spa carefully to ensure that your needs are met. A day spa offers a wide variety oftreatments, but does not offer overnight accommodation. It's the perfect place if you want to slip away for 30 minutes or an hour.

An overnight spa offers treatments and hotel-style or other accommodation. Some also offer additional activities, such as golf, game viewing or water sports. Go to www.healthspas.co.za for a list of the different types of spas on offer around the country.

Spa hotels and spa resorts usually offer an à la carte selection of spa treatments. Guests usually have full access to all facilities, while day visitors pay a set rate. Facilities generally include a sauna, heated pool and sometimes also hydrotherapy rooms.

If you are hoping to kick-start a healthy lifestyle, a spa hotel or spa resort has one major drawback: guests and day visitors mix freely, and all the normal temptations of a resort or hotel may conspire to undermine your very best intentions.

A destination spa is 100% focused on the total spa experience. It offers healthy food, professional treatments, fitness centres and everything else you may require for a healthy lifestyle.

A good read
Holistic Holidays in South Africa (Human & Rousseau) by Sharyn Spicer and Janine Nepgen is a useful guide to South Africa's best health spas, hot springs, and more.

Beauty editor's favourite treatments
Hot stone massage A massage that is done using warm lava stones and hot oil. The warm stones are placed on various areas of the body, including the palms, feet and back, while other areas are massaged using the oil. Available at most spas.

Indian head massage A neck and scalp massage using the Ayurvedic technique. A supremely relaxing experience that is widely believed to help combat stress. Available at most spas.

Vichy shower A brisk, hydrotherapy treatment. You lie on a treatment table that is positioned underneath a rail with a number of shower heads, which are then used to spray water onto the body using different pressure settings, delivering a full-body water massage. Available at most spas.

Good ideas

  • Ensure that the spa of your choice is accredited to the South African Association for Health and Skincare Professionals (SAAHSP) and that the therapists are trained professionals. Call the SAAHSP on 011 787 7416 for more information.
  • When visiting a spa for the first time, arrive approximately 15 minutes early to allow enough time to fill in your details on the client database. You will need to provide information that includes your address and contact details, plus information about your general health, any medication you may be taking, and other preferences.