If you’ve been to a spa within the last 10 years, you’ve probably noticed that they have changed strikingly—even more so over the course of our lifetime.
What used to be a place generally for back rubs and manicures (who doesn’t like to feel relaxed and a little luxurious) has now become a center for holistic care and wellness.
Interestingly, this harkens back to spas of yesteryear. In ancient civilizations across the Mediterranean, spa treatments were seen as an essential component of healthcare, and resembled more of what we have today that what we thought of with spas for the better part of the 20th century.
Origins of classic spa treatments
Many people have a vague association of a spa with the ancient Roman civilization, and for good reason. The Romans did, in fact, recognize the powerful health benefits of spa treatments. Spas formed an integral part of their culture, but this does not mean that spas came originally from the Romans. While the exact origins are difficult to pinpoint, it’s thought that spas are actually much, much older than the ancient Roman civilization.
One of the first written accounts of spas used for healthcare purposes came from the ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrates, around 400 B.C.E. Hippocrates claimed that a good deal of health issues were a product of having an imbalance in bodily fluid. His proposal for a treatment came in the form of massages and aromatic baths, precisely what many of us think of when we hear the word “spa,” though with motivations much deeper than a little R&R.
Fast forward a few hundred years, and the Romans came to follow the trend. Hippocrates’ description of spas as paths to health was attractive to the Romans; specifically, spas in ancient Roman culture would come to serve as a means for soldiers to heal from battle wounds. The ability to treat injuries through therapeutic spa treatments was considered crucial, and may have contributed to their continued military prowess.
Eventually, spa treatments in ancient Rome spread and became a popular form of relaxation for soldiers and citizens alike.
Of course, spa treatments were anything but exclusive to the Romans and Greeks. While all this was unfolding, Japan, Finland, Turkey, and many others were developing their own versions of spa-centered healthcare treatments.
As far as the United States, spa culture arrived in the early 1800s. The first spa as we might recognize it didn’t open its doors until 1910, and it wasn’t until the 80s was when the spa concept really took off.
The first “New World” spas offered facials, manicures, and other similar beauty and relaxation treatments. More than a true healthcare field, this manifestation of spa culture focused more on targeting and pampering wealthy women—in fact, the industry became relaxation centers mostly for female guests.
As Western popularity spiked in and after the 80s, however, both the demand and the supply increased. Spas began to offer a wider variety of treatment and welcomed a more inclusive community (men and children alike). Among the changes to approach that the spa industry adopted was also the reemergence of a healthcare-centric treatment.
The modern spa
Certainly, the rapid increase in popularity did more than just increase demand—it jostled many spas’ priorities altogether. Spas have since abandoned the pamper-only image to readopt a holistic approach to wellness.
And naturally, more specialized health-care treatments imply more specialization and more training. In addition to having specific programs and training for procedures and treatments offered today, spas often team up with healthcare professionals to guarantee a scientifically-proven and medically rigorous approach to treatments.
Today, spa professionals don’t just offer back rubs but in fact provide legitimate healthcare services. To reflect this new identity (and the training behind it), white lab coats have been adopted by many professionals in the spa community. Simply put, the white lab coat serves two main purposes: an emotional one and a functional one.
A comforting message
White lab coats are symbols of expertise and status. To put it simply, they imply that the wearer has trained extensively and knows what they’re doing. It has been recorded in multiple studies that patients in hospitals and clinics, for instance, feel better about their medical visits and procedures when their doctor, physician or other provider is wearing a lab coat.
Seeing as spa professionals have come to provide similar healthcare services, it only makes sense that this comforting symbol should translate.
Here is where lab coats for spa professionals are useful, though not in every traditional application. Normally, lab coats are worn primarily to protect the wearer from medical and laboratory hazards.
For spa professionals, biohazards and dangerous chemicals might not be high on the list of concerns, but they still need to worry about working with oils, powders, and lotions, not to mention handling the human body.
Any chemicals or substances, including those used in holistic spa treatments, can irritate skin and do damage to clothing. And so, in spas the lab coat does continue to be a protective barrier.
Another major part of functionality of lab coats in hospitals, specifically, is to help keep important items on one’s person. Crucial guide books, notebooks, stethoscopes and other important healthcare tools can be stored in the pockets of the coats. While a stethoscope probably won’t be essential in a spa, having a place to keep oils, towels and other tools earns its utility day after day. In fact, this capability extends as a solution to a larger problem: the frustrating lack of pockets in women’s clothing.
The lack of pockets in women’s clothing is one of the biggest reasons why designer lab coats are so important for women in science and medicine. For men, the debate over whether or not lab coats are “essential” can go either way thanks to trouser pockets. For women, however, the pockets in lab coats are essential.
What can be even more frustrating for women in spas and clinics is that lab coats are often unisex, and unisex is the age-old code for “vaguely made to fit men and hopefully not inconvenience women too much.” This can lead to everything from inconvenience to discomfort.
This is where designer lab coats come in—a lab coat that offers all the functional and safety benefits that it should, and which is also made to fit women well. Professionalism can look good again.
A growing community
What was briefly a relaxation-centered industry in the West has become a welcome addition to the healthcare industry and, rightfully so, has been adopting the white lab coat status. Science comes in all shapes and sizes, and its attire will not be contained to hospital walls and laboratories forever.