5 Spa Tips to Prepare for the Flotus

A couple of weeks ago I went to my doctor for a checkup. He told me that he wanted to draw blood for lab work to complete the exam. I felt perfectly healthy so I saw absolutely no reason to be tortured by the process of having a piece of metal jabbed into my arm. After a stare down (which he won) I allowed myself to be taken to the “blood room”.  This really sharp older nurse with silver gray hair came in.  I could tell that she was “seasoned” by the way she tapped on my veins to prep for the draw. I shut my eyes tightly and began to do Lamaze breathing like I was about to pop out triplets. A few seconds later she asked me why I was breathing like that. “To prepare for the needle” I said. “Well you can stop now; I already took your blood”.


What’s the lesson in this? Everyone is not the same. People who perform the same job always have different levels of skill.

Unfortunately when it comes to spa-ing, expertise of brown skin is often low. For women of color poor experiences have occurred so often that it is now an expectation and standard. I had a conversation with a client and she admitted that she thought facials were supposed to be painful because each experience she had had was such. She said her mother had warned her against coming to the spa because her skin might be irreversibly damaged. Destiny fulfilled. In fact that does not have to be the case but here’s what you need to know;


Facials don’t hurt. If you are going to someone who causes you pain, they are probably damaging your skin. Stop going immediately!


Your skin is not taught in depth at esthetic schools. Therefore you are always on the lower end of someone’s learning curve unless they consciously seek out ethnic skin clients. You must find someone who specifically understands how your skin works. Make her your new BFF.


You deserve a quality experience. Before you spend your money with a spa ensure that you will receive knowledgeable skin care by requesting an expert.  Do not book the appointment if they don’t have one. It’s important that you tell them why. Wouldn’t you do that for your hair?


Your skin deserves a consultation. Don’t just go blindly to any facialist. Get a consultation first to determine if she is a good match for you.


You are not alone. This is a prevailing issue that’s not going away because 80% of the world has brown skin; the spa industry has to catch up.

Blackheads and Ethnic Skin

black spa

Dealing with blackheads can be tricky because removing them without damaging the skin depends on so many factors. How long they’ve been in the skin, what daily regimen is used, if you’re  a person of color; these are all critical issues which come into play.   But one thing is for sure-the skin has be prepped accordingly prior to extraction. When you’re dealing with ethnic skin it is extremely important that the skin has been properly exfoliated and warmed first before attempting blackhead removal.

As a rule, I am not a big fan of using metal extractors for brown skin because the potential to cause damage and hyperpigmentation is great and generally not worth the risk.

For more insight on blackheads and ethnic skin watch my video from Ethnic Skin Series-‘How to get rid of a Blackhead’   http://youtu.be/Co7uPF_oyEE

Interview with Ms.Aude Koch-Spa Directrice of La Mamounia-Marrakech, Morocco

the Spa at Sandy Lane, a Leading Spa of the World,  first caught my attention when I read about its internship program for young hospitality students from SJPP Institute. Upon completion of the Massage and Esthetic program, all students are interviewed in groups of four at Sandy Lane, over a four week period, and then two are selected by Spa Manager Tracey Archer for immersion training across all areas of The Spa. If successful the students have an opportunity to become part of her spa team, Conde Nast rated the  “Best in the Caribbean”.

interivew spa

1. What is the composition of your staff and what qualities do you look for?

Technical skill is very important along with people skills and a positive attitude, as we’re obviously rated on the guest’s experience! I will always hire for attitude first, as a skill can be taught and enhanced, once you come with the correct qualifications to start with.  I have 14 therapists. Three are from India, one is from Thailand the others are local so it’s a really good mix and blend. The therapists who are from overseas bring traditional Thai. All of my therapists are trained again by international trainers so that when you mesh the different elements, you achieve the perfect treatment.

 How did you become Spa Manager of Sandy Lane (SL)? 

 I lived in New York, London and Miami for 17 years. I came back here in 2001. I was originally to run another spa on the island but was offered a job here which worked out better as I had recently had the deaths of my Father and Grandfather and wanted to spend more time with my Mother which SL allowed me to do. I initially started at SL in 2001 as a therapist, six months later I was given the position of head therapist. I did this for five years. Events occurred, and in between one Spa Director leaving and another coming, and the then Assistant Spa Director going on maternity leave at the same time, I was then given the opportunity by the General Manager at that time, to run the operation , he had that faith in me and said” Give Tracey a chance” and it paid off! So for 3 months I was on my own with the team.  I ended up doing the two jobs of the former people above me and did it well.

3. But what was your formal or corporate managerial training to that point or did it develop organically?

 No, I had 2 degrees, one in paramedical skin care and one in Sports Massage therapy from The Florida College of Natural Health in Miami. I’ve been in management since I was 21 in London at Miss Selfridges, which is a hot, trendy set of retail stores and then I also managed Savannah, an upscale restaurant on South Beach for a year, before the restaurant was sold to China Grill, and that is when I pursued my studies in this field. I also assisted in managing a skin care clinic for Wilma Schuman in Coral Gables in Miami, alongside working on professional athletes doing sports massage therapy, so I am well rounded in all areas. To me management is basically the same; you just apply it to that area.

4.  How important is training to you?

I believe training is paramount. I believe the more knowledge you have the happier our guests are going to be and everyone should have the same knowledge-impart as much as you can. So I’m the one who started the idea of bringing in international trainers to give accreditation for the therapists yearly. Every year we invest in bringing people here to train all the therapists-doesn’t matter if it’s Lomi-Lomi, Thai, Shiatsu. We just finished cranial sacral and myofascial last month. All of the trainers I bring here are internationally certified so they are able to certify our staff. This is extremely important because it’s what our guests expect-they’re very spa savvy. In therapy the more knowledge you have the guests will trust you, they will want to come back because they’ll see that the results are better and the treatment is more than just slapping a product on and rubbing it in.

5.   What is that you do to stay at the top of your game with relationship to the rest of the world?

 We have a Research and Development committee here at Sandy Lane and I am the chairperson. So anything that is new in the industry or has to do with hotel or spa, we do research on it to make sure that we are in the forefront of where everybody else is. We always try to be a step ahead.

Now naturally that doesn’t always happen, there are always people ahead of you and you may be trying to catch up.  

 6.  Clearly your owner is a “spa person”.

All the owners are “spa persons” especially one, he is a true Spa goer. The Spa was originally supposed to have many more treatment rooms than we currently have, which are 14, however, more rooms would mean smaller rooms and would not be luxurious enough. When people see our rooms they’re shocked at how huge they are, because you know how most treatment rooms are. Our rooms are all en suite with bathrooms and showers, and all except two that have skylights have outdoor patios with either hydrotherapy pools in 3 of them, and the rest have running streams so you always hear the sound of water.  The rooms are extremely luxurious and opulent and upgrades are done regularly. With regard to one of the owners, if you have good ideas for the spa as well, he listens to them, and if feasible and will enhance what is currently here, he will not say no. The heat facility area is an example; when the hotel was first built-originally there was just a small ice cave, and a small little sauna. In 2008, substantial investment was spent renovating that entire area, pulling down the original structure and increasing the area by almost triple the original size. Now we have 3 cold showers, two warm showers, a huge cold room, a panoramic sauna room and a steam room/ rhassoul– we have the only rhassoul in the Caribbean. One owner is in every day for a treatment and to use the gym once he is on the island, and all the owners just love and believe in the Spa. The ironic thing is we never thought the spa would take on a life of its own which it has. We’re just a standalone spa-not like the Mandarin or Four Seasons. We didn’t think it would become so popular.

But the spa is beautiful, how could it not?

We are extremely well renowned in Britain and parts of Europe but we are still being discovered in the states and other parts of the world. It’s only when Tiger Woods got married here and then of course Serena Williams stayed here for the tennis tournament 2 years ago, people were like “oh yes- Sandy Lane!”

8.  You have quite a few celebrated guests coming to the hotel. Is it ever a challenge for you or your staff to avoid becoming “star struck”?

 Anyone will tell you that Barbadian’s don’t really care about that. It’s natural to Barbadian cultural.  They’re as important as you; they just do something different for a living. So the guests love to come here because they love the privacy. They’re not being chased by staff. It’s a beautiful thing.

9.  Which of your spa treatments best represents the Sandy Lane Spa?

First we have our own branded signature massage oils called Sunrise and Sunset, created for us by Aromatherapy Associates which we use to massage in our Signature treatments and also as the burning oils, which can be smelled throughout the entire Spa. We needed a treatment that was indigenous to Barbados so my therapists created this;

We have a Wild Coconut massage oil created by a local company which we  incorporate in the scrub with Barbados brown sugar and coconut gratings, which are warmed in the hot cabby and depending on the coarseness of the scrub the guest requests, we can add more sugar or more gratings accordingly and customize it. We then apply mud and wrap you in banana leaves, which cool the skin. While you’re wrapped, we give you a head massage and when that finishes, you take a shower, and the treatment concludes with a 45 minute massage with the same Wild coconut massage oil. Then a Bajan lunch is served in the treatment room for the final hour, where you can enjoy the splendor of the outdoor patio by relaxing by the hydro pool while eating. This is a 2 1/2 hr treatment, and we have kept everything “Bajan”.

 10.  As a Spa Manager, which areas do you feel are the greatest challenges with staff?

 Hmm, I’m just lucky because of my personality and the staff that I have. You see, I’ve grown with them- I’m not a dictator. My motto is “Do unto to others as you would have them do unto you” and I live that way. It works beautifully here; I can’t treat you differently than I would expect someone to treat me.

I get a very strong sense Tracey that you try to catch people doing something right?

That’s me. I have my own internal spa achievement awards that I put up every month outside of the product incentives. Staff’s pictures are displayed on the wall as recognition and I give them something, it is always a surprise! I rented a villa last week and had a Spa Lime for all of us with everyone’s kids invited, as I believe it is important for everyone to bond outside the work environment and kick back and relax, really get to know each other and their families. We do this every single year, and last year I took everyone to a hotel for a weekend retreat, that was great fun! You have to appreciate what people do; if you don’t, nothing else that you do matters. A thank you goes a long way. And you’d be surprised; people will bend over backwards for you, it creates loyalty, and that’s what makes the difference, because the bottom line is-if your staff is happy, your guests are happy!  And you have to listen to your staff. You have to give people the time of day. Don’t cut them off-listen. When situations arise don’t just give your opinion. Listen to what they are saying. Be respectful to your people. And to me everyone in here is as important as the next, from my spa attendant to my therapist. They all play such an integral part. So we get all these accolades but I tell them ‘it’s not me who does the work it’s you all. The guests love you. So thank you for doing such a fabulous job because it makes me look good.’

11.  Winning the Conde Nast award for “Best Spa in the Caribbean” is quite an accomplishment. Do you feel awards affect your performance in any way? 

I naturally do what I do because I love it, not to get accolades, they just happen to come. Same as with my staff. They’re passionate about what they do so theawards come and they’re like “Hey this is not too bad”.  And I run my group as a team, so I’ll ask their opinion first on what works best for the guests. What could we do to entice people to come? I love for us to make a collective agreement. If I inflict things on them like a new modality they don’t believe in, they won’t want to do it. Everyone must embrace it and love it. Once you love it, the guests are going to feel it. It all comes down to that individual- what comes out of them. So I have to make sure all the time that they truly believe in what they do and that comes from having a part in the decision making.

12.  What are your thoughts on Social Media? 

Oh my God it’s fabulous. S L just really got into social media this year. Twitter, Facebook, brilliant! We just hired someone to do only social media, twittering every day. When Wayne Rooney (international soccer star) was here he was tweeting “I’m here at the Monkey Bar at Sandy Lane” and it was unreal how much response he received.  So we had to start.


13.  Looking forward do you see a change in the demographic of the typical spa client?

 Yes, because we have so many repeat guests at the hotel I’m seeing the children of the guests become clients. For example, we have a guest whose daughter was eight when they first came, now she’s 16 (allowable age) and she’s become a spa person.  It’s fabulous, she loves it. She’s like Kimora Lee’s (Simmons) girls, have you ever seen them?  They’re very spa savvy.

14.  Where do you see yourself five years from now?

 Right now I’m the spa manager but I see myself in the spa director’s role. Many of the things I do fall under that realm but I’m being grown into the role. I really love S L and this is not a chain so I want to stay here because I really love what I do.  But my goal is to make SL number one in every award there is and until I get there I’m going to keep trying.

           (Laughing) You’ll be going head to head with Christine Hays of the Oberoi for the best in the world.

Yes we shall, yes we shall and for the Caribbean that will be fabulous, that will be great.

Yes it would Tracey. It’s a wrap.


Bridal Facials (part 2)

A lot of girls love going to spas but if it’s a first time for you it can be a bit daunting. And if you’re looking for an esthetician who is knowledgeable about your skin it can seem like an insurmountable task. In Bridal Facials part I.

I recommended ways to find your own skin care guru. Assuming you were successful,  here is what you want to do to maximize the benefits of your time spent with her. First be on time. You’ll want to arrive at the spa early to enjoy the full experience and not have to rush your treatment. (Often if I am early I’ll take my client in the treatment room earlier just to spend more time discussing her initial treatment.) Be prepared to tell her what you use on your skin. She doesn’t really care about your MAC color palette. Know what you cleanse with, if you exfoliate and what moisturizer you use. I can’t tell you how often I’ll ask my clients what they use every day and they draw a blank. Don’t point out your zits and hyperpigmentation. That conversation is a waste of time. Your esthetician has eyes and she should be examining your skin through her loupe (magnifying lens). She probably sees more than you think she does. Also don’t tell her your skin type. She is a professional and can determine that herself. Often depending upon how you care for your skin it can masquerade as another skin type altogether so you may not really you’re your true skin type. For instance many people who have oily skin think it is dry because of the amount of dead cells adhering to the surface.


Your wedding date is extremely important because depending upon the condition of your skin more or less time must be spent to whip it into pristine shape for the big day. If you are getting married next weekend your esthy should never do anything that can cause trauma to the skin. Her only task should be to make it look beautiful. If your esthetician is highly regarded among brides listen to her closely. If what she is saying makes sense to you try and trust her. Remember she is the expert and this is uncharted territory for you. If you feel that she is just trying to sell you- get the basic facial only. If I know that a bride is wary of a more intensive treatment I will sometimes do a little extra that I know will make a huge difference in the beauty of their skin. I know that they will return post wedding because they see the results of their facial and trust me. Your facial should consist of the following basic steps:

Steaming (maybe)
Extraction (maybe)

If your wedding is months away and you decide to embark upon a full regimen follow what your esthy recommends to the letter. It makes no sense to invest in products and not use them. Finally you must drink as much water as possible to maximize the beauty of your skin. Water is free and one of the best beauty tools you can get.…

Quotes to Live By from Top Award Winning Spa Directors

In these unprecendented times of economic upheaval and spa growth the best leaders know that their staff’s performance and how they make their guest feel  is the ultimate key to success.

spa owners

Here, to begin 2012 with pearls of  wisdom are quotes to live by from some of the top award winning spa directors around the world. Apply their words wisely to your own situation and watch the magic begin.

“It is not only about the treatments or our amazing destinations, at the end of the day it’s about the guest experience. From the moment our guests arrive in our spas, all senses are activated. It’s the entire experience that matters.”

Christine Hays, Vice President of Operations-Oberoi Hotel & Resort, India. 2011 Hall of Fame winner and 2011 Travel & Leisure’s Best in Asia award rankings of 1st, 3rd and 4th  

“You have to appreciate what people do; if you don’t, nothing else that you do matters. A thank you goes a long way. And you’d be surprised; people will bend over backwards for you, it creates loyalty, and that’s what makes the difference, because the bottom line is-if your staff is happy, your guests are happy! And you have to listen to your staff. You have to give people the time of day. Don’t cut them off-listen”.

Tracey Archer, Manager-The Spa at Sandy Lane, Barbados. 2011 Leading Spa of the World & “Best Spa in the Caribbean”

“The front desk people are some of the most important of the spa. I don’t want to put more emphasis on one group over the other but they are the hosts of the party, the hosts of the day. They are the window to the spa; they are who clients have first contact with.”

Danuta Mieloch, Owner- Rescue Rittenhouse Spa, Philadelphia. Winner of “Best Spa” & “Best Facial” 6 consecutive years since 2004.

“Training is absolutely a key element of having the best team, enhancing their technical skills, knowledge and making them more confident and motivated in their work. We also have a dedicated training programme throughout the year to share new trends and treatments.”

Galina Antoniouck, Director-Caracalla Spa, Dubai.  2011 “Best Therapist”, “Best Treatment” and “Best Spa”.

 “In terms of product sales; here at La Mamounia our first priority is to respond to our client’s needs. We have taken a very conscious decision, not to use any “aggressive” sales technique and strangely enough we sell just as many products, as in other spas with far more aggressive methods. Can we improve? Absolutely. Only a fool rests on his laurels.”

Aude Koch, Directrice-La Mamounia, Marrakech, Morocco. 2011 “Best Hotel for Service” & “Best Hotel Spa in the World”

I strongly believe training is the key to success in any Spa’s operation. A combination of practical and theoretical training is great for the hosts. If a Spa doesn’t have its own Spa Trainer, a refresher training needs to be done every sixth month.

Carolina Moquist, Director-Six Senses, Zighy Bay, Oman. 2011 “Best Spa Design”, “Best Destination Spa”“Best Spa Director”

“‘Spa people’ are very different ‘creatures’ to ‘hospitality people’. I think they have natural caring personas and this certainly can be seen wherever you go in the world. Spa staff needs to be treated differently and understood; we are extremely sensitive people who have a passion for what we do.”

Jackie Avis, Director-The Oyster Box, Umhlanga Rocks, ZA. 2011 “Best Luxury Wellness Spa”