personal protective equipment to reopen a massage business

Earlier this month, the International SPA Association (ISPA) released its Spa Reopening Toolkit, a collection of resources designed to provide spas with the information they need to safely reopen their businesses as the COVID-19 crisis eases.

While much of this information is geared toward spa owners and directors and the unique challenges they face — educating and training their teams, sanitizing saunas, communicating with vendors — there is much that is applicable to massage therapists working as sole practitioners.

Among the tools ISPA released are sanitation and hygiene standards, communications templates and a thorough reopening checklist, all of which can be adapted for the sole massage practitioner. Regardless of whether you perform in-home services or see clients in a dedicated commercial space, these tools can help you prepare for the resumption of normal business when the time is right.

Focus on the Customer Experience

If you’re reading this as a massage therapist employed by a spa, much of the burden of resuming normal operations will fall to your spa director — there will likely be spa attendants or custodial staff responsible for sanitizing rooms between services, your spa’s leadership team will stay on top of current laws and regulations, and your spa director will handle client communication and marketing strategy, all of which will allow you to focus purely on delivering exceptional experiences to your clients.

However, if you’re a sole practitioner, these tasks will likely fall to you as you resume seeing clients, and these resources should help you navigate the process.

Sanitation and Hygiene

As you might guess, sanitation and hygiene will be front-of-mind for your clients when you resume massage services; before you begin scrubbing and sanitizing, it pays to know a few key terms. As defined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

  • Cleaning removes germs by using soap (or detergent) to clean a surface.
  • Disinfecting kills germs by using chemicals.
  • Sanitizing is the reduction of germs on a surface to a safe level, a state which is attained by cleaning or disinfecting.

Sanitization is the goal; cleaning and disinfecting are the methods.

For hard surfaces, ISPA recommends using an EPA-registered disinfectant to clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces such as tables and doorknobs.

For soft, porous surfaces, ISPA recommends cleaning the surface with soap and water.

What Needs Sanitizing?

If you provide massage services in a space which you own or lease, you will need to properly sanitize any surfaces contacted by a client during his or her service. This may include doorknobs, tables, sink handles and bathroom facilities in addition to the massage table itself.

When handling any linens, first put on disposable gloves. Then, place the linens in a hamper or bag, or take them directly to a washing machine. Wash the linens in the warmest appropriate water and dry them completely. Afterward, disinfect the hamper or bag used to store the linens, remove your gloves and wash your hands with soap and warm water.

The recommended sanitation guidelines in the ISPA Spa Reopening Toolkit are not only designed to ensure the safety of clients: They’re also to ensure the safety of the therapists.

Spa Guest Responsibilities

It’s important that you encourage guests to reschedule appointments if they are sick or have recently been sick. If you typically charge last-minute cancellation or rescheduling fees, consider waiving these fees.

Politely ask your guests to wash their hands before their service.

Lastly, ISPA recommends leaving enough time between bookings to properly sanitize all of your equipment, even if that means fewer bookings than usual. We’re all eager to return to normal and serve as many clients as possible — but part of that means remaining healthy and able to work.

Tell Clients What to Expect

Properly sanitizing surfaces and equipment is critical, but so is instilling clients’ confidence in your sanitation procedures.

ISPA’s new resources recommend starting the process well before clients begin booking services: Send out a “welcome back” email to your client base. There is a customizable template for this email available as part of the ISPA Spa Reopening Toolkit. In this email, describe the enhanced sanitation protocols you’re following and the steps you’re taking to keep clients healthy.

Additionally, share what you expect of clients.

If you’re considering special rates for returning customers, include those in this initial email.

Once a client has reached out to you to book a treatment, ISPA suggests sending them a confirmation email that details what they can expect when they arrive at your treatment space or when you arrive at their home. Clear and frank communication about what you are doing — and what the client needs to do — to ensure mutual safety will go a long way toward making the client more comfortable in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Precautions for During the Massage

As for the massage service itself, you may want to consider modifying it to reduce the touching of higher-risk areas, such as the face and hands. Temporarily eliminating hand and face massage elements will keep both you and your client safer — but be sure to alert your client to any changes at the time of booking. Regardless, ISPA recommends washing your hands both before and after your treatment in the presence of the client.

Wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) should also be considered. Currently, requisitioning virtually any PPE is difficult; while spas may have access to PPE due to their deep connections with large-scale suppliers, the sole massage practitioner will likely struggle to procure PPE.

If you have the ability to sew your own reusable mask, ISPA recommends doing so and wearing it throughout the treatment. Afterward, launder it following the guidelines for linens discussed above.

Additionally, you may want to consider wearing gloves during the treatment itself, not just while handling linens and disinfecting surfaces. This is a contentious idea, with many in the massage and spa industry arguing that it reduces the efficacy of massage and hampers a therapist’s ability to create an exceptional experience. However, it might be worth offering on a client-by-client basis upon request.

Know the Rules Before You Reopen

Before any of the guidelines presented in the ISPA Spa Reopening Toolkit are followed, be sure to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of any currently applicable laws, executive orders and ordinances at the local, state and national levels. Regulations are changing by the day. Staying up to date will allow you to act quickly and confidently as the situation evolves.

As an independent massage therapist, the legal, moral and ethical responsibilities of offering massage during this pandemic will fall on your shoulders. Fortunately, we all know the remedy for overworked shoulders: massage.

Editor’s note: For more coronavirus resources, visit MASSAGE Magazine’s coronavirus page.