From Ancient Egypt to LA – The Evolution of SPA

Spas have seen amazing growth in popularity over the last few decades; with the idea of spas moving beyond something that is only for the very wealthy, to something that is accessible to a large majority of the population. It’s a growth that’s fueled in part by a generation of people who have an increased interest in self-care and alternative relaxation methods. But where did this all start? And how has their growth continued over the many centuries they have been in existence?

Baths of Caracalla in Rome, Italy
Baths of Caracalla in Rome, Italy

The health benefits of spas have been well known since before the pyramids were erected. Although the idea of gaining health from water wasn’t new, with Greek philosophers Thales to Hippocrates promoting bath for joint and overall health, the first public bath appeared in Rome during the reign of Caesar Augustus. Although primarily used by soldiers, there were more than 150 of them, making the sprawling city a mecca for spas. In fact, the oldest Roman spa still stands today, the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, Italy.

Although the Romans were the first to discover the healing property of the mineral waters in what is now Bath, England, these waters have been used consistently since then. Since the Romans, the idea of a spa has mutated to include common esthetics and massage, with facials and scrubs becoming more mainstream. Bath was popular through the Elizabethan era through current day with this destination spa even being prominently featured in several of Jane Austen’s novels.

Chalybeate Springs at The Royal Turnbridge Wells
Chalybeate Springs at The Royal Turnbridge Wells

Although the Romans built up much of the ancient spa culture, they weren’t the only ones to do so. In about 1326 an ironmaster in Belgium discovered the Chalybeate Springs and The Royal Turnbridge Wells were built around them. The sprawling destination city is still alive today, and although it has been greatly updated since then, the original stone baths still stand.

The idea and use of spas exploded around the world, from Japanese Ryoken to Turkish Hammam to Saunas in Finland. By the 17th century the medical field began subscribing the use of spas for many common ailments and health issues, with many skin treatments and massage being used alongside. By the 18th century, rolling bath machines were common, with peddlers selling the healing benefits of spas on wheeled carts.

Saratoga Springs Mineral Baths
Saratoga Springs Mineral Baths

Spas continued to boom around the world, driven in large part by the health benefits in a society where medicine was still in its infancy. During and after the American Revolution, spas continued to gain in popularity with the Saratoga Springs Mineral Baths becoming a popular and sought after destination by the elite. It was here that the use of mud on skin began to take popularity in modern spa culture.

In 1910 the first day spa opened in the united states, Manhattan’s Red Door, opened. This groundbreaking project by Elizabeth Arden set a standard that has been met and passed, with spas becoming a staple around the world.

Now, with this rich and diverse history you may be wondering where the spa culture has to go. The answer is up!

The number of spas in the United States has increased at a rate of 21% a year in the past five years, according to a Pricewaterhouse Coopers survey. In a three year span, spa visits have increased 84% with revenues surging 152%.

Red Door Spa by Elizabeth Arden
Red Door Spa by Elizabeth Arden

If you are looking for a career with a rich history and a vibrant future, the spa industry may be for you and an education in esthetics can help you get there. Check out our Esthetics programs to find out how you can be part of this rich, diverse, and historical culture.

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