The short answer? Yes. Long answer? Here’s some nuance.
I was inspired to tackle this topic after seeing this helpful yet hilarious video by YouTube queen Safiya Nygaard, and being a bad bitch who loves herself some spa treatments.
Interestingly, the numbers would say that most people seem to agree given that Pricewaterhouse Coopers found that the spa industry generates about $18.3 billion worldwide, and is celebrating its ninth consecutive year of revenues exceeding that of the prior year.
But I was a tax accountant before I started shitposting to you beautiful people, and I know that there’s always a story not being told behind numbers. Statisticians are mere mercenaries. Those numbers sound bizarre in a Western context given that spa days are considered luxurious here, while other cultures see them as this pillar of health and wellness. Especially when a staggering number of Americans can’t even afford a $400 emergency, even if wealthier parts of the US make this statistic seem unbelievable. That $18.3 billion does account for revenues internationally after all, so this would include things like resorts and “destination” spas where it’s common to splurge, and not solely day spas where you get a treatment and hang out in the pool for a few hours, then go home.
Ergo, home spa products became a popular niche in the US. When you can’t afford to go to the spa, the spa comes to you. Need a gift that says “I tried” to that office Secret Santa you’re reluctantly participating in and didn’t want to just get a $15 Starbucks gift card and call it a day? You probably hit up the “finds” section at Aldi and grabbed one of their home spa goods, if you’re not re-gifting one from a friend who didn’t want it. Or you’d love to take the day off but can’t, so you make do with a battery-powered shoulder massager.
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So to be clear, this treatise is not a classist one but merely one of critiquing the practicality. Home spa goods have a nice intent but are sadly a worse idea than Take Your Burmese Python to Work Day.
They’re Incredibly Messy
This was definitely my biggest point of contention that made me believe home spa products are a total waste of money. As Home Stratosphere’s resident expert on thimble-sized living spaces, let me say that most home spa products were not designed for your average New York City apartment. After all, ours is a culture where you spend as little time in your actual domicile as possible.
Some of the larger products in Safiya Nygaard’s video, like the portable jacuzzi and individual sauna that turns you into a human baked potato, were clearly intended for the average suburban house that has enough space in the yard or a spare room to store and use them. But even your smaller and medium-sized spa goods can just end up being this exercise in futility that feels like trying to pick up toenail clippings from the carpet while wearing oven mitts.
Take foot baths. As someone who has had a plethora of foot problems my entire adult life, with four different foot surgeries to date, I’ve tried more footbaths than Judge Judy has tried deadbeat dads.
Amazon has a million varieties of foot baths, some that have rollers and multiple settings, and others that have fewer bells and whistles but are meant to be plugged in somewhere to distribute soothing warm water and vibrations to your aching feet. But whether you’re buying the $30 or $120 model, they all have the same problem: you need to fill it with water, then when you’re done using it, try to empty it without making a huge mess on either trip.
If you manage not to spill it anywhere in your home, congratulations, you are literally a freak of nature.
While not all spa products have this problem, foot baths are definitely one of the big culprits for causing a huge mess. They’re one of those experiences that people love to have at spas and nail salons. After all, your feet are the pillar of your body and there’s almost no better way to relax. Because we constantly walk on them, it doesn’t take long for them to start hurting again too. Foot massages and pedicures are definitely one of the few bits of respite you can get when you have chronic foot pain.
But aside from having someone else use their hands and/or specialized equipment on your feet, it’s hard to create this relaxing experience when you have to do all this prep work in your home and after your attempt at a home spa experience. After you’ve gotten your chill on, do you really want to spend the rest of the evening hanging up soggy towels? I sure as hell don’t. If I’m supposed to be relaxing, the last thing I want to worry about is if I still got enough clean towels on hand after this.
Maybe that’s not a big deal if you have a washer and dryer on the premises and can easily do laundry, whereas it requires some orchestration on my part to get enough together to justify calling my laundry service since shitty old pre-war buildings tend to lack laundry on the premises. But even then– who wants to do a load of laundry after trying to RELAX? Screw that! It’s like rolling around in mud after you just got out of the shower.
It’s not a “relaxing” and “energizing” experience dragging a foot bath to the bathtub, filling it with water (or making several trips with a bucket for this), using it for maybe 20 minutes until my feet get all pruny, just to make them sore again by being on my feet another half hour in lugging the foot bath back to the bathtub to go empty it then mopping up the inevitable mess it makes.
Setting all this shit up and having to put it away is about as relaxing as getting a Pap smear on the set of Saw. No thanks.
You’re Highly Likely to Use the Product Incorrectly
Footbaths, while messier than a gaggle of caffeinated kindergarteners set loose in a Chuck E Cheese, are at least pretty easy and straightforward to use. Unless you’re diabetic or have blood clot issues, they also don’t present much of a safety risk aside from slipping in the damn water they inevitably spill.
When it comes to other sad attempts to replicate a real spa experience though, such as facial misters, the dizzying array of masks and other products that you need a professional esthetician to decode, and the “human baked potato” sauna kits out there, you’re probably more likely to risk a serious injury. Or if not injure yourself, just wind up scraping a bunch of cheap face mask off with a washcloth which could end up being the wrong type for your skin.
To circle back to foot products, foot massagers without the bath part are one of those things that people often use incorrectly because they’re built with this “one size fits all” approach that really isn’t good if your feet don’t fit into whatever arbitrary “average” the manufacturer chose. They can end up punching up at the wrong parts of your feet or worsening already-godawful conditions like plantar fasciitis. I’ve had both percussion and shiatsu massagers that provided almost no relief, and just snarfed up D-cells like a whole frigging police squadron’s flashlights.
And I was probably using them incorrectly, to boot. I had one decent percussion massager that I went “bareback” with until it died that just had two massage nodes per foot, one on the ball and the other on the heel, and I know I was definitely not following the instruction manual because what the designers thought was foot pain was absolute child’s play compared to what I suffered with for over 10 years.
At least when you get the real thing, you’re in a setting with trained professionals who can show you how to use the self-serve equipment if you’re not getting a service.
The Best Part of the Spa Experience is Leaving the Damn House
That’s really what it comes down to.
Depending on where you live, you might have a day spa you can just get a pass for that doesn’t require booking services you might be unable to afford. There are usually things like pools, saunas, and steam rooms that you can hit up and you don’t have to worry about having to wash more towels than a frigging Sheraton when you’re done. You put them in a designated basket and leave.
Unless you’re wealthy enough to build an actual facility within your home that’s amenable to both professional-grade and the nicer end of home spa products, you’re better off just saving your money to indulge in the real thing occasionally. I mean, if you can afford a digital shower experience and a $7,000 toilet that plays your favorite songs, sure, add a foot bath that functions like a mini pool. Why the hell not. Good luck ever selling that home, but sure, it TOTALLY saves money compared to going away to Palm Springs for the weekend!
Though if having to wash a shitload of towels is your idea of relaxation, I’m not going to kinkshame. Knock yourself out.
Rachel Presser is a crazy toad lady from the Bronx who was exiled to New Jersey, spending a significant chunk of her youth where all the hideous 1970s couch covers and avocado shag carpeting went to die. Upon escaping the sea of brown and founding Sonic Toad Media, she decided to devote her time to writing from the fantastically-preserved Googie artifacts in LA and former speakeasies in Chicago, to forging new game worlds in the tea lounges of Taipei and Tokyo. She can be found at game jams, hardcore shows, vaporwave dance parties, and petting amphibians on a sensible corner loveseat.