The official Spa Secure seal.

NEW YORK — Emery boards — the ones with surfaces resembling sandpaper — ought to raise a red flag with nail salon goers. If not tossed in the trash after each use, they are breeding grounds for infection, explained Melinda Minton,...

NEW YORK — Emery boards — the ones with surfaces resembling sandpaper — ought to raise a red flag with nail salon goers. If not tossed in the trash after each use, they are breeding grounds for infection, explained Melinda Minton, founder of The Spa Association, a professional organization for the industry.

These, and other potentially unsanitary conditions, are addressed by Minton’s newest project: the Spa Secure seal.

After fielding frequent calls from consumers inquiring about what criteria they ought to consider when selecting a salon or spa, and spotting blatant safety hazards at several four-star spas here and in Los Angeles, Minton decided to create an international licensing system called Spa Secure to allow consumers to identify salons and spas that meet stringent health and safety standards, as outlined by SPAA.

Currently, the industry is regulated by state licensing systems. However, each state has its own set of regulations for health and safety standards and the amount of training technicians and therapists need to receive.

In her effort to draft a universal set of standards, Minton compiled the health and safety regulations from each of the states’ boards of barbers and cosmetologists, several related schools and fitness and massage boards. She then selected the best practices from each and adopted them for Spa Secure.

To obtain a Spa Secure seal, which salons and spas can include in their marketing materials and display in their front entrance, businesses must first pay an application fee, which ranges from $150 to $3,000 depending on the size of the facility and number of locations involved, and then submit to an inspection. Should a facility fail the inspection, the inspector gives the owner a list of violations to correct, and for an additional fee returns three months later for a follow- up examination.

If the facility meets the standards, it receives the Spa Secure seal for two years. Should it fail again, it will have to start the process over again the following year.

Businesses that obtain the license must then brace themselves for random audits by inspectors, who are hired by SPAA and have a minimum of 10 years of industry experience. Inspectors, with a checklist in hand, will pose as customers and ask for a service. The facility is then graded on the performance of that service.

This story first appeared in the September 3, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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Since the Spa Secure program launched in July, two New York City spas have signed on — Exhale and Oasis Day Spa’s One Park Avenue location.

“Spa Secure is about maintaining the highest standards of equipment, cleanliness and licensed staffing, and we support those standards,” said Jayme Del Rosario, director of marketing and public relations for Oasis Day Spa, adding, “We’d also like to see the [day spa] industry as a whole upgrade its image.”

Bruce Schoenberg, co-owner of Oasis Day Spa, said his hope is Spa Secure will raise consumers’ expectation of cleanliness to levels they’d expect at a hospital or restaurant.

Exhale’s spa director Laina Seplow said the seal will “set certain spas apart.” Oasis features the seal in its reception area, and plans to add the seal to its Web site.

By the end of the year, Minton expects to have 100 spas on board, and hopes to grow that number to 500 in 2005.

The success of the program hinges on getting the word out to consumers — and that remains Spa Secure’s biggest challenge, acknowledged Minton. She said that Spa Secure is relying heavily on the consumer press, which in recent years has embraced exposé stories on spas and salons. It is also aligning itself with organizations such as the resource guide Spa Finder to reach consumers.

For the time being, Spa Secure targets larger, higher-end nail and hair salons and day spas, and while its reach does not yet extend to medical spas, its licensing system has raised a few eyebrows from medical spa doctors. Bruce Katz, M.D., who is chairman of the Medical Spa Society and director of the Juva Skin & Laser Center in New York City, expressed concern that SPAA, a for-profit professional association, is making money from its licensing efforts. Fellow medical spa owner, Jeff Barson of the Surface Medical Spa in Park City, Utah, said words like “secure” and “licensed” may give consumers a false sense of security.

Security, said Minton, is exactly what the Spa Secure seal intends to provide for consumers. “At SPAA we’ve had people call — enough to cause concern — saying they had a chemical peel or laser hair removal that burned them. To me that says someone has to fix the problem,” Minton said.