Spa Glossary

A handy guide to spa and beauty treatment terms and techniques

Spa terms A-Z

Don't know your rasul from your reiki? Unsure if you'd prefer a facial or a flotation session? No need to be overwhelmed, our glossary is here to help. There's something here for the spa newbie and the more experienced spa goer - read on to learn more.

Glossary definitions

Acupressure massage

A massage incorporating pressure to specific points on the body, thought to stimulate energy flow in immune and hormone systems (like acupuncture but without needles).


Chinese treatment dating back more than 2500 years, using fine needles on specific trigger points throughout the body to stimulate the energy flow in immune and hormone systems in specific areas of the body to bring it back into balance.

Afternoon tea

Traditionally this consists of tea (the drink), accompanied by a tiered cake stand holding three courses - sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, and cakes. Usually upgradable to include a sparkling wine or cocktails. Sometimes referred to as ‘high tea’. See also: Cream tea.


Using essential oils to to help soothe, heal, energise or relax the body.

Aromatherapy massage

As above, but applied to the body in the form of a massage.


Traditional Hindu medicine, based on the idea of balance in the bodily systems. In spas, this usually includes massage, shirodhara and other skin treatments, yoga and herbal medicine.

Bamboo massage

Bamboo massage aims to deliver stress relief, strengthen muscles, support lymphatic drainage and improve circulation by using bamboo canes to massage muscles on a deep level, as well as stretch them and target reflexology points.

Bath broom

Also known as a besom, a bath broom is typically made with the branches and leaves of a tree or shrub which secretes aromatic oils (eg pine, birch, fir, eucalyptus). The branches and leaves are then dried and tied to form a handle. The broom is used to massage and stimulate a bather's skin and generate heat in saunas.

Bucket shower

A bucket filled with cold water, with rope attached. Used to cool down swiftly as part of a thermal journey. See also: Plunge pool; Thermal suite.


The definition of caldarium seems to vary from spa to spa. In practice it is comparable to the tepidarium and laconium, ie a warm room to relax in or help the body temperature adjust more gradually as part of a ‘thermal journey’. Sometimes has a warm plunge pool as well. See also: Thermal suite.

Candle massage

A massage using oil warmed over a burning candle.


A 4000 year old belief, based in Hinduism, that there are 7 centres of spiritual power in the human body, known as chakras. Each of the chakras has its own unique character and colour. Chakra therapy is about bringing these centres into balance through meditation or massage. See also: Ayurvedic.

Couples massage / Dual room

A massage experience for more than one person at once, in a double treatment room. Each guest is on a separate treatment bed and is massaged by a separate therapist. Sometimes the therapists synchronise their movements so guests feel the same pressures at the same time.


Dating back to ancient Egypt in 1500 BC but also seen in China and the Middle East, cupping involves the therapist putting a flammable substance such as alcohol, herbs or paper in a glass cup and holding a flame to it so it catches light. As the flame goes out, they put the cup upside down on your skin. The air inside the cup then cools and creates a vacuum. This causes your skin to rise slightly into the cup, and redden as your blood vessels expand. The cup is generally left in place for up to 3 minutes. Sometimes therapists use silicone cups, which they can move around on your skin for a massage-like effect. It is thought to help with pain, inflammation, blood flow, relaxation and well-being, and as being like a type of deep tissue massage.

Cream tea

Traditionally this is tea (the drink), served with scones, jam and cream. See also: Afternoon tea.


Any treatment that involves the use of freezing or near-freezing temperatures. The most popular form of cryotherapy involves sitting in a booth at -110 degrees C for 3-5 minutes. Other treatments use a handheld cryotherapy device to target specific areas, such as the face or a painful joint. It’s thought to improve circulation, speed up healing/ recovery and relieve pain.

Crystal therapy

The spiritual belief that gemstones have healing and energising powers. Most commonly seen in spa treatments are quartz and jade.

Deep tissue massage

Massage that focuses on realigning deeper layers of muscles and connective tissue. It is especially helpful for chronic aches and pains and tight/stiff areas such as neck, back, legs and shoulders. The pressure will generally be more intense than a massage intended primarily for relaxation.


Treatments with ground diamond dust in them are thought to provide superior microdermabrasion (diamonds are after all the hardest substance known to man), and of course they have the luxury element that makes them even more attractive to guests looking to really indulge. Diamond can be applied by way of a paste or a handheld device with a diamond tip.

Essential oil

Natural oil distilled from plants (ie their essence), used in aromatherapy. Stored in dark glass bottles as sunlight deteriorates the quality.