My First Time Back at the Spa in 2020, Visiting Hand & Stone in Hoboken

by Abby Montanez

When thinking back to pre-pandemic times, there’s a lot we took for granted. For those of us in relationships, maybe you missed your alone time. Or if you’re single, any kind of human interaction. What about the luxury of shopping in a fully-stocked supermarket? Or just the ability to get a haircut? I, like many others, was no longer able to uphold my self-care routine. My blonde hair turned brassy. My sensitive skin was at odds with the idea of wearing a mask. And my shoulders felt as if they were hiked up to my ears—and that’s because they were, for six straight months. Would I have killed for a massage to relieve some tension? Yes. But what would my, or anyone else’s, first time back at the spa actually look like in 2020?

Back in March, New Jersey’s lockdown orders prevented personal care facilities such as nail salons, tattoo parlors and spas from servicing their clients. But as of late June, these businesses have since reopened with new protocols in place. That being said, we’re seeing the highest level of hygiene and sanitation being carried out. Of course, cleanliness in a spa setting has always been top of mind, but so are things like relaxation. And when you’ve decided that it’s finally time to take the literal weight of a pandemic off your chest, you want to feel safe.

With a pent-up desire for a day of pampering, I decided to take that leap and head over to Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa in Hoboken. In 2020, would my first time back at the spa be comfortable or straight clinical? Hand sanitizer, plexiglass dividers and PPE? Here’s what you need to know.

How Are Spas Ensuring Your Safety?

For facilities like Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa in Hoboken, which reopened four months ago, ensuring client and staff safety means establishing additional safety and sanitation practices. “We’ve implemented all these new processes, even beyond what the CDC and DOH told us to do,” explained owner Komal Desai. “We have fewer people working at a time, which is better for social distancing purposes and we’ve seen the demand slowly start to build back up. Understandably, clients are still nervous. But, I would rather people feel safe than anything else.”

Desai has Chief Operating Officer, Rani Houlis, at the helm of Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa in Hoboken. She is responsible for making sure the facility follows all the guidelines New Jersey has set in place for personal care businesses. This includes adopting enhanced cleaning practices and operating by appointment only. This is in addition to complying with social distancing, temperature checks and the use of PPE by employees and guests. 

First Time Back at the Spa in 2020

At Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa in Hoboken, face coverings are worn by everyone at all times. And any guest who is getting a massage must do so wearing a mask (yes, even when you’re face down). This decision was made to ensure the absolute safety of both the recipient and provider—since treatment rooms are historically small, intimate spaces.

A facial is the only instance where one’s mask can be removed, but your aesthetician will be wearing both a mask and a face shield. “It’s just a double layer of protection,” said Desai. 

Pre-screening Protocols

Part of Hand & Stone’s “contact-lite” process is limiting the number of check-in and check-out interactions. The day before my appointment, I was emailed a client intake form and health waiver to fill out virtually. This touch-free, paperless approach applies to final payment and gratuities as well. 

Upon arrival, guests are instructed to call the spa before entering. I had the option of waiting outside or in my car before being brought inside. Desai explained to me that this is to limit the amount of traffic in the lobby area. When it was time to go in, I had my temperature taken at the front door and was led to the treatment room by my therapist.

New Sanitation Standards

As part of the Hand & Stone reopening plan, all employees were required to pass a Spa Sanitation and Illness Prevention course before returning to work. This included performing a practical assessment, which meant demonstrating key protocols like proper handwashing.

First Time Back at the Spa in 2020

An aggressive cleaning schedule for the entire spa has also been put in place which applies to treatment rooms and common areas such as the lobby and bathroom. Each treatment room, after it’s been properly sanitized, is marked with a tag that lets employees know it’s ready to be used. Each of the therapists at Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa in Hoboken has been given two treatment rooms in order to maximize their turndown time.

Appointments have also been staggered to allow for deep sanitization. This includes thoroughly wiping down all surfaces (and tools) in the room—including clothing hangers, light switches, doorknobs—with hospital-grade disinfectants. This is in addition to replacing single-use linens, which they have since transitioned to using.

So, What’s It Like Getting a Massage?

It’s no surprise that the demand for massages has gone up. Hand & Stone especially has praised the physical benefits of massage therapy which includes relieving muscle and tissue tension, increasing blood flow and promoting relaxation. A massage can also be good for your mental health (hello, isolation) by relieving symptoms associated with depression and anxiety such as headaches or insomnia.

If you’re anything like me, maybe your WFH posture could use some straightening out. Or if you quarantined at your parent’s house, that childhood bed you slept in all those months could’ve wreaked havoc on your back. I also have trouble relaxing, so I opted to enhance my treatment with CBD oil (highly recommended, no pun intended). I also tried their peppermint scalp massage, which provides additional relaxation and a calm mind. Yes, please!

First Time Back at the Spa in 2020

Photo by Joe Epstein /

When entering the treatment room, my therapist Sandra gave me a detailed rundown of all the safety protocols that were already carried out and that she would be taking during the session. Each therapist must wash their hands thoroughly before starting (after the guest has undressed) and then they will administer hand sanitizer into the palm of the guest’s hands. A tricky, yet comical, maneuver to do while facing down, but I managed. And as previously mentioned, I was asked to keep my mask on during the entire session. I actually forgot it was even on, so my experience was by no means hindered.

How Have Facial Treatments Changed?

TBH, not much. Most obviously, service providers are required to wear both a mask and a face shield for protection. And that’s because if you’re getting a facial treatment, you’ll need to forgo your own face covering. Behind the scenes, treatment rooms are thoroughly sanitized after each appointment, in addition to any tools that are used. If you’re confused as to why one would consider getting a facial post-pandemic, ever heard of stress-related breakouts and “maskne”?

When I was greeted by my aesthetician Martha, even though her face was fully covered, I could still sense her enthusiasm. After I took my place, she started off by asking me about my current skincare and makeup routine. The answer is that both are essentially non-existent since March. Since I hadn’t received a facial in close to a year, Martha suggested we hit the reset button by using a treatment known as dermalinfusion.

First Time Back at the Spa in 2020

This three-in-one machine extracts dead cells, dirt and debris while exfoliating and infusing the skin with serums. The results are a brighter, smoother complexion that lasts up to two weeks. Now, I had never undergone this type of facial before, but it’s the only kind I want from now on. The treatment was painless (the sensation is almost suction-like) and most importantly, left no marks or redness behind. This was followed up by traditional facial techniques like extractions and a cooling face mask.

What to Know Before You Go

If you’re still nervous, as 2020 has made many of us feel, do your research and ask questions. Just like I did during my first time back at the spa. Check the company’s website to find out what safety practices they’re adhering to. Have your service providers walk you through the steps. Ask about their training. Ultimately, the choice is up to you when deciding if you feel comfortable enough to return.

As an exclusive offer for our readers, Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa in Hoboken is offering a one-hour massage for $59.99 if you mention “The Digest” at checkout. To book your appointment, call (201) 817-6832.

Main image by Joe Epstein

About the Author/s

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Abby is The Digest's Managing Editor. She spends her time looking at dogs on Instagram and eating her way around Jersey City.

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