Just how out-there will the world’s spas go to give you a healthy glow? Bird-poop facials in Manhattan and massages with slithering snakes in Israel might sound cringe-worthy, but they’ve been known to deliver terrific wellness benefits. These 10 bizarre spa treatments borrow leech saliva, sheep placenta, and more to help you steal back your youth, detox, and relieve stress—if you can get over the initial “ewww” factor.
Instead of woven twigs, feathers, and straw, the edible nests of swiftlets in southern Asia and the South Pacific are made almost entirely of bird saliva that hardens when it’s exposed to air. Throughout the region, chefs dissolve the protein-rich nests and serve them as bird’s-nest soup, a popular delicacy. The nests are also highly regarded as a centuries-old healing tonic in traditional Chinese medicine. They contain epidermal growth factor, a unique substance known for its skin-enhancing benefits. At The Spa at the Sun Siyam Iru Fushi in the Maldives, the nests are mixed with different herbs and made into a drinkable tonic. A doctor of traditional Chinese medicine administers the bird’s-nest treatment along with other traditional therapies.
Health and Beauty Benefits: It can aid in cell regeneration, boost immunity, and increase the resilience of the body from the damage of X-ray or other radiation. When mixed with herbs, it’s known to increase metabolism, strengthen the body, and ease asthma.
Sake Footbath And Cocoon Scrub
At Hyatt Regency Kyoto’s Riraku Spa in Japan, every treatment begins with a ritual footbath and scrub. Instead of infusing aromatic herbs into your footbath to calm you, this spa uses another muscle relaxant: alcohol. Sake is poured into hot water, and after a soak, your feet are massaged with fingers capped by tender silkworm cocoons. The fine, hairlike cocoon filament gently exfoliates dead skin and dirt from pores. Another aspect of the ritual is the steamed oriental herb ball with a custom blend of herbs that address your body’s specific needs.
Health and Beauty Benefits: The footbath and scrub can improve blood circulation for relaxation and moisturize the skin, giving it a gloss. If you’re adding on an acupuncture treatment, the steamed herbal ball can help dilate the blood vessels, pumping more blood and oxygen to enhance the effect.
Cost: Treatments vary in price. The Oriental Treatment is about $170 for 100 minutes and includes acupuncture, a sake footbath, a cocoon scrub, and a steamed oriental herb ball.
If ever there was an opportunity for you to get over your fear of snakes, this is it. The snake massage at Ada Barak’s Carnivorous Plant Farm and Snake Spa in Talmey El’ Azar, Israel, begins with a tangled heap of snakes placed on your back or belly. Ada customizes the writhing pile with a combination of big corn snakes and king snakes up to eight feet long for deep massage and smaller snakes for light massage. All of them are nonvenomous. Ada says the snakes have a sixth sense for seeking out where a human is feeling pain, and after a few minutes, the snakes go toward the injured area. She stays with you to ensure any initial panic subsides and to guide the creatures along your legs, over your face, and through your hair.
Health and Beauty Benefits: It can release muscle tension, relieve stress, and ease aching bones and joints.
Ice And Stick Treatments
On the coast of Bali, Indonesia, the Alila Manggis resort spa incorporates age-old therapies practiced by locals who use ice and sticks to ward off ailments and help guests find balance in life. The gorgeous setting between mountains and ocean helps ease you into bizarre sensations that feel foreign only for a few moments. Healer Komang Wiratni is known for his ice treatment, a pressure-point-based massage similar to acupuncture but with ice blocks instead of needles. “Stick Man” Pak Ketut works with sticks rather than his hands for a pressure-point reflexology therapy on the soles of your feet. Ketut also performs revitalizing ice treatments, guiding frozen water over your body.
Health and Beauty Benefits: Ice treatments can help improve blood circulation, cure insomnia, assist with detox, and lower cholesterol levels. The stick reflexology is said to unblock energy flow to promote the body’s natural healing from within.
For first timers, the fish-therapy treatment at Grand Velas Riviera Maya Spa Resort often begins with wide-eyed wonder and a few giggles. There is something inherently strange about fish that don’t swim away from you and are actually eager to nibble at your cracked heels and callouses. Once you get over the initial ticklish sensation of the subtle vibration, you realize the relaxing effect of these toothless garra rufa. During the first half of the hour-long treatment, guests submerge their feet in individual aquariums, where 100 to 150 “doctor fish” slough off dead skin. A masseuse finishes the second half of the treatment with a foot massage. The Wayan Village retail store on 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen also offers the fish treatment but without the foot massage.
Health and Beauty Benefits: The treatment is used to remove dead skin and improve circulation. The saliva of garra rufa produces the natural healing enzyme dithranol, which can help to revitalize skin.
This facial’s tingly mask made of bee venom tricks your skin into thinking it has been lightly stung. Your body’s natural response to a sting is to send extra blood to the affected area, which it also does during the facial. That, in turn, stimulates the production of natural collagen and elastin, two proteins that keep your skin smooth and toned. Bee-venom enzymes actually “freeze” your skin, acting as a natural Botox and controlling your face’s muscle contractions. Silky serums and creamy moisturizers round out the antiaging treatment by Rodial in the spa at the Waldorf Astoria in Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates.
Health and Beauty Benefits: The bee-sting facial can tighten the skin, plump and smooth the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, increase blood circulation, help even skin tone, and reduce irritation and inflammation.
Look for “Bird-Poop Facial” printed in fancy script on a spa-treatment menu and you likely won’t find it. Its more polite alias is “Nightingale-Droppings Facial” or “Geisha Facial.” Used for hundreds of years by kabuki actors and Geisha to remove heavy makeup and to whiten and condition their skin, uguisu no fun (powdered nightingale excrement) helps them achieve that iconic clear, porcelain complexion. The droppings are harvested in nightingale farms in Japan, where they’re dehydrated and UV-light sanitized before being ground into a fine powder. The Geisha Facial at Shizuka New York Day Spa in midtown Manhattan mixes the powder with rice bran so it smells like toasted oats or peanut butter. Shizuka’s treatment also includes a hydrating camellia-oil facial massage and green tea collagen mask.
Health and Beauty Benefits: The rice bran and the droppings’ natural enzymes and guanine can help gently brighten and exfoliate the skin.
Leech-Therapy Face Lift
The thought of a leech sucking at your skin might give you the creeps, but both Dr. Oz and Demi Moore will vouch for its effectiveness. Also known as hirudotherapy, the practice of leech therapy has been recognized since ancient times and is still widely used at health centers today for ailments ranging from bruises to heart disease. At the Silesian Holistic Center in Brooklyn, leeches are placed on your skin, usually over your liver or pancreas, to help remove toxins. The leech saliva, a nearly transparent light-red substance with more than 140 bioactive enzymes, is then applied to your face in the form of a mask.
Health and Beauty Benefits: The treatment can increase circulation, improve skin elasticity, reduce inflammation, kill bacteria, provide natural antibiotics, and relax and smooth skin. It can also help clear up acne, skin blemishes, and rosacea.
Cost: Starting at $100 for each one-hour treatment. Five to seven treatments are recommended.
Before you say ewwww, know that this treatment doesn’t involve draping afterbirth across your face or ingesting anything. At Dyanna Spa in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, the placenta facial is a cream mask infused with the amniotic stem cells of New Zealand sheep. You get all the enzymes, nutrients, minerals, and regenerative powers that have helped a baby lamb grow in utero from a few cells to a living, breathing creature—without having to eat the placenta, a common practice of sheep and most other mammals. Both Jennifer Lopez and X Factor judge Simon Cowell are fans.
Health and Beauty Benefits: Treatments apply the science of stem cell therapy to help stimulate cell regeneration (think gecko tails and starfish arms), triggering the skin to create new cells. You look younger because your cells are younger. The placenta facial can help nourish skin with collagen and treat eczema and acne.
When considering the most extravagant thing you could ever do to your face, covering it with caviar may rank near the top. The decadent food of the rich and famous has found its way onto spa-treatment menus around the world. At some spas, the actual fish eggs, high in antioxidants and nutrients, are rubbed directly onto your skin, while at others, the roe is infused into a creamy mask. Hailed for its antiaging effects, the Signature Caviar Facial at Raffles Dubai isn’t even the hotel spa’s most expensive treatment. The Egyptian Gold Facial, with a 24-karat gold ultrasonic mist, will set you back $515. Champagne, anyone?
Health and Beauty Benefits: Caviar’s vitamin A and E antioxidants can help correct and protect the skin from environmental hazards and free radicals that cause aging and disease. The nutrients of potassium and selenium work to improve the skin’s elasticity.
-By Jamie Moore
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