Some spa-goers will do just about anything to achieve healthy and radiant skin. In fact, it’s shocking to see the lengths they’ll go and the prices they’ll pay for the sake looking younger. You have only to look at a few of the seemingly crazy facials turning up on treatment menus to wonder if it’s all just part of some marketing ploy. According to spa consultant Peter Anderson, founder and principal of Anderson & Associates, fad facials can be looked at from a number of perspectives. “While there are many that go for the gimmick, there are even more that have origins in ‘kitchen chemistry,’” he says. “Long before Big Pharma provided us with tinctures and serums to even skintone and brighten complexions, grandma’s farm had a panoply of home remedies to do the same. Many of these facials have their roots in culture and chemistry that predates a modern understanding of skincare.”
Of course, nothing grabs the media’s attention like a buzzworthy facial featuring some unusual ingredient, especially when it’s given credibility from an A-lister or Hollywood celebrity. That’s exactly what happened when celebrity facialist Deborah Mitchell, founder of the organic skincare line Heaven by Deborah Mitchell, gave Kate Middleton a Bee Sting Facial a few days before her royal wedding. Apparently, the naturally occurring toxins in the bee venom mimic the effect of a sting. Why is this a good thing? Well, it supposedly increases blood flow to the area in an effort to repair it, which then helps boost the skin’s natural production of collagen and elastin. Of course, you may be wondering how the venom is extracted from the bees. It turns out that the bees aren’t harmed by the process. They simply sting an electrically charged pane of glass in which the venom is collected. Reputed to be a natural alternative to Botox, this bee-tox facial may leave spa-goers relaxed and event-ready, but it’s probably not going to make their wrinkles disappear permanently.
If using bee venom seems a bit extreme, consider relying on caviar, also known as unfertilized fish eggs or roe, to treat the skin. At The Centre for Well-Being at The Phoenician (Scottsdale, AZ), the Timeless Repair Anti-Aging Facial (starting at $150, 50 minutes) uses caviar extract from Pevonia Botanica’s Myoxy-Caviar Timeless line to help plump the skin. It’s not as fishy as it sounds, especially when you consider the number of manufacturers that have developed skincare lines around this anti-aging ingredient, including Kerstin Florian, La Prairie, and Sothys Paris. In fact, the Hotel Bel-Air Spa by La Prairie (Los Angeles) actually offers three caviar-based treatments: Caviar Firming Facial ($310, 90 minutes), Caviar Luxury ($475, 2 hours 30 minutes), and White Caviar Illuminating Facial ($1,250, 90 minutes). According to Kim Lee, corporate sales educator of Pevonia International, caviar is one of nature’s richest reparative ingredients and contains phospholipids, which restore cell membranes that have become damaged due to environmental exposure. “In the early 19th century, René Quinton, a French biologist and physiologist, conducted experiments that proved sea water is remarkably similar to our own body’s fluids,” says Lee. “Substances that are compatible to our own bodies can be better absorbed.” The theory posits that ‘like attracts like,’ meaning fish collagen, sea algae, and seaweeds contain nutrients that closely match our own. As such, they are better absorbed and assimilated by our own human bodies.
Known for their beautiful porcelain skin, geishas have long guarded their highly coveted beauty rituals. However, the secret is out thanks to The Geisha Facial ($180, 60 minutes) at Shizuka New York Day Spa (New York City), which is said to “unlock the secrets of geisha beauty.” Although the service certainly sounds appealing, some may think otherwise when they realize that nightingale droppings serve as the key ingredient. According to owner and celebrity facialist Shizuka Bernstein, geishas relied on frequent facials using nightingale droppings to not only remove makeup but also to brighten and heal their skin. She attributes the ingredient’s natural enzymes and guanine to helping impart a pearly luster to the skin. For the facial, Bernstein mixes powdered nightingale droppings (uguisu no fun), which have been exposed to ultraviolet light to sanitize them, with delicate Japanese rice bran to improve the exfoliating and lightening properties. The treatment also includes a facial massage with hydrating camellia oil and an application of an antioxidant green tea collagen mask.
Fountain of Youth
If the so-called “bird poop” facial isn’t enough to make you say “ewe,” then the sheep placenta facial might. However, it seems to have fallen out of favor, which makes us think it was merely a passing fad. And then there are sperm or semen facials, which may test your gag reflex. However, the only one we could find was The Spermine Cream Facial ($125, 60 minutes) at Graceful Services (New York City). And it turns out, spermine, the active ingredient in the Skin Science products, is actually artificially made in Switzerland. Not to be confused with sperm, it is only an ingredient found in it. In fact, it is a powerful antioxidant that is needed by the sperm cell during its life cycle. It’s also found in all other human cells, as well, making it not nearly as controversial an ingredient as we thought.
Wanting to trigger the skin’s natural mechanism for renewal, Edge Systems recently introduced a new protocol to its popular HydraFacial treatment that incorporates the newly debuted CTGF (Connective Tissue Growth Factors) serum. The active ingredient in the serum comes from the foreskin of circumcised babies, otherwise referred to as human-derived cell conditioned media. According to dermatologist Howard Sobel, M.D., director of The Park Avenue Skin & Spa, Aesthetic Dermatology & Laser Surgery (New York City), the foreskin is full of fibroblasts. “Human foreskin fibroblasts produce high levels of connective tissue growth factor that are capable of increasing collagen production.” The CTGF contains both Transforming Growth Factor Beta (TGF Beta), a secreted protein that controls cell proliferation, differentiation, and more, and Fibroblast Growth Factor (FGF), which is also involved in those cell functions, as well as wound healing. “In laboratory studies, CTGF treated fibroblasts produced large amounts of collagen within 48 hours of treatment,” says Gail Naughton, Ph.D., leading research scientist in the field of growth factors and developer of the HydraFacial MD CTGF: Connective Tissue Growth Factors protocol.
One facial making headlines may also make your clients’ skin crawl, as live critters meander across their faces. Snail facials typically involve snails being placed on the skin to impart their mucus, which contain antioxidants and hyaluronic acid. Not for the squeamish, these slimy facials, which rely on organically fed mollusks, can be found at Ci:z.Labo (Tokyo) and Snail Spa (Chiang Mai, Thailand). Unfortunately, the evidence is far from conclusive that these slimy critters have any real effect on the skin other than feeling somewhat gross. And with no scientific studies to back up the claims, many doctors are skeptical, including Edwin Williams, M.D., president-elect of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. According to him, he doesn’t believe there is much benefit to the skin.
However, spa-goers needn’t submit to having snails inch across their faces to reap the benefits, as snail extract is used in various skincare formulas. In fact, plastic surgeon Matthew Schulman, M.D., offers clients the EscarGlow Facial ($2,000, series of six treatments), which uses the Biopelle Tensage Intensive Serum in his New York City practice. When snails are agitated, they produce a thick fluid in order to protect themselves. In “The Effects of Filtrate of the Secretion of the Cryptomphalus aspersa on Photoaged Skin” in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, the slime was found to possess skin-regenerative properties. “The snail extract has potent growth factors proven to increase collagen and elastin production in the skin,” says licensed esthetician Amanda Sanzone. “It also includes antioxidants and peptides to nourish photo-damaged and aging skin.” According to her, applying live snails to the skin isn’t nearly as effective as using the purified, concentrated snail extract in the Tensage serum. “By applying the serum immediately after microneedling, we’re able to increase penetration of the product more than you would by having live snails moving around on the skin,” she says.
Those who grow faint at the sight of blood may want to steer clear of the Vampire Facial (starting at $1,500, 30 minutes), the same treatment that went viral when Kim Kardashian opted to undergo the procedure. The facial, offered by Turnberry Isle Spa & Fitness Center (Aventura, FL) and a host of facial plastic surgeons, including Andrew Jacono, M.D., owner of the New York Center for Facial Plastic & Laser Surgery (New York City), relies on Dermapen Microneedling of the skin with growth factor-enriched Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) from Eclipse Aesthetics. Because the growth factors and PRP come from a blood sample drawn from the client’s body, the treatment was appropriately dubbed the Vampire Facial. “Platelets are the cells in the blood that help heal tissue and grow new cells, so they contain many growth factors, while Dermapen Microneedling manually resurfaces skin without the heat trauma of lasers or other devices,” says Jacono. “When you combine the two, the PRP is able to enter the layers of the skin to regenerate tissue and promote collagen growth.” According to Jacono, it’s an effective, non-invasive, anti-aging option with minimal recovery and lasting outcome. Despite the promising results, some, like Williams, question the hefty price tag associated with the treatment and the long-term value. “Looking very critically at the outcomes, we feel fat transfers or fat grafting still provide a more long-lasting result than those derived from PRP, but the jury is still out,” he says.
Whether you consider these facials fab or a fad, the ones with true staying power are those that deliver visible, long-term results. “I would advise anyone interested in incorporating one or two of these unusual facials into their menu to study the efficacy of the treatment, and as a marketing hook, provide the cultural context,” says Anderson. “This will go a long way to ensure that you are taking care of your clients and not selling them another bottle of ‘snake oil.’”