If it seems that men are clueless, count your BFT hosts among them. Setting one’s face on fire – on purpose, no less – makes little sense as a beauty treatment to us, but it’s becoming more and more popular in Asia, particularly in China and Japan. Even Cosmopolitan magazine was surprised, and that’s saying something. Their 2013 article, “Fire Facials: Smokin’ Hot – and Borderline Insane?” questioned the practice.
The procedure involves soaking a thin towel in alcohol and other “elixir” chemicals, laying it across skin on the face and then setting it aflame. It is claimed to improve the appearance of wrinkles, sagging skin and fine lines. Hopefully, the fire is extinguished before any blisters form. Now, we’ll admit that the use of heat in promoting improved appearance is nothing new, but we are familiar with highly controlled precisely targeted energy in the form of laser light, radiofrequency or ultrasound heating. Purposefully lighting a bonfire anywhere on the body seems a little over the top.
Use of heat in treating a variety of maladies is nothing new in Asia. Moxibustion has been part of traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. The dried mugwort plant is burned on particular points on the body, or at the end of acupuncture needles. Practitioners use moxa to warm regions and meridian points with the intention of stimulating circulation through the points and inducing a smoother flow of blood and qi, the vital life force that flows through the body and is supposedly regulated by acupuncture. Some believe moxibustion can treat conditions associated with the “cold” or “yang deficiencies” in Chinese Medicine. It is claimed that moxibustion mitigates against cold and dampness in the body, and can serve to turn breech babies (now that’s a stretch to this Western trained physician!)
There are several methods of moxibustion. Three of them are direct scarring, direct non-scarring, and indirect moxibustion. Direct scarring moxibustion places a small cone of moxa on the skin at an acupuncture point and burns it until the skin blisters, which then scars after it heals. Direct non-scarring moxibustion removes the burning moxa before the skin burns enough to scar, unless the burning moxa is left on the skin too long. Indirect moxibustion holds a cigar made of moxa near the acupuncture point to heat the skin, or holds it on an acupuncture needle inserted in the skin to heat the needle.
We readily admit that properly administered thermal injury can promote healing that improves skin appearance. We’re pretty certain, however, that the FDA is not going to approve this treatment anytime soon. They’re so fussy about unintended consequences, like scars and injuries that might need skin grafting.
Chronic Smoldering Inflammation is (I.O.H.O.) Even Worse
If you’ve spent more than a few minutes on BFT, you know how much we harp on the evils and dangers of chronic use of topical products that inflame the skin. Ones in particular we have mentioned are alpha defensins ( as is contained in DefenAge) and conditioned media from laboratory culture of adipose derived stem cells.
The objective with fire facials is not creation of acute first, second or third degree thermal burns. Done properly, the flames are extinguished before actual tissue damage has time to occur. BFT is convinced the theatrics of the treatment, i.e. “face flambe”, is the selling point. Just like flambe entrees and desserts, setting one’s clients’ faces on fire is pretty dramatic!
The occasional “fire facial” therefore seems innocuous enough, except perhaps for the associated costs since increased “danger” probably equates to more expensive. Topical products with inflammatory ingredients that are used on a daily basis are of more concern to BFT. Chronic smoldering inflammation is pro-aging. Period.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side
With apologies to Lou Reed’s song of the same name, BFT thought it might be fun to venture far afield from our usual high-science turf. There are a number of bizarre beauty treatments we thought BFT readers might find interesting to explore – not that we’re recommending any of them. We report; you decide. At least you will know your options. (Some actually have rationale that makes scientific sense. Others, less so.) We’ll also describe some of the more unusual skincare ingredients we’ve encountered over the past few years.
We have written about snails elsewhere on BFT, in particular so-called snail “growth factors” and our concern when they are applied in conjunction with microneedling. Who would have thought about snail slime for a beauty treatment? Well, someone has tried and tested this bizarre treatment. In this treatment, snails are placed over one’s face and they are allowed to crawl, coating the skin in the mollusk mucus, which in return is claimed to cure acne, scars, burns, and wrinkles. We’ll reserve judgement until we see published proof. Nonetheless, snails have been the focus of some published science.
The Role of a Natural Mollusk Egg-Derived Ingredient in Facial Appearance. J Drugs Dermatol. 2017 Jul 1;16(7):678-681
We don’t know what to make of this study since it had so many confounding factors. Quoting from the article: “The formulation studied included moisturizing, emollient, film-forming, and retinoid ingredients in addition to the mollusk egg extract to produce the clinical improvement.” So what did what?
The Helix aspersa (brown garden snail) allergen repertoire. Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 2005 Jan;136(1):7-15
“Ingestion of snails can induce strong asthmatic or anaphylactic responses, mainly in house-dust-mite-sensitized patients. The aim of this study was to identify the Helix aspersa (Hel a), Theba pisana (The p) and Otala lactea (Ota l) allergens and the extent of their cross-reactivity with the Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus (Der p) mite.”
Bird Poop Facial (also known as the “Geisha Facial”)
Also known as the Geisha Facial, the main ingredient of this facial is bird poop which is actually very weird. In this Japanese facial, the dropping from nightingales is combined with rice bran to gently exfoliate the skin. This treatment is used to soften, brighten and nourish the complexion. This facial has hundreds of years of history is Asia. It was used to calm the skin after application of harsh, lead-based makeup used by Geishas and Kabuki theater actors. According to Dr. Joshua Zeichner M.D., Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City: “The birds are fed a specialized diet to produce droppings rich in urea and the amino acid guanine. Guanine is a nitrogenous base which is a backbone to forming DNA; urea is a humectant commonly used in moisturizers.” The droppings are sanitized under UV light and mixed with rice bran to aid in exfoliating and brightening the skin. For only $180, you, too, can have your first poop facial.
Bee Venom Facial
This facial doesn’t actually involve bees attacking your face, but the components of this facial contain bee venom. A 2015 study asked 22 “generally healthy South Korean women aged between 30 and 49 years” to apply a bee venom treatment serum* on their entire facial skin at an amount of 4 mL twice daily in the morning and evening for 12 weeks. Clinical evaluations were made at weeks 0 (baseline), 4, 8, and 12. A dermatologist’s visual assessment, photographs, and image analysis of replicas were used to evaluate changes in skin wrinkles.
The results showed a 10-15% decrease in the quantitative (measured) depth and appearance of fine lines and only 55% of participants self-reported any results. That means 45% of participants weren’t happy with the results, and those who did experience results saw very small results. But when bee venom products are ringing in at $200 a pop, it makes us wonder if it’s worth it.
The beneficial effects of honeybee-venom serum on facial wrinkles in humans. Clin Interv Aging. 2015 Oct 1;10:1587-92.
“The mechanism by which bee-venom serum exerts its antiwrinkle effects is unknown. The therapeutic action of bee venom has been studied mostly for skin-related symptoms, at least by our group of researchers. When skin bacteria were incubated with bee venom, a bacteriostatic action of bee venom was demonstrated, which was further supported by its anti-inflammatory activity against skin bacteria through suppression of the secretion of proinflammatory cytokines. This in vitro action of an antimicrobial property in bee-venom study was further translated into an in vivo study of human subjects with acne vulgaris.”
Effects of honeybee (Apis mellifera) venom on keratinocyte migration in vitro. Pharmacogn Mag. 2013 Jul;9(35):220-6.
“It was found that BV (<100 μg/ml) was not cytotoxic and stimulated more human epidermal keratinocyte proliferation and migration compared to negative control and did not induce DNA damage. There were also decreases in IL-8 and TNF-α expression levels in HEK at all time points.”
Kitty Litter Mask
Nothing special here. Sodium bentonite clay, a type of volcanic ash found near ancient dormant volcanos, is effective in absorbing skin oils. If you’re not keen on paying the high price of packaged clay facial masks, a coffee grinder works wonderfully well at pulverizing clay-based kitty litter to get essentially the same product for pennies on the dollar. Add a little water to create a paste, apply to skin, allow to dry and…voila, a kitty litter mask. Of course, kitty litter made from sawdust or silica is not suitable for this and stay away from anything with scents or perfumes.
The thought of leeches crawling on your skin might give you goosebumps but there is indeed a leech facial. Proponents claim that leech “saliva” is known to contain at least 15 enzymes and in this crazy beauty treatment leeches are placed on one’s face and neck to detoxify blood which in return leaves a glowing and radiant skin. This makes no sense since the leech adheres to one place while feeding and doesn’t return any blood back to its victim. They secrete an anticoagulant that inhibits blood clotting in wound of the victim and within the digestive system of the leech. Leeches do have a history being used on the skin.
They have been used for centuries for “blood-letting”, a farcical treatment based on removing “bad humors” responsible for illness and disease. They have been put to valid use in helping prevent venous congestion in plastic surgery repairs where arterial inflow of blood is plentiful but venous drainage is lacking. In those cases, the blood ingested by the leeches can be sufficient to enable the tissue to survive until new venous drainage vessels can be created. In one particular case where a toddler had a large portion of her face avulsed from a severe dog bite, leeches enabled physicians to reattach the avulsed tissue. So many leeches were used, the child required several liters of blood transfused over the course of healing.
The Caviar Facial
At Channing’s Day Spa in Chicago they think putting fish eggs on your face is better than Botox. They claim that freeze-dried caviar repairs sun damage and minimizes wrinkles. Gee, a thorough search of PubMed and Google Scholar doesn’t produce a single reference that confirms any of this. I say caviar is still best on toast points with chopped egg, capers and onion. That and a little champagne. Yum.
And Five Weird Beauty Cream Ingredients to Think About
Semen contains spermine, an antioxidant many times more powerful than Vitamin E. There are also opinions, most notably by the American actress Heather Locklear, that human semen is very beneficial to skin. Who knew? Certainly not Google Scholar or PubMed. No published references there. A Google search was how we serendipitously learned about Heather Locklear’s discovery.
The placenta has another use other than feeding an unborn baby – as an anti-ageing beauty cream! For the cream, lamb placental extract is taken to create a potent lotion which rich in nutrients and bio-stimulants, promising to revitalize and moisturize skin. Placenta products were aggressively marketed in the 1940s in the Unites States with claims of wrinkle removal and initiating tissue growth. Unfortunately, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) disagreed and declared the products ineffective and the claims illegal. Shortly thereafter, placenta was declared a good source of protein. While this is true, it’s not been proven to be any better for your skin than other proteins. In the right amounts, protein can be beneficial for your hair and skin. The placenta that’s used in beauty creams today has been washed and processed many times over, ensuring that it’s safe to use. The binding agents contained in the cosmetic also make it tough for any kind of bacteria to form. Because it’s now FDA-approved, placenta still remains a popular beauty cream ingredient.
The first time people hear that whale vomit is an ingredient in some beauty creams, they may feel like someone is pulling their leg. But it’s very much true, and it’s perhaps better known by its other name — ambergris. This flammable waxy substance has been used for centuries and is very valuable. It’s added as a fixative in perfumes, some of which find their way into your beauty cream. A fixative is used mainly to reduce the rate of evaporation of the perfume. Ambergris is hard to find and tough to identify, which makes it worth so much money. The price of ambergris varies like any sought-after commodity, but it generally hovers around $10 per gram. Considering that you could find a chunk as large as 100 or more pounds, ambergris hunting can be a pretty profitable pastime.
Hard to believe but cow dung can undergo heating and pressure processing to yield vanillin, the major fragrance component found in vanilla beans. And, at a fraction of the price of growing vanilla orchids to obtain their vanillin containing seed pods, you can never know where that lovely fragrance in your products is coming from. Isn’t that precious?
Less Common Procedures Women Are Doing
Butt Lifts Using Threads
Lifting threads and sutures for the face and body are becoming big business. Face sutures have been around for several years but doctors are now starting to perform butt lifts with threads.
One of the trendiest procedures is the creation of dimples both on the face and body (namely the lower back). The procedure to create dimples in those that are not born with them is simple and can be done with local anesthesia. Some patients request a dimple on only one side; others on both sides. For the cheeks, a small incision is made on the inside of the mouth and a stitch is placed to create the dimpling of the skin. Initially, the dimple is present all the time, but as the tissues heal, it only appears when the patient smiles.”
For the body, dimples are also being created on the lower back, which are known as “Dimples of Venus. They can easily be done during a Brazilian Butt Lift or lower back liposuction. The only scar necessary is a 5 millimeter one within the buttock cleft.
Belly Button Lasering
Kim Kardashian West may have put the procedure on the map, but she’s not the first personto ever to do this. Pregnancy can leave the skin on and around the belly button less than taut, and more and more women are opting for skin-tightening lasers and treatments to firm up the skin.
Using Fillers to Create Under-Eye Bags
Eye-bags in the West are often associated with sagging skin from old age or lack of sleep; in the East the eye-bags are aesthetic baby fat which makes the face look younger. In Korea they are affectionately named “cute-flesh” (in Korean, of course.) The plump flesh under the eyes has been a growing trend the last 5-10 year. Women in Korea have their doctors inject their under-eye area with filler to create a puffy, almost-baggy look, feeling under-eye bags equates to a more youthful and adolescent look.
And the winner is: Changing the Lines in Your Palms
Another crazy treatment that we just can’t wrap our heads around is altering the lines on the palm of your hands. In Japan, palm reading is a popular pastime, and some people even go so far as to have new lines surgically added to the their hands as a way to predict a better future. Who knew? Not BFT.