Travel treatments: Five bizarre beauty rituals

Intrepid travellers looking for a new thrill might want to seek out these unusual beauty treatments.

From vampire facials to ancient sand burials, the quest for beauty encompasses the weird and wacky.


1. The Vampire Facial - Hollywood, US

One could say Kim Kardashian is famous for making things famous. From fashion lines to beauty products, she's been the face of many ventures. Last year, a photo posted on her Twitter profile made headlines around the world for its somewhat gruesome nature. Platelet-rich plasma therapy, aka the vampire facial, involves drawing blood from the victim, which is then separated into platelets and re-injected into the face.


2. Ancient Sand Burial - Aswan, Egypt

For hundreds of years people have travelled to Aswan to undergo an ancient sand burial treatment. That's right, between the lands of life and death you can be buried up to your neck in sand. These days, the Pyramisa Isis Island Aswan Resort offers this service in an adult-sized sand pit. The sand is rich in minerals and has restorative properties for sufferers of rheumatism and arthritis. Ultraviolet rays and heat from the sun soak into the sand baths, with the grey sand pits absorbing more heat than the yellow.


3. Snake Massage - Jakarta, Indonesia

Forget ping-pong shows and tuk-tuk rides - if you want a real thrill, book in for a snake massage. Bali Heritage Reflexology & Spa will, for a fee, drape you in snakes for 90 minutes in the belief you'll emerge with soothed skin. The adrenalin triggered by fear of the snakes is also said to aid metabolism. We're willing to bet that the feel of snakes slithering over your body will cause a wrinkle or two, rather than reduce them. If it's any comfort, the snakes do have their mouths sticky-taped shut.


4. Fish Spa Pedicure - Phuket, Thailand

Got scaly skin? What better way to rid your legs and feet of unwanted dead skin than in a bath full of tiny, biting fish? The Thailand fish pedicure is an infamous exfoliation treatment and a must for tourists who have spent too much time walking on the beach. They're also a bit of a tourist attraction, with many baths in Phuket and Koh Samui sitting in glass-front windows so you can watch the tiny garra rufa fish nibble away on someone else's feet.


5. Geisha Facial - New York, US

If you've ever been to Kyoto and seen a geisha up close, you'll know their white face powder is not conducive to good skin. So what are you to do if you're forced to wear makeup almost 24/7? Well, as most modern girls know, beauty is pain. That said, this treatment isn't exactly painful, it's just a little ... pooey. Copying the ancient beauty trick of the geisha, Shizuka New York Day Spa now offers bird-poop facials. Powdered nightingale droppings are used as an exfoliant in the "Geisha Facial", which will set you back about US$180. And no, don't try this at home. The nightingale droppings have a skin-brightening enzyme you probably won't find in pigeon poo.


Pity the poor fish

Much as I think fish nibbling your feet sounds disgusting, I feel sorry for the poor tanked-up things having tourist hooves overhead. Same goes for the snakes: leave them to slither in peace. Plus, who would seriously swap a good massage for some silly stunt involving a restrained reptile?

As to the use of the droppings of nightingale birds, I trust these have been gathered humanely. I guess this makes the practice not that dissimilar to bee-venom facials, a craze New Zealand can lay claim to starting after working out how to make bees drop their load. I'd go with the venom over the poo any day, and suggest they find a way of synthesising any active ingredients in both.

If you fancy a Kardashian-style platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatment, you don't need to head to Hollywood: it is available at several of Auckland's appearance-medicine clinics. PRP has also been used to treat sports injuries, although research into its effectiveness continues. At least the blood used is your own.

That leaves the sand bath. Yes, I'd give this one a go but I wouldn't go out of my way to get it. The sensation of being neck-deep in sand would be interesting, but I'm not sure being steeped in dry ingredients would make much difference to my skin. A rather better bet, surely, would be to stay right here in Aoteoroa for a mineral or mud bath, or even a spa body wrap.

- Janetta Mackay