Top 5 Unusual Spa Facials

By: Shanna Freeman

If you're spending the day at a spa or beauty salon, it's likely your complexion is about to benefit from a facial. You lie back in a comfortable chair and relax while a variety of lotions, creams, astringents and masks are applied to your face and neck. Your session ends with a face massage and you open your eyes to tighter, brighter, clearer, softer and younger-looking skin. (That's the idea, at least.)

Typically, you probably don't get bogged down in the details of the products being applied; after all, the esthetician is trained in skin care and has planned the facial based on your particular skin. But what if you suddenly caught a whiff of something strange? Or you opened your eyes and glimpsed an unusual material being applied to your face? If your esthetician hadn't discussed this with you ahead of time, you'd probably be very surprised.


Today, some spas are breaking away from the norm and using ingredients and techniques that are anything but traditional. Let's start by looking at a product that we normally associate with eating rather than facials: chocolate.

5: Chocolate Facial

Chocolate isn't just for eating anymore.
Chocolate isn't just for eating anymore.

Chocolate is one of the ultimate indulgences, but has it ever occurred to you to put it chocolate on your face instead of in your tummy? Before you decry a waste of good chocolate, let us explain.

In the past few years, scientists have started touting the potential health benefits of eating small amounts of dark chocolate. Some studies have shown that the antioxidant in chocolate, epicatechin, can improve cardiovascular health by lowering high blood pressure. The idea behind the chocolate facial is that the epicatechin can also reduce signs of aging in the skin, such as wrinkles and sun damage.


But that's not all this sweet substance has to offer. Chocolate also contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals such as iron, potassium and magnesium. The cocoa butter in chocolate is a good moisturizer, and the smell of chocolate can raise serotonin levels in the brain, making you feel happier. Just as with eating chocolate for its health benefits, there isn't any definitive proof about its effect on the skin. It certainly can't hurt, though, and it definitely sounds decadent.

One hotel in a city well-known for chocolate offers them as part of its spa services. The spa at the Hotel Hershey in Hershey, Pa., also offers chocolate baths, sugar scrubs, body polishes, massages and wraps. If you're not in the Pennsylvania area, fear not -- plenty of spas offer a chocolate facial, and you can also find plenty of recipes to make your own at home.

Next, we'll look at another unusual spa facial using a food product: wine.

4: Wine Facial

Wine facials might sound like another case of wasting something that's meant to be imbibed, not put on your skin. In some ways the concept is related to the same idea behind chocolate facials -- red wine contains antioxidants called polyphenols. It has also been touted as good for improving cardiovascular health, protecting arteries and raising levels of good cholesterol (HDL). Other ingredients in red wine, including the alcohol itself as well as a compound called resveratrol, may have heart-healthy benefits. As with chocolate, doctors caution that it's all about moderation.

Do these really translate to benefits to the skin? Some people think so. Fans say that wine facials improve circulation, help to even skin tone and brighten dull skin. Spa-goers in Jaipur, India, where wine facials gained popularity a few years ago, claim that they help to relieve stress, anxiety and even headaches. Typically, the wine is mixed with a medium such as aloe vera gel (the type of wine itself is chosen based on skin type -- rosé is said to be better for sensitive skin) before being massaged into the skin.


At some spas, using wine and wine-making byproducts such as seeds and pulp is known as vinotherapy. Often, these spas are located near wineries that also boast resorts. In 1993, owners of the Chateau Smith Haute Lafitte in Bordeaux, France, met with a professor from the Bordeaux Faculty of Pharmacy, who explained the antioxidant properties of grapes. Five years later, they opened the first of several Vinothérapie (trademarking the name in French) Spas. Wine facials are now available at various spas around the world.

Now that you're craving wine and chocolate, let's take a look at an unusual facial using something that your skin already gets in a different form: oxygen.

3: Oxygen Facial

For when your face needs a little extra
For when your face needs a little extra

Although we think of ourselves as oxygen-breathing, the air that we breathe actually contains more nitrogen than oxygen (about 78 percent of the former and 21 percent of the latter), as well as argon, carbon dioxide and other gases. People who are sick or have chronic lung diseases are often given direct oxygen because they're unable to maintain adequate levels of it in their blood. So we know that oxygen is vital, but what does that have to do with facials? After all, mammals don't breathe through their skin.

An oxygen facial requires a machine that directs small sprays of highly pressurized medical-grade oxygen. This spray is used to apply moisturizers such as hyaluronic acid to the face in order to speed up their absorption. According to proponents, this technique results in skin that is immediately plumper, smoother and well-hydrated.


Of course, there's no hard evidence that oxygen facials really work. One dermatologist interviewed by the New York Times stated that "we hope that the oxygen is creating a pressure bubble that drives vitamins and nutrients into the skin […] but we have no data to support that" [source: New York Times]. Some critics argue that the plumping effect may be from skin irritation due to the oxygen blasts, or that it can even be harmful to the skin. Even fans realize that the effects are temporary; one dermatologist recommends six weekly treatments followed by monthly treatments to maintain the look. Sound expensive? It is.

So far, we've looked at unusual spa facials incorporating ingredients that we already consume in another way. Next up, we'll look at something you normally just use to adorn your neck and wrist.

2: Gemstone Facial

We know what they can do for your jewelry box, but what about your skin?
We know what they can do for your jewelry box, but what about your skin?

Gemstones are for admiring, coveting and wearing in rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces. Now they're also for use in facials.

Exactly which gemstones are used depends on where you get the facial. So do the specific reasoning behind each stone and its placement on the face. Gemstone facials may involve manipulation of specific points in the lymphatic system, color therapy, astrology, Ayurvedic medicine or the concept of chakras. The overall concept, however, is that gemstones contain healing properties due to their energy.


Some spas in India use only the specific gemstone associated with your birthday based on Vedic astrology. Born in July, August or September? You're going to have your face massaged with a roller covered in sapphires. Other spas base their choice of stones on Ayurvedic medicine and may apply a facial mask containing crushed gemstones.

The EuroStone Facial is another variation, using stones like hematite (traditionally used in stone body massage) as well as semi-precious stones such as turquoise, amethyst and jade. The semi-precious stones are placed over corresponding chakra points on the face (described as energy centers where the lymphatic system, blood vessels and nerves meet). Proponents believe that this type of facial can stimulate circulation, detoxify and tone the skin as well as have healing effects on the entire body.

A note for you DIY types -- practitioners of gemstone facials stress that it's not as simple as just buying gems and putting them on your face; you need to understand the full philosophy behind it in order to reap the benefits.

We'll end our look at unusual spa facials with a facial using a precious metal that's currently selling for more than $1,000 per ounce.

1: Gold Facial

For the ultimate facial extravagance, try 24-karat gold.
For the ultimate facial extravagance, try 24-karat gold.

Facials using products that are traditionally eaten and drunk are one thing; so are facials using oxygen. Even gemstone facials have their roots in ancient practices. So what could be behind the idea of using gold in facials? Although gold has been used in food and medicine for years, it was traditionally because of what gold represented. The thought was that something so rare and expensive had to be good for you. Gold has since found more practical uses in biochemical research, medicine and dentistry, but the idea of using it on the face has been purely decorative until now.

A Japanese company called UMO claims to be the originator of the 24-karat gold facial. According to the company's Web site, "gold has not been commonly used for modern day skin treatments because it is very difficult to dissolve and penetrate the skin," but UMO has developed a way to "harness the power of gold and all its benefits" [source: UMO]. The 24-karat gold facial is supposed to reduce the appearance of age spots and wrinkles as well as firm the skin. UMO's version uses Gamma PGA, a soybean-derived hydrating compound, and a special mist delivery system.


Spas around the world offer UMO's 24-karat gold facial, including the Nidah Spa at the Eldorado Hotel in Santa Fe, N.M. A single treatment will set you back $500. Other spas offer different gold facials, or you can attempt to harness the powers of gold yourself by buying facial products containing gold dust.

Perhaps next time you want a facial, you'll branch out and try one of the unusual spa facials we've mentioned here. Just remember that the spas offering them can't make any scientific claims about their benefits. The bottom line is how you think that you look and feel afterward.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Caudalie: Vinotherapie Spa. 2010.
  • Chateau Smith Haute Lafitte. 2010.
  • DeNoon, Daniel J. "Dark Chocolate is Healthy Chocolate." WebMD. August 27, 2003.
  • MoneyControl. "Jaipur women get drunk on wine glow." August 21, 2006.
  • Mowen, Kerrie. "A Gem of a Face." Massage & Bodywork Magazine. June/July 2001.
  • TIME. "Top 10 Odd Spa Treatments." Time, Inc. 2009.,28804,1947694_1947700_1947709,00.html
  • Rooney, Ben. "Gold hits all-time high." CNN. September 16, 2009.
  • Salon Channel. "EuroStone Facial by Essensa." The Salon Channel. 2000.
  • Singer, Natasha. "Does the Quick-Fix Oxygen Facial Really Work?" New York Times. April 6, 2006.
  • Sundar, Rema. "Stellar facials." The Hindu. October 30, 2004.
  • UMO. "UMO 24 Karat Gold Facial Treatment." UMO, Inc. 2009.