Do Fish Pedicures Really Work?

If you thought the fountain of youth was a strange concept, try flesh-eating fish or a faceful of placenta. Some trendy spa treatments are big on hype, but do they deliver? DC dermatologists Howard Brooks and Tina Alster help distinguish weird science from no science.

Fish Pedicure

How it works: Soak your feet in a vat of
doctor fish and watch them nibble off dead skin.

The hype: You get baby-soft soles without
razors or pumices.

The truth: Dip in at your own risk. “If the
fish are being reused, there’s a high chance of spreading infections that
can require antibiotics or antifungal medications to treat,” says Dr.

Geisha Facial

How it works: Named for its Japanese origins,
this facial features powdered nightingale excrement.

The hype: Skin is brightened, glowing, and

The truth: There’s no evidence that bird poop
sloughs off dead skin any better than a basic facial. “For extra
exfoliation, choose a facial with salicylic or glycolic acid,” advises
Brooks. “Or go for a chemical peel, which is best for removing spots and
improving texture.”

Oxygen Facial

How it works: A stream of pressurized oxygen
and moisturizer is sprayed onto the skin for deep hydration.

The hype: Lines and wrinkles are instantly
smoothed and plumped.

The truth: “Between the pressure from the
spray and the manual stimulation, skin looks swollen and plump, which
makes wrinkles less noticeable immediately afterwards, but that effect is
gone within hours,” says Dr. Alster. The massage, steam, and hot towels
used in a regular facial may have the same effect for less

Slimming Body Wrap

How it works: After mineral and enzyme
solutions are slathered onto the body, you’re wrapped in plastic or
seaweed for up to an hour to “eliminate toxins.”

The hype: Cellulite is smoothed away and skin
is left firmer; inches disappear from the upper arms, belly, hips, and

The truth: Seaweed may cause a slight
inflammatory response that makes skin look plumper, temporarily minimizing
cellulite. Brooks cautions that any slimming is water loss, because you’re
not getting rid of fat: “A day later, you’ll be back where you

Microcurrent Facial

How it works: Mini-electrodes painlessly jolt
skin and “exercise” underlying muscles.

The hype: Billed as a nonsurgical facelift, it
claims to sculpt cheekbones, tighten the jaw line, and lift

The truth: If you’re looking for a little lift
before a big night out, this might help. Very subtle results last about a
day and are especially noticeable where skin is thinner, such as around
the eyes. Skip it if you’re carrying any extra weight, says Brooks: “It’s
such a slight improvement in tightening muscle that any fat on top will
prevent you from seeing it.”

Placenta Facial

How it works: A protein-rich serum of placenta
and seaweed is applied to the skin with a saturated fabric mask, followed
by a layer of placenta facial cream.

The hype: It reduces the appearance of deep
lines and wrinkles, heals acne-prone skin, and provides a noticeable lift
by revitalizing cells.

The truth: Although human placenta is
unquestionably rich in nutrients, no formal studies confirm that topical
use can penetrate the skin and deliver stem cells into the dermis where it
can actually regenerate skin, says Alster.

Day Spas 2013 ››


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