The geisha lifestyle might seem like a far cultural cry from any modern woman's daily routine
, yet aspects of the Japanese ladies' arduous beauty regimen certainly haven't fallen out of vogue.
As I write this, my face feels soft and my complexion looks bright, and while I can generally chalk up those delights to a recent facial, there was one particular ingredient involved in the treatment that deserves some extra credit: nightingale droppings.
I fetched up at Shizuka NY
, a peaceful day spa in Manhattan, to test drive the Geisha Facial. Having had one other facial and maybe three professional massages in my entire life, I'm no treatment junkie, but I am a sucker for wacky stuff, so this was irresistible. I'd never heard of anything comparable; the Geisha Facial, taking a cue from one of the rather innovative ways geishas whitened their complexions to a paper-like hue, features a gentle scrub made with a mix of rice bran (normal) and harvested nightingale droppings (wick a wha?).
It sounds like a weird accident, but in fact, the ever-so-deliberate treatment has been around for a few hundred years. Like applying egg yolks to dry hair and treating sunburn with aloe, putting nightingale excrement on one's face is a perfect example of the benefits that come from heeding traditional wisdom. But before I went through with this poop-centric regimen, I wasn't at all sure what I was getting myself into.
First, a little history: Nightingale, shall we say, leavings first came into use as a skin treatment when geisha culture took root during the 1700s. The women initially used problematic components like zinc and lead to get the oh-so-white look (as did kabuki actors), until it was discovered that besides accomplishing the same task, the bird poop didn't cause ugly skin diseases or scary illnesses.
As for its modern-day draw, it also exfoliates, brightens and soothes the skin.
The reasons for this are two-fold: Bird poop in general contains urea and guanine, and nightingale excrement contains an exceptionally high level of both. Urea is used in a range of body products (though it's generally synthetic, so don't rush to trash your lotion) and is great for aiding skin's moisture retention. Guanine is an amino acid that leaves behind that iridescent look we girls like to refer to as a "glow." (If bird poop isn't up your alley, don't fret -- extract of guanine can also be obtained from fish scales. I'm sure you're relieved.)
However, the Geisha Facial experience at Shizuka feels as far from the dirt and wilds of nature -- or a bird poop farm -- as one can possibly get. First you wrap yourself in a Japanese robe and decompress in a quiet lounge. The facial room is modern and relaxing, Shizuka Bernstein herself (seen above) is professional and reassuring, and the softly grainy scrub comprised of the nightingale poop and rice bran feels moist and effective without being rough. And, in case you're wondering, the poop is sterilized using ultraviolet light. It comes all the way from Japan, though Shizuka told me it doesn't necessarily have to. (And while I lay back getting buffed, a new business plan occurred to me: a local nightingale-poop-harvesting farm? I bet it would be a hit at the greenmarkets!)
To complete the facial, the nightingale droppings are accompanied by light extractions and a collagen mask applied with green tea, which made my skin feel fresher and tighter in a perfect East-meets-West kind of way. The procedure ended back in the day spa's lounge with a little pot of green tea.
While the nightingale poop facial was obviously delightful, the lasting effect of the experience was a wake-up call.
As I admire my suddenly poreless-seeming skin in the mirror -- which is not its usual state, I assure you -- I wonder what other offbeat and very (very, very) natural ingredients are kicking around traditional cultures, to be lost forever to modern knowledge if they aren't picked up and popularized soon?
Have a natural remedy you swear by? Let me know, and I just might try it out and report back.
Susannah Edelbaum first started covering beauty trends by writing up top-secret product reviews. She's also reviewed gallery shows for Art Cat and fun fashion stuff for Gen Art Pulse.