Fire Treatment: Most Stressful Spa Visit Ever

Elise Solé

Whoever coined the phrase "Beauty hurts" obviously had the latest Chinese spa treatment in mind. A beauty ritual called Huǒ liáo (meaning fire treatment) that's lauded for curing everything from dull skin around the eyes to obesity has spread like, er, fire around the blogosphere after a photo of a woman with her face ablaze was posted to the Chinese message board tt.mop.

The photo is captioned: “My mom went to get her face done at the beauty salon so I went with her. What I saw… instantly shocked me… I couldn’t look."

We don't blame her. Huǒ liáo allegedly involves soaking a towel with a “secret elixer” and alcohol and placing it on a "problem area" such as the face, legs, back, and neck and setting the towel on fire for several seconds before extinguishing it with another cloth. Watch it performed here.

While the origins of this treatment are unclear—some credit China, others Tibet— it's said to be painless and depending on what part of the body it's applied, reportedly flattens the stomach, boosts metabolism, smooths wrinkles, and helps combat ailments such as the common cold and flu, indigestion, insomnia, joint pain, and fever.

But this is a totally crazy way to heal—right? "If you're asking whether I would try this myself, the answer is no," says Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., author of Real Cause, Real Cure. "While alcohol will help carry whatever is in the elixir into the body, it's not really necessary to light it on fire. However, one explanation is that extreme heat triggers an adrenaline response which can shift your body's chemistry, improving some symptoms like indigestion and slow metabolism."

The real danger, according to Teitelbaum, is hair catching on fire or the skin developing hyper pigmentation. "You don't want to be anyone's first client or you might be their last," he says.