I'm not really a facial kind of guy. (And yes, I'm speaking of the cosmetic variety — please remove your heads from the gutter.) It's not that I'm "too manly" or anything (as my experiments in male makeup will hopefully attest), it's more that when I get the occasional block of free time, I'd much rather go see Infinity War for a fourth time than go get my face polished.
That said, when my colleague came back from getting a baby foreskin facial he was almost literally glowing, so I decided to try out a weird experimental facial for myself. While I wasn't quite ready to dive into the deep end of the baby penis pool, I still found something that sounded intriguing for our Game of Thrones-obsessed world: a Fire and Ice Facial.
After scheduling an appointment, my journey begins in downtown Manhattan, where I find the awning for La Casa Spa. Inside, the decor is what you might expect: Lots of greenery, soothing soft light, spa-type music and some comfy-looking old furniture. I'm taken behind a room divider and laid down on a massage table. My attendant — a kind, soft-spoken woman with exactly the "old hippie" vibes I was expecting — proceeds to explain the benefits of the fire-and-ice treatment I'm about to undergo.
The idea, essentially, is that the various procedures intermittently warm and cool your face 10 degrees from its normal resting temperature. The effect of the warming pulls blood to the face to increase circulation, while the cooling constricts the circulation to better oxygenate the cells. By alternating heating and cooling, she says, the skin is ultimately refreshed, rejuvenated and regenerated.
First comes the fire, which is decidedly unfirelike. What looks like a mini-tanning device is put over my face, emitting light through blue fluorescent bulbs. As my skin mildly warms, I ask if these are just tanning-bed bulbs and she happily explains that no, they aren't. Instead, these bulbs — which are labeled ULTRA Blue — are designed to help with killing bacteria, clearing my sinuses and balancing my circadian rhythms. We do this for 20 minutes, and while it's hard to measure any major effects, it's at least calming to be lying there under a nice lamp.
Next comes the ice, and it, to be honest, seems kind of ridiculous. You know those homemade popsicle kits from when you were a kid? It's kind of like that — the ice is just frozen into three different light pens instead of a popsicle stick. Each light, though, is a different color and each promises its own unique healing effects: The red light, I'm told, will help stimulate collagen in my face and help with inflammation; the green will help with sun damage, liver spots and other blemishes; and the blue, much like the blue lamp, will aid with bacteria. They're rubbed in small circles all across my face, five minutes per color. Mostly, this just tickles, and after 15 minutes of me squirming and giggling, I'm glad to have it be done.
The fire then returns in the form of what looks like a small heating pad over my face. The light is red (and once again designed to help with blemishes), but this go-around the light is much brighter, necessitating the use of the tanning booth goggles I've always assumed our president keeps in his breast pocket. The pad switches back-and-forth from red light to black light, five minutes each, for 20 minutes.
What's the black light doing? My attendant doesn't know. Honestly, I'm not entirely convinced that the pad isn't just "off" during this time, as I can't feel any heat or see any light through the googles. Still, this fire session is pleasant enough: The light is hotter than the blue lamp, and the intensity is kind of nice. It's accompanied by a hand massage, too, so that was a plus.
Finally, it's the "ice's" turn again. An air tube blasts cool, purified air about a half inch away from my face as it slowly moves over every section of my skeptical mug. While I enjoy this 10-minute cold air blast, I have serious doubts about the legitimacy of the treatment, as it's explained to me that its purpose is to improve circulation and push out any impurities from my pores (when I hear the word "impurities," I tend to lump it in with "toxins" and other bullshit words used by the self-care industry). Still, we conclude with a short facial massage with moisturizer and essential oils, which is brief but enjoyable.
Once done, I snap a quick "after" picture to see if I can notice a difference: I don't. To me, my face looks exactly the same — even that same blotchy area on my cheek remains. When the bill comes, I grudgingly pay my $170 and return to the streets of New York. While I know that I shouldn't expect profound change in one session, I leave feeling like the whole thing is, if relaxing enough, basically a bunch of bologna.
A little research proves me wrong, however. When looking into these therapies individually online, there seems to be a proven scientific basis for each. For example, that ultra blue fluorescent light is used as an effective means of treating psoriasis, since the UVB rays penetrate the skin and prevent the spreading of the affected skin. The red light pad is an FDA-proven pain-relief treatment. The air-hose cryotherapy has been proven to help with muscle relief in rats. As for the popsicle therapy, while I couldn't find exactly what they used, I did find that ice can help with inflammation, and light therapy is proven to help treat seasonal affective disorder by exposing the body to the different light wavelengths that it's missing during the wintertime.
Finally, the completely unscientific clincher: My wife says she notices a difference when I get home.
All in all, while I didn't quite have the baby-foreskin glow of my workmate, I did learn two things: First, there may be something to this fire-and-ice facial after all. And second, I really did know nothing.
Brian VanHooker is a New York-based writer and the co-creator of Barnum & Elwood. He last wrote about the long history of men and their preference for spitting in the urinal.