Hong Kong spas never fail to come up with even kookier ways to promote weight loss.
The latest effort involves setting the customer on fire.
Life of Life Healing Spa claims that a fire treatment where the client is massaged, smothered in herbal medicine, wrapped in saran wrap and wet towels and then set alight will take inches off any part of the body instantly.
Yeah? So would a sharp knife.
"One of our clients lost 15 centimetres off her stomach after just one treatment. A girl who came everyday for two weeks lost 20 pounds" ...
That load of rubbish is what passes for a sales pitch in these parts.
"It keeps you slim by detoxifying your body and by burning fat. It also eases internal humidity and rheumatism."
Isn't it amazing how easy it is to make unsubstantiated claims?
After paying $1,050, the client is tested by a machine that reads the aura and energies of the body.
In the 60's hippies did that for free.
The client then undergoes a full body exfoliation followed by a soak in a spa tub with 300 jets, and is then sprayed down with a high-pressure hose used for lymphatic drainage.
It puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.
Whatever body part the client wishes to burn is massaged with Chinese herbs such as angelica, ginseng, crocus, cordyceps sinensis, radix kansui, deer antler powder and rhubarb.
This is otherwise known as Chinese Herbal Lotto: drop the name of every Chinese herb or tonic known to man in a bag, shake with vigor, and then draw a few to create the potion of the week.
The client is then wrapped up and set on fire with a lighter after an alcohol solution is poured on top liberally. "We have someone standing by with a towel to put out the flames if they get too hot. There are also fire extinguishers on hand. But of course, that is only for the worst case scenario" ...
Worst case: such as, oh, charred flesh?
The burning process is repeated three to five times.
In case you didn't enjoy enough pain the first time out.
According to the Fire Services Department and police, it is not illegal for the spa to set people alight.
"They're lighting people on fire - not the building. It's the police's problem, not ours," said a spokesman for the Fire Services Department. As for the police, they said whether this was legal would depend on the particular circumstances of each case.
If you're stupid enough to allow people to turn you into a yule log, you deserve whatever happens.
The spa claims the fire treatment is based on methods used in traditional Chinese medicine, but a Chinese doctor disagreed.
"I have never heard of such a thing ... Sometimes people heat up needles in acupuncture, but an open flame I never used. Besides, it is not suitable for all body types so it can make things worse. Maybe it increases circulation and makes you sweat, but I don't think it can be used for slimming. I think it is very dangerous."
Come on ... what's a few third degree burns among friends?
Western medical practitioners added that there was no medical basis to setting someone on fire to help them lose weight.
True: whatever is lost in the fire is added back with skin grafts.
"There is no other way to lose weight but to eat less and exercise more. Increasing circulation might help your heart, but it doesn't burn energy. Lazy people use massage as a way to exercise, but it burns few calories."
"And there is no such thing as lymphatic drainage and releasing toxins. The lymphatic system can only be blocked by radiation injury, parasites or a congenital condition. You cannot drain it."
Who are you going to believe: a medical doctor, or a young woman in a smart-looking pastel smock?
An SCMP reporter put her body on the line to test the treatment:
All the massaging, exfoliating, soaking and showering that was supposed to help me relax didn't do any good. I still felt freaked out as my beautician Sandy doused the towel covering me with alcohol and prepared to set my stomach on fire. I tried to stay dead still so the alcohol wouldn't be squirted anywhere unprotected.
I scanned the room for the fire extinguishers the spa had said would be there, but there were none. Eyeing the two sprinklers, I asked Sandy: "Do the sprinklers go off if the flames get too big?"
She laughed. "Of course not. Why are you so nervous? It is very safe." The next thing I knew, my stomach was on fire. At first I didn't feel much, but as I started to relax, my beautician suddenly warned me: "Don't move your arms!"
The flame* - the size of a small campfire - kept burning my stomach, getting hotter and hotter. "The flame can last for up to a minute and a half but if you are very hot, tell me and I'll put the fire out," said Sandy. After about 30 seconds she smothered the flames with a towel. As she repeated the process twice, I found myself challenging my pain barrier. I thought if I held on longer, I'd lose more fat. So I let it to get more intense each time.
"Some try to endure the pain, but we are trained to read their expressions to prevent them from hurting themselves," Sandy said. I must have been a pretty good actress. Even after the flames were out, the steam in the wet towels kept my stomach piping hot. When it was over, my stomach was slightly red and my skin felt like it had been slightly burned by steam - no surprise there.
According to the spa I lost 5cm around the stomach - but as they had taken all the measurements, I had to take their word for it. When I went home, I measured myself but the figures I got were the "before" and not the "after" ones. Perhaps I had gained all the fat back in an hour. The next day, when a rash appeared on my incredibly sore stomach, I called to ask the spa if this was normal. I was told it was a good thing, as it meant my body released toxins. A doctor friend later told me it was an allergic reaction, and there is no medical basis for the "release of toxins".
That's one thing all Hong Kong spas have in common: no matter what happens, putting a positive spin on it absolves them of responsibility.
The only burning method guaranteed to make people lose weight is called cremation.
* Photo © SCMP