Not that long ago, “wellness” mainly meant eating vegetables and getting exercise, but that’s changing. Increasingly, the term refers to a type of squeaky-clean lifestyle that can go far beyond yoga and meditation in pursuit of optimal mind, skin, and internal organs. Thanks to viral trends and social media influencers, people are opening their wallets for rituals and products like bee sting therapy and high-vibration stickers—whether they work or not. We looked at seven of the most absurd-sounding practices to determine whether they’re worth their substantial costs.
Frog Poison Injection
Some believe kambo treatments—involving a poison excreted from Amazonian giant leaf frogs—can cure everything from migraines to cancer, all while releasing negative energies (called “panama” by shamans) and clearing toxins from your body. The ritual is not for the faint of heart. During the ceremony, a shaman burns small holes into the participants’ skin and then inserts kambo directly into the wound. The nervous system doesn’t like being injected with poison and (naturally) freaks out, causing intense psychological and physical reactions like muscle cramps, swelling, crying, anxiety, and pain, along with violent episodes of vomiting.
When asked how strong the evidence base is for kambo actually helping the individual in the long-term, Chris Shaw, an emeritus professor at the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s University, told Vice News, “It’s a two (out of 10).” While Shaw noted that it’s not scientifically proven for treatment, he said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if some of the 100+ chemical compounds in the poison did have significant impacts on the nervous system and neurochemistry.
According to advocates, the benefits come from the purging, which can last up to an hour while the body does everything it can to get rid of the poison. When the episodes end, participants report feeling empty and relaxed, and many claim the ceremony makes them feel less pain and more emotionally stable for the days and weeks following.
Cost: People who participated in this treatment report the cost is around $150-$300 for a group session, $400-$600 for a private session
Why spend a dollar on clean, filtered water when you can spend $10 and get it straight from the spring—contaminants included? Los Angeles Based startup Live Spring Water says consuming water this way is simply “trusting the natural process” of its source, a flowing river in Central Oregon. Meanwhile, East Coast-based Tourmaline Spring provides “completely untreated ‘living water’ from Summit Spring in Harrison, Maine” claiming that this water is naturally pure and therefore exempt from the treatments “normal” bottled water gets.
This is clearly an awful idea. The World Health Organization says waterborne diarrheal diseases are responsible for 2 million deaths each year. Though they usually occur in underdeveloped nations where civilians can’t afford filtered water and are forced to drink it “raw,” many of the same contaminates are found in U.S. fresh water.
Despite this, the trend continues to grow, with some advocates claiming raw water has improved everything from their skin and nails, to absorption of minerals, to digestion. Who knew adding elements from acid rain, sewer backups, chemical runoff, and animal waste to your h2o had so many health benefits?
Cost: Live Spring Water costs $17 for a 2.5 liter jug, Tourmaline Spring costs $35 for a case of 12 one-liter bottles
Cryotherapy isn’t new to elite athletes, but over the last few years, businesses have been popping up all over the country offering the chilly service to everyone from sore gym rats to stressed out nine-to-fivers. The concept is similar to that of an ice bath: exposing your body to extreme temperatures may help speed up recovery, alleviate muscle and joint pain, and reduce swelling. But cryotherapy takes it a step further. Whereas a typical ice bath runs anywhere from 40-60 degrees Fahrenheit and water is applied directly to the skin, cryotherapy chambers fill up with below-freezing nitrogen that can get as low as negative 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Proponents of cryotherapy say the benefits go far beyond that of an ice bath and include, in addition to muscle recovery, weight loss, anti-aging, and alleviation of anxiety and depression symptoms.
The problem is there have been countless studies done on cryotherapy, tackling all of its biggest claims, but the jury is still out on whether the treatment actually works, or if it’s just a pricey placebo effect. Joseph Costello, an exercise physiologist at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom told the Washington Post, “When you strip down to your shorts and put on two pairs of gloves and a pair of socks and go into a chamber that’s set colder than the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth and stand there for three minutes, that’s a massive opportunity for someone to sustain a placebo effect.”
Cost: Approximately $45 for a 3-minute session, depending on location
San Francisco’s Face Slapping International boasts a “100 percent chemical free, a million percent safe skin tightener” [sic] and calls it a “top five most amazing face beauty treatment in the world.” Their site claims that being professionally slapped can tighten cheeks, raise eyebrows, and decrease wrinkles.
In an article published by Vice, Joseph Bien-Kahn talks about his experience and says the “treatment didn’t hurt, but it wasn’t comfortable either.” The FSI owners, Mawin and Tata, administered both backhand slaps and closed fist punches to his face to the beat of a rhythmic techno song, starting soft and building intensity as the song’s beat quickened. Sounds exactly like something you’d want to pay for, right?
Important to note: Mawin and Tata claim to be the “only ones” in the United States versed in this traditional Thai treatment and warn against copy cats. If you see the discounted version of this on the street, think twice, especially considering you could probably get slapped in the face for free under the right circumstances.
Cost: $350 for 15 minutes, or $1,000 for a four-pack
Acupuncture has been a celebrated for thousands of years as a way to clear energy blockages in the body. But, because humans can’t have nice things, we decided getting stuck with tiny needles isn’t enough, and injecting bee stingers into our skin would really help clear us up. Enter bee sting therapy. Hailed among advocates as a way to reduce symptoms of rheumatic diseases—like arthritis, osteoporosis, and Crohn’s Disease—the process involves inserting bee stingers instead of the traditional acupuncture needle at energy points on the body. In some cases, the practitioner places a live bee on a patient and squeezes the insect’s head until the stinger emerges to insert into the body. In both cases, the bees that are used die shortly after. Sort of messed up, especially considering bees are in short supply.
This therapy made headlines in the last year when a 55-year-old woman died after suffering an allergic reaction to the venom. Despite this, and despite studies that indicate bee venom acupuncture shows a 261% increased risk for adverse effects, interest in the therapy continues to grow.
Cost: Varies, but expect around $240 for a first visit
Bird Poop Facials
The Shizuka New York Skin Care Salon has been offering bird poop facials—called Geisha Facials—for more than 10 years, and the treatment is exactly what it sounds like. The aesthetician uses a paint brush to smear the exfoliating—and allegedly, nourishing—bird droppings onto the décolletage and then wraps a hot towel around the face, essentially creating a bird poop sauna for your head.
Gross. But some advocates are all for it. After all, this isn’t normal bird droppings: It’s the UV light-sanitized, imported poop of Japanese nightingales that are fed only organic birdseed. Prepared in this way, the poop is said to have special enzymes that break down dead skin cells and soothe the face.
Cost: $180 for 60 minutes
According to wellness-mecca Goop, everyday stresses throw off our internal balance, which weakens our immune system and drains our energy. To counteract this, a company called Body Vibes is hawking stickers it claims are programmed to an ideal frequency, which supposedly would cause the wearer to vibrate at that wavelength, promoting balance, calm, and muscle relaxation when worn at specific points on the body—like on the left side of the heart or lower arm. Or, at least that’s what their website says. Body Vibes says they use the same technology that engineers use on ultrasonic and infrasonic weapons. The problem is, they don’t say how they get those frequencies into the stickers, and they don’t explain why or how these stickers are able to keep their vibrations high after being stuck on a larger and more vibrational object (a human). Mark Shelhamer, former chief scientist at NASA’s human research division, said it best when he told Gizmodo, “Wow. What a load of BS this is.”
Cost: $60 for a pack of 10 stickers