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“You’re brave” isn’t what you like to hear when you’re about to have a spa treatment. Much less the word “excrement”. Such was my beauty therapist’s greeting, however, when I trialled the nightingale dropping facial at the newly revamped spa at the London Hilton on Park Lane.
Made popular in 17th-century Japan by geishas and kabuki actors who used it to remove their zinc- and lead-based make-up, the droppings from the Japanese nightingale are now used in a 90-minute, £180 regimen that is apparently gaining popularity with Hollywood stars and pop divas. Hilton’s new “Spa To You” claims to be the only UK spa to offer the treatment – uguisu no fun, in Japanese. It relies on the fact that the droppings contain an enzyme called guanine, which reputedly dissolves the skin’s intercellular glue, allowing the removal of the top dermal layer, reducing the effects of scarring and sun damage, and creating a lightening, brightening effect. “No fun” sounds about right.
Faeces of the berry-fed bird, more properly known as the Japanese bush warbler, are collected from a farm on the island of Kyushu, sterilised under UV light and reduced to a fine, white powder. My skin is first double-cleansed (slightly ironic, perhaps, given what’s coming?), then the powder is mixed with a moist grape-seed exfoliant. The smell is weird – sort of damp, and earthy, like a musty rodent’s nest. As my skin is massaged in delicate circles, it tingles. The gooey paste is left so it can be absorbed, providing an uncomfortable moment for scatological reverie.
Things take a more fragrant turn when my face is cleaned, spritzed with minty toner, and massaged. Next comes a moisturising mask of peach kernel and lanolin, topped with a fine gauze and coated with thick sea mineral mud that covers my eyes and mouth, heats up, and sets. I think of being mummified alive.
Cleansed, I’m ready for the nightingale excrement mask, a sludge-green paste made by mixing the droppings with rosewater, that’s painted on in thick strokes. The odour is more pungent than before – I curl my lips inwards when the gungy bristles come near my mouth. While it crisps dry into my smile lines, I’m treated to a relaxing (though perhaps not distracting enough) hand massage. A final cleanse and moisturise, and it’s done.
How do I look? Well, not bad. In fact, I’m glowing, with plumped cheeks and smaller pores. My sunspots are still there, but apparently it takes a few sessions for them to pale.
Not “no fun” in the end, then, but relaxing and effective – if a little creepy. I emerge from the subterranean spa into the light and show my gleaming face to my boyfriend. “You’ve got something in your eyebrow,” he says, recoiling and pointing to a congealed green lump. There’s only one response: “Oh, shit.”
The writer was a guest of the Hilton on Park Lane (hilton.com/londonparklane)