Would you lie in a bathtub full of Volcanic Ash if it promised to give you younger looking skin? Well, I tried it, and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. The One Spa in Bangkok, Thailand offers a “sand bath therapy” treatment, which involves lying in a bath tub filled with volcanic ash heated up to 131 degrees Fahrenheit. The ashes are said to contain 50 essential vitamins and minerals that help improve your immune system and blood circulation, as well as detox your body and ward off signs of aging.
Sand baths may sound like some sort of new-age treatment, but they're actually a pretty big part of Japanese culture. People from all over Japan visit beaches in Ibusuki, Kagoshima, to be buried in the volcanic sand baths, which boast the same benefits that The One Spa's manufactured version of the treatment does. It heats your body the same way a sauna does, allegedly releasing toxins in the process. After months of living in the polluted Southeast Asian air, eating a lot of unhealthy foods and drinking more Singapore Slings than I would care to publicly admit, I figured my body might benefit from a little detoxification.
“You like [it] hot?” the therapist asked after I checked in for my treatment.
Considering I’ve survived an infrared sauna, a vaginal steaming, and a saran wrap procedure without batting an eyelash, I had to stop myself from laughing rolling my eyes before cockily responding “Yeah, I’ll be fine.”
… Let’s go ahead and file those under “famous last words.”
After filling out an endless number of forms confirming that I wouldn’t sue the spa if I passed out and died during the session, the therapist weighed me and took my pulse to make sure I was OK to undergo the sweat-sesh. Thankfully, I was all good. Then it was time for me to take a pre-treatment shower. Fun fact: Every spa treatment in Asia — from bikini waxes to massages to, apparently, volcanic ash baths — requires that you shower beforehand. After the shower, I was told to put on a pinstriped tube top and matching bermuda shorts that looked more like something Carrie Bradshaw would have worn with a pair of Manolos and a horse-head bag than the usual spa outfit.
When I walked into the treatment room, there were two women mixing the “ashes” (which were really just brown pellets that looked like Dippin Dots) with their hands, and one of them paused to put a shower cap on my head and brief me on what was about to happen. Basically, all I had to do was relax and lie there.
As I settled into the tub, I started to panic. It was hot. Much, much hotter than the infrared sauna and the vaginal steaming combined. The women began exfoliating my body with the pellets while simultaneously covering me in them, and I could feel my chest tightening. It felt like I was being buried alive in some combination of dirt and fire, and it made it hard to breathe. Between the heat and the heaviness of the beads, I was officially freaking out.
“How long do I have to be in here?” I asked the women rubbing my extremities.
“Fifty minutes,” one of them told me, at which point I nearly started to cry.
“Um, I don’t think I’m going to be able to last that long,” I said meekly, trying to hold myself back from having a complete breakdown.
“But it’s only fifteen minutes,” she told me, frustrated. Cue the most overwhelming moment of relief I have ever experienced.
“Oh ok, I can do this for fifteen minutes,” I told her, mostly for the sake of reassuring myself.
Sensing my meltdown (literally and figuratively), the women took a cool cloth and started dabbing my face with it. I felt like a woman giving birth during colonial times. It helped a little bit, but after a few minutes my body started straight-up convulsing under the ash pile. The appointment was first thing in the morning, so I hadn’t eaten beforehand and was probably dehydrated going into it, which definitely didn’t help the situation. I stared at the second hands on the clock as they ticked by (I swear, it was the longest 15 minutes of my life) and slowly removed my hands and feet one by one from underneath the ashes, which helped cool my body down to the point that it was at least tolerable to stick it out to the end.
When the 15 minutes was finally over, I was the sweatiest I’d ever been in my life and on the verge of tears. I felt the same way I did when I forgot water in a 90-minute hot yoga class last year and wound up throwing up and lying on the floor in the studio’s bathroom. As in, I was really, really dehydrated. I pulled myself out of the tub and the women spent the next few minutes pulling the beads off of me — they were stuck all over my body (including in places I’d prefer not to mention). When it was finally over, I ran into the bathroom and threw myself into the freezing cold shower with my pinstriped pantsuit still on.
While the treatment itself was pretty much the worst thing ever, I will say that I felt pretty amazing after the fact. My skin was clearer than it had been in weeks, and I spent the rest of the day with a rosy-glow in my cheeks. It's estimated that 15 minutes in one of these baths is equivalent to an hour and a half of rigorous exercise, so I was pretty pumped about the fact that I didn't have to go to the gym that day.
As great as the aftermath was, though, I can safely say that volcanic bathing (read: being buried alive) is not for me. From now on, I'll stick with snail mucus for the sake of younger skin (and, fine, going to the actual gym for the sake of sweating) instead.