That's right: needles in your face. But it's for a good cause – and we're looking beyond your own therapy here.
“The builders are a bit behind, I’m afraid,” Bianca tells me before I arrive. “Please excuse the noise and the mess.” I arrive at the newly constructed PhreeEdge day spa hot from sitting in load-shedding traffic. I’ve been squinting into the N1 glare and my face in the rearview mirror is a mask of crossness and worry. Facial rejuvenation treatment (FRA) sounds exactly what I need. I don’t know much about it, except that it's a non-surgical anti-ageing therapy involving acupuncture. I’ve always been a sucker for holistic therapies, but this is a concept that really intrigues me because it goes beyond pampering – it's part of a project to alleviate poverty.
In spite of the bustle of builders, the PhreeEdge is a tranquil and welcoming space. Soft earthy tones and textures soothe the senses, and curved walls create a womb like embrace.
Beauty with a Conscience is a simple concept. The client receives a course of FRA, an exclusive therapy that contributes to general health, while firming and tightening signs of ageing on the face. The cost of the treatment is a contribution to a new charity called Bathebile, run along the lines of the respected charity, Cotlands.
Charmaine Shepherd will be offering the FRA treatments. She currently works in Edinburgh, and will be returning to her home country at intervals throughout the year, to share the expertise she has gained through training in Singapore, China, Thailand, Switzerland and the UK.
“Charmaine and I have been friends since school,” explains Bianca Marais, one of the drivers behind the project, and former head of the volunteer programme at Cotlands.
Charmaine’s qualifications include a degree in biomedical sciences which she got before studying acupuncture in Asia. She's a member of the British Acupuncture Council, and has a Certification in Facial Revitalisation with Acupuncture from the prestigious Northern College of Acupuncture in York.
“But what about the needles?”
I'm not a Botox person. Like many, the idea is not something I’m entirely comfortable with. But still, when I examine my face in the mirror, I’m not immune to the vertigo feeling of “here we go, it's all downhill from here.” I’ve not considered a face-lift (yet) though I watch Nip Tuck with fascination. So FRA sounds interesting to someone who’s after a more alternative approach.
I’m not sure what to expect (all those needles) and on some level I guess I'm steeling myself for a bit of pain and discomfort - aren’t we supposed to suffer for our beauty?
Face to face - a holistic approach
'I start by doing a total review of your health and where your body is at as a whole,” Charmaine tells me. She is gazing at my face with an intense concentration – I feel like she‘s looking right into me. “We can tell a lot about your general wellbeing through your face. You face reflects what is happening on the inside.”
There’s a gentleness to her that is already making the drilling and construction noises recede into the background. I tell her about the cough that has been sitting in my chest for three weeks. The recurring cystitis. Apparently, what I had thought of as worry lines – the wavy marks etched across my forehead – are in fact bladder lines. And the two little furrows above my nose between my eyebrows are a sign that my liver is not coping so well. I think about the two glasses of wine last night.
“Its something we see a lot with women going through menopause,” Charmaine tells me. It seems the liver is responsible for processing hormones and hormonal changes, so a recent lack of energy could also be a sign my liver is battling with the Pill.
I find out later that FRA is supposed to improve the face's natural colour and diminish wrinkles. Apparently it also promotes collagen production, increases muscle tone and reduces bags and sagging. It nourishes the skin, and the only side effects will be improved organ health and wellbeing. And no, the needles don't hurt.
I lie down and Charmaine inserts fine-as-a-hair needles into key points on my right leg, which will stimulate my adrenal system, my liver and my lungs. Three needles go painlessly into points on my forehead. Soothing music sends me into something of a trance and the needles are out (again, painlessly) before I know it. Next, she massages my face with an icy roller of some sort, which literally feels like the wrinkles are being ironed away. A soft massage with scented oils and I can feel tightness under my skin melting away.
It's testament to the power of the therapy that I ceased to notice the drilling and hammering background noises and at the end of the session I was blissed out and relaxed.
Anti-ageing treatment that empowers the poor?
“Many people don’t feel at ease going for facials and other kinds of pampering,” says Bianca. “They feel guilty, because there is so much poverty and need around us. So, this is a way to look after yourself and know that you are doing some good at the same time.” And as Bianca is all too aware, help is desperately needed.
Money that pays for your FRA will go directly to Bathebile, which means “they are happy,” in Sotho. The organisation will focus on poverty alleviation in Gauteng in Diepsloot and Zandspruit, the sprawling squatter camps in Jo'burg where thousands of people live with no water, electricity or sanitation services. “Since poverty is so closely linked to HIV, most of our clients will be HIV positive but we won’t exclude those who aren’t,” says Bianca. They aim to implement projects such as the Home Makeover Project which changes the living conditions of one family a month, and the Support a Granny Project, which enlists the support of companies, schools and individuals to assist grandmothers who take care of grandchildren on a tiny state pension. Food parcel distribution for the extremely needy will be complemented by projects that build skills and livelihoods for young mothers.
Inspired by the concept, the PhreeEdge Day Spa and the 100percent Health and Energy Centre in Fourways have decided to make their treatment rooms available free when Charmaine is offering her treatments.
As for me, I leave with the distinct feeling that my forehead has been ironed. The usual clutch of muscles that sits there is smoother, and I'm checking the rear view mirror at every traffic light. More than that though, when I wake in the morning, something has shifted in my chest. Of course one will only see real results after the full ten consecutive sessions. FRA works on nerve pathways, and so the sessions need to be close together – daily if possible. What I really like is the holism. This heals at the same time as it improves. And if it's true that giving is good for the soul, then its working for me on that level too. I'm going back for more.
Sessions will begin in a few weeks's time, in July. For bookings and enquiries contact Bianca Marais on 082 336 2394 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Tamara Guhrs, Health24, April 2008)