Huo Liao: Fire Therapy
June 15, 2014

Huo Liao: Fire Therapy

Let’s face it — humans are pretty vain, for the most part. There are a lot of weird things we’ll do if given the promise of a healthier body, a whiter smile, cleaner skin, or a leaner stomach. The Internet is absolutely crammed with health and beauty advice, some of it sage and some of it … less so. From putting snails on your face to cutting carbs, you can find all sorts of different ways to beautify yourself. Now, I like to consider myself a fairly open-minded individual, but there are a few things that cross the line. One of these things happens to be putting a live flame anywhere near my crotch. Doubly so if it involves two burning, alcohol-soaked towels put on my crotch. Or my face.

Thanks, but no thanks.

Welcome to the wonderful world of “huo liao,” a form of fire therapy (yes, fire therapy is a thing, apparently) that taking a special mixture of herbs and braiding them together to form a woven rope. The rope is then placed on whichever part of the body is receiving the treatment. This can range from a line down the back, to coils on the face, and even — you guessed it — circling the groin. Once the rope is in place, it is secured with plastic wrap. Once you’ve got your special herb rope plastic-wrapped to your body, the therapist covers it with two wet towels. After that, the towels are treated to a wonderful little drizzle of alcohol and set ablaze.

Supposedly, the procedure is completely safe if performed as intended by a highly-trained professional. The dampness of the cloth keeps the skin from actually burning, though enough heat gets through to provide a comforting warmth. I’m not exactly sure what the deal is with the herbal rope, considering it never gets hot enough to smolder, but it wouldn’t be the first time that an herbal remedy has been used for the purposes of relaxation therapy. Likely, the herbs are chosen based on heat-reactive properties, or a supposed reaction with the skin. Not only do practitioners claim that it stimulates the skin, and treats sags and wrinkles, they also claim that it relaxes the muscles and encourages an overall sense of well-being. There are those whose claims are even more extreme than that, saying that fire therapy can be used to cure anything from obesity to the common cold.

While I certainly believe that, if done safely, this kind of therapy could do wonders for sore muscles, (or other thermoreactive ailments), I wouldn’t put too much stock in it. There are some who believe it is a more modernized version of a process called moxibustion, which basically amounts to lighting a giant herbal cigar and putting it out on your skin. It’s a little more complex than that, but the basic gist is very similar. Some kinds of moxibustion (specifically, direct-scarring moxibustion) involve igniting patches of moxa on your skin and leaving it there until it naturally burns out. As per the name, it is likely to leave scarring and blisters.

Call me a coward, but I think I’ll stick to traditional methods of cosmetic tomfoolery. I can burn myself just fine on my own, thank you.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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