Humans have gone to some pretty drastic lengths to look good through the centuries, including slicking their hair back with bear fat and replacing their eyebrows with strips of rodent fur. Even those folk might think twice about the beauty regimens practiced by 17th century Japanese geishas, however, since they used actual bird droppings to help clear up their facial complexions.
Uguisu no fun, which literally translates to “nightingale feces,” was introduced to Japan by Korea during the Heian period, which ran from 794-1185 AD. Although originally used as a stain remover for clothes, it became popular during the Edo period (1603-1868) as an aid in removing the toxic lead-and-zinc-based makeup worn by geishas. As this makeup led to chronic skin problems, the treatment was in high demand, especially since it also lightened the skin—a desirable trait at the time.
How exactly Uguisu no fun delivers these skin benefits is still up for debate, but many point to its high concentration of urea, a chemical commonly found in the urine of mammals. As explained by Jorge Roman and Sarah Reynolds in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Urea is used in the formulation of some skin care products in which it exerts its benefits by providing keratolytic properties [that is, a form of therapy that causes the outer layer of the skin to loosen and shed] and increasing water content in the stratum corneum [aka, the outermost layer of skin].” Translation: Urea acts kind of like an exfoliating moisturizer. Roman and Reynolds also write that Uguisu no fun contains a high content of guanine, which “is believed to give the skin a clear and bright tone.”
Interestingly, unlike the many other bizarre ye olde grooming routines that we’ve covered, Uguisu no fun isn’t strictly a thing of the past. In fact, Shizuka New York Day Spa offers the treatment today for a hefty price of $180—a price dictated by the difficulty of collecting, processing and exporting the ingredients from Japan.
To produce Uguisu no fun today, caged Japanese bush warblers are fed a diet of organic seeds and berries. The droppings they produce are collected and decontaminated using UV light, then dried using either a dehydrator or natural sunlight before being ground into a powder (and apparently sold to certain celebrities, who are said to be big fans of the treatment).
The important takeaway here is that Uguisu no fun comes from a very specific bird and is heavily treated to make sure it’s safe to put on your face. Which means standing chin-up under that tree you never park under won’t produce the same effect—trust us.