What, to pose the question for the umpteenth time, do you give the person with everything? This time next weekend people will be receiving treatments and tinctures, the opportunity to be smeared in algae, nibbled by fish and have wild basil shaken at them or – worst case – injected into them. While some will be delighted, others would prefer to sit naked in snow.
Here to help is The Independent on Sunday guide. From the great to the grisly, we tested this year's most talked-about treatments to see whether they are worthwhile or worse than a cracker joke:.
The Maya egg emotional cleanse and balance detox ritual of holding a chicken's egg while being circled by shaman-trained Roland Torikian, as he shakes basil and carnations, sounds bizarre. Talking through emotional problems, cracking the egg, which is read like tea leaves by Torikian, followed by a massage, are all included in the treatment. Newly launched at Triyoga in Chelsea, it is supposed to make you feel calmer, and more confident.
We were a little sceptical. How could an egg reveal anyone's emotional blueprint? But the whole treatment surprised us so much we're already booked in for another session. This is counselling mixed with an excellent back massage, unknotting long-standing muscle kinks.
There's a little less flora in the bio-energy healing treatment from celebrity energy healer Seka Nikolic, who counts the Duchess of York, Joely Richardson and Greg Rusedski as clients. With her hands hovering over the body, she claims to tap into the electromagnetic energy of the nervous system, sensing pain in areas of disease and rebalancing energy levels. Her removal of negative energy is surreal, spinning away invisible threads with clicking fingers. The half-hour treatment is refreshing; but then, lying down while listening to soothing music usually is. Still, Nikolic's advice about avoiding stress and approaching life positively is sound. Christopher French from the British Psychological Society attributes any positive results from these treatments to a placebo effect. "Believing a treatment might work means you may experience a benefit: the fact you believe it is going to work can help relieve stress and anxiety. Over and above a placebo effect, I'm not convinced of benefits of healing treatments."
At Perfect Feet Spa, the deluxe fish therapy pedicure promises to soften feet by having garra rufa fish nibble away dead skin for 45 minutes, followed by a foot massage and pedicure. There have been health concerns over the cleanliness of water tanks in such treatments, but the HPA says any risks are "extremely low". Bevis Man of the British Skin Foundation, said: "For some people with excess skin, including those with psoriasis, having this kind of treatment may help. However, as far as we're aware, actual benefits for this treatment have yet to be proven scientifically." While the tank-bred fish at Perfect Feet Spa give the feet only a polite nibble, the imported wild fish swarm up the legs enthusiastically. Their gnawing toothless mouths between the toes and ankles are ticklish, but leave skin softer.
With feet sorted, the face may need attention. The caviar facial at the May Fair Spa sounds fishy but, disappointingly, no actual caviar is involved. The face mask – made with extracts of caviar – comes as four patches of sticky paper, which melt into a clear gel when massaged, leaving skin dewy for days. But consultant dermatologist Nick Lowe advises against rubbing blinis on yourself. "It is easier to get omega 3, and omega 6, which these caviar facials contain a lot of, through health food stores or in regular creams. The best approach is to eat caviar." By contrast, a phyto-stem cell facial uses plant-derived stem cells to exfoliate and refine skin, eradicating signs of ageing. Dr Lowe believes stem cells are effective. "There is evidence plant extracts help stimulate cell growth, increasing your stem cell production and epidermal cell production." Phyto-stem cell facials have a celebrity following: fans include Jennifer Lopez, Madonna and even Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. At Destination Skin, the creamy mask is applied with a large paintbrush, and dries so stiffly it becomes impossible to speak. But it washes off to reveal a tauter, firmer, tingly face.
As if that weren't enough primping, we give the May Fair Spa's red carpet wrap a whirl. It claims to make your silhouette slimmer and firmer, and celebrities from Victoria Beckham to Joan Collins are reported to have used seaweed and algae wraps. Marine algae is smeared over your body, before you are wrapped in warm bandages, then polythene, for an hour. Mummification isn't a good look, but being bandaged isn't unpleasant. And the proof is in the inch loss – we lost 1.4 waist inches, and an inch off the thighs. However, Dr Lowe says: "The wrap is unlikely to lead to permanent loss of inches: only restricting calories and increasing exercise do that." It might just be temporary water loss, but this would be a tempting, if expensive, last-minute treatment if a dress is feeling a little too clingy.
We move on to the more hardcore treatments: ones involving needles. A Myers cocktail injection is an energy-boosting shot of magnesium, calcium and B vitamins, and a second injection of vitamin C, at the Health Doctors Clinic. The cocktail is supposed to stimulate the immune system, and helps with stress, sleep problems and vitamin deficiencies. It comes in two huge syringes, slowly injected over 15 minutes. The magnesium in the first shot widens blood vessels – some patients call it "the injection that makes you horny". Thanks to the vitamin B complex, it also smells like cat pee. But the vitamin C injection cools things down, leaving a spring in our step for days. But Dr Lowe says: "In general, this is only needed by people who are low in vitamin B12, who have pernicious anaemia and lack an enzyme to absorb the vitamin."
Scariest of all is carboxy therapy, which involves injecting CO2 into the skin. This "tricks" the body into increasing oxygen flow to the area as red blood cells pick up excess CO2 so it can be carried to the lungs and exhaled. Pioneered by Dr Jules Nabet, it is said to rejuvenate and restore skin, as new collagen is formed to improve the appearance of scars. But Dr Lowe is not convinced. "We looked extensively at carbon dioxide treatment in our clinic, and found there was very little benefit." We can't imagine that anyone would find injections enjoyable. But the results may improve over the next few weeks: can all those beauty editors be wrong?