Beauty

What Exactly Is Facial Acupuncture-And Why You Should Try It

The latest in wellness is actually an ancient practice.
IMAGE GETTY IMAGES / IAN HOOTON/SPL
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As far as beauty and wellness treatments go, sticking needles in one's face is nothing new. But while microneedling has only become a must-have beauty treatment in recent years, the traditional Chinese medicinal practice of acupuncture has been around for millennia. Recently, acupuncture, and facial acupuncture more specifically, have become increasingly popular as a treatment for those who are looking to tend to chronic conditions, help the body heal — or even give their faces a little tune-up.

In TCM, or Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is the belief that the body contains meridians or energy channels through which life energy or Qi flows throughout the organs and limbs, carrying out the body's daily operations. In this practice, it's believed that complications in this flow of energy are what cause illness or pain. In turn, inserting thin needles into different points on these meridians is thought to bring balance to the flow of energy in the body, which is what we now call acupuncture. Think of it like your phone's "restore factory settings" feature, but applied to your body or face.

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But is facial acupuncture right for you? We spoke with two of Manhattan's foremost licensed acupuncture practitioners, Stefanie DiLibero founder of downtown Manhattan's Gotham Wellness and Juhi Singh, founder of the Juhi Center on the Upper East Side to find out more.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FACIAL ACUPUNCTURE AND COSMETIC ACUPUNCTURE?

If you're going to commit to putting needles in your face, you need to know what type of service you're looking for. DiLibero explains that facial acupuncture could simply refer to acupuncture that is done on the face but is not cosmetic in nature—say if you wanted to treat your allergies. "There are acupuncture points on the face that help with a variety of conditions both on and off the face, such as anxiety, jaw tension, headaches, allergies, and stomach conditions," she says. "Cosmetic acupuncture aims to treat the imbalance of physiological conditions that may have an effect on your appearance by using both body and facial acupuncture points." For example, according to TCM, your chronic rosacea is probably aligned with other kinds of inflammation in your body, and that specific point on your face can be treated both externally and internally with needling.

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HOW DOES THE TREATMENT WORK?

Much like when you fall down and cut your skin, your body has a natural healing process that causes the production of new tissue — and the same works with acupuncture. "By inserting needles into different points on the face, you are creating painless micro-traumas to the tissue, which in turn tricks the brain into stimulating the production of collagen and elastin that smooths the lines and wrinkles in that area," says Singh. Some bonus benefits of poking your face with needles: according to DiLibero the process increases blood flow and stimulates an immune response that reduces inflammation and can activate any number of functional points that have various responses, like reducing jaw tension or relieving anxiety.

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WHAT DOES A COSMETIC ACUPUNCTURE TREATMENT ENTAIL?

Generally speaking an acupuncturist will start with a TCM intake evaluation that looks at all aspects of a person's life from their digestion, menstruation, sleep, energy and diet to understand their current state of wellness and how their internal health might be reflected in their face with certain chronic expressions, puffiness, wrinkles and acne. With that information, a treatment plan is created.

At Gotham Wellness, the cosmetic acupuncture treatment is a little more elaborate. "I practice a form of cosmetic acupuncture called Aculectrics, which is a combination of gentle acupuncture, therapeutic electrical stimulation and guided meditation," explains DiLibero. The treatment plan utilizes both body and facial points, and prior to facial needling, micro-current (a therapeutic electrical stimulation) is used on the muscles and meridians of the face to both boost the Qi and drain fluids.

"Once the Qi has been stimulated, the facial needles can do their work more efficiently," she says. Then the treatment is topped off with LED light therapy (another form of therapeutic electrical stimulation invented by NASA to help heal wounds while in space) over the face once the needles have been inserted. "This allows your body to absorb Qi in the form of light energy, increasing the effectiveness of the acupuncture."

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The LED Light Therapy portion of the cosmetic acupuncture treatment at Gotham Wellness

ARE THE RESULTS OF A FACIAL OR COSMETIC ACUPUNCTURE TREATMENT PURELY AESTHETIC?

In TCM, according to Singh, underlying issues appear in the face in associated conditions, whether that is puffiness, wrinkles, or acne. Thus, if approach acupuncture on the face as a way to treat internal conditions, you can see an improvement both in your appearance, and how you feel. 

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WHAT VISIBLE RESULTS MIGHT YOU SEE FROM COSMETIC ACUPUNCTURE?

While results cannot be guaranteed and vary from person to person, you may see greater radiance and better sculpted facial muscles. In other words, "the most well-rested, healthiest and calmest version of yourself," says DiLibero. Some other potential aesthetic effects: smoother, healthier skin thanks to that influx of healing collagen.

CAN COSMETIC ACUPUNCTURE HELP WITH SKIN SAGGING?

According to Singh, yes. "By restoring blood flow and helping to increase collagen production at recognized and carefully selected points, the result is a tightening of the overall appearance of the skin."

But it's not a substitute for plastic surgery if you're looking for dramatic results, DiLibero adds. "Needling helps to enhance the health and function of the skin and muscle tissue, so there will be less sagging—but it's not a facelift."


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DO SPECIFIC ACUPUNCTURE POINTS FOR WRINKLES EXIST?

Sometimes wrinkles correspond to acupuncture points on the face, which can be needled for their location and not necessarily for their function, DiLibero explains. "Other times, it's possible to needle the wrinkles themselves to release stagnation, even if they are not on standard acupuncture points."

But body points can also be used to treat the underlying causes of facial wrinkles. "For example, if you are someone who has the '11's' or vertical creases on the forehead between the eyebrows, this could be due to a habitual expression of frustration or anger." In that instance, DiLibero explains that she would needle "acupuncture point liver three" located on the top of the foot below and between the first and second toes to help move Qi in a way that relieves frustration and anger. The less often you experience these particular emotions, the less often you make their related expression, and therefore, the less pronounced those lines on your face will be.

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Have you explored alternative treatments in your skincare routine?

Yes, I have considered this treatment before.

No, this is my first exposure to cosmetic acupuncture.

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HOW LONG DO THE RESULTS FROM COSMETIC ACUPUNCTURE LAST?

It depends on each person, their lifestyle and their initial stage of health and balance, according to DiLibero. "Most cosmetic acupuncture treatments are meant to be taken in a series, generally in a group of ten, as the effects of acupuncture are cumulative."

Monthly maintenance treatments are required to keep up the good work, she adds. "Some clients will see me every other month — especially if they are in their 20s and 30s and looking to maintain their skin, as opposed to reverse aging — but others with more limited budgets will see me before an event or a photoshoot."

ARE THERE ANY POTENTIAL SIDE EFFECTS?

"The most common side effect may be minimal bruising," says Singh, who adds that is something she rarely sees.

IS COSMETIC ACUPUNCTURE A GOOD CHOICE FOR EVERYONE?

DiLibero advises that all people do their research before getting a treatment, "everyone is different, as are practitioners and their approaches," but as a rule, women who are pregnant should not get cosmetic acupuncture. However, she reminds that the treatment is, "great for post-natal and breastfeeding mamas once they have MD clearance."

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Other people who should avoid cosmetic acupuncture include people with blood clotting disorders or people who are taking blood-thinning medication, people who have had recent botox or filler and, of course, people who are expecting the same results and effects that a surgical procedure might have.

*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com

*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors

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Roxanne Adamiyatt
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