Updated: Mar 30, 2021
By Daryl Fang, R.Ac
“Yes, I stick needles on your face to improve the skin’s elasticity and texture!”
I say enthusiastically to a curious questioner who asks me about where and why I need to poke my acupuncture needles on someone’s cheek, chin and forehead.
“No, I haven’t heard about Gwyneth Paltrow’s Instagram posts on her own cosmetic acupuncture treatments but I’m certainly curious now”
Another question that is directed to me about Goop’s Megawatt spokesperson and her contribution to the growing awareness of cosmetic acupuncture on social media.
If you haven’t been living four and half feet under a rock like myself, you probably would have heard of Gwyneth Paltrow’s very publicly posted insta-pop-up experiences with cosmetic acupuncture by now. Though this may seem like quite a “new” form of facial rejuvenation therapy, this particular “specialty branch” of acupuncture has actually been around for quite awhile and has been used for years in Asia to:
Enhance the appearance of one’s skin
Improve circulation to the face to ease under eye puffiness and dark circles
Plump up fine lines on the cheeks, forehead and brows
Improve the elasticity and plumpness of facial tissue
Lighten areas of hyper-pigmentation
Tighten and lift skin along the jawline
Decrease redness on the cheeks
Help with healing areas that have been scarred or marred by acne lesions
Improve texture of and re-hydrate tired, dull and flaky skin
And the awareness of this form of cosmetic enhancement therapy and its accompanying benefits has only (in my humble practice of it since October of 2018) grown exponentially in the past year! I’ve seen an increase in bookings by as much as a weekly average of at least 2 new patients a week since the last quarter of 2019 and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down much (shoutout to GP for this!).
So what’s the hype? And what exactly goes on under the skin when I pop one of those needles into an area on your brow or along the folds that lie between your nose and your cheeks?
In a word (ok, maybe two words): tissue repair.
This is literally what happens:
I would insert thin, hair-fine needles into the outermost layer of your facial skin’s dermis.
Inserting a needle, say, into your cheek, creates a “microtrauma” (or, in less fancy-pants terms, an area that the body interprets as “skin damage”).
The needle then stimulates the body to flood the area where it was inserted with extra blood so that tiny chemical messengers that carry signals to the body’s main nervous and endocrine (i.e. hormone) system can get transported to the area of injury and stimulate the tissue repair process.
What happens then is a massive collagen-building and connective tissue repair effort that gets initiated when needles are placed into a fine line on the face.
As you know, collagen is a protein that makes up most of the connective tissues of our body (connective tissue includes parts of the body such as: tendons, skin, ligaments, muscle fibres, etc.). This protein that gets plumped, built up and strengthened when the tissue repair process gets initiated in a cosmetic acupuncture treatment.
Collagen repair is what happens when tiny cosmetic acupuncture needles are placed in areas where skin is dehydrated, cracked, dimpled, scarred or damaged – in other words, where skin loses its elastic qualities and loses its structural integrity and cannot maintain a certain threshold of hydration. And when skin starts to knit back together again and maintain a certain amount of elasticity and integrity, the fine “furrow lines” the “forehead tracks” and the “nasolabial groove lines” between the outside nostrils and the cheeks start to fatten up, plump up and fill in.
Interestingly enough, the benefits don’t stop here.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory, the Stomach meridians travel through the face along the chin line, up the front and sides of the cheeks, and up along the sides of the face to the outer edges of the hairline. A lot of the points used in cosmetic acupuncture treatments for lifting and enhancing the skin are actually found on this meridian. The Stomach is the organ that is responsible for the assimilation of nutrients and healthy qi found in the foods we eat. Many of the nutrients that we take in during the digestive process produce the energy (or qi) and blood that we need to maintain healthy skin, hair, nails, as well as healthy metabolic functions.
It just so happens that as we work on the face, we also enhance the very process that allows our bodies to transform the nutrients that we take in from the food we eat to become the very basic substances (qi and blood) that help us to repair the connective tissues of our face! You may just find that digestion improves when you start a course of cosmetic acupuncture and that your skin starts to take on a more natural glow.
I have also found that a large number of my patients have also reported that they feel more at ease after a treatment and start to notice how much tension they didn’t know they held in some of the larger muscles of their face like their cheeks or the muscles along their temporal-mandibular jawline (TMJ). For a good number of some of my patients, a really nice side effect of getting cosmetic acupuncture has been the softening and release of some of the commonly held areas of tension on their faces and the growing awareness of where their bodies hold onto tension. It’s no wonder we have lines on our faces. With the constant barrage of social media, news, and nonstop stream of online information, its no wonder we do not have the time or space to rest and find our body’s natural baselines. It’s also no wonder that we furrow or knit our brows as we stare into our computer screens when we work or that we tighten our jaws and cut deep grooves into our cheek lines when we grind our lower jaws upon getting a news update from somewhere on the internet-connected world!
I often get asked how many treatments will it take to see results and what sorts of needles I use for treatments?
To answer the first question, it actually does depend on individual health, lifestyle, age, metabolic conditions and/or the amount of skin damage already incurred. Everything we do in acupuncture depends on what we see in practice when we first take in a new patient.
I will usually start with a visual inspection to assess how much skin damage there is, take the individual’s pulse and do a tongue diagnosis before determining how many treatments and at what frequency I’ll need to address the patient’s needs.
In a nutshell, depending on the minimal needs case (where the patient just wants to do preventative treatment and has very few fine lines and already practices good skincare), I may only need two weekly treatments followed by either weekly or even biweekly treatments.
In cases where there may be acne scarring, deeper fine lines, hyper-pigmentation or redness, weekly treatments may be required for at least 4-5 weeks in a row, followed by maintenance treatments every 2-3 weeks.
For higher maintenance cases such as patients who are undergoing large shifts in hormone levels (such as in cases seen in thyroid irregularities, amenorrhea, menopause etc), and who have deep skin tissue sun damage, deep lines caused by lifestyle factors (like heavy smoking, shift work and lack of sleep, etc), more frequent treatments that can fall anywhere between 2-3 treatments a week for a 2-3 week duration may be required.
And the needles I use?
Though there are many needles available to many acupuncturists, I generally prefer to pay a little more for a higher grade needle to ensure that my patients have a relatively “ouch-free” and relaxing experience. I use Seirin needles and Dong Bang intradermal needles that are made specifically for cosmetic acupuncture.
Both are high quality, single use, stainless steel needles (the former is one that gets tapped onto via a guide tube and the latter is a tiny, micro-sized needle that requires the use of tweezers to insert into the skin) and feel smooth when they are inserted into the skin. I can say the discomfort level is akin to the discomfort level experienced by someone who gets a threading or even a facial waxing or tweezing treatment from their cosmetic skincare specialist.
In other words, facial acupuncture is a whole lot less uncomfortable than a trip to your dentists’ office for dental cleaning!
So if you haven’t yet worked up the courage to try this form of acupuncture, give us a shout and let us speak to you about its benefits and whether it is a good fit for where you are in life! Until I hear from you, I hope that this post finds you in good health.
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