Acupuncture has been around for centuries. A part of traditional Chinese medicine, it may help treat body pains, headaches, or even nausea. But it’s supplementary benefits might surprise you — especially if you decide to let your acupuncturist have a go at your smile lines.
Enter: Facial acupuncture, the reportedly safer alternative to surgery or Botox.
This cosmetic treatment is an extension of traditional acupuncture. It’s said to naturally help make the skin look younger, smoother, and all-around healthier. And unlike injection procedures, facial acupuncture addresses not only signs of aging, but also the skin’s overall health.
“It works internally to optimize your health while simultaneously enhancing the appearance of your skin,” explains Amanda Beisel, acupuncturist and founder of SKN Holistic Rejuvenation Clinic.
Is acupuncture safe? Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years. It’s recognized as effective by the World Health Organization with established guidelines for practice. In the United States, acupuncturists are licensed by their state’s department of health. Checking for licenses is a good place to start looking for reliable and properly trained practitioners.
After a regular full-body acupuncture treatment, the acupuncturist will move on to the facial portion of the treatment. If the practitioner only does the facial part of the treatment, Beisel doesn’t recommend it.
“If you were just going to put a large number of needles in the face and not the full body, this would result in energy congestion in the face,” she says. “A client can experience dullness, headache, and discomfort.” When you start with the body, you can experience a full flow of energy that helps support the facial acupuncture.
On the face, the acupuncturist will insert 40 to 70 tiny and painless needles. As the needles puncture the skin, they create wounds within its threshold, which are called positive microtraumas. When your body senses these wounds, it goes into repair mode. This is the same idea microneedling uses to get bright, anti-aging results — except acupuncture is a bit less intense, averaging about 50 punctures. Microneedling applies hundreds of pricks through a rolling device.
These punctures stimulate your lymphatic and circulatory system, which work together to deliver nutrients and oxygen to your skin cells, nourishing skin from the inside out. This helps even out your complexion and promote your skin’s glow. The positive microtraumas also stimulates the production of collagen. This helps improve elasticity, minimizing fine lines and wrinkles.
The average cost of a facial treatment can range wildly from $25 to $1,500, according to RealSelf.com. Of course, this depends on your location, studio, and whether you get a facial plus full-body treatment or only a facial. (But as Beisel recommends, avoid only going for the face — it won’t make you look good.)
Facial acupuncture isn’t just a safer option, but also more affordable than surgery — which can cost north of $2,000. Depending on which studio or spa you go to, facial acupuncture is about the same if not more than dermal fillers, too. One dermal filler treatment can range between $450 to $600.
According to Beisel, the main result people experience is a bright complexion. “It’s as though the skin has been awakened from a long, deep sleep,” she says. “All the fresh blood and oxygen flood the face and really bring it back to life.”
But unlike Botox or dermal fillers, facial acupuncture isn’t a quick fix of any kind. “I like to manage clients’ expectations,” explains Beisel. “The focus is to create long-term changes in the health of the skin and body, not short-term quick fixes.” By this, she means better collagen stimulation, a brightened skin tone, reduced jaw tension, and a softer appearance overall on top of health benefits like reduced anxiety and tension.
One study found that the majority of people saw improvements after just five sessions of facial acupuncture, but Beisel recommends 10 treatments once or twice a week to see optimum results. After that, you can go into what she calls a “maintenance stage,” where you get the treatment every four to eight weeks.
“It’s a great treatment for those who are really busy and on the go,” she says. “It allows the body time to relax and restore.”
If you’re unable to commit to that kind of time or money to maintain treatments, another way to help preserve your results afterward is to feed your skin through a well-balanced diet and well-formulated skin care routine.
Can’t get facial acupuncture? Try this “Provide the body with nourishing whole foods and superfoods every day, avoiding sugar, alcohol, and refined foods,” Beisel says. “And provide the skin with a high-dose of nutrients and hydration to keep it healthy and functioning at its optimal level.”
The most common side effect for facial acupuncture — or really any acupuncture — is bruising.
“This only happens about 20 percent of the time, but is still a possibility,” says Beisel, who adds that bruising should heal before the week is up. To avoid bruising and instead achieve the best results, the person receiving the treatment should be in good health for maximum healing capabilities. This is why people with bleeding disorders or uncontrolled type 2 diabetes shouldn’t seek this treatment. If you do experience bruising, Beisel reassures that any bruising often heals quite quickly.
Research seems promising, but as this study in The Journal of Acupuncture points out, not enough research has been conducted to fully conclude facial acupuncture’s health and skin care benefits. However, if you’re already seeking acupuncture for other pains, ails, or needs (such as headaches or allergies), it might not hurt to ask for a facial add-on to your session.
If having 50 or so needles in your face isn’t a step you’re ready to take just yet, try one of these six steps to help unveil new skin.
Emily Rekstis is a New York City-based beauty and lifestyle writer who writes for many publications, including Greatist, Racked, and Self. If she’s not writing at her computer, you can probably find her watching a mob movie, eating a burger, or reading a NYC history book. See more of her work on her website, or follow her on Twitter.