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Illustration by Ruth Basagoitia

Cupping is an alternative therapy that uses suction cups to stimulate your skin and muscles. It can be done on your face or body.

The suction promotes increased blood circulation, which may help relieve muscle tension, promote cell repair, and aid in other regeneration.

It’s also said to improve the flow of your “qi” (pronounced “chee”). Qi is a Chinese word meaning life force.

Although the practice is deeply ingrained in Traditional Chinese Medicine, some researchers say that the earliest pictorial records originated in ancient Egypt.

Yes and no. Although they’re based on the same principle of restoration, facial and body cupping are executed differently.

Facial cups are typically smaller and softer. They’re used to gently pull the skin away from deeper layers of fascia. This increases blood flow to the area and rejuvenates the skin without leaving cup marks behind.

“Over time this practice improves the complexion and diminishes fine lines and wrinkles,” says Ananda Emily Reese, LAc, of Reese Acupuncture.

Body cupping, on the other hand, is primarily used to alleviate aches and pains.

Cup marks are almost always left behind, but they do serve a diagnostic purpose; the size, shape, and color are said to reflect the amount of “stagnation” or cellular waste buildup. These marks fade as your lymphatic system processes the waste.

The suction effect pulls blood into the area of skin underneath the cup. This saturates the surrounding tissue with fresh blood and promotes new blood vessel formation.

Cupping also promotes sterile inflammation. Sterile inflammation is a form of pathogen-free trauma. With cupping, it results from mechanical trauma.

The vacuum-like suction separates different layers of tissues, resulting in microtrauma and tearing. This triggers an inflammatory response, flooding the area with white blood cells, platelets, and other healing aids.

Facial cupping has been shown to:

  • increase oxygen-rich blood circulation
  • strengthen skin and connective tissues
  • stimulate cells responsible for collagen production
  • relax muscle tension

Because of this, the practice is said to:

  • brighten skin
  • minimize the appearance of scars, fine lines, and wrinkles
  • tone chin, jawline, neck, and décolletage
  • decrease puffiness
  • regulate oil production
  • improve nutrient delivery and product absorption

Facial cupping shouldn’t leave bruises. However, bruising can occur if the cup is left in the same place for too long. Reese says that discoloration can occur in as little as five seconds, so make sure you keep the cup moving.

Although facial cupping is generally considered safe, minor side effects are possible. They typically occur during or immediately after the treatment.

You may experience temporary:

  • dizziness
  • lightheadedness
  • nausea
  • cold sweats

In an email interview, Lana Farson, LAc and teacher at the Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College, advised against using facial cupping on broken or inflamed skin. This includes active breakouts, rashes, and sores.

At-home cupping kits exist, but you may find it easier to relax under the care of a professional. This may allow for a more even application.

Seeing a professional also ensures that the proper technique is followed.

If you decide you want try cupping at home, ask your practitioner for guidance. They can answer any questions you may have and may be able to recommend a reputable at-home kit.

A word of caution: You may develop unwanted bruising while you refine your technique. It may also take longer to achieve your desired results.

There are a variety of different cupping kits you can use. Some cups are made from hard plastics, while others are soft and gel-like. Both can be equally effective, so it’s ultimately up to your personal preference.

You should always follow the directions on your cupping kit.

General guidelines suggest these steps:

  1. Wash your face and gently pat dry.
  2. Lightly massage your face with your hands to release preliminary tension.
  3. Although face oils are optional, applying a light layer to your skin may help decrease your risk of bruising as you move the cups.
  4. Start by applying a small cup to your chin and around your mouth. Leave the cup in place for few seconds and then move upward to a new area.
  5. Swap smaller cups for larger cups as needed, like when you get to your forehead.
  6. Continue until you have successfully cupped all desired areas.
  7. If you used a face oil, cleanse your face and pat dry. Otherwise, use a splash of warm water to reopen your pores.
  8. Continue with your beauty or skin care routine. Facial cupping is said to increase product absorption, so now’s the time to apply.

You may notice minor redness and irritation afterward. This is normal and should subside within a few hours.

C.J., a first-year acupuncture student, prefers to cup at night so that any irritation that arises is gone by morning.

“I take showers just before bedtime,” she says. “Right after the shower, I put on a face serum and start cupping. If I need more glide, I add a face oil. My cups are only used by me, so afterward I just wash them with soap and water.”

Smaller cups work best on sensitive areas, including under your eyes and eyebrows, along your nose and T-zone, and around your mouth. Larger cups work best on larger areas of skin, such as your forehead, cheeks, and along your jaw.

You can find a facial cupping provider by doing a simple Google search for local acupuncturists who specialize in facial rejuvenation.

Acupuncture Today, a leading news outlet for Traditional Chinese Medicine, offers an online directory of Chinese Medicine practitioners throughout the United States. You can refine your search to look for local practitioners who specialize in cupping or facial acupuncture.

Cuppingtherapy.org hosts an international directory of acupuncturists and other practitioners who specialize in cupping.

As with any treatment, you should set up a consultation before your first session. Take this time to ask about their credentials, where they were trained in facial acupuncture, and how long they’ve been practicing this specific modality.

Your overall experience will depend on your individual provider’s style of practice.

If your provider only offers facial cupping, your session may be as short as 10 minutes. If they pair cupping with other therapies, your session may last 30 minutes or more.

Reese pairs cupping with acupuncture to ensure optimal results. “If someone is coming to see me just for facial acupuncture, I do some general balancing points on the hands and feet, facial massage, then cupping, then needles.”

She recommends one session a week for the first 10 weeks, then maintenance appointments once a month.

There usually aren’t any restrictions following an appointment. You should be able to drive or continue with your daily activities.

Facial cupping promotes circulation, which may help minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, decrease puffiness, and more.

You can experiment with facial cupping at home, but it may be best to reach out to an experienced practitioner for your first session. They can answer any questions you have and may be able to offer additional guidance on your skincare needs.


Yaminah Abdur-Rahim is a second year student of Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture at the Academy and Chinese Cultural and Health Sciences in Oakland, CA. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Counseling Psychology from Antioch University Seattle. She is passionate about public health, self-care, and ecology.