Facial fillers and Botox have become incredibly popular over the years, with millions of individuals undergoing each treatment. But there might be a natural alternative that can help treat the signs of aging and potentially help with other health issues.
Enter facial acupuncture, a treatment that falls under the larger acupuncture umbrella, according to Amrit Singh, a registered acupuncturist and founder of 6 Babe Beauty in Toronto, Canada. Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine that is a key aspect of traditional Chinese remedies; the treatment uses needles to stimulate balance and flow of chi, which is “the circulating life force whose existence and properties are the basis of much Chinese philosophy and medicine,” according to the English Oxford Dictionary.
Facial acupuncture, or “cosmetic acupuncture,” as it’s sometimes called, is “a little bit more beauty-focused in that we are putting needles in the face to stimulate collagen production, improve skin quality, help heal acne, help heal acne scars, but we are also still using body points,” Singh said.
A typical facial acupuncture treatment involves about 40 needles in the face and 12 needles on the body, though that can vary depending on an individual’s skin goals. Needles are left in the skin for about 20 to 25 minutes. Singh added that the treatment is part of a holistic approach to healing, as it’s said to be able to address skin concerns as well as things like digestive issues or anxiety.
“It’s actually quite a bonus, because you’re getting a beauty treatment, but we’re also working through your inner body systems at the same time,” she said.
Like acupuncture, this treatment has been around for thousands of years, but in the past it was typically reserved for the upper echelons of Chinese society. Now it’s becoming more widely accessible.
With all that being said, it should be noted that this form of alternative medicine hasn’t been very widely studied, so hard scientific data is lacking.
To learn more about facial acupuncture ― including how and if it works for anti-aging and acne ― we spoke to Singh, as well as fellow acupuncturist Kacie Krecolowich, a registered acupuncturist and founder of Silk + Palm in Toronto, and dermatologists Dr. Hadley King, Dr. Samer Jaber and Dr. Loretta Ciraldo. Read on to see what they had to say about it.
How does facial acupuncture help with anti-aging?
Collagen production slows down as we age, which can lead to fine lines, wrinkles and a decline in elasticity. Facial acupuncture is said to help with collagen production, which would, in theory, help treat and prevent the signs of aging.
Here’s what acupuncturists say about it:
Krecolowich called facial acupuncture “a natural facial rejuvenation treatment” that involves inserting acupuncture needles into specific points on the face.
Essentially, the physical act of piercing the needles into the skin causes microtrauma to the skin, “which signals your body to send collagen to that area to heal,” Krecolowich added. She also said the microtrauma helps to encourage blood flow and increase healing speed, which ultimately gives a “glow” to the skin.
And here’s what dermatologists think:
“I think from a rejuvenating perspective, you could think of [facial acupuncture] as a very light dose of microneedling, which we know stimulates collagen and helps the tone and texture of the skin,” King, a New York-based dermatologist, told HuffPost.
She did note that facial acupuncture would use fewer needles than a microneedling treatment but agreed that “every time you insert a needle, it’s going to activate the wound healing cascade, and that does stimulate collagen and blood flow.”
Jaber, a New York-based dermatologist at Washington Square Dermatology, told HuffPost that, although a dermal injury can stimulate the formation of new collagen, “there are so many other treatments that we know work. like microneedling or fractionated lasers.”
His advice, then, “would be to do a procedure that you know works over something that may or may not be effective.”
Is facial acupuncture really a natural alternative to Botox?
Here’s what the acupuncturists say:
“Yes and no,” Krecolowich said, noting facial acupuncture won’t prevent muscle movement in your face. Botox, on the other hand, temporarily paralyzes muscles.
“I prefer the cosmetic acupuncture because you’re getting the other health benefits as well from it, and again, you’re boosting your own collagen production, which you aren’t getting with the Botox,” she said, adding that she’s seen great results with some of her clients.
Singh said that she agrees facial acupuncture can be “an excellent option if you don’t want Botox” but acknowledged that some individuals like (and might prefer) the effects of Botox.
“I have had patients who have done Botox and they come and see me and then they don’t do it anymore, or they cut it down by at least 50 to 70%,” she said.
Here’s what dermatologists think:
King said that the idea of facial acupuncture acting as a sort of natural Botox treatment to address the muscles under the skin was an interesting concept.
“I don’t know if there have been good trials of that, so I can’t fully endorse it because I haven’t seen data,” she said, “but that’s a possibility.”
“I think it’s not going to have as strong an effect as Botox, and I think that it’s something you’re going to have to keep doing quite regularly, so you’d have to decide if it’s worth the time and energy to be going regularly,” she added.
Ciraldo, a dermatologist based in Miami, was on the same page, saying she doesn’t think people should go into a facial acupuncture treatment expecting fast results. She said she’s treated patients who get facial acupuncture but noted that they’ve been doing it for many years. “It seems like it takes quite a while to see results,” she said.
“I think one of the problems that most of us have in the Americas is that we want the results yesterday,” Ciraldo pointed out.
The science behind facial acupuncture’s potential Botox-like effects is limited, though there was one small study done in 2013 that showed “a significant improvement” in facial elasticity in five sessions. The study also concluded that more large-scale studies needed to be done for more reliable statistics.
Oh, and for what it’s worth, you can get facial acupuncture and Botox; the two aren’t mutually exclusive, Ciraldo said. She just advised waiting at least two weeks after having injections before going for acupuncture. Singh recommended waiting six to eight weeks, and Krecolowich suggested waiting four weeks.
What about acne? Can facial acupuncture help?
Aside from its supposed anti-aging benefits, facial acupuncture is also said to help treat and clear acne, even of the cystic variety.
Here’s what acupuncturists say:
People have acne for different reasons, whether it’s a slow digestive system, hormonal imbalances or just using the wrong products, Singh said. There are two ways facial acupuncture can help, she said.
“If it’s more of an internal condition, we’re helping to balance out hormones internally with the body points,” she said, adding that acupuncture points are on “meridians,” or energy lines that are connected to the body’s organs. To treat skin conditions, acupuncture points are stimulated along the arms, legs and torso, according to the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine.
In a more physical sense, Singh and Krecolowich said that acupuncturists can also surround a breakout with needles to help with the blood flow and healing response in that specific area.
“When you’re putting needles around the breakout, your body has to think about that area more again, so it’s going to send more blood and more white blood cells to the area, which is going to ease the bacteria under the skin that’s also causing the acne,” Singh said.
Krecolowich added that surrounding the breakout can help shrink it or, sometimes, clear it up completely. The technique also helps to build back collagen where scars develop and help with hyperpigmentation, she said.
Here’s what the dermatologists say:
The idea of using facial acupuncture as part of a self-care ritual that promotes relaxation and peacefulness is something King believes is “very good for the body and for the stress levels.”
“Anything that’s good for stress levels is going to be good for health of the body, health of the skin and any skin condition that gets worse with stress, like acne,” she said.
Jaber was in agreement, saying he thinks acupuncture is helpful for decreasing inflammation and stress, which “could certainly benefit skin conditions like acne that are worsened by stress.”
So, should you try it?
While it’s true that the hard scientific data regarding facial acupuncture is low, Ciraldo said the treatment doesn’t need to be totally discounted.
“What I do honestly feel is if someone already knows that acupuncture has been good for them, and/or they already have a good acupuncturist who is practicing cosmetic acupuncture, I feel it’s definitely worth giving it a try,” she said.