Cosmetic Acupuncture: Solution for Ageless, Clear Skin?

Two years ago, Sheila Schmidt’s face was at that awkward age when fine lines begin creeping in to meet the blemishes and breakouts she still woke up to once in a while. At 34, she opted for cosmetic acupuncture, also called facial rejuvenation, to minimize future wrinkles and clear up her occasional acne.

“I would never do Botox; I think there’s just something fundamentally wrong with injecting yourself with those things,” she says. “I have super-sensitive skin, so chemical peels are also out.”

While the procedure works to help patients of any age look younger and fresher, women Schmidt’s age can delay the onset of wrinkles before they start and also beat blemishes while keeping skin tone fresh and even, says Denver practitioner Martha Lucas. Patients should also be in good general health and report any medical issues before undergoing the procedure.

“The greatest candidates are women in their mid 30s, because it can slow down or diminish wrinkling,” Lucas says. “But who you’re also going to see are women in their late 40s and mid 50s, who have some lines and wrinkles, and we can help them too.”

What Is Cosmetic Acupuncture?

Using acupuncture needles on specific points on the face to enhance beauty and preserve a youthful appearance has been done for centuries in China and other Asian countries, but it’s just started to become popular in the United States in the past decade or so, practitioners say.

Cosmetic acupuncture is done in the same fashion as acupuncture done for general health and specific conditions, with the goal of creating collagen just under the skin to help fill in wrinkles and plump skin, similar to the results of Botox, Restylane or plastic surgery, Lucas says. Like traditional acupuncture, the cosmetic version also aims to balance the body’s energy and create a sense of well-being.

Increasingly, patients are opting for needles over the knife, says Lucas, who has been performing the procedure for eight years and teaches the Mei Zen method – literally translated as “beautiful person” – to other practitioners whose patients are increasingly asking for it.

“When I teach classes, I ask why they’ve come, and 70 percent are saying it’s because their patients are asking for it,” she says.

Benefits Of Cosmetic Acupuncture

Lauren Mathews performs the procedure at The Element Center in Denver, and says her patients find it a great alternative to Botox because it works to improve the look of the entire face and not just certain spots, and it also appeals to many who balk at having foreign substances injected into their faces.

“It fills in wrinkles and increases the collagen production in areas that need it, like frown lines, smile lines and smoker’s lines around the mouth,” Mathews says. “In addition, the color and texture of the skin brightens and smoothes and sagging gets lifted in a natural way. It’s not like a surgical facelift because it’s not that drastic.”

While most patients seek out the procedure to improve their looks and erase some of the toll time takes on all our faces, they find an added bonus in the increased sense of well-being that comes along with acupuncture, Lucas says.

“It addresses the person’s overall health, whereas a lot of the Western techniques are just about the face.”

Pins, Needles Or The Knife: How Does Cosmetic Acupuncture Compare to Other Procedures?

While most information surrounding the effectiveness of the procedure is anecdotal, one 1996 study published in the International Journal of Acupuncture said that, of 300 patients surveyed, 90 percent said they saw a lessening of lines, clearer skin tone and subtle tightening.

Since patients don’t take chemicals into their body or undergo anesthesia and surgery, there’s little if any controversy over the safety of the procedure. The worst that patients experience may be some pain during the treatment, and patients and practitioners alike say the biggest drawback is the time commitment. “It takes some time, because collagen takes some time to be permanent and there are still people who want to get an injection on their lunch break and be done with it,” Lucas says.

Sessions take up to 90 minutes each, which means the 10-session initial treatment recommended by the American Cosmetic Acupuncture Association requires a commitment of about three hours per week for five weeks. The course costs between $1,000 and $1,500, after which patients are encouraged to continue monthly maintenance sessions at about $125 to $150 a pop.

Keeping up is key, says Schmidt, whose busy life and new job kept her from making regular follow-up appointments until recently. A maintenance session a few weeks ago helped erase her recently acquired stress and smooth out new fine lines she says, encouraging her to make the time for regular appointments in the future.

The procedure may be more or less costly than other options, depending on how much work patients want. Botox injections, which are made of botulinum toxin, temporarily remove wrinkles and lines on the face, can cost between $300 and $1,000 depending on how many areas of the face are injected, and are made to be repeated every six months, according to the Ethical Cosmetic Surgery Association. Finding a qualified doctor to administer Botox is key, as improperly done injections can result in temporary eyelid drooping and weakness in the facial muscles.

Restylane, another temporary fix sold as a facial filler made of an acid that’s naturally occurring in the body, works to smooth wrinkles in the nose and mouth area and can cost between $500 and several thousand dollars per treatment, depending on the size of the area to be covered, according to the Ethical Cosmetic Surgery Association. Injections are quick, done during office visits, and results last about six months in most people, the association says. Side effects can include bruising, redness and itching, and patients with allergies may not be good candidates for Restylane.

Chemical peels, designed to even out the skin tone and remove some types of scars and precancerous growths, vary widely, with mild peels starting at $150 and going all the way up to $6,500 for a deep chemical peel. Chemical peels must be repeated periodically to maintain the effects. A peel to a small part of the face can be over in 15 minutes, while a deep, full-face procedure can take a couple of hours, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. When done by a qualified dermatologist, peels are generally safe, although there is always some risk of infection and scarring, the society says, and skin may be red and flaky for several days after the procedure.

Facelifts, which require general anesthesia and two to four weeks of recovery time, average somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000 including anesthesia and facility fees, according to the Consumer Guide to Plastic Surgery. Because it’s surgery with a general anesthesia, the procedure can take several hours and include at least one night in the hospital. While facelifts offer the most drastic changes, they carry all the risks of major surgery and the longest recovery time of the procedures listed here.

Finding The Right Acupuncurist

When shopping for a practitioner, first find a board-certified acupuncturist who is licensed in your state, then shop around until you find one who can answer all your questions and also fill you in on their patient success stories.

Lucas and Mathews say patients come to them in a couple of ways. A segment of their patients are already using their more traditional acupuncture services and, at some point, choose the additional procedures. Others hear about cosmetic acupuncture, typically from friends who have tried it. Once they’re patients, many eventually try the treatment for aches, pains or emotional issues as well.

To find a qualified practitioner in your area, try the referral page of the American Cosmetic Acupuncture Association.

Afterglow

While cosmetic acupuncture patients shouldn’t expect the immediate, dramatic results they might see with other treatments, they do report seeing some changes rather quickly.

Teresa Williams turns 42 this year and has been using Mathews’ acupuncture services for health issues, including pain from carpal tunnel syndrome and discomfort from occasional bronchitis and headaches, for about two years. Recently, she began cosmetic acupuncture as well. One morning after her second session she was putting on eye shadow and noticed she suddenly had a bit more lid to cover, she says.

“My face is definitely tighter, and I just got all excited this morning about putting makeup on,” she says.

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