It's probably not what you think. Treating the face is not solely about vanity and raging against the changes we see in the mirror as the years tick on, with societal pressure building to rebel against every new little assault. Don't get me wrong, this is a real thing, and I'm on board. It's just not the whole story.
My trajectory to focus on cosmetic acupuncture goes back to my work as an esthetician. I found that people who received regular facials and used the home care recommended had much improved outcomes relative to keeping their skin looking as youthful as possible, to an extent. Facials work to maintain the skin and prevent signs of accelerated aging in the skin, and in some cases turn back the clock a bit when it comes to damage done.
There used to be a mentality that taking care of your skin was a luxury, going to a spa was an indulgence to be had on a vacation. But even in the resort setting I worked in for years, I found women with concerns for their skin that went well beyond relaxing and achieving a temporary glow as a one-off experience.
It's a psychological minefield to look in the mirror and see the fine lines, wrinkles, spots, and sagging. This normal aging process seems to take it's toll on some more than others. For those that struggle, I advise not getting one of those super magnification mirrors for your bathroom. I have clients that want me to fix something I need glasses and a 10 diopter loop to find because they've been looking that hard for imperfections.
Hence, I'm also trying to subtly shift the conversation over what is acceptable in a woman's skin as she ages. Men's 'smile lines' are often celebrated as looking distinguished. So why aren't women's lines seen as signs of a life well lived, one that involved a lot of smiling that reached the eyes. This is something I definitely struggle with myself, especially coming from the skincare industry.
The game-changer that made me want to pursue a different line of education and licensing in skincare, namely acupuncture, is that I found issues with the skin do not occur in a vacuum.
While genetics and lifestyle play a big role, the body itself often holds the clues to why the skin is shifting or having unwanted changes and challenges. These were challenges I could not address fully as an esthetician. I also found Chinese medicine provided the lens to view the skin in a much different light - knowing how the health of different organs are reflected in the skin, or how we hold emotions in the face..
A good example is redness in the skin. I have found client responses to redness in their skin vary, from 'it's fine, I look like I have a glow or got some sun' to fretting and covering it up with makeup, and even dealing with sensitivity and discomfort. So as an esthetician, my favorite go-to for soothing redness might be a cooling hydrosol or serum with ingredients that support the capillaries, like rosehips (loaded with vitamin c) and calendula, and a lovely soothing clay mask to remove heat (a nourishing whipped kind, not the dry up and draw out kind). But this heat is not simply a surface reaction to do with the face, it comes from the inside out.
So while topicals can encourage some types of healing and comfort, it's best to address the condition from a constitutional angle - treat the true source, the root cause. This is where acupuncture and Chinese medicine enter.
Now I have the tools to assess why you have heat in your face - where is it located? The cheeks? All over? Is it worse with certain activities or foods? How else is heat manifesting in your body - constipation? Indigestion? High blood pressure? Is your redness hereditary? Once we've established the root cause, we treat accordingly. Acupuncture alone can release heat in the channels, lower blood pressure, herbal formulas balance too much heat in the stomach and manage constipation or digestive disruptions. And so on. And I still have skincare to help restore calm and balance at the topical level, creating the most well rounded approach to treatment.
If your condition warrants a doctor's care, that's the right thing to do. Dermatologists have their place (especially diagnosing and managing skin disease), and of course we want your blood pressure in check. But you can work in tandem with a doctor and an acupuncture practitioner to help you not be reliant on medications and serious topicals that have their own side effects, like rebound effects, thinning the skin, and worse when absorbed into the body. Some topicals are life altering for the body.
So yes, there's an aspect of vanity to cosmetic acupuncture, but there's so much more. There's being heard with your concerns and finding solutions that are holistic with limited side effects, even if it is 'just a wrinkle'. (The biggest side effect of facial acupuncture is the possibility of a bruise, very minimal, and completely temporary. Compared to other 'interventions', this is a no-brainer.)
The benefits? Here's a starter list.
Glow. Go from dull to more radiant with acupuncture - these tiny, tiny needles bring circulation to the skin.
Repair. Acupuncture creates a healing and anti-inflammatory response in the skin. This is why it works on wrinkles, acne, and pigmentation.
Lift. By reminding muscles that weaken over time to engage.
Contour. Through acupuncture, guasha, and facial cupping - moving lymphatic fluids that are stagnant in the face. Hello cheekbones!
Shape. Relieving stress in tight areas, like the jaw and neck. This affects areas like under your chin (double chine) if you have 'text neck', constantly lurching forward.
Balance. Areas that are overly dry or oily become balanced.
Clear. Lessen congestion and breakouts. Acupuncture works on many levels to treat the causes of breakouts.
Brighten. Stagnant or out of balance systems reflect as certain colors in the skin, such as green or grey, often with circles under the eyes. By treating the system as a whole, we can brighten the complexion and under eye area.
Soothe. Acupuncture can clear heat and calm reactionary skin, along with proprietary herbal blends. Stop itching, and reduce inflammation.
Maintain. If you've taken good care of your skin, regular acupuncture can keep it in tip-top shape as you age for all the reasons above. So this ounce of prevention keeps you from having to go all out later on.
Shen. One of the biggest immediate responses is the brightness in your eyes. See the before and after of Thomas in a separate blog for an example of this.
A holistic approach also means shifts in other ways to improve your facial complaints. You might have 'elevens' between your eyes from habitually squinting or frowning, but relieving your stress or fretting ways with acupuncture and herbs will go a long way in lessening the lines developing in the first place. And that's better than botox. We work to move qi, not freeze it.
Lastly, one of my favorite things about cosmetic acupuncture is the overall effect this type of care has on the psyche of the recipient. It is one of being cared for and heard. It's an hour and some of 'me time'. And while self care might be poo-pooed by some, I find the more we think we don't have time for ourselves or deserve it, the more we actually need it. I see so many burned out moms and go-getters running on fumes and frustrated. Once they hit the table, it's a chance to restore and 'just be', letting the treatment cue the body to do what it knows how to do. Something we can't always do on our own. Then we're ready to take on the world again. We might even feel so good we aren't wrecked over a little smile line. On that note, I'm getting this treatment myself this week. :)
Thoughts or questions? Leave me a comment.
Me, circa 2014. I had the same lines then as I have now - 'crow's feet'. There's a saying, I wasted my skinny years thinking I was fat...I think the same can be said for wrinkles. enjoy the skin you're in! I have no good reason the wrinkles that were there in 2014 didn't bother me at all, same wrinkles circa 2020 and they are a project to be smoothed into submission.