Like botox, but all natural: I tried cosmetic acupuncture and here's what happened
Lifted, sculpted, and glowing.
Being an obsessive consumer of content related to wellness in any way (Goop, I am looking at you!), I have long since been a fan of acupuncture.
This thousands-of years-old Chinese treatment method is deeply rooted in Chinese medicine and an ancient philosophy that explains the body as being healthy when energy (qi) can flow freely through it. This life energy flows along specific pathways, called meridians, throughout the body. However, if the flow of energy gets blocked, like water getting stuck behind a dam, the disruption can lead to pain, lack of function, or illness.
And this is where acupuncture comes in. Acupuncture therapy can release blocked qi in the body and stimulate function, evoking the body’s natural healing response.
Think it all sounds a bit far fetched? You might be interested to know that modern research has demonstrated acupuncture’s effects on the nervous system, endocrine and immune systems, cardiovascular system, and digestive system. By stimulating the body’s various systems, acupuncture can help to resolve pain, improve sleep, digestive function, and sense of well-being.
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Cosmetic acupuncture – a 'from the inside out' approach to beauty
But, while acupuncture for health reasons has been popular even here in the Western world for a long time, facial acupuncture for cosmetic purposes is still slightly lesser-known.
However, over the past few months, I have kept coming across mentions of cosmetic acupuncture, and just how amazing it supposedly is for anything from acne scarring to dull skin or wrinkles.
Stars like Kim Kardashian, Bar Rafaeli and Jennifer Aniston have raved about the treatment, and even Millie Mackintosh recently took to Instagram to share an image of herself with several needles in her face, explaining: “My skin is smoother afterwards, it really does work on fine lines.”
So what is it? According to Amanda Nordell, a registered acupuncturist with AFPA, the oldest and largest professional body for practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Ireland, cosmetic acupuncture is an ancient practice used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and dates back thousands of years.
In fact, a quick Google search informs me that it was a common practice used by Geishas and concubines (no wonder their skin looked so flipping fabulous) and that it is still widely used in China today.
"It is often referred to as a natural 'botox,' Nordell informs me.
"And while the effects are maybe not as instant with cosmetic acupuncture as with botox or fillers, and you might need a few rounds of treatment to see the full effect, this technique is completely natural, safe and to most of my patients completely pain-free."
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In other words, instead of injecting chemicals and neurotoxins into your face, you will have tiny needles puncture your skin, that create an instant lift and glow, and even, over time, can help minimize or even erase fine lines, wrinkles and acne scarring.
Put simply, cosmetic acupuncture works by inserting several very fine needles into the face at special acupuncture points, chosen to target problems areas both on the face – and also in the body. One of the ways it works, Nordell explains, is that the needles cause a ‘microtrauma’ to the skin, which in turn encourages blood flow and the rebuilding of collagen under the skin, something which can then produce a visible freshness and glow, and even a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles.
"The needles stimulate the skin’s self-repairing mechanisms, she explains.
"They work to increase oxygen flow and stimulate micro-circulation, which will help nourish the skin, and accelerate cellular waste elimination.”
Get on the table – here is how I got on
When after our chat about cosmetic acupuncture Amanda asked me did I want to come in and test a treatment out for myself, I was quick to accept. You got me at glowy and younger-looking skin!
At the clinic, she starts by asking me about my lifestyle, diet, how my stress levels are and how I sleep. I am fascinated – as this all apparently matters greatly to my skin and the state of it.
"Chinese medicine sees skincare issues as a combination of internal and external problems," Amanda explains.
"The idea is to look for the root cause and treat both."
Once I had explained about my life (too much coffee, not enough sleep, kids driving me bonkers, work coming in stressful at times too), it was time to get on the table.
I was intrigued to find Amanda starting off by placing a few needles in my hands and feet – all designed to help encourage deep relaxation and detoxification, she explains.
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Next, she moved onto my face. First, she cleanses my skin, then moved on to the main event – the needles. One by one a tiny needle is added to my forehead, chin and cheeks. Being a little bit squeamish when it comes to needles, I feel like I almost braced myself for it to hurt, but found the needles felt like only the tiniest prick, so delicate that they barely registered.
Once my entire face was covered in needles, Amanda put a blackout eye mask on me and placed a red LED light over my face. She put some soothing music on and left me to chill out. The whole thing felt so relaxing I found myself drifting off into the cosiest nap – which is almost a little crazy, considering my entire face is covered in needles.
Twenty minutes or so later she returns to the room, and slowly starts to remove to needles. Again, this is completely painless, and just all feels so utterly relaxing, I think I drift in and out of sleep as she works away. Following the needles coming out, Amanda gently massages my face with an organic oil blend, followed by some Gua Sha and facial cupping.
"This is all just to really boost circulation, remove toxins and give your entire face a really amazing glow," she explains.
And glow it did.
Having tried many different alternative and holistic skincare treatments over the years, I am well used to the slower rate at which one can expect to see a difference. And I don't mind the wait – it is most often worth it – especially since I don't want to go down the route of Botox and other invasive beauty treatments. I like the Eastern approach when it comes to wellness and health, where practitioners look for the root cause and seek to keep the body in health rather than wait for an illness to occur before treating that.
However, even though Amanda points out that when it comes to facial acupuncture, she does normally recommend a course of at least five treatments, I must admit I was surprised to see just how much difference just the one treatment had made.
My skin looked more radiant than I can remember in a long time. I looked rested, my skin looked even, and I felt like my cheeks and jawline looked fuller and firmer too – all after just one hour (and a face full of needles).
In fact, come to think of it, the whole experience was one of the most enjoyable and relaxing facials I’ve ever had – which, I must admit, came as a bit of a surprise to me.
Clearly, as I told Amanda, there is no “beauty is pain” around here. And I am now forever hooked.