Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to treat illness, disease and pain. Now, it increasingly is used to erase years from faces. U.S. physicians and other researchers have been studying acupuncture and its effects on the body and in medicine for several decades.
When 52-year-old Linda S., a medical assistant in New York City, noticed the creases in her face were getting more pronounced, she thought once again about plastic surgery.
“In the past, I’ve had collagen injections but there is some pain involved and I don’t like the idea of a foreign substance being injected into my body,” says Linda (who did not want her full name used.) “After several treatments, the collagen only lasts about two months.”
But she heard the physician where she works referring some patients out for acupuncture treatments. So Linda decided to try acupuncture for facial rejuvenation after she saw an ad about it.
“After ten treatments over two months, I noticed a big difference in my facial lines,” she says. “An unexpected bonus was that the acupuncture treatments also cleared my facial skin and gave some needed lift to a drooping eyelid.”
Linda was delighted about her improved facial skin because she was, in her youth, a serious sun worshiper and, consequently, now has some ruddy complexion which the acupuncture treatments seem to lessen.
More physicians are joining the ranks of acupuncturists who are seeing their services increasingly coming into demand. Some 2000 M.D.s who have learned -- and now practice -- the ancient art belong to the American Association of Acupuncture Medicine (AAAM) and hope to better separate fact from fiction and myth from reality. The AAAM’s mission is combining the best of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with the evidence-based medicine practiced in the West.
In New York, two acupuncturists joined forces to investigate the results of facial rejuvenation via acupuncture on study subjects.
Diane J. Krause, M.D. and Shellie Goldstein, M.S., both licensed acupuncturists in the Empire State, studied ten Caucasian women over 40 who were given ten sessions each of a procedure known as AcuFacial in which needles and a weak electric current are applied to the acupuncture points on the face. The practitioners took before and after pictures. Later, based on assessment tests, the researchers reported all the women noted improvements in skin color, texture and muscle tone. Yet another study printed in the International Journal of Clinical Acupuncture showed that, of 300 people who received facial acupuncture, 90 percent saw marked results after the first course of treatment.
“I essentially treat the whole patient with acupuncture and TCM but concentrate on facial muscles which were tightened, resulting in look that is about ten years younger than the person’s actual age,” says acupuncturist Goldstein who adds that monthly visits are required to keep the more youthful look up to date.
Other U.S. researchers have studied acupuncture on a handful of medical woes. Scientists now know the practice is valid for pain control and a handful of other common ailments. Additionally, more major universities are offering acupuncture training for licensed physicians who want to use the technique as an adjunct to their other treatments and services.
Other acupuncturists – including several M.D.s -- claim the tiny hair-width acupuncture needles inserted into certain places in the facial skin – and elsewhere on the body -- can cause fine facial lines to disappear, deep lines to get smoother and broken capillaries, acne and rosacea to improve. All the procedure require several half-hour sessions during which your face, and parts of your body, may come to resemble a pincushion.
“I think acupuncture can make a face look younger because the needles cause the body to form additional natural collagen which gives human skin its radiance and youthful, healthy look, ” says Patrick J. LaRiccia, M.D., a Philadelphia plastic surgeon who performs and teaches acupuncture. “An acupuncture facelift requires about 25 needles just slightly inserted into the skin. The needles also increase blood flow to the face which causes many good things to happen. Additionally, some medical studies have shown that acupuncture stimulates the body’s own pain killers, the endorphins.”
A Cat’s Whisker
Increased blood flow means more nutrients going to the face while more waste matter is carried away, invigorating the muscles. Moreover, as we grow older, blood vessels tend to become smaller in all parts of the body. Physicians says acupuncture needles don’t feel like syringe needles because those needles are hollow, sharpened and often force substances under the skin, all of which cause pain. But acupuncture needles – which most practitioners compare to the thickness of a cat’s whisker – are not sharp so they don’t sever nerves, tissues or other bodily structures as they move through the skin. Moreover, acupuncture needles placed at different depths produce various results.
“I find that a patient in middle age is the best candidate for an acupuncture facelift,” says Dr. LaRiccia who reports he can see facial skin improve before his eyes as he ever-so-gently puts the needles into place.
Martha Lucas, PhD., an acupuncturist at the Colorado Center of Traditional Medicine in Denver says after a series of about ten treatments, facial skin becomes more delicate, with fewer wrinkles.
“Acupuncture treatments can remove fine lines on the face and reduce the deeper folds, lift up droopy eyelids, clear age spots and firm up sagging facial skin,” says Dr. Lucas. “The treatments are also good for removing crow’s feet.”
No Incisions, Scars or Anesthesia
Acupuncture lifts are largely desired by people who do not want incisions, scars or going under anesthesia. Results usually last three to five years. Acupuncture would not, however, be able to change the shape of the chin, nose or ears according to Peter G. Hanson, M.D., who uses acupuncture for facelifts, scar reduction and vein removals, among many other medical afflictions.
“Acupuncture is absolutely evidence-base medicine,” says Dr. Hanson. “And, no, we do not throw hands full of rice to the four winds before setting the needles. At first, Western doctors thought acupuncture cures were affected because of a belief system. But acupuncture has been used with good results on thoroughbred Kentucky race horses. And horses don’t have belief systems.” Dr. Hanson is also a former officer and current member of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture.
“Traditional Chinese Medicine concentrates on the health of the whole person,” adds Dr. Lucas. “So the concept would be insuring the remainder of the patient’s body – as well as the face – is healthy.”
Consequently, Dr. Lucas says some facelift patients have noticed, for instance, their digestion or arthritis, also improving after facial treatments.
“Many women are just afraid of surgery,” says Dr. Lucas who reports the number of patients seeking facial acupuncture treatment has quadrupled in the last three years. “They don’t want to take chances they might come out of an operation with not only an ice bag on their face but with some more serious side effects.”
Some types of acupuncture place needles directly within facial wrinkles. Yet another type of non-surgical cosmetic rejuvenation applies electric current, ultrasound or radio frequency waves to the traditional acupuncture locations – but without the needles. And some acupuncture practitioners jab needles into the traditional places and then apply small amounts of electricity. One common use, for instance, is helping stubborn long broken bones knit better -- by driving one needle into one end of a broken bone, another needle into the opposite end and then applying a small current.
“I’ve used micro current in association with acupuncture to tone the muscles in the face,” says Marshall Sanger, D.O. a Philadelphia physician and past president of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. “Western-trained physicians have a real edge because the placement of acupuncture needles is precise and depends on expert knowledge of the underlying anatomy,”
China had 5000 years to experiment with acupuncture and hit on some amazingly effective treatments.
“TCM describes an important acupuncture location in the neck,” says Dr. Hanson. “Eventually, Western medicine also discovered the importance of that gland we now know as the stellate ganglion. Nonetheless, most M.D.s who use acupuncture don’t say the practice is a replacement for plastic surgery, just an addition.”
Many patients report yet another major reason why they chose acupuncture over going under the knife for a facelift: Chinese Medicine is free of side effects and, while not cheap, is much less expensive than traditional cosmetic surgery.
Because acupuncture patients going under the needle for facial rejuvenation also sleep better, have more energy and better digestion, they know their treatments are something more than just skin deep.