Updated: Apr 25, 2020
Cosmetic acupuncture and the rise of the holistic facial: would you have needles put in your face for wellness? Cosmetic acupuncture promises to lift, sculpt, rejuvenate skin and fight blemishes
What do you expect from a facial?
There was a time when it involved a cleanse, some light exfoliation and extraction if you're lucky, but things have changed – there's a new breed of holistic facialists deploying their services in the capital who have taken the concept to new heights offering multiple alternative therapies in one session, including LED light therapy, reflexology, gua sha and the star of the show: cosmetic acupuncture.
Facial acupuncture is on the radar of virtually every beauty editor in the city thanks in large part to Sarah Bradden, who started offering her 90-minute Signature Facial and Body Balancing Treatment at Harvey Nichols in 2019, and the industry has been abuzz about it ever since.
Not only is it something you'll want to get on the 'gram, it's also being hailed as the new botox, thanks to its powerful lifting and plumping powers. Naturally it's cultivated a loyal Hollywood following, with everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Jennifer Aniston being a fan.
A 360-approach to wellness
Facial (or cosmetic) acupuncture is based on the same principles as traditional body acupuncture. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe that our energy or "life force" known as the "qi" flows along "meridian" channels in the body and when this flow becomes disrupted or imbalanced it can lead to illness. Inserting needles into certain points in the body, is believed to restore this flow and therefore your overall health and wellbeing.
"Needling certain points in the body can stimulate or calm the qi of internal organs, while boosting the body's metabolism and the supply of blood to the face achieving beauty from within," says Ada Ooi, facialist and founder of 001 Skincare.
"People are looking for a 360-degree approach within their beauty treatments," says Frederika Van Hagen, facialist and owner of Saintly Skin in Homerton. "From acne to ageing, cosmetic acupuncture is a unique tool in your beauty routine. It combines traditional acupuncture points on the face for general wellbeing while also targeting areas for cosmetic purposes like the reduction in appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, lifting and toning, and an overall improvement in the skin's complexion due to increased blood flow.
"When I see a client I will always look for signs of imbalances; dark circles under the eye indicate a kidney imbalance or a quivering tongue may indicate an issue with the liver meridian, then using these meridian points we can restore the flow of qi and remove any blockages within the body," Van Hagen adds.
Meanwhile Katie White, founder of re:lax Skin Studio in Hackney, says it's a good alternative for people who can't tolerate certain skincare products. "Lots of my clients have tried to improve their skin by having facials that use harsh products containing active ingredients thinking it will get them an instant result but are often left disappointed. My clients want efficacy but without synthetic harsh chemicals or injectables."
"Not only does it work on the skin but it can support the whole body which has anti-inflammatory effects, plus anti-stress effects which can all support skin health," White says.
The new botox?
The main benefit of facial acupuncture specifically is to stimulate blood circulation and collagen production in the dermis layer of the face, which can have an anti-ageing effect, hence why some are hailing it as the new needling treatment to rival botox.
"Rather than creating stagnancy by paralysing the muscle (like botox), acupuncture encourages movement, boosting circulation, and activating your body’s natural healing responses," explains Van Hagen.
Meanwhile the effects are longer term, argues Ooi, "as it trains the body how it should behave in the long run."
Results are typically instant, with many claiming they see a reduction in the appearance of fine lines, a glowier complexion thanks to the circulation boost, and more toned facial muscles, but the full benefits can continue to develop hours - days even - later, and most cosmetic acupuncturists recommend a course of treatments for best results.
"You'll see a healthy post-gym look straight away, with blood and oxygen being pumped through to the acupuncture area," Ooi says. "As excessive fluids start to drain away, after a few hours or the next day you'll see more sculpted contours." She adds that if you don't consume excessive sodium or alcohol the can last for at least five days."
"And there are no negative side effects to acupuncture unlike with Botox," White adds. "We're still unaware of the danger of the long term use of injecting chemicals into our faces."
Cosmetic acupuncture for treating acne
Most cosmetic acupuncturists will decide where to insert needles based each each client's needs and problem areas. One area where it has been know to have benefits is in treating hormonal and cystic acne – when Ooi worked her magic on me, blemishes on my chin cleared up almost over night.
"A common cause of cystic acne is hormonal changes triggered by age or stress. In TCM we believe the negative emotions for this are stored in the liver leading to a liver qi deficiency, so I address this by inserting needles along the liver meridian in the face," explains Ada.
"I also apply the 'surround the dragon' method with different lengths and width of the needles depending on the depth and the spread of cystic acne. This is a very effective method as it is intrusive in a gentle way that stimulates blood and oxygen delivery,to help move the stubborn and sluggish cystic acne, while the puncture of the needles also send a neurological signal for repair and regrow of the skin structure."
Auricular (ear) acupuncture for stress, trauma and sleep
As a part of the facial treatment many therapists now also treat the ears, too. Inserting needles into the ear is known as auricular or NADA acupuncture, and it can be used for stress relief, to calm the mind and promote detoxification or sleep and even reduce cravings.
"The ear is a microsystem, just like the foot is for reflexology, so you can support the whole body from the ear," explains White. "Based on the principles of Chinese Medicine this treatment is especially effective for those with addictions, mood disorders, PTSD, and pain. It involves the gentle placement of five small disposable needles into a specific site in each ear that correspond to different parts of the body such as the lungs, kidney, liver etc."
And trust me, you will sleep like a baby afterwards.