Is Facial Acupuncture A Natural Alternative To Botox?

You may be familiar with the benefits of acupuncture to treat everything from stress to arthritis, but did you know it can have anti-aging effects as well? Here’s what you need to know.
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Written by India Bottomley
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Is Facial Acupuncture A Natural Alternative To Botox?BaLL LunLa/Shutterstock

You may be familiar with the benefits of acupuncture to treat mind and body concerns ranging from stress to arthritis, but did you know it can have anti-aging effects as well? Acupuncture stimulates the nervous system by inserting needles at specific points on the body. These points have been established in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries, and, while they have long included the face, it’s only more recently that the age-delaying benefits have been explored.

When performed by a qualified practitioner, facial acupuncture (a.k.a. cosmetic acupuncture) is believed to treat many aesthetic skin concerns, including fine lines and wrinkles, dullness, and inflammation. Here, we speak to both a facial acupuncture practitioner and patient to learn more about the skin-boosting treatment.

Acupuncture 101

Before we explore the aesthetic benefits of acupuncture, it’s important to understand the roots of the ancient technique that dates back some 5,000 years. “Acupuncture is the practice of inserting fine needles into the body to stimulate the flow of blood and energy (Qi) to the point on the body where the needle is located,” explains Natasha Irons, ND, a naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist at Province Apothecary in Toronto. “These points correspond to a map from traditional Chinese theory that divides the body into various pathways and sections that represent various organs in our body.”

Because these points are spread out over the entire body, facial acupuncture is both a cosmetic and a whole-body treatment. As Dr. Irons shares, practitioners use traditional Chinese points and theory when deciding where to insert the needles on the face.

The Benefits of Facial Acupuncture

Our bodies begin losing collagen at the tender age of 25. “Our body makes it less efficiently, and the collagen and elastin in the face starts to decrease over time,” Dr. Irons explains. Like the theory behind microneedling (a.k.a. collagen induction theory), “it is thought that inserting needles into the skin will stimulate collagen production because your body has to make more to heal the small ‘wounds’ created on the upper layers of the skin,” she says. When it comes to skincare, Dr. Irons notes that facial acupuncture can be used to treat dermatological concerns including dry skin, acne, scarring, rosacea, and eczema.

But that’s not all. “This process increases blood flow to the face, helps to shed dead skin cells, and reduce tension in the muscles of the forehead and jaw,” Dr. Irons shares. “The needles stimulate the flow of energy to the face and body and can help with headaches, digestion, anxiety, stress, as well as improved mood.”

Facial Acupuncture Treatments

Facial acupuncture can be used as a standalone therapy, but it can also complement a larger aesthetic regimen. Just be sure to be transparent with your practitioner about any other treatments you have undergone.

If a patient has recently gotten Botox®, for example, Dr. Irons will adjust her needle placements. “I can avoid the area if Botox® was recently injected,” she shares. “So, if people have Botox® around the eyes and forehead, we still needle all around the cheeks and down the face and neck to stimulate blood flow.” As a rule, she avoids areas that have been injected with neurotoxin or dermal filler for the first six weeks after treatment. After that window, “you can needle the whole face again,” she says.

Generally speaking, she recommends one facial acupuncture session a week for eight to 10 weeks for best results.

Patient Perspective

After years of regular Botox® injections, Sinead decided to look for a more holistic approach to anti-aging and came across cosmetic acupuncture. She is now a firm believer that it’s an effective way to maintain a youthful appearance. Here, she shares her experience.

The AEDITION: Why did you try cosmetic acupuncture?

Sinead: I heard about it via a friend who is very much into a holistic lifestyle. At the time, it wasn’t really my ‘scene,’ but I decided to give a try all the same. I had just turned 45 and wanted to amp up my anti-aging regimen but also was getting cautious about having surgery or anything too invasive because I was going through the process of being diagnosed with an autoimmune condition. It seemed like a good balance between achieving the results I wanted without taking any ‘drastic’ action.

The AEDITION: What does a facial acupuncture session consist of?

Sinead: When I had my first session, my doctor took time to ask me what my specific concerns were — which areas I identified as ‘problem areas’ — and any questions I had about the practice. One of my main concerns was the fact that several needles would be in place at the same time, so my doctor took the time to show me one of the needles. I saw how tiny it was, which put me straight at ease. Since then, the sessions involve a quick check-in with how the previous results felt, and then the doctor cracks on with the process. It’s somewhat less ‘fluffy’ than a modern aesthetic medicine appointment. There are no fancy creams beforehand or samples I get sent away with. It’s more matter of fact, but it works and that’s the most important part for me.

The AEDITION: How do the results compare to Botox®?

Sinead: I feel like the results are much more natural and forgiving. It looks like I have taken care of myself over the years, as opposed to it looking like I spend a lot of time and money on looking younger now. As well as seeing fewer new fine lines, my skin looks and feels plumper and generally healthier, too. With Botox®, my face looked and felt frozen, particularly straight after having injections. With acupuncture, my face is able to move naturally, which I personally really like.

The AEDITION: What is your advice for anyone who is considering facial acupuncture?

Sinead: I think having a realistic level of expectation is important. You’re not going to have the same results as Botox® or fillers. But the results, for me at least, were exactly what I needed. I think it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about how acupuncture can fit in with your overall health plan — be it just cosmetic procedures or other medical conditions. I’ve had acupuncture for pain, too, since I started going for rejuvenation. It is an amazing tool that I hope people learn to use more readily.

The Takeaway

If your interest is piqued but you’re still not sure about the needles, know that facial acupuncture treatments can technically be performed without them. Even so, Dr. Irons finds that even the most nervous patients tend to warm up in time. “I find that after the initial consultation, my patients are a lot less nervous because they realize it doesn't hurt,” she says. “These aren't like regular needles, they are actually quite delicate — more like little hairs or toothbrush bristles.”

While nothing compares to a professional treatment, Dr. Irons says there are two pressure points you can tap into as part of a daily (needle-free!) practice. “One spot is between the eyebrows — the yin tang — which is very relaxing,” she shares. “Another spot is directly under the eyes on the cheekbones. It is good for digestion and blood flow to the eyes.” Consider that next time you are looking to inject some self care into your skincare routine.

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INDIA BOTTOMLEYis a contributing writer for AEDIT.

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