Facial Acupuncture: Should You Try It?

Words by Amber Gibson

Photo by KoolShooters.

If you’ve ever tried body acupuncture, you might have heard of facial acupuncture. This natural alternative to Botox works in an opposite fashion, helping to relax facial muscles to tone, smooth, and soften the skin.

What is facial acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a healing technique rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine; it involves placing small needles into various muscles in the body, which causes them to momentarily tighten and then relax. Facial acupuncture is a whole-body treatment—a non-invasive and holistic approach for bringing energy and blood up to the face. You’ll likely look plumper and refreshed after the first session, but regular treatments are recommended for cumulative benefits.

What does facial acupuncture feel like?

“We always start with a few needles to ground the body,” says Dr. Armida Coughlin, who practices at Saffron & Sage in San Diego. I had received acupuncture before on several occasions, but visited Coughlin for my first-ever facial treatment. She placed a few needles in my hands, feet, and lower legs, then massaged my neck and face to release tension before inserting 25 needles throughout my dermis. I could feel a distinct prick with each needle, but any pain quickly subsided and the needles became imperceptible. The facial acupuncture needles Coughlin used were much thinner than those for the body, but there is still a risk of bruising, and I did see mild discoloration on my right cheek the following day.

Coughlin left the needles in my face for 20 minutes, and once she removed them, performed light facial cupping to help with lymphatic drainage and increase blood circulation, giving my face a more sculpted look and helping with detoxification. Coughlin usually pairs facial acupuncture with either cupping or gua sha, depending on a client’s needs and constitution.

How often should you get facial acupuncture?

For clients with deeper lines and wrinkles, Coughlin recommends a series of weekly facial rejuvenation acupuncture treatments; but for a younger client like myself, she said monthly maintenance would suffice.

Back home in Chicago, I continued my treatments at Acupuncture Center with Sunae Son. She says that facial acupuncture has soared in popularity over the past two years; she’s seen a threefold increase in the number of clients requesting it. Most of these new clients are women approaching 40 who are looking for natural aging treatments.

Still, it’s not for everyone. “Some of the older women who are already accustomed to a routine of Botox and fillers won’t be satisfied with the slower, more natural process of facial acupuncture,” Son explains. If somebody has recently had fillers or Botox, Son refrains from inserting any needles in that part of their face in order to avoid potential complications.

I’d visited Son before for cupping treatments, so she was familiar with my overall health and constitution. Like Coughlin, she began by massaging my face and neck, feeling for points of tension to guide her work. Then, she inserted several needles in my lower leg and arm, to balance my body, before beginning on my face. In my case, as somebody who heals more slowly and has dark under-eye circles, Son determined that my kidneys and spleen needed to be tonified, or strengthened, so she chose stimulation points to do just that. She also recommended that the end of my period was an ideal time for a tonifying acupuncture treatment, as it’s when my body begins to build itself up again.

Along with the thinner, shorter needles used in my face, Son also inserted a longer needle almost an inch into the top of my head, because I have a tight scalp and—like many of her clients—an overactive mind. This needle seemed to have an instant calming reaction on me, along with a subtle lifting effect on my entire face.

To minimize any risk of bruising, Son advised me not to talk or move my face once the needles were inserted; she left me to rest and relax with a plush pillow and blanket, and a buzzer in my hand to ring for her if I was in any way uncomfortable.

Benefits of facial acupuncture

After a couple months of regular facial acupuncture treatments, I found that I didn’t seem to get hormonal acne during my period, and a few of my sun spots around my eyes have faded noticeably. I often felt more energized after facial acupuncture, too, and never experienced any major bruising or negative side effects. The results are definitely more subtle than with lasers and chemical peels, but I like the approach of treating my skin and body holistically, rather than focusing solely on present symptoms.

Son recommends that any client who is intrigued by facial acupuncture try it once, and if they find it promising, subscribe to a 10-treatment protocol—spaced out with appointments every two to three weeks, depending on their particular constitution and needs—for optimal results. Everyone’s skin is different, so you’ll want to find the right routine for you. One thing’s for certain, though: it’s a quick way to get comfortable with needles.