beauty

TRIED AND TESTED: I had cosmetic acupuncture, the ancient 'cure all' beauty treatment.

Mamamia’s Tried and Tested series is your weekly review of the latest to hit our desks in beauty, health and wellness. You won’t find any #sponsored content here, just honest, relatable and independent advice. This week, Senior Lifestyle Writer Amy Clark road-tested cosmetic acupuncture.

It’s been two weeks since I decided to have 21 colourful needles stuck into my face in the name of plump, juicy skin.

No, I’m not talking about botox or filler (yet). I’m talking about cosmetic acupuncture.

Cosmetic acupuncture, or face acupuncture, is exactly what it sounds like – acupuncture, for your face. There’s a lot to know about cosmetic acupuncture and how it’s used in the beauty world, so here’s everything you need to know from someone who’s had it done.

Before we get into it, here’s a video demo of how you can use coffee in your beauty routine. Not at the same time as cosmetic acupuncture though… Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia

What is cosmetic acupuncture?

Dr Vivian Tam is a Doctor of Chinese Medicine, acupuncturist, educator and founder of Cosmetic Acupuncture Melbourne. Dr Tam explained cosmetic acupuncture is essentially what emperors and empresses did to look after their skin back in the day.

“Facial acupuncture is an ancient beauty protocol spanning back thousands of thousands of years. From a scientific point of view, it’s based on the concept of stimulating collagen through trauma, but it’s an ancient form of Chinese dermatology,” she told Mamamia.

So, yes, it’s about your face (and we’ll get to what this treatment can do for your face in a bit), but cosmetic acupuncture from a Chinese medicine perspective is all about ‘qi’, the Chinese word for ‘energy’.

Dr Tam added, “We believe energy flows through the body like blood, and when people are stressed, we always say the energy becomes stuck. Cosmetic acupuncture is about unblocking that energy and allowing it to flow for the body to function optimally.”

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How does cosmetic acupuncture work?

If you’ve ever had acupuncture on your body before, cosmetic acupuncture looks very much the same. But it actually works on the face in three different levels. Dr Tam calls her technique the “Triple Threat Against Ageing” and it goes something like this:

1. Cosmetic acupuncture for glowy skin.

This is what you’ll see as your post-treatment glow thanks to, as Dr Tam explained far more scientifically, happy, well-oxygenated skin cells.

“The first level we work on with cosmetic acupuncture is blood circulation. The moment the needles go in, we increase blood flow and more blood flow means more oxygenation of the cells. This means the cells are just healthier and happier. The result is a skin glow and brightness on a complexion level,” she said.

People who struggle with dry, dull, tired-looking skin that doesn’t hold moisture, or just feel like their skin is ‘meh’, can benefit from this surface level of the treatment. But a bulk of Dr Tam’s clients come to treat skin conditions like acne, dermatitis and eczema as cosmetic acupuncture can help with reducing inflammation and lymphatic drainage.

2. Cosmetic acupuncture for anti-ageing.

Next is how cosmetic acupuncture stimulates collagen and elastin production (i.e. the squishy, plumping stuff within the scaffolding of the face).

Much like other in-clinic skin treatments like skin needling or at-home dermarolling tools, face acupuncture needles create tiny microtears or microtraumas in the skin for the body to recognise something’s going on. This triggers a healing response to produce more collagen and elastin to the site of the trauma. The difference? Cosmetic acupuncture needles can penetrate the skin between 10 to 15mm, whereas dermarolling tools start from .2mm or .5mm.

Dr Tam added, “We can use this for all sorts of things like fine lines and wrinkles, but also down to things like sagging and loss of firmness in the face.”

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3. Cosmetic acupuncture for facial muscle tone.

The third and most unique part of cosmetic acupuncture is how it works deep into the facial muscles.

“We can use the needles to pin point what we call motor points and get the nerve to signal to certain muscles to relax. For example, we can actually go as deep as targeting the facial muscles to help with severe frown lines from holding tension in the face. Some people’s facial muscles have been in a squeezed state for so long, the body doesn’t recognise it on its own,” Dr Tam said.

The same approach can ease pain in the temples or jaw related to muscle tension, and also work in the opposite way to trigger muscles to tighten and tone (for example, sagging around the mouth).

Cosmetic acupuncture benefits.

So, who is cosmetic acupuncture for?

Dr Tam sees clients who fall into three categories: those with specific skin conditions, those looking to treat or reverse signs of ageing like fine lines, wrinkles, sagging and skin tone, and those who are skin care junkies looking into preventative anti-ageing options (think of it as building a retirement fund of collagen for your face).

Then, there’s the holistic benefits of cosmetic acupuncture.

“Cosmetic acupuncture is constitutional. It’s never just about the face, because the face is a reflection of what’s going on with the rest of the body. We also look at diet, gut health, sleep and hormones, among other things.”

Cosmetic acupuncture risks and down time.

There really isn’t any down time for cosmetic acupuncture, despite the treatment involving needles stuck in your face. You shouldn’t expect any red or raw skin, or peeling and bleeding because face acupuncture needles are so fine and sharp.

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Dr Tam said the only risk is the potential of bruising, which is uncommon but may happen depending on your skin sensitivity or what kind of muscle work you’re having done. You can prevent bruising by avoiding fish oil, ibuprofen and aspirin in the 10 days leading up to your treatment. If you do get bruising, it’ll be spot bruising the size of a sultana that’ll go away within two to three days.

Another thing – your technician needs to know if you’ve had Botox and how long ago. This is because if you’ve had muscles frozen with Botox, they’ll want to make sure they keep that area free from acupuncture needles.

Does cosmetic acupuncture hurt?

No. Honest, it really doesn’t.

Once the needle goes past the skin surface level where there’s nerve endings, you shouldn’t feel a thing. If you’re sensitive, you may feel something like a very quick bite, but it’s more of a sensation than being uncomfortable.

Again, this is because the specific, high-quality Japanese needles are super fine, sharp and refined. For context, they start at .1mm in width and go up to .18mm. They’re so fine, my camera literally couldn’t even take a photo of one that fell out of my hand while I was busy taking selfies.

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See? What needle? Image: Supplied/Amy Clark.

Cosmetic acupuncture cost.

Cosmetic Acupuncture Melbourne charge $180 for their initial consultation and treatment, which is a 75-minute skin assessment and face and body acupuncture treatment, and $136 per session thereafter. They also do bulk treatment packages.

When looking for a practitioner in your area, be aware skin treatments aren't the area of your beauty routine you want to scrimp on. Always look for reputable places that can show you client testimonials and reviews, and are happy to answer all your questions.

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What is having cosmetic acupuncture actually like?

In photos, having upwards of 20 needles in your face (you can have up to 50ish) looks hectic, but I legitimately found the treatment very relaxing.

A skilled acupuncture therapist will pop all the needles in quite quickly and gently, and then you get to lie down for between 20 to 40 minutes. I could definitely feel something happening under the skin where the needles were - I only had 21 needles as an extra precaution against bruising as I was going to a wedding the next day - and I'd describe it as a tingly, buzzing sensation. Of course, I was on my phone the whole time, but I also could've fallen asleep.

Immediately after the treatment, my face was a bit splotchy in certain places, but I was noticeably plumper and glowier as per the skin level benefits. I didn't have any bleeding, irritation or soreness, but I did come up with one tiny, perfectly round bruise on the right hand side of my jaw that went away in a day or two.

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Here's me and my face before the treatment being examined by Dr Tam. Image: Supplied/Amy Clark.
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BAM there's needles in my face. Image: Supplied/Amy Clark.
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This is what Dr Tam calls the Rachael Finch shot because Rachael Finch did it once. So now I am Rachael Finch. Image: Supplied/Amy Clark.
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Here's what my face looked like straight after, a bit red and splotchy. Image: Supplied/Amy Clark.
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And the other side. Image: Supplied/Amy Clark.
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This is my 'after' shot - check out how oxygenated my skin cells look! Image: Supplied/Amy Clark.

Final thoughts...

If you've got the cash and have been thinking about trying cosmetic acupuncture, are interested in natural alternatives to anti-ageing skin treatments or already love traditional body acupuncture, this treatment is for you.

I had one session so can only speak to the surface results of the treatment, which left my skin feeling very glowy and fresh. I'm not sure if my qi was unblocked, but I did feel bloody fantastic in the days afterwards.

Could've been the wedding champagne(s), though. Guess there's no way to tell.

Have you tried cosmetic acupuncture? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

Mamamia's Tried and Tested series drops every week. Want us to trial and review a product or treatment you've seen everywhere? Easy, just send an email to [email protected] 

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