I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of a skeptic when it comes to things like acupuncture. I’d rather deal with headaches and stress by popping a couple of Aleve or working my way through a heart-pounding Crossfit workout than “focusing on my breathing” or trying “healing yoga.” But, could taking a more rounded and holistic approach be the way to go?
I talked to Dr. John J. Kim, L.Ac., O.M.D., founder of ReNuMi Wellness Center and Mila Alexandra Mintsis, licensed acupuncturist at Shift Integrative Medicine on all things acupuncture. It turns out, those little needles can solve a lot more of life’s little dilemmas than ibuprofen can, like acne and wrinkles. Consider this your non-new age-y guide to the beauty benefits of sticking needles in your skin.
Needles For: Getting Stress Under Control
"Acupuncture helps energy flow through our body through a network of meridians," says Kim. Think of meridians like blood vessels that connect acupuncture points to each other. Only instead of carrying blood, these channels carry qi (energy). When we’re stressed, these pathways become blocked; acupuncture needles stimulate points along the meridian, and help open them up.
To zap stress, needles are most commonly placed in the hands and feet. For me, it was the needle placed between my thumb and forefinger that had an immediate, just-drank-a-glass-of-warm-milk effect.
To ease stress long-term, Kim recommends a course of acupuncture twice a week for six to eight weeks. This gives the treatment time to help regulate body temperature, improve blood circulation and help you sleep better (all things that lead to reduced stress). Though it may seem counterintuitive if you’re needle-phobic, even the treatment itself is relaxing (just close your eyes). Kim says that a lot of times, people will fall asleep while they’re on the table.
Related: 7 Products to Calm You Down
Needles For: Banishing Pesky Pimples
Clearly, acupuncture isn’t our go-to method for clearing up acne (hello, face full of benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid). But Mintsis argues that topical remedies treat only the outward appearance instead of what’s going on internally. “Acne is usually an outward manifestation of an internal imbalance,” she says. When you fix that, you also quash future breakouts.
Because acupuncture addresses the root of one’s acne problem, such as digestive imbalances or a slow-moving lymphatic system, treatment varies from person to person. Mintis says that the tongue and pulse are used to determine a course of treatment and the placement of the needles. “Dietary changes, herbs and essential oils would be an additional important component of treatment,” she adds. She recommends 12 sessions for those looking to clear up their acne.
Needles For: Glowy Skin and Fewer Wrinkles
"Acupuncture has been used to improve physical appearance for thousands of years," says Mintsis. It works by creating a positive microtrauma in the skin (similar to the tears that happen to your muscles during exercise), which Mintsis says is thought to "stimulate fibroblasts and increase collagen production," meaning, you can see improved skin tone, diminished wrinkles and fine lines, a decrease in sagging skin and a youthful glow.
Mintsis says that acupuncture is unique in that it also addresses imbalances in the body that results in puffiness or chronically dry skin, which is essential for long-lasting results.
Acupuncture facial rejuvenation, as the process is called, involves placing small, hair-thin needles along certain points on the body, head and face.
Unlike Botox or invasive procedures, cosmetic acupuncture has no side effects. This treatment plan involves ten sessions over five weeks, followed by a monthly treatment to maintain the results.
Kim also developed a treatment system called ART that works by balancing hormones and regulating the digestive and lymphatic systems. “A healthy organ system is reflected as a healthy glow to the face,” he says. “ART treatment cleans body fluids by regulating water metabolism. It refreshes blood and detoxifies the whole body.” Basically, it acts like a detox and increases blood circulation to the skin — this releases muscle tightness and results in fewer wrinkles. Unlike other acupuncture treatments, the needles are removed immediately to improve collagen and muscle tone. One treatment program has four sessions.
Needles For: Helping With Weight Loss
"A series of acupuncture can regulate water metabolism for the whole body to help suppress the appetite," Kim says. Mintsis says that two points on the ear (the "hunger point" and the "stomach point"), can be stimulated, AKA needled (my words), to help get cravings and feelings of hunger under control. Certain points on your body — just above the ankle bone on the inside of your leg, for one — can also be stimulated to help improve metabolism.
Don’t expect it to be magic, however — Mintsis notes that this isn’t any substitute for exercising and maintaining a healthy diet (so don’t toss that kale and gym membership just yet), but it is an effective tool to have in your arsenal to help you reach your goals. Twelve sessions seems to be the magic number; that’s how many are recommended to assist with a weight-loss plan.
Needles For: Calming a Tension Headache
If you’re chronically stressed (see above), you’re probably pretty familiar with tension headaches. While headache pains occur in the head, Mintsis says the culprit is usually somewhere else. “Poor posture, heavy bags and long hours at work in front of a computer create a lot of tension in our neck and upper back muscles,” she says. “In addition, a lot of people carry their stress in their neck and upper back, and feel increased pain and tension every time they are exposed to a stressful situation.” (Which is most of the time, for many of us).
To relieve this, Mintsis explains that, in Chinese medicine, you place the needle where the tension is to balance the qi and increase blood flow to the area. “That is the ‘calming point,’ and if you place needles at many of these, then you open the channels of chi, to ease pain in the body,” she explains.