The ancient practice of acupuncture meets the modern desire for youthful skin. (Photo: Getty Images)
Let me get this out of the way first: Needles are my worst nightmare. I shiver at the sight of syringes, and once hyperventilated so intensely at the prospect of getting my blood drawn that I had to lie down and drink a juice box — before my skin had even been swabbed with alcohol.
Which makes my visit to the New York City office of Shellie Goldstein, celebrity acupuncturist and pioneer of the AcuFacial Facelift, nothing short of a monumental personal feat. There, in a quest for smoother, brighter skin, I consented to getting a dozen thin, silver needles inserted into my face, arms, and legs during an acupuncture facelift. The procedure, a specialty of Goldstein’s and other cosmetic acupuncturists, combines the Eastern practice of acupuncture — revered for its pain-relieving abilities — with modern, science-driven dermatological treatments.
While acupuncture has been around for centuries — it originated in China and slowly made its way to the Western world — acupuncture facials are relatively new. They first cropped up in Hollywood as a hush-hush plastic surgery alternative after directors complained that both Botox and plastic surgery left actresses unable to move their faces. By inserting small, sterile needles into specific points along the face and body, practitioners say they are able to lessen wrinkles, firm sagging skin and muscles, and bring back a youthful glow — all without the risk of a frozen, unemotive face.
Kim Kardashian posted a photo of facial acupuncture to Instagram, alarming squeamish scrollers. (Photo: Instagram.com/kimkardashian)
Besides, in a world of text neck and stress wrinkles, it’s easy to see the appeal. “Some come in because they don’t want to lose control over their faces; they want to age gracefully,” says Goldstein. “Others come in because they’re concerned about Botox and what’s being injected into the skin, or are afraid of the effects of surgery because, well, you’re stuck with it.” No wonder everyone from Martha Stewart to Kim Kardashian has test-driven the trend.
Since I’m still in my early 20s, I’m not Goldstein’s typical client. But I am starting to notice a crease between my eyes (caused by squinting due to too much screen time!), and my skin looks less than glowing after a long winter spent in the Northeast.
How It Works
Cosmetic acupuncture functions in two ways: Most immediately, having an acupuncture needle inserted into a wrinkle causes microtrauma to the collagen, which encourages new growth to help fill in fine lines. Goldstein also uses a special machine with a wand to deliver a series of microcurrents to the skin, damaging collagen in a similar way. This improves “muscle tone and integrity by relaxing muscles that have gotten too tight and toning muscles that have become too weak,” she explains. A concurrent light chemical peel brightens skin.
So why needles in the legs and hands? Goldstein explains: In order to create lasting effects, you need to get to the root of the problem. The philosophy behind acupuncture, which is part of traditional Chinese medicine, involves restoration of balance within the body (yin and yang). So to fully counteract the effects of stress on the face, you must also address stress inside the body.
“You’re not just treating the surface of your skin; you’re treating your insides, too,” Goldstein explains. “Stress in your body shows up as stress on your face.”
When Goldstein sits me up after my treatments and hands me a mirror, I’m impressed. My cheekbones are more sculpted, my skin looks supple and dewy, and that line between my eyes has softened.
Why It Works
Adam Burke, PhD, director of the Institute for Holistic Health Studies at San Francisco State University, believes the effects are real and potentially lasting. “Unlike surgery, [acupuncture] can provide greater benefit than better skin tone because it can potentially treat things like insomnia and fatigue. It may actually help to improve the root of ‘tired’ skin,” Burke tells me. “Our skin is the biggest organ in the body, so improved health will show on the skin.”
Plus, cosmetic acupuncture doesn’t involve going under the knife. It “entails no incisions, sutures or acid peels, and it will not produce sudden, drastic changes in underlying structures,” Burke adds.
Of course, consistency is key. According to Goldstein (and research), to see continued results, I would need to follow up with a series of targeted acupuncture sessions.
If you want the benefits of acupuncture but can’t stomach the needles (or the price tag), Goldstein suggests researching acupressure, also rooted in traditional Chinese medicine. The practice involves pressing on various points of the body which are believed by practitioners to be connected to different organs. (And bonus: It doesn’t involve sticking needles in your face.)