How it works
Around for more than 2,500 years, acupuncture is a traditional Chinese therapy wherein practitioners place thin, hair-like needles at certain points within the body to stimulate healing. Its popularity in Canada has been on a steady increase over the past four decades, and it is now recognized as a safe and helpful way to treat everything from migraines and back pain to arthritis and asthma.
According to Toronto-based naturopathic doctor Jennifer Baer, there are two ways of looking at how acupuncture works within the body. From an Eastern perspective, it follows the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, whereby fine needles inserted in the face, arms, torso and legs encourage the free flow of "qi" (or energy) through many channels running throughout the body. From the Western perspective, it has been suggested that acupuncture stimulates the production of elastin and collagen fibres, improves circulation and relaxes tension in the muscles.
Baer says that a typical facial rejuvenation treatment would involve the insertion of about 30 to 50 needles, with the majority on the face and head, and some on other parts of the body such as the lower legs, feet, arms and hands. Because it is delicate work, she says it can take between 15 to 30 minutes to get all the needles inserted, and once they are in, they are kept in place for another 20 minutes, followed by a brief face massage.
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Does it hurt? What does it feel like?
"In areas where there is more fatty tissue, most people barely feel the needles as they are inserted," says Baer. "In delicate areas, where there are more small blood vessels, bones or nerves nearer to the surface of the skin, one might feel a slight pin prick very briefly as the needle is inserted."
Baer says she uses specialized needles on the face that are designed to be even thinner and smoother to ensure easy, pain-free insertion into delicate areas, and that patients will all respond differently to acupuncture depending on their individual constitution and sensitivity. Some may not feel anything while the needles are in, while others might experience tingling, warmth or a mild dull ache in some insertion sites.
She explains that during a facial rejuvenation treatment, she may also be doing some lifting of sagging skin, and though the treatment isn't painful, some people experience a sensation of tightness or pulling while the needles are in.
"For most of my patients, acupuncture is actually an extremely relaxing treatment," she says. "Some people even drift off into a light sleep during their treatment."
What kind of results can you expect?
"Cosmetic acupuncture is not a panacea," Baer cautions. "However it yields subtle and noticeable results."
She says that generally a patient can expect to see improved texture and skin colour, with the skin looking smoother, brighter and ruddier, with a more rested and relaxed appearance. There is also a reduction of fine lines and wrinkles, sagging jowls, double chin, puffiness and drooping lids.
She notes that in 1996 the International Journal of Chinese Medicine reported a study of 300 cases treated with cosmetic acupuncture, where 90 per cent had marked improvements with one course (12 sessions) of treatment. Yet, in her experience she says patients will often see results between their first and third session, with results becoming more clear and lasting after six to eight sessions.
"The best results for facial rejuvenation tend to come with 10 to 12 initial sessions done weekly, followed by maintenance sessions," she says. "After an initial course of treatments, it is recommended to receive a maintenance treatment every one to three months; with regular maintenance and a healthy diet and lifestyle, results can last for five to ten years."
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Should I try it?
According to Baer, the best candidates for facial rejuvenation are people in their 30s through to their 60s who want to reduce the signs of aging and improve their vitality for a more relaxed, healthy appearance to their face. She says that additionally, she provides naturopathic supportive care to her patients such dietary and lifestyle recommendations, to help them achieve the most satisfying and long lasting results.
However, she says that cosmetic acupuncture is not appropriate for people with serious health conditions such as heart disease, cancer and high blood pressure, or those who are pregnant or suffering from acute illness. Patients should always consult with their individual practitioners to determine if they are good candidates for the procedure.
Because the field of acupuncture is not yet regulated nationwide, you may have to do a little digging to make sure you find someone who has received adequate training in the field. Don't be afraid to ask questions and do some research into the educational background of potential practitioners, including making sure they have graduated from an accredited institution.
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