Following the sharp spike in popularity of cosmetic surgery over the past two decades, the beauty tide finally seems to be turning. The days of the "frozen face" are giving way to a desire for a more natural look through gentler treatments, as the increasing interest in wellness encourages people to embrace all things holistic.
Data from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons showed the number of cosmetic procedures conducted last year fell 40%. That’s a near-decade low, from a record-breaking high in 2015. The biggest fall was in the number of brow lifts, down 71%.
Step forward cosmetic acupuncture. Celebrities and health-conscious consumers have already turned to more holistic anti-aging methods: Kim Kardashian, Bar Rafaeli, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, Madonna, and Angelina Jolie are all rumored to be fans.
The ancient Chinese technique’s benefits are long established and widely recognized. In 2003, after a review of controlled clinical trials, the World Health Organization officially backed acupuncture as a medical treatment, listing a range of conditions for which it has proven effective – from depression to rheumatoid arthritis.
While, for some, acupuncture may conjure up images of Hellraiser's Pinhead, overall it's seen as a relaxing treatment. Traditionally, ultra-fine needles are placed at strategic acu-points on the body to manipulate the meridian channel network, utilizing and regulating the flow of the body’s vital energy, or chi.
To learn more, I talked to acupuncturist Jo Curle, who works out of Heaton Acupuncture Clinic. Jo is a member of the British Acupuncture Council and is the Facial Enhance UK affiliate for Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Jo explains: “Facial enhancement acupuncture (FEA) is for anyone who is concerned about the effects of the aging process on their skin.” Collagen production starts to deteriorate from the age of 26 and skin is often first to show the signs of aging. “If we think back to all the moments we have spent stressed, worried, or angry, they accumulate and slowly alter the look of a youthful face. Lines appear, jawlines, eyes and muscles sag," says Jo. "Environmental factors and pollution also dull the complexion over time."
I can confirm that Jo’s skin at age 40 looks better than mine at 27. When I ask Jo’s stance on Botox, she replies: “It is a toxin, and simply hasn’t been used long enough for us to see the potentially damaging effects of it building up in our system. It can also look quite harsh, whereas FEA is gentle and non-toxic. A course of treatment takes several weeks to administer, allowing the body time between sessions to build collagen and rejuvenate on its own.”
Jo explains how treatment can be tailored to each client’s specific needs. “As we know, anti-aging is not just about wrinkles; sagging in areas like the jowls and puffiness of the eyes can lead to a less youthful look. Using fine needles to gently ‘pin back’ areas, we can retrain muscles to tighten. Again, in contrast with Botox, we are not freezing that area, but rather getting it to work again.”
Explaining how facial acupuncture works, Jo tells me the effects are a combination of three parts. Firstly: “Ultra-fine needles placed on systemic points activate muscles in the face and neck to lift, improve tone and increase circulation of the blood and lymph. This helps clear the complexion, reduce redness and gives a youthful glow. These points can also help with acne.”
Secondly: “Much smaller, micro-needles are inserted into frown lines and wrinkles, causing a micro-trauma that stimulates the body to produce collagen to gently fill out the line. The needles stimulate the skin’s self-repairing mechanisms, bringing all its healing potential to the surface of the skin. They increase oxygen flow, stimulate micro-circulation to nourish the skin, and accelerate cellular waste elimination.”
Finally: “Regular acupuncture points on the body are used to promote general health and reduce stress. This helps give that well-rested, bright-eyed glow. I also find when people feel better they start looking after themselves better, for example, by drinking more water.”
Regarding the pain factor, Jo says “some of the micro needles do have the potential to produce a small nip, but the result is worth it.” Jo’s client, Claire, tells me: “The thought of having dozens of needles inserted into your face doesn’t sound too appealing but once they are in, it’s honestly very relaxing, and definitely a rejuvenating experience.”
Patients will start noticing a real difference from the third treatment. Appointments are always booked in blocks of six or 10, as the treatment builds up as your body responds. Jo asserts that FEA “is not a facelift, we’re not simply pulling back muscles, the results accumulate over time. Consistency is key: An appointment once a week has a snowball effect as collagen returns to the area again and again.”
According to Jo, the ideal age to begin FEA treatment is in the early to mid-30s, as you can get back the lift that your skin is starting to lack. Jo does, however, treat a number of twenty-somethings who have wrinkles and skin concerns they are unhappy with.
Following a treatment, Jo uses a personalized blend of essential oils and organic sweet almond oil, applied with massage techniques. This further boosts circulation and gives the complexion a radiant glow. She then uses a facial Gua-Sha (a traditional smooth-edged instrument that resembles a large flat pebble) and gentle facial cupping. Arnica cream is also applied with a cooling jade roller, as “bruises can happen but are not common.”
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