The personal choice to temper the physical signs of aging can take many forms. For those seeking a holistic approach to treating wrinkles, acupuncture within the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) system might be a treatment path to explore, especially if you are open to exploring the interconnectedness of overall health, lifestyle, and aesthetics. Acupuncture is a treatment known for increasing the circulation of chi, or the current of energy that flows through the body along pathways called meridians. Even though it has been used in eastern medicine for centuries, western medicine sidelined acupuncture as an "alternative" practice for years. Today, however, acupuncture is seen as an integrative approach to health and wellness by people of all cultures.
French skincare guru Valerie Grandury, founder of Odacité who created the Mon Ami, a facial acupressure tool for people to activate the flow of chi at home, says "perpetual tension, stress, squinting and other facial contractions will cause skin cells to be squeezed and wrinkles to form." Grandury turned to TCM to combat the signs of accelerated aging. "The interrupted flow of energy in meridians," she says, "can cause an impaired function of certain organs, including the skin." By stimulating the chi, or flow of energy in the face, you can help make wrinkles less visible.
According to Grandury, if you can't see an acupuncturist in person, you can apply acupressure yourself for similar results. In particular, she loves two spots on the eyebrow to open the eye area and relax tense muscles, which results in an immediate lift. "One spot is located at the inner corner of the eyebrow," she says, "and the other at the middle to higher point of the eyebrow."
Ahead, with the advice of two acupuncturists, we provide an overview of how acupuncture can treat wrinkles for a smoother complexion and instant glow.
How It Works
Acupuncture on the face, known as facial rejuvenation, works by "internally stimulating the production of collagen and elastin," says Mona Dan, a licensed acupuncturist practicing in Los Angeles. "Both collagen and elastin work to to tighten and plump the skin."
Meet the Expert
- Mona Dan, LAc., MTOM is an herbalist, acupuncturist, specialist in Chinese Traditional Medicine, and founder of Vie Healing.
- Sarah Norvilas, L.Ac. is the Founder of Meraki Wellness in Beverly Hills where she treats patients from an integrative approach using functional medicine, acupuncture (including facial rejuvenation) and Chinese herbal medicine.
As we age, fibroblasts, or cells responsible for the production of collagen and elastin, cease to function as actively as they once did. According to a 2019 study, "Collagen, which is a major component of the extracellular matrix (ECM), becomes fragmented and coarsely distributed, and its total amount decreases." The research also notes elastic fibers decrease in aging skin. A reduction in the levels of functional dermal components like collagen and elastin results in the emergence of aging features, such as wrinkles and reduced elasticity.
Sarah Norvilas, a licensed acupuncturist in Beverly Hills, says that acupuncture can "manipulate the connective tissue in the face." She adds that when we age, "the connective tissue starts to get stuck in different places." To compensate for this loss in mobility, acupuncture, in conjunction with massage, "gets the connective tissue moving again. As a result, the face can retake the shape it was originally made to have."
When the "hair-thin needles" are inserted, Dan says they cause "micro-trauma to the skin." Norvilas adds that the subcutaneous injury by the needles prompts the body's natural immune response to repair the micro-trauma, "similar to when you get a cut or a scratch."
The results, Dan explains, "create a beautiful boost of these important elements we tend to lose by the connective tissue build-up that makes up wrinkles."
With facial rejuvenation, as you stimulate the flow of chi in the body, you're boosting circulation, which results in less inflammation, explains Norvilas. As a result, the facial muscles that begin to pull with the aging process, or the "edges and ridges that fit along the cheek bones" have the potential to restructure.
And, because you're treating the flow of energy in the body, Dan explains that "not only do the fine lines and wrinkles heal, you also get a body treatment that will regulate and boost your blood and energy flow in the body." She adds that "the shift you see in the face does last, depending on the age of the person and the types of wrinkles," says Dan.
How to Prepare
With acupuncture, you're treating the body holistically, so be prepared for your practitioner to address your health and lifestyle as a whole.
Dan says to come in to treatment without any makeup, and also recommends avoiding Botox, fillers, or any type of injectable for at least five weeks before treatment.
What to Expect During the Treatment
Expect to do an initial intake with your acupuncturist, especially if this is the first time you're seeing a particular practitioner. Expect to talk more than facial lines with your practitioner. "When people come in for facial rejuvenation or facial acupuncture," says Norvilas, "not only do we talk about what they’re looking for, we talk about diet, stress, and hydration, plus how the body supports us and carries us through to get a sense of how we age. The goal is to balance and strengthen the whole system."
The face is a micro-system for the body, and each part of the face corresponds to a different organ. Norvilas explains that the forehead is associated with the stomach, so if you're experiencing consistent breakouts, it might be helpful to examine diet. The chin, she says, is associated with hormones, the area beneath the eyes corresponds to the kidneys, and the space between the eyebrows is related to the liver. Dan explains, "We use a face map to see where your body tends to experience any ailment. We look at wrinkles, hydration, dullness, darkness and tightness."
Norvilas adds that "depending on what the face is giving us, in terms of signs and symptoms, we'll assess whether to treat [the effects of] aging or other areas that require support."
The actual hour-long treatment begins with an application of a "natural skincare product," followed by gua sha and facial massage, says Dan. You will then receive the needle application on the face and body, which lasts anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes. During this time, patients relax and can sometimes drift off into sleep. "We like to keep at least one hand free in case the patient needs to use their hands during the session," says Dan. You don't have to keep totally still or worry about the needles falling out.
Your practitioner will come back, remove the needles, apply another layer of skin care, and perform gentle facial cupping or soft tissue massage and prep your face for the day.
There may be slight bleeding or bruising from the application of the needle, which is not cause for concern and will heal within a couple of days.
According to Norvilas, neck pain from sitting at a computer all day is associated with the pulling of facial muscles that can result in wrinkles. Minor lifestyle adjustments can help shift the way the face ages.
There isn't much aftercare required, however, Dan suggests avoiding any filler or botox and encourages patients to stay hydrated. "Everything else as far as showering, diet, and medication is normal," she says.
Norvilas sends patients home with exercises and stretches to keep the soft tissue open.
To see noticeable results, Dan recommends 10 sessions. "Depending on the stubbornness of the wrinkles," she adds, "we may recommend more."
Norvilas suggests a series of appointments twice a week for eight weeks.
One of the major benefits of exploring acupuncture to treat wrinkles is the inherent self-care associated with the practice. As opposed to a stressful or painful procedure that seeks to fix perceived flaws, acupuncture is a calm-inducing and centering treatment that leaves patients feeling rested and rejuvenated, with a sense that you're nurturing the body you inhabit. The added aesthetic benefits are just icing on the cake.
Van Hal M, Dydyk AM, Green MS. Acupuncture. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2021.
Shin J-W, Kwon S-H, Choi J-Y, et al. Molecular mechanisms of dermal aging and antiaging approaches. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(9):2126.