"This seems like it would be up your alley." I get an email led with this exact sentence fairly frequently, almost always from a co-worker and almost always about either a cool all-natural product or a vaguely ominous beauty treatment. (As a fan of green beauty and a self-dubbed guinea pig, both are in my wheelhouse.) In the case of a note I received from my colleague Faith recently, it was a little bit of both: The subject line was "Facial Acupuncture."
"Um, YES," I replied without a second thought—or before reading the rest of the email, for that matter. I happen to be a huge fan of acupuncture, and oddly enough, putting needles in my face. It was only after pressing send that I thought I'd give the rest of the message a requisite glance. "At the end of each needle session, facial cupping and gua sha facial massage is administered," it read. Crapcrapcrapcrapcrap, I said silently, my stomach churning. (Lesson: Always read emails before replying.)
My wariness wasn't unjustified—I'm familiar with gua sha and cupping and what they entail. They're both ancient eastern healing practices, and they're both, uh, intense. Cupping is exactly what it sounds like: The practitioner affixes suction cups to certain points of the body in order to draw stagnant blood and energy to the surface of the skin. Gua sha involves scraping spoons across the skin to achieve a similar result. Both leave behind bruises and marks, sometimes for days. In my experience, they're definitely therapeutic, but they're definitely not pretty. (Although if you're curious, my friend Julie Kosin's gua sha "after" picture for Harper's Bazaar is about as artistic as one could possibly make it look.)
I've experienced these treatments on my back and shoulders. You can probably understand why I would be a tad uneasy about getting spoons scraped across my face.
My nerves were hardly quelled when a preparatory package arrived at my desk a few days before my appointment. I almost had to laugh at the cheerfully worded instructions, which advised to start taking the enclosed arnica tablets ahead of time, to "help with the bruising." Oh. Good.
On the day of the facial, I (rather dramatically) asked my co-workers to wish me luck and warned them that there was a good chance I would be working from home the following day, as if I were heading off to a fairly significant surgery rather than a beauty treatment. Even as I laid on the massage table amid the spa soundtrack and wafting essential oils, chatting casually with the very kind practitioner, Samantha, my growing sense of calm was periodically interrupted by nervous pangs in my stomach. After a brief discussion about any health or mood matters that were bothering me, she explained the benefits of the practice: In addition to restoring balance to my mind and body via the acupuncture, the gua sha and cupping would act like a kind of facial massage, stimulating lymph and blood flow. (She said it innocuously enough, but the words "to help with bruising" kept flashing in my mind.)
In spite of myself, I felt serene as Samantha deftly slipped tiny needles into various points across my body, including my forehead and at the top of my skull. This part felt familiar, and I even dozed off after she left me to rest in complete darkness. Maybe it was a good thing that I was still a little groggy as she took the needles out again several minutes later, and applied a layer of oil to my face to prep for what was coming next. Still, I braced myself…
… and was completely thrown off when it felt like nothing more than a gentle massage. This was nothing like the intense pressure and scraping I was used to. It was even… enjoyable?
I had fully expected that the most memorable part of this experience would be the mark it left on my skin. It was, but it also turned out the mark it left on my skin was not what I had expected. "Take a look in the mirror," Samantha said with a smile. I did—and was completely awestruck to see a bruise-free, glowing face staring back at me, open-mouthed. I was so amazed with the lit-from-within, radiant effect—which, by the way, would last several days—that I couldn't even feel mad at myself for the fruitless nerves. Even if I was an idiot for being so over-anxious, at least I was an idiot with really great skin.
Needless to say, I didn't work from home the following day.
Curious about other alternative health and beauty treatments? Check out our primer on everything from reiki to rolfing.