Cosmetic Acupuncture – The Alternative to Facelifts, Fillers and Botox?

Guest post by Dana Hoffman, Licensed Acupuncturist, Masters of Science in Oriental Medicine

I was blown away reading Audrey's December article on her experience of receiving Botox injections for the first time. Hers is the first article I'd seen giving the not-so-good side of what happens when Botox (Botulism Type A) works too well at paralyzing the nerves that activate muscles. The part about drooling really frightened me… Elective drooling. Elective nerve paralysis. But then again, I’m afraid of big needles.

There is great irony to this as I’m an acupuncturist.

But first, back about 6 years ago…

At age 39, I looked in the bathroom mirror one day, and audibly gasped. I leaned in closer to the mirror. What HAPPENED?! It is summertime, I have a little color on my face, so why am I so…dull? I see nothing but a grayish pallor staring back at me. Why is the area under my eyes so dark? Why am I so…blotchy?! There was no uniformity to my skin color. It was as if various areas of my face had given up on trying to look ruddy.

Then I moved to another room, flooded in natural light, and looked at a different mirror. I still looked gray, blotchy, but had a slight tan on top of it. I refuse to wear foundation. It’s just not me. Besides, I’d have to wash it off sometime, right? Conclusion: Maybe I’m getting old. That is such a copout answer, by the way. I’m sorry, at age 39 at that moment, I was NOT old. I eat well, I have healthy fats in my diet which should nourish the skin. I work out. I get acupuncture because I’m an acupuncturist. I take Chinese herbs, because I have access to the best and most established medicine on the planet.

I even asked my dermatologist for suggestions but was not sold on any of the choices. Every procedure involved either injecting something foreign into my skin, or chemical removal of part of the skin. And the area under the eyes would involve something more. This would take time and lots of money to reshape the condition my face was in. My gut churned enough to say this was never going to happen. And each procedure carried risks. Some of them were rather serious, like an allergic reaction to dermal fillers which would leave skin bumps for 6 months. And you’d still have that dull skin, but plumper. That seemed like a bandaid, and not a solution to the problem.

So why does a healthy 39-year-young woman look like she’s just emerged from 6 months underground?

Answer: At age 28, the epidermal skin layer sloughs off about every 28 days. At age 40, it slows to every 40 days. But it doesn’t stop sloughing, it just slows down. And new skin builds slower. This is why bluish veins start to show through, why the gray / blue color takes over. A new question: How to make this happen faster?

Cosmetic Acupuncture was first written about in the New York Times in 2007: “Hold the Chemicals, Bring on the Needles”. The Times reported that some of the stars walking The Red Carpet before the Oscars were having Cosmetic Acupuncture.

Before & After Cosmetic Acupunture 1

A few years later at dinner with my acupuncture colleagues we discussed that we’d all been tinkering with what now has the name Cosmetic Acupuncture and is also known in some circles as Facial Rejuvenation. This was applying the proven techniques of Traditional Chinese Medicine to a new application: getting rid of wrinkles. Some of us had seen better results than others: we needed a consistent protocol. We concluded through a few people’s research that most preferred the protocol taught and created by Dr. Martha Lucas of Colorado called Mei Zen. It means “Beautiful Person” in Chinese. Dr. Lucas employed her own proprietary protocol, favoring many acupuncture points, and only superficial placement of the needles, rather than deep into the skin.

I booked the next seminar that she had. I went to Day One of her seminar on about 2 hours of sleep thanks to my neighbors having a party the preceding evening. I looked rough and felt worse. After discussing the specifics of her proprietary protocol, and the logic behind it, how to tailor it to each patient (one needs to diagnose each patient for his or her specific health presentation, based on assessing the patient’s pulse, and looking at his or her tongue, which is how acupuncture diagnosis has been practiced for over 5,000 years), Dr. Lucas had us practice the Mei Zen protocol on one-another. I found the facial points sensitive, similar to the “zing” one gets after having wasabi with sushi, but once the needles were out, I sat up, looked in the mirror and gasped. But this time, I gasped because my face felt tight, tingly, and I had a GLOW all over it, a healthy shine, and I swear my eyes looked less dark underneath and the tiny crinkles in the corners of my eyes were less prevalent. I was hooked. The clock started turning back on that day.

I tell my patients that getting acupuncture once is like working out once. The benefits build exponentially over time. And this is why in cosmetic acupuncture it is done for 5 weeks or more to start the body producing more collagen and elastin on its own. One or two treatment will look nice, but for more lasting effects, ten sessions are recommended within 5 weeks. If a patient is needle-sensitive or schedule-challenged, then we extend cosmetic acupuncture to once a week for 10 weeks. Two maintenance sessions are recommended quarterly or semiannually to continue positive effects of the treatment. In a healthy person, results should last 3 to 5 years. This is one comprehensive procedure, not the cost of multiple procedures (Botox, Juvederm, Restalyne) which also require new injections every 3 to 6 months. In the end, the cost works out to be less than the chemical alternatives due to its comprehensive nature and the fact that it’s not repeated in full as often. Ten cosmetic acupuncture treatments cost about $1200, or $120 each.

Results-wise, cosmetic acupuncture offers a few great features: there is no down-time after having this procedure. Aside from some minor temporary redness, no one can tell any type of treatment was performed.. I have met women who could not go out in public for ten days after having a dermal filler due to severe bruising. Cosmetic acupuncture will occasionally bruise a small spot that concealer will cover nicely. This is because acupuncture needles are significantly thinner that a typical needle. Twenty hair-thin acupuncture needles can fit on the head of one Botox syringe.

Rather than using Botox or Dysport for the forehead, a dermal filler (Juvederm or Restalyne) for the laugh lines, and a chemical peel for the skin to slough off a thick layer, cosmetic acupuncture is a one-step solution encompassing the entire face. One important concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine is that building overall functionality of the body prevents or delays the break-down of health later. When applying this concept to Cosmetic Acupuncture, this means firming up the jaw line before it starts to fall into jowls. This is tightening wrinkles before they form, or unwinding them after they have formed. Because this procedure also addresses functionality of the body, patients report sleeping better, digesting better, having less stress, and resolving mild depression or anxiety. All of these factors result in the production of healthier skin. Better health equates to better skin.

Will anyone notice? Usually the patient and those close to the patient notice she is looking a lot fresher, more rested, but it’s subtle. Cosmetic acupunture is more natural and even than a face lift. It’s also less dramatic and will not induce what I refer to as The Frankenstein Effect of looking almost catatonic from having skin so pulled and stretched, and lips so exaggerated that they look unnatural.

This is a cosmetic procedure for women and men who want to show their skin and not cover it up in foundation. Cosmetic acupuncture also can help with side effects induced by other procedures. If someone has residual issues following a facelift, acupuncture helps regain sensation and movement, while reducing pain. Cosmetic acupuncture reduces wrinkles and fine lines; they may even disappear. Deeper wrinkles may not go away, but they can look softer and less severe. It reduces puffiness and darkness around the eyes. Skin becomes more vibrant, radiant, brighter, and softer. Age spots have faded, and the beginnings of jowls can be minimized. It helps for rosacea, getting rid of excess redness.

Most people receiving this are women in their early to mid-50s, but also women in their 30s to their 60s. This is a popular procedure for upcoming “life events” like being a bride, or being the mother of the bride. It is not recommended for those with severe headaches, chronically unwell, nor pregnant women. Results vary from patient to patient and I consult with each potential patient before beginning the procedure. Ironically, when looking for the newest and latest way to look younger, it is cosmetic acupuncture and 5,000 years of Traditional Chinese Medicine that answered my question on how to make a now 45-year-old face look and stay younger.

Visit Dr. Martha Lucas' website to find a Mei Zen pratitioner in your area.

Dana HoffmanDana Hoffman, Licensed Acupuncturist, Masters of Science in Oriental Medicine

Lake Shore Acupuncture’s founder, Dana Hoffman is a Nationally Board Certified Diplomate in Acupuncture and is a Licensed Acupuncturist in the State of Illinois. In addition to hundreds of hours of clinical training she also studied under several esteemed doctors in Beijing, China. Dana has been practicing Mei Zen Cosmetic Acupuncture for over 2 years, and has been doing acupuncture, specializing in comprehensive internal medicine, women’s health, and dermatology for over 5 years. Her private practice, Lake Shore Acupuncture is in Chicago (Bucktown and Lincoln Park), and Winnetka, Illinois.


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10 Responses to Cosmetic Acupuncture – The Alternative to Facelifts, Fillers and Botox?

  1. Audrey says:

    Thank you Dana for sharing this natural alternative to botox. I hope both my article, that you mentioned above, and yours give women some food for thought on aging gracefully.

  2. Dana Hoffman says:

    Your article was an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your personal experience (nightmare) with us.

  3. Ellen Dolgen says:

    Well, I have to say, Dana, this DOES sound better than some of the alternatives out there! So many of these procedures sound scary and downright painful! Good to know more alternatives are emerging!

  4. DarleneMAM says:

    Okay! I’ve never had acupuncture, but I know people who have. I think I’m up for trying this. Thanks for writing about it.

  5. Susan says:

    Dana, I’m making an appointment with you. Yesterday! Great article, thanks!

  6. Dana Hoffman says:

    I will say that this is not as relaxing as “regular” acupuncture as it’s a face-intensive treatment and the face is very sensitive. Once the needles are in, you’ll be relaxed. To find some of the qualified Mei Zen practitioners, see the link near the end of the article for Martha Lucas as she lists some, not all, of the people who have been through her training. I have been through her training, but not back for a follow-up where my cases are peer-reviewed by her. That second time is when she lists people on the web site. If you don’t see anyone close to you on the list, let me know, and I’ll send out an email to more of the MZ practitioners.

  7. Dana Hoffman says:

    You are right: earlier is better. If you can stop “the waddle” before it happens, you are lucky. Keep eating those anti-oxidant foods and you’ll be ahead of the game.

  8. Cristina Sierra says:

    Really interesting article on the alternatives to injectibles and surgery. I for one, don’t want to experience some of the side effects mentioned and I would worry about the dangers of infection as far as surgery goes. Further, I like the before / after pictures. The women appear to be enhanced versions of THEMSELVES as opposed to the freakish, exaggerated appearances of many of the women on reality TV, actresses, etc. who go this route. Thanks for the information!

  9. Dana Hoffman says:

    Cristina, You summed it up perfectly. There’s an element of “trying too hard” going on with the other procedures where it’s not hard to tell that “she’s had work done”. Subtle carries more power.

  10. erica says:

    After learning that Doctors do vitaminC injections as alternative to Botox, I started using the Lady Soma Somaluxe Moisturizer – it was recommended by my doctor as an alternative to botox while i was pregnant.

    So i started to research and I found the Somaluxe Moisturizer to be great stuff! i had fine lines around my mouth and I noticed that change after one week of using it….i now use it every morning

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