Laugh lines aren’t so funny. At least not to me and the crow’s feet that have marched their way from outer eye to temple. My attempts at finding the fountain of youth in a bottle have proven unsuccessful, and while I’m not against Botox, I fall into the camp that would rather look old than lose movement in my face. Realistically, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the quarterly injections anyway.
In the quest for an affordable lift, I’ve found another way, but you can’t get around the needle. Touted as a natural alternative to Botox, facial acupuncture is a non-surgical procedure that reduces the signs of aging by inserting hair-thin needles along specific points on the body, as based on the principals of traditional Chinese medicine. Unlike Botox, acupuncture moves energy through the body, instead of putting a halt to anything getting through. We’ve all seen that overly taut look, achieved when the toxin Botulinum freezes the injected area, yet facial acupuncture works the opposite way, channelling blood and oxygen to the face.
More than a cosmetic procedure, this type of facial rejuvenation has been shown to increase water and oil content in the skin after five consecutive weekly sessions. A preliminary study from Kyung Hee University Hospital found it can improve the skin’s elasticity as well. But can it take on the demands of deadlines, a massive sleep deficit and a decade of burning the candle at both ends?
Yes, says Elizabeth Reade, a Calgary devotee who noticed a lift along her jawline after only a few treatments. “I’ve had my share of facials, but there’s nothing like this. My skin after an hour of acupuncture? Well, there’s no comparison. It now has this tremendous glow and shine to it. You can see it works.”
My sessions at Calgary’s Johal Health Centre begin with a tongue examination, giving facial rejuvenation specialist Sonia Navdeep L.Ac, an idea of what’s happening at the organ level. “What’s going on with a person internally, eventually shows up on their face,” she says.
With me, she can tell I’m tired and anxious. The mad dash to finish assignments and weeks of decking the halls, has left me with a stressed liver and a congested gallbladder, not to mention massive bags under my eyes. I’m left to undress down to my skivvies and lie on the massage table under an infrared heat lamp to increase circulation and accelerate the natural healing process of the body.
Sonia returns and gets to work stimulating my facial muscles with a massage based on acupressure and myofascial release techniques. She tells me this will open up any stagnant areas before she inserts the needles along the appropriate meridian lines (corresponding to different organs) and those pesky facial furrows.
She tells me that as we age, our meridians become blocked and our ch’i (or energy), has a harder time getting to our face, resulting in sagging skin and wrinkles. Once inserted, acupuncture needles open these channels, stimulating the flow of oxygen, blood and energy, bringing radiance to the face.
I feel a slight twinge with a few of the needles. There’s one point on the top of my left foot, corresponding to my liver, that makes me rethink a few of those holiday cocktails. Otherwise there’s no pain.
I almost immediately start to feel drowsy, which I’m told is perfectly normal. “The body stops thinking so much and focuses on moving energy and areas of stagnation,” explains Sonia.
After 15 minutes, the needles are re-tweaked and I’m left alone for another intense nap. Besides the needles, sessions alternate between applying a Chinese herbal mask — comprised of green tea, mushrooms and ginseng — and having my laugh lines suctioned. Known as cupping, the suction of the face creates a micro-trauma, increasing circulation and redistributing lymph fluid, that if stagnant, can lead to swelling. Cupping is also fantastic for stimulating collagen production, which helps heal and soften facial lines, just as the needles do.
I float out of each session purposeful and serene. The days following treatment I notice I’m more mindful about how I structure my day and what I put into my body. Plus I’m less stressed about looming deadlines. I’ll always have them, but I won’t always have a young daughter who is more deserving of my attention.
Reade agrees the experience is extremely calming. “When I come out of a session after a long day, I feel as though I’ve slept for 12 hours. I’m completely refreshed and energized, but calmly so, not like caffeine energy,” she notes.
After one treatment my skin is glowing, dare I say even radiant? After 10 my wrinkles aren’t as deeply etched, though they haven’t completely vanished (and that’s okay). This newfound sense of calm makes any change in my appearance an added plus.
Want to find a facial acupuncturist in your area? Each province has a college that regulates acupuncture and can supply a list of certified practitioners. Be sure to ask if they’ve taken extra courses in facial rejuvenation after completing training. For optimum results, begin with a series of 10 biweekly treatments, following up with monthly or quarterly maintenance appointments.