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The New Botox?

LA “It girls” are clamoring for facial rejuvenation acupuncture. Can they really replace your derm appointments?

I first heard about acupuncture facelifts when 78-year-old Norma Kamali spoke publicly about her regular treatments, and immediately I thought, I’ll have what she’s having. Indeed, for the past few years, Instagram has been awash with people like Gwyneth Paltrow, Kim Kardashian, and Jennifer Lopez, posing like glamorous porcupines, tiny needles jutting from their faces. 

Most of us think of this ancient Chinese practice as being good for what ails us—treatment for everything from menopause symptoms to headaches to sleeping issues. But who knew it could also make you look like that?

Well, modern practitioners of this science do. Names like Los Angeles’ Heidi Keating, who holds a doctorate in acupuncture and Chinese medicine, are using acupuncture to tackle cosmetic issues (think: saggy muscles, break-outs—even wrinkles), driving wellness “It Girls” to cancel their derm appointments in lieu of needles of a different kind.

Acupuncture facials are gaining popularity in the cosmetic world as part of the overall beauty-from-the-inside-out craze that has probiotics and cow colostrum flying off the shelves. Eastern medical practitioners say that the health of internal organs directly affects skin vitality, and standard med spa or derm treatments—from Botox to microneedling—offer only temporary solutions. 

Norma Kamali
Designer Norma Kamali has been a vocal proponent of the “life-changing” treatment since 2018. Photo by Michael Ostuni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
Kim Kardashian
Kim Kardashian captioned a photo of her face studded with acupuncture needles on Instagram with, “Oh just relaxing.” Photo by Virisa Yong/
Gwyneth Paltrow
Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow also shared an acupuncture facial selfie to Instagram. Photo by Bre Johnson/
Jennifer Lopez
Jennifer Lopez is reportedly a fan of the procedure, too. Photo by Joe Schildhorn/

Take my rosacea (please). When I told Keating that I had tried everything from Vbeam lasers to enzyme masks to treat the broken vessels, she explained that if I don’t address the actual cause of the broken vessels, it won’t really matter what I do to them on “the outside.” Since rosacea in Chinese medicine is often linked to poor digestion, you treat the redness by clearing up any lingering issues with digestion. 

“All organs in the body have channels that travel to the face or head,” Keating explains. Needles placed in the intestines, for example, can relieve dry, itchy skin by lowering inflammation to promote healing. In addition to uneven skin tone and scaly skin, facial acupuncture can also tackle fine lines; by stimulating the fibroblasts (the cells that form connective tissue), collagen and elastin rebuild. Apparently if you do this enough, acupuncturists say, you won’t ever have to look at a Botox syringe again.

Keating measured my symptoms through pulse, tongue condition, and face reading. But the diagnosis to clear up my redness did not stop there. I also needed some help with the fine lines across my forehead (a result of anxiety, she said—or maybe just life?), and jowl laxity (poor lymphatic drainage). Strategic needle placement, Keating insists, can mimic a brow lift or even tackle lip lines. 

“All organs in the body have channels that travel to the face or head,” Keating explains.

For my rosacea, since the space between the eyebrows are directly connected to the liver (which “rules” detoxification and digestion), needles were placed directly above my nose, and strategically in other areas of my body. And nope, they don’t hurt and are, in fact, quite relaxing. (Your mileage may vary.) After dozens were inserted, it was time to chill out under an LED light dome, which helps to further calm the skin and get you into an all-around calm state. (Some call this part nap time). 

At the end of my session, my immediate response was, Wow. My lines looked softened, and my facial muscles looked lifted. I definitely spent a little extra time looking in the mirror that night. 

That said, the following morning my face seemed to recalibrate back to its regular shape and creases. (Facial acupuncturists say you need to do between ten to 12 treatments to see a lasting difference, along with touch-ups.) But the immensely peaceful experience might be enough to keep clients coming back again and again.

“While Botox will paralyze the muscles so you look more relaxed, you’re not in an actual state of relaxation as you are when treated with acupuncture,” says Emily Wagner, Editor in Chief of the health and wellness site Groomed LA. 

Whether cosmetic acupuncture will actually replace in-office derm treatments may come down to who cares about looking their best while feeling their best at the same time.

Whether cosmetic acupuncture will actually replace in-office derm treatments may come down to who cares about looking their best while feeling their best at the same time. Keating client Leanne Citrone, co-founder of a boutique supplement company, sums it up well: “It’s like you get in this Botox habit and don’t even realize that there are any other options out there. Since I live my life as natural and clean as possible, I’m trying to break the habit of getting Botox because it seems so opposite to how I exist.” While Citrone admits that she hasn’t had enough sessions to see actual change, she loves the way it makes her feel,which keeps her coming back. 

Keating says that the mid-thirties are a great time to start treatments, as the onslaught of hormonal issues begin—although most of her committed clients are in their forties to sixties. “They see that the other options are painful, have downtime, and miss the underlying health concerns that they also want to address,” she adds. (And cost? At $165 a session with ten-12 sessions necessary to see results, you will be spending about the same amount as one stiff dose of Botox.)

Are acupuncture facelift results as dramatic as going under the knife? Probably not. (But then again, a facelift won’t help beat your insomnia.)

Hero photo by fatihhoca/Getty images

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