Funny how synchronicity works. Are you interested in a fresh, more youthful complexion and/or a firm, sculpted jawline? But you are not ready to commit to cosmetic surgery and you are not necessarily excited about fillers and other injectables, at least not yet. Or maybe you’ve tried them and you don’t like them. No matter your situation, you are ready to try holistic and relatively non-invasive ways to maintain your own best version of healthy and glowing skin, right? Well, look no more because traditional Asian beauty methods have a lot to say to you and this article might just have all the answers you seek to date. Synchronicity, right?
I started with the mention of synchronicity for more than one reason, actually. As anyone who has been following my blog knows, I finished my board exams and am in the process of applying for my license to practice herbalism and acupuncture. I cannot wait to start offering acupuncture treatments once again. And yet, I dedicated quite a bit of energy toward creating a signature no-needle treatment protocol that I currently offer in my office under the auspices of my traditional Chinese bodywork credential.
Quick background: I have been an AOBTA-CP–the credential that allows me to practice traditional Chinese bodywork, including tui na, gua sha, cupping, and moxibustion–for almost three years now. During my four-year master’s program in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine I underwent training for facial rejuvenation acupuncture. I also, over the course of my work as an AOBTA-CP, developed a lovely and indeed signature no-needle facial rejuvenation protocol. (Want to read more about my experience with facial rejuvenation treatments? Go here and behold the abundance.)
[Update: If you’re reading this as of June, 2018….I am now a licensed acupuncturist.]
Lately, I’ve been rethinking how I perform facial rejuvenation treatments and asking myself how much my current protocol will change once I am able to practice acupuncture once again. And just as these questions started to really gain focus in my consciousness, I came across an article written by a woman who experienced facial acupuncture and facial massage and wrote about both (here). It’s a fun article and, I realize, I am able to offer both types of treatment…hence, this blog post. It all lines up, doesn’t it?
Big question: Which benefits you most, acupuncture or tui na treatment?
There are several ways to acquire training in facial rejuvenation or aesthetic acupuncture. One is to be fortunate to have a professor in your program who offers seminars that can be followed by a term of dedicated clinical internship under their guidance. I did just that, and the mentorship and guidance of Dr. Wu, my teacher, has been invaluable as I learned a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) set of protocols for beauty and anti-aging. A person can also undertake specialized training in programs such as Mei Zen (for the Oprah magazine article on this method, see here), and I did this too. An individual’s training will affect how they perform the acupuncture treatment and how they view anti-aging practices. Both Mei Zen and the TCM protocols I learned provided me with a superb foundation for aesthetic work and I will continue to make use of both throughout my entire career, I am sure.
Mei Zen consists of a specific point prescription. It is needle-intensive and quite good for boosting collagen production in the face. I tried it myself as a patient and found that my skin glowed and the texture of my face was smoother, tighter, and more even. I also felt like it was calming and that this effect made me appear more relaxed. Mei Zen is a good protocol, people love it, and I will most certainly continue to use it in my practice.
The more TCM-based protocol taught to me by Dr. Wu doesn’t follow a set pattern; rather, the point selection is chosen on a case by case basis. It is less needle-intense and more whole-body. In other words, there may be fewer needles but its purpose is to correct systemic imbalance too. TCM doesn’t necessarily equate lots of needles with efficacy of treatment. I personally tend to prefer what I learned from Dr. Wu because it’s not a set prescription. He also spent quite a bit of time with me when I was a solo intern for a facial rejuvenation clinic and I am justifiably proud of my ability to thread (and thus diminish) deep wrinkles as a result. I also got really good at firming jawlines under Dr. Wu’s expert tutelage.
Both ways to approach beauty (TCM or Mei Zen) are marvelous though, and I will decide which method is best for the patient on an individual basis that depends on several factors (patient preference being one, of course).
If you are interested in trying acupuncture for facial rejuvenation, you can usually expect to see more lasting results after a series of ten or twelve treatments. One or two treatments might be fine for a photo shoot or other occasion (a party, an important job interview) but it does take a series for lasting results. Acupuncture is not for the faint-hearted if the thought of needles on your face makes you squirm (honestly, though, they do not hurt and in fact are quite relaxing). You should let your practitioner know if you’ve had Botox (acupuncture treatment will make it wear off faster and should be avoided unless that is what you actually want). Once you’ve had your ten or twelve visits, you can expect to come back once every three months or so for a touch-up to keep your visage looking its best. The NYT article I linked, above, makes acupuncture sound very short-lived and temporary; I disagree with this implication. However, your best bet is to ask your practitioner to speak to you about how much you, with your individual skin type and situation, can expect out of the treatments. Bottom line: acupuncture really can work wonders, especially on the surface collagen, and it is worth the investment in many cases.
~~~Tui Na, Cupping, Gua Sha, & the Jade Roller~~~
The article that I linked above relays the experience of a signature manual treatment that is not necessarily how I do things. I’m just not that flamboyant, I guess (I’ve never told a client, for instance, that “every pore is a sphincter” though I definitely agree with him when he says that “Massage is the youth serum in a bottle we’re all looking for”). However, I am not surprised to read that stars like Uma Thurman and Cindy Crawford go for this treatment. If you are really good at massage (and I am, all false modesty aside) plus you put in the time to really learn facial cupping and gua sha (I did, I did!) then you have some really potent tools in the toolbox for facial rejuvenation.
Tui na is superb for smoothing the sub-surface. If you have muscle imbalance in your face after a lifetime of certain expressions, a good practitioner can help you with that via judicious tui na. Cupping is marvelous for lymphatic drainage. The gua sha tool that was mentioned in the acupuncture facial is superb for smoothing the surface and brightening the skin. A jade roller to finish sculpts the face and neck so that the end results are simply beautiful.
If you are interested in manual treatment for facial rejuvenation you can expect to see a more dramatic instant result in most cases and it probably will be more relaxing (unless you enjoy getting needles in your face, which some people do). It’s not going to help you quite as much with deep lines (those should be threaded with needles) but tui na and cupping will do a better job to smooth your jawline in my experience. As with the acupuncture option, one treatment or two are fine for special occasions but for lasting results, you would need a series of treatments. Like anything (except maybe a surgical facelift, but even then…) the treatment’s effects won’t last forever. But if your practitioner takes the time to speak with you about lifestyle adjustment (I am happy to do that) and you are truly determined to be the best you can possibly be at any age, then manual therapy is great and can really do a lot for you. And, if I had to choose one for a short-term boost to my looks, I’d pick the manual therapy over the acupuncture. If you’re going to do a one-off, for sure, tui na plus gua sha, cupping, and the jade roller will give you a better result.
I’m still not quite sure, as I ponder it, how I will make use of my training and experience once I am licensed and able to practice acupuncture once again. [Update: As mentioned, above, I am now licensed]. I think the decisions will be made on a case by case basis after consultation with the individual (unless the person already knows what he or she wants). Me? I really love getting acupuncture treatments and I sincerely love putting needles into patients. Acupuncture is a great way to nourish your looks so that you can be the best natural you possible. At the same time, I can really get a sense of what’s going on beneath the surface when I work on a person’s face with tui na. Muscles and bones are quite thrilling, you know, and it takes good listening hands to make the treatment just right for the individual in question. It’s a lot of fun to get this type of treatment and it feels great (or so I am told).
There’s nothing wrong with surgery or injectables if that is what you feel you need. Each face and jawline has its own situation and story and each person can make their own best choices accordingly. If you’re thinking about ways to nurture and nourish your appearance, do consider traditional Chinese medicine. You won’t have the downtime, the swelling, the scars, and the expense of a facelift but–though outcome won’t last as long as a surgery and it is more subtle–you will see the benefits of aesthetic treatments and you will certainly feel them, too. You definitely will look more like your natural but more rested self with Chinese medicine than if you were to try fillers. And since Chinese medicine sees health as the outcome of balance, you can expect to be treated in a holistic way that takes your overall wellbeing into consideration.
If you have been wondering about holistic ways to improve and maintain a more youthful glow, wonder no more. There is something for you and a practitioner (even if you’re not in Austin where I am) who will be happy to support you in your quest.
What are you waiting for?
Paula Bruno, Ph.D., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, an AOBTA-CP traditional Chinese bodywork therapist, and a wellness educator. She maintains an active and growing practice at her Austin, TX office. Dr. Bruno is also available for distance appointments for wellness consultation or coaching.
In her first career, she was a Spanish professor.
Dr. Bruno’s specialties as a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner include: • Musculoskeletal health (acute or chronic pain relief; Ehlers Danlos syndrome & hypermobility support) • Digestive support, gut health, and weight loss • Aesthetic treatment, including scar revision • Men’s health • General preventative care and immune support for all persons.
Note: Material on this web site is not intended to replace your treatment or care provided by an MD. It is for educational/entertainment purposes only. A TCM practitioner in Texas identifies syndrome patterns but does not diagnose illness. Always consult your primary care doctor for health concerns.