Cosmetic Acupuncture 101: Everything You Need to Know

You're probably at least somewhat familiar with acupuncture — you may not know exactly how it works, but you know what it is, right? The term "cosmetic acupuncture," however, may have you scratching your head. As the line between Western and Eastern medicine becomes more blurred, we're seeing an increased interest in techniques that are new to us but not to the rest of the world, like acupuncture. More people than ever are open to exploring new ways to tap into total health and well-being.

Like traditional acupuncture, cosmetic acupuncture — aka facial rejuvenation acupuncture — involves the insertion of tiny needles into strategic points in the skin, except whereas the traditional technique targets overall health, the cosmetic version is focused on facial rejuvenation.

Below, a doctor of East Asian medicine and a dermatologist explain more about the trend that's recently hit stateside — including if it actually works.

What Is Acupuncture?

As we mentioned, acupuncture involves inserting very thin needles — we're talking 30 times thinner than the needles you encounter at a doctor's office — into strategic points on the body. "Most people believe that acupuncture only treats pain; however, it has a myriad of other uses, including overall wellness, stress management, and fertility support," Gudrun Snyder, doctor of East Asian medicine and founder of Moon Rabbit Acupuncture, tells POPSUGAR.

Depending on whether you follow more Eastern or Western medical practices, acupuncture is viewed slightly differently. "From an Eastern perspective, acupuncture is a technique for balancing the flow of qi, or energy, which flows through meridians in your body," Dr. Snyder says. "By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture reestablishes balance for overall health and well-being."

However, from the Western perspective, acupuncture is said to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissue to reduce pain and tension. "From a biochemical perspective, findings from research have demonstrated that acupuncture stimulation causes a release of endorphins, serotonin, enkephalins, γ-amino-butyric acid (GABA; a major inhibitory neurotransmitter of the brain), norepinephrine, and dopamine," Dr. Snyder says.

What Is Cosmetic Acupuncture?

Now that we've laid down that groundwork, let's dive deeper into cosmetic acupuncture, also known as facial rejuvenation acupuncture. According to Dr. Snyder, it works by stimulating the body's natural collagen response, similar to microneedling. "Through the insertion of needles into the skin, microtrauma is created, which can stimulate collagen production to help reduce fine lines and wrinkles," Ramya Garlapati, MD, an LA-based board-certified dermatologist and certified makeup artist, says.

"This starts a cascade of biochemical reactions that result in increased blood flow, as well as increasing collagen and elastin," Dr. Snyder says. "Wrinkles are often created by a decrease in collagen and elasticity and by the chronic overuse of certain muscles in the face."

It's also believed that cosmetic acupuncture can help relieve tension in overused muscles. "Instead of freezing them like Botox, it relaxes your face," Dr. Snyder says. "All of this combined helps achieve a more youthful, glowing appearance."

This isn't to say that cosmetic acupuncture is a substitute for Botox, microneedling, lasers, or any other cosmetic-surgery treatment, for that matter. "There is limited clinical data to support these cosmetically beneficial claims with cosmetic acupuncture," Dr. Garlapati says, adding, "It would not be nearly as effective as these other cosmetic procedures in reducing fine lines and wrinkles and overall skin rejuvenation."

However, if you're someone who doesn't want to do invasive procedures, facial rejuvenation acupuncture may be a great, less-invasive alternative for you to get some of the same benefits while tapping into total-body health and well-being.

What to Expect During a Cosmetic Acupuncture Treatment

Step one of trying cosmetic acupuncture: you need to find a board-certified, licensed acupuncturist. Once you've found someone to perform your treatment, you'll want to meet with them to go over your wellness concerns and goals.

Keep in mind facial rejuvenation acupuncture isn't a one-and-done type of treatment. "The effects of cosmetic acupuncture are cumulative, so the more you do it, the more lasting results you will see," Dr. Snyder says. Treatments are typically anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes each, "depending on your skin-care goals, current skin situation, and age," Dr. Snyder says. "In general, we recommend multiple sessions — ideally 10 that are relatively close together (one time per week or biweekly) to achieve the best results."

Though every place is different, at Moon Rabbit, your acupuncture treatment is finished with either jade rolling, gua sha, or facial cupping.

Potential Risks of Cosmetic Acupuncture

If you're interested in trying cosmetic acupuncture, the treatment is fairly low risk. Light soreness, pain, bleeding, and bruising at the needle insertion site are all possible short-term side effects. "Individuals who have bleeding disorders or are on blood-thinning medications should avoid this procedure," Dr. Garlapati says.

Can You Get Cosmetic Acupuncture With Other Aesthetic Treatments?

Current Botox and laser devotees may be happy to hear that you can try facial rejuvenation acupuncture in tandem with many of your existing aesthetic treatments because "the overall mechanism of action for potential outcomes are different between the two procedures," Dr. Garlapati says. That said, you don't really need to do it all. "Adding cosmetic acupuncture to these procedures wouldn't yield much additional benefit in overall outcomes," she says.

TLDR, cosmetic acupuncture may be great for those looking to tap into overall wellness while naturally stimulating collagen — just make sure to manage your expectations for your treatments.