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    An acupuncture alternative

    In the world of complementary aesthetic medicine, might the fountain of youth lie at the point of a pin?


    Dr. Lucas
    The emperors' concubines got cosmetic acupuncture 4,000 years ago because they had to look young. Today, as people in the U.S. continue to explore alternative treatments for what ails them, they are also seeking Eastern remedies to turn back the hands of time. As part of that trend, acupuncture is receiving attention as an alternative approach to facial rejuvenation.

    "The whole of Chinese medicine is about preventing disease before it starts and that includes aging," says Denver, Colo.-based acupuncturist Martha Lucas, Ph.D., L.Ac. Dr. Lucas explains that cosmetic facial acupuncture can help minimize the decline of — and even help regenerate — both collagen and elastin. Cosmetic acupuncture is best started in one's 30s to prevent aging, she says, but it can help even into the 80s to make subtle changes to the skin.

    "The first role of cosmetic acupuncture is to prevent wrinkles. Because in our society we tend to wait for things to happen and then get them fixed, most people come to see me in their late 40s and early 50s when they already have lines and wrinkles," Dr. Lucas tells Cosmetic Surgery Times . "At that point, the role [of acupuncture] is to rebuild the person's core energy. With cosmetic acupuncture you always work on the body first, because what is going on your face is a reflection of your general health."

    (Left) 50-year-old female patient before and (right) after receiving 6 of the 10 treatments comprising a full Mei Zen Cosmetic Acupuncture protocol. The protocol calls for two treatments a week for 6 weeks.
    PINPRICK RATIONALE Before moving to the facial area, Dr. Lucas performs initial acupuncture on the body. This strengthens the patient's qi (pronounced chee), or energy flow, which typically declines with age. Ultimately the qi and blood move to the face, "moisturizing" the skin and making it vibrant, according to Dr. Lucas. Following this general acupuncture bodywork, Dr. Lucas begins Mei Zen Cosmetic Acupuncture. This cosmetic acupuncture approach involves the shallow insertion of 60 to 80 tiny needles in a single session. Dr. Lucas says that the goal is to trick facial skin into thinking there is a wound so that fibroblasts of collagen and elastin come to the rescue. By contrast, an alternate technique is called facial rejuvenation acupuncture. It involves threading, in which the practitioner threads a longer needle under the skin, into the muscle.

    "I use the cosmetic acupuncture technique with shallow insertion because I want the collagen, elastin, qi and blood to come to the dermis," Dr. Lucas explains.

    STICKING POINTS Each acupuncture session takes about 50 minutes. Dr. Lucas says patients generally report they feel no pain, although they feel the insertion of the needles. The degree of pain a patient feels depends largely on practitioner skill, she adds.

    The cosmetic acupuncture protocol calls for patients to receive treatment twice a week for five weeks. Dr. Lucas says that it takes more than four weeks for the increase in collagen and elastin to become permanent within the skin.

    "If someone wanted to get three treatments in a week, they would look great at the end of the week, but the results would not be permanent," she says. After the five weeks, Dr. Lucas recommends that patients come in once a month, or once every other month, for maintenance. The most common side effect is slight bruising.

    "If a person has a history of migraines, having acupuncture on the face could result in a migraine. But your practitioner should do a good solid medical intake before starting the procedure," she advises.


    Lisette Hilton
    Lisette Hilton is a writer in Boca Raton, Fla., who heads up her company, Words Come Alive.