What would you do for healthy, glowing skin?
For me, all it took was 19 needles in my face, six in my scalp, and seven in and behind each of my ears to get skin that looked like the inside of a ripe peach.
Despite having Asian skin—you know, the kind that is fabled to show hardly even a whisper of a line until old age—my millennial eyes are beginning to detect a slight deflation in the youthful bounce that I thought would forever be mine. So when I was invited for an acupuncture facial—which touts itself as a holistic alternative to injectable fillers and Botox—with Anna Lee at International Orange's Fillmore Street spa, I jumped at the chance to do a bit of dermal time travel.
As I entered the Pac Heights beauty and yoga haven, I felt a tingle of excitement. I hadn't had a facial in ages, and I didn't care that Lee had admitted the experience might not be super relaxing—somewhere between a spa treatment and a medical procedure, she had warned. But I was warmly greeted, and ushered into a dressing room where I changed into the coziest robe and sandals to prepare myself for whatever was to come in the name of the radiant results I'd been promised—increased circulation and collagen, lymphatic drainage, sculpting, lifting, and so on. Bring it.
But before the facial could get underway, Lee, who also has a Master of Science in traditional Chinese medicine as well as applied science degrees in both medical aesthetics and clinical massage, coaxed out my skincare concerns, details on my products and routine, my sleep schedule, emotions, stress level, allergies, and more. She examined my skin beneath a magnifying lamp, but also checked out my tongue, palpated my abdomen, and took my pulse.
"Your skin and body health are directly related," she explained, noting that the large intestine and stomach, for example, correlate to our foreheads, so any sort of disorder in those organs could manifest in the skin there. (A recent client who complained of a sudden and extreme breakout on her forehead was, it turned out, also recovering from food poisoning.) Depending on your body's particular needs, Lee prepares an acupuncture point prescription as well as a product-based skin care plan.
For me, it was my spleen channel that caught Lee's focus, and she went to work to "create more healthy qi, blood, and body fluids" that would address the dullness and dryness of my skin, my chief complaint. My point prescription focused on nourishing the yin (versus the yang) of my spleen channel, followed by specific points to direct the treatment to my face, including one on my hand in the spot for large intestine four; one in the fifth cranial nerve, which is responsible for biting and chewing (I have a history of jaw tension); and one in the facial nerve that controls the majority of the 43 muscles in the face. The latter branches out in front of the ear, where she tapped one of the first needles in. "This helps me tell the muscles what to do," she said. Releasing the masseter muscle in my jaw, she assured me, would help to lift and sculpt my face. "If a certain part of the muscle can't relax, then it leads to other muscles being tight which can lead to dull skin, muscle tension, and pain."
I ended up with a total of 32 needles varying in thickness and length (this will vary for each patient and, perhaps, from treatment to treatment)—working in tandem to address both my inner and outer concerns. When all the needles were placed, I was left alone to quietly snuggle in my heated chair; there's no speaking or smiling once the acupuncture begins in order to prevent bruising.
Lee using double jade rollers on my face. (Sothear Noun)
When the pins were removed after about 15 minutes (for some clients, this could be longer depending on their constitution and needs), she moved on to cupping, gua sha (a gentle combing of the skin), and jade rolling to tone and increase lymphatic stimulation (and quite possibly one of the most soothing experiences I've had). The gentle suction of the cupping felt like little hugs on my face, while the gua sha and jade rolling offered a cooling massage that lulled my freshly poked skin into a reverie. To finish, a smattering of nourishing products from Lee's own skincare line, Mee Ra Rituals, which was first developed in her home kitchen and is now formulated in small batches with the help of chemist.
So, did it hurt? Yes and no. Some needles felt like nothing, most were just the tiniest of pinches, and then a few, especially those that targeted my jaw tension, stung. Would I do it again? One look in the mirror at my lustrous skin confirmed it: absolutely.
But it must be noted that facial acupuncture is a financial commitment: Lee recommends starting with four treatments ($240 each, plus an additional $40 for the 15 minutes of cupping, gua sha, and jade rolling) within just two to four weeks time, since each treatment builds upon the last. For the best results, she suggests 12 treatments in as many weeks or less.
"I tell people you usually don't start getting compliments on your glow until after the second or third treatment," Lee says, but she did share some miraculous anecdotes, including one of a woman with Bell's Palsy who saw dramatic restoration after just one session, and another woman who received eight treatments in 12 weeks and was accused of getting Botox (#goals).
Anna Lee's 3 Tips to DIY Healthy Skin:
1. "Avoid cross-contamination! Use sanitizing wipes on your phone. Dirty phone = dirty face. In the shower, wash your face after you rinse the conditioner out of your hair. When you're washing your face and you're not in the shower, wash your hands before you wash your face."
2. "Put your time and money into skincare products versus makeup that covers your skin. You'd be surprised at how many people spend $10 on their moisturizer and over $60 on an expensive foundation!"
3. "Start with the basics. It's quality over quantity. I'd rather have you use a quality night cream every night versus using an okay night cream and masking 1-2 times per week."
// Acupuncture facials start at $240 per 75 minute session, with an additional $40 for 15 minutes of cupping, gua sha, and jade rolling; International Orange, 2044 Fillmore St. (Pacific Heights), internationalorange.com