A woman undergoes facial acupuncture to tone the muscles in her face.

Can facial acupuncture really rival the effects of Botox?

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Facial acupuncture promises to slow ageing and reduce muscle movement, much like Botox, but does it really work?

Acupuncture has been around for centuries and remains popular today. A practice embedded in traditional Chinese medicine where thin needles are inserted into the body, research suggests it is proven to ease pain, stiffness, and anxiety. Available on the NHS for pain relief, it’s commonly sought out in private clinics for body benefits but also for facial contouring. Such contouring and facial rejuvenation is achieved by inserting acupuncture needles at different points along designated channels in the face, reportedly decreasing wrinkles and improving texture.

Acupuncture vs marmapuncture

Acupuncture also has roots in Ayurveda, an ancient holistic health system from the Indian subcontinent, which is still practiced in India and Nepal, where around 80% of the population use ayurvedic therapies. In Ayurveda practices, acupuncture is known as marmapuncture but follows the same principles – needles are inserted at specific points and left for approximately 20 minutes before being removed.

The aims of marmapuncture are relatively simple: restoring internal energetic balances of the body which are displaced through daily stresses and strains of modern living such as diet, lifestyle, pollution and travel. But can inserting needles into your body achieve such a balanced state?

I met with Dr Nitasha Buldeo, who practices ayurvedic medicine and marmapuncture, to find out how it’s used today for the face and body.

Applying the needles in acupuncture.
Finding the marma points  – the energy points where tissues, muscles and joints meet – in acupuncture. Photo by Katherine Hanlon.
Body benefits of marmapuncture

Even when going for a facial treatment, the practitioner should always treat the entire body to allow for energy flow — known as prana in ayurvedic medicine — to be corrected throughout. The insertion of needles on specific marma points – where two or more types of tissue meet, such as a muscle – encourages the flow of vital energy between them, their corresponding nadis and the chakra centres of the body, which controls health and wellbeing. One common marma point is the centre of the forehead called Sthapani marma, believed to affect the brain, mind and nerves.

In ayurvedic medicine, there are three dosha (body types) that govern not only your health but your characteristics: vata (air), pitta (fire), and kalpha (water and earth).

Nitasha assessed me as having two dosha, vata and pitta, and then reeled off a list of characteristics that summed me up exactly. But with two jarring dosha, I was very much in need of some balance, so she set about placing needles in my body — by the time she got to my face, a sense of calm had washed over me.

“The metaphysical feeling of elation that can follow acupuncture is simply the result of the stimulation of nerves and nerve impulses,” she explains, which is what relives pain. “In truth, there’s nothing spiritual about acupuncture, though some confuse the rush of endorphins associated with it as a spiritual experience.”

A woman undergoes facial acupuncture to tone the muscles in her face.
Toning facial muscles with marmapuncture. © Getty Images
Facial acupuncture and anti-ageing

“The insertion of needles has multiple benefits for skin and muscles,” Nitasha explains. “Because it stimulates circulation and lymph drainage, correctly placed needles can immediately improve complexion and skin appearance.” This happens as a result of the needle breaking the skin, as the body triggers a repair reaction sending more blood — and sometimes producing more collagen and elastin — to heal the broken skin. Acupuncture stimulates the skin and muscle tissues. It claims to tone your facial muscles to make them firm and improve the appearance of sagging skin.

Needles can also penetrate facial muscles to relax and tighten them, stimulating tissues. Because of this, marmapuncture claims to tone your facial muscles, making them firm and also improve the appearance of sagging skin. During my treatment, for example, Nitasha sought to relax my forehead muscles — where a frown line is forming — but tighten the muscles around my cheeks. This benefit led to facial acupuncture being dubbed ‘natural Botox’.

But having now had a treatment myself, I’m not convinced the two are comparable. You’re certainly not going to see wrinkles stopped in their tracks after just one treatment; it’ll take a few to notice a change. In 2013, a study measured the effect of facial acupuncture after five treatments and reported ‘promising results as a therapy for facial elasticity’ with evidence of skin tightening across the face. However with marmapuncture sessions costing around £75, you’ll need to commit to spending a fair bit to really see results.

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