Anti-Aging Acupuncture

15th April 2011

When it comes to holding back the years, anti-aging can give you the needle…

Mary Linehan submits to a holistic beauty experience

I tried acupuncture before, to help me give up chocolate. The practitioner had such problem inserting the needles in my ears that he commented, with some exasperation, that I evidently had an extremely low pain threshold – so it was with trepidation that I arrived at the SEN clinic for my first cosmetic acupuncture treatment, dubbed the acupuncture facelift.

I don’t subscribe to the concept of using invasive techniques, ie plastic surgery, to disguise the signs of aging. Each to her own, though, and if it’s for you, great. That aside, my opinion on botox, other injectables, and/or going under the knife, does not mean that my opinion of my own wrinkles is one of total acceptance. I like the lines that distinguish people – but I like them on other people!

Using acupuncture to help slow down the signs of aging doesn’t seem to come into the same category – and, in fairness, the treatment is not actually a facelift. I had only the one session; in order to attain long lasting results, I would apparently need in the region of 10-15 visits, with regular maintenance appointments thereafter – once a month should be adequate, although that will depend on the individual. It’s quite a big commitment.

The treatment rooms at SEN are – as you would expect, given its Harvey Nichols location – stylish, comfortable and, befitting the ancient wisdom of Chinese medicine, very Zen. SEN (the Chinese word for forest) is my first foray into Chinese beauty and lifestyle brands, and it offers a range of products, from creams to teas, and treatments based on Chinese herbs.

You should, as I did, always check that any practitioner or clinic is reputable before beginning treatment. A British Acupuncture Council statement on cosmetic acupuncture advises: ‘At present the BAcC does not direct enquiries to individual practitioners working in cosmetic acupuncture, separately from professional holistic treatment that all its members provide.’ The organisation also recommends that, before undergoing any form of acupuncture, patients should ensure their practitioner is registered by a professional body, such as the BAcC, whose members have undergone a minimum of three years training.

After a delicious cup of green tea, my appointed practitioner, Dr Lu, explained a little about the ‘procedure’, in which she would be strategically placing a series of very fine needles in the pressure points or meridians of my face and scalp that directly affect the facial muscles.

Crucially, before any acupuncture treatment, the practitioner will ask questions, take your pulse and check the tongue to create a picture of your overall health. According to the BAcC the pulse check reflects the internal functions of mind, body and spirit and can detect any imbalances. The tongue, which is a muscle, is a non-invasive way of getting a picture of the body’s state of health. Colour, coating, shape, size and movement are all assessed to build a picture of the client’s overall state of health so treatment is then tailored to the individual’s needs. This wasn’t done on this occasion. Mainly, it was explained, because I looked healthy enough, but also since I was having a very specific treatment with a view to writing this feature.

Dr Lu did explain that I might experience some bruising after my appointment, which should not last very long.

Traditionally, acupuncture is used to treat the body holistically, so even if the purpose is for anti-aging, the treatment is said to alleviate health problems in other areas of the body. It boosts the circulation and lymphatic system, delivering nutrients to the cells and removing toxins and also helps to improve hormone balance, digestion, metabolism and strengthens immunity. Facially, it is said to stimulate the body’s Qi, or life force, kicking its healing processes into action. Advocates claim that it helps to reduce fine lines, wrinkles and frown lines, to tighten pores, to improve muscle tone and to boost collagen production for firmer skin. It will also help brighten your eyes.

Dr Lu inserted very fine sterilised needles into various specific acupuncture points on my scalp, face, under my chin and, more oddly, in the fleshy part on the top of my hands between my thumb and index finger. In all, 15 points were used. The first six, in my scalp and hairline, were to diminish wrinkles on my forehead; two were to diminish wrinkles around my eyes; five were for slackness in the nasolobial folds that run from the nose to the top of the mouth – laughter lines, in fact – and one was to tighten the chin and neck. The points on my hands were used to boost the circulation and improve my complexion.

As someone with a ‘low pain threshold’, I was expecting to feel more… well… pain. It was more like discomfort, on occasion, with tiny sharp pinpricks. The insertion of the needles into the hairline in the middle of my forehead was the only thing faintly like pain. Called Qian Ding, this belongs to a governing acupoint where the Qi – or vital energy in Chinese medicine – is stronger. How much ‘pain’ is felt depends on the strength of your Qi. According to Dr Lu some ‘pain’ or needle sensation is a good thing; however, it has to be manageable by the patient. A reaction can also present as tingling, or blushing.

It took Dr Lu all of about five minutes to insert the needles, after which I was allowed to rest, or meditate. The doctor explained that I would be left for 28 minutes: the time it takes for Qi to flow through the 14 main meridians in one cycle. For the first time, I understood exactly why beauticians wrap you in a blanket during a treatment. I wasn’t covered up – and I did get a little cold. Getting up with needles in place didn’t seem an option; neither did calling out. I was most uncomfortable, though, when I opened my eyes to a strange vision: all I could see was a virtual ‘field’ of needles sticking out of my face.

The second part of the treatment was a facial by Lucy Yu that incorporated Sen’s beauty range. Lucy was adept at removing the needles, and blotting the small pinpricks of blood. As she worked, she told me that she would use Sen’s Hydramood range to deal with my dehydration (linked in Chinese medicine to the kidneys and lungs) and for the anti-aging, she would use the Liftserenity range formulated to hydrate, protect and rejuvenate the skin.

The range of high performance beauty formulations are based on the Chinese herbs Panax ginseng and lingzhi, which have antioxidant and tightening properties, plus Solomon's Seal and asparagus to control hydration levels and help the skin retain moisture. Sen’s facial was the full package – a cleanse; a priming lotion to enable the skin to reap all the benefits of the product range; followed by a mask; a serum and, finally, a day cream with SPF10 protection. The pièce de résistance, however, was Lucy’s incredible massage, which as well as gently but firmly working on my face, included gentle flicking movements on my cheeks, plus pressure on the important acupuncture points that impact firmness.

After she had gently finished off the massage, I was allowed to lie quietly for ten minutes to recover. Then came the moment of truth: a look in the mirror. Not sure what to expect, I was very impressed by the results. My skin was plumped-up, brighter and genuinely softer. I did not expect to look ten years younger after just one treatment, but certainly it was still glowing days later, and I suffered no bruising.

Acupuncture, it seems, has been used to combat the signs of aging since the Song Dynasty – which was 960 to 1279 AD. I have no idea why it has not become more mainstream in beauty until fairly recently, but certainly this has to rate as one of the most impressive facials I have experienced, and the results of only one facial were just what the doctor ordered.

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