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Section: Everything Else

Cosmetic Facial Acupuncture

Traditional Chinese medicine includes many holistic folk practices based around mysticism and ancient ideas as a way of explaining illness. Even today, modern acupuncture continues to be offered as a treatment modality said to improve on the full gamut of medical conditions by restoring balance in the flow of vital energy through complex channels or meridians that interconnect bodily organs.

Stainless steel needles are inserted into and sometimes through the skin or more modern machinery may be employed. A low-intensity electric current may be be applied as well as laser energy, herbs, and homeopathic solutions delivered around and through the needles.

Acupuncture/acupressure is said to help not just disease but cosmetic conditions as well, from dry skin to facial blemishes to wrinkles. It has been claimed to cause skin tightening, fuller and softer lips, and a decrease in superficial and deep skin creasing.

Some practitioners advertise "acupuncture facelifts," explaining that the needles cause localized skin damage leading to new collagen formation similar to resurfacing fractional lasers. Skeptics point out that any trauma from acupuncture needles is comparatively negligible and any comparison is fanciful at best.

The consensus among modern researchers is that acupuncture remains a treatment based on whimsical concepts that have no proven scientific merit or correlation with modern understanding of human anatomy or disease. Even pain relief, the most consistently touted benefit, is likely caused by a combination of psychological factors such as suggestion and expectation, or, in other words, a placebo effect.

Advocates counter that scientific trials are meaningless when compared to a history of "clinical results" stretching back over 5,000 years.

While benefits remains questionable, complications are well-documented. In addition to delaying effective diagnosis and care, there is a proven but low risk of skin infection, systemic infection (hepatitis, endocarditis, etc), nerve damage, contact dermatitis, severe bruising, and even a punctured lung.

Since multiple treatments are routine, cumulative costs can mount quickly and even exceed today's non-invasive and minimally-invasive medical spa procedures of at least some proven benefit. While many doctors tend to skirt around the subject for fear of appearing close-minded, more vocal physicians involved in the investigation of health-related fraud call acupuncture's cosmetic claims "absurd."

Not that this matters much to some people. Despite the evidence, cosmetic acupuncture remains alive and well, used almost as much in trendy southern California as in underdeveloped areas of rural China.

• Update: Japan's non-surgical beauty secret


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Note: Information, observations, and opinions are offered for general reference only and should not be taken as medical advice or diagnosis.

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