Cover Learn all about the natural alternative to Botox––facial acupuncture. (Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Ruth Lee)

I’d try anything to get the radiant glow—even if that means sticking needles on my face in the name of beauty

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been around for centuries, but it’s only in recent years that TCM practices have gained more international recognition. In the beauty world, there’s been the rise of gua sha, an ancient healing practice which involves scraping your skin with a jade or crystal massage tool to improve circulation; while TCM-inspired skincare formulas have been introduced in big-named brands such as Shiseido and Sulwhasoo as well. 

While most of the popular TCM beauty treatments have been non-invasive, topical ones, I’ve decided to dive a bit deeper into the TCM wellness world, giving acupuncture—specifically facial acupuncture—a try.

From what it is, to where to go and the results to expect, here's everything to know about facial acupuncture:

See also: 8 Things To Know About Gua Sha, An Ancient Chinese Healing Technique

What is facial acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a form of TCM where thin needles are inserted into different acupuncture points to encourage the flow of Qi, the vital energy that is believed to flow through the body at all times. When the energy flow is blocked within the body, TCM practitioners believe that diseases may form and poor health may follow. Facial acupuncture is simply an extension of body acupuncture where the practitioner places needles on the face’s acupuncture points to boost blood supply to the face.

See also: How To Use Acupressure For Instant Relaxation

What are the benefits to it?

Often compared to botox, Facial acupuncture sounds like the ultimate, all-natural treatment that’s good for everything from anti-ageing, acne, acne scars and boosting collagen production. According to a 2013 study on the effect of facial acupuncture for improving skin elasticity, fifteen out of the twenty-seven participants found improved facial elasticity levels after several facial acupuncture session, while another 1996 study found that facial acupuncture lessened the appearance of fine lines, improved skin tone and saw a subtle tightening in the face after treatments.

Finding the right doctor

To see if facial acupuncture can live up to the hype, I visited Dr. Ruth Lee at Balance Health in Central for a facial acupuncture session. Despite my parents being strong advocates for TCM, I’ve always been hesitant to give TCM a try as I prefer the quick-fixes that Western medicine offers. 

However, seeing Dr. Lee’s long list of positive testimonies from clients, as well as her many certificates and degrees (a master degree in personal health management, a bachelor of TCM, registered Chinese Medicine Practitioner and licensed dietitian in China, if you were curious), I decided it was time to give facial acupuncture a try. After all, who can say no to benefits like those? 

Pre-Acupuncture Consultation

I made my way to Balance Health, which is located in the building just across the road from Ovolo Central. There, Dr. Lee led me to her consultation room where she explained how facial acupuncture is more than just a cosmetic treatment. Instead of the treatment being done solely on the face, she will also be placing the acupuncture needles throughout my body. 

“Beauty is from within. I believe that when you have a balanced system, your complexion will also be in a better state,” said Dr. Lee. For example, someone with ‘eleven’ shaped frown lines is probably frowning a lot in their daily lives, she said. “If we can help control this person’s emotions by balancing this person’s liver system, then the person won’t be as angry, or have as much anxiety”, which helps to lessen the number of wrinkles in the long-run since they won’t be frowning as much.

Afterwards, she moved onto asking more personal questions to learn about my general health and concerns, diving into the specifics of my day-to-day emotions, stress and anxiety levels, period cycles, sexual health and protection, and asked how these aspects of my life affect my well-being. Dr. Lee especially focused on my period cycle and asked about the duration of each period, blood flow and the symptoms of PMS I suffer from each time. I learnt that although my cycles are more-or-less regular, puking due to extreme cramps, and the amount of blood lost (1.5 to 2 period cups during heavy flow days), are not. 

Dr. Lee then checked my pulse and also the colour of my tongue, noting that it had a white-yellow tint to it caused by too much “dampness” in the body and Qi stagnation in the stomach, meaning there’s too much water retention in the stomach which could have been caused by my diet as well as an overdrive of emotions. 

Although I went into the clinic with the sole purpose of getting a facial boost, I got a general health boost instead. After learning about my irregular period and blocked Qi, Dr. Lee decided to help me tackle those issues during the session as well. 

How the magic happens

After the consultation, Dr. Lee led me to the treatment room across the hall where I was asked to remove my pants for her needling convenience. As I laid there listening to the zen music playing in the background waiting for Dr. Lee to come back, body getting warmed up by the heating lamps above the bed, I was internally freaking out, wondering why I decided it’d be fun to have needles stuck in my body. 

When Dr. Lee came back, she noticed how tense I was and made small-talk, soothing part of the anxiety away. Next, she sanitised the points where she would be placing the acupuncture needles in with alcohol wipes, which were my stomach area, legs, feet, arms and face. 

Afterwards, in a few quick motions, Dr. Lee swiftly placed the ultra-thin needles into my body. There was barely any pain, except for one sore spot on my leg that caused a minor bruise––which Dr. Lee explained was completely normal sometimes. In just a few minutes, all the needles were in place and Dr. Lee introduced the red light therapy (RLT) to go alongside the facial acupuncture for additional benefits. Known to promote tissue repair, build collagen, diminish scars and other benefits, I was elated to give it a try. To let the needles and the RLT work their magic, Dr. Lee left me to my own devices and I laid still for twenty minutes, occasionally dozing off to the music. 

When she came back again, I felt as though I was in a state of relaxation like never before. She removed the needles and the RLT lamp, and helped me to a quick gua sha facial treatment to finish off the session. 

Post-treatment results

Aside from feeling a boost of energy and thoroughly well-rested, my face did seem like it received a slight boost from the session. The redness on my face diminished and the overall complexion was smoother. While I can’t speak for how facial acupuncture compares to Botox as I’ve never done Botox before, I’m sure I’ll be revisiting acupuncture and facial acupuncture in the future as part of my self-care routine for when I need a health or complexion boost. 

Would I recommend this to someone with a fear of needles? Probably not—there are plenty of other ways to get a health or facial fix. But if you’re looking for an alternative treatment that could improve your overall health while also making you feel better about yourself, give facial acupuncture a try. 

See also: 6 Classic Chinese Herbal Tea Drinks Explained & Where To Get Them in Hong Kong