I have always been fascinated by acupuncture, I find it to be the most transformative of therapies for people whether they have issues with pain, sleep, anxiety, addiction, hormonal dysfunction, digestive discomfort, the list of applications is a long one!
Through the insertion of fine needles into the skin, traditional/dry needling acupuncture stimulates the nervous & muscular systems, & will work on meridians (energy channels) to bring an individual back into balance. I myself have had no end of successes with acupuncture - as a child I had chronic sinus issues, in my late teens I had terrible anxiety & slept poorly, & progressing into my 20's I had my 'perfect storm' moment with all manner of digestive & hormonal issues that lead to a whole host of bits & pieces happening to my physical & emotional self. All of these were negated, or at least improved significantly (to the point at which structural or other functional intervention then worked alongside) by acupuncture.
So what happens when we apply this incredible wisdom to skincare....well truly amazing things to be blunt! Read on to find out more & to meet the wonderful Athina, a specialist spinal & jaw physiotherapist who has now expanded her practice to offer this incredible therapy too!
I don't think anyone will shout me down when I say we have become slightly more concerned about our appearance than perhaps we were in the past, & especially when it comes to things like ageing. This however is not the only application - acne & acne scarring is another hugely common complaint & can have significant impacts on a person's self-confidence, leading to low mood, a tendency to isolation & other emotional upset. The classic treatment for this would be something like invasive laser treatments which remove the top layer of the skin to also remove the scars - this can be horrible painful however, cause more damage & will leave the treated skin horribly raw for at least 2-3 days after the session. Not pleasant at all.
If we skip back to the anti-ageing for now however I want to run through this in a little more detail as the number of people who turn to Botox, fillers & cosmetic lifting procedures continues to increase. Being rather youthful myself I don't really see it to be my place to say people shouldn't be concerned with this, I would however urge caution when it comes to using these methods which I will explain now.
THE BOTOX BACKLASH
As the name would imply this is a toxin. It is inserted into a muscle & causes paralysis which smooths the appearance of lines & wrinkles. OK great for an immediately ironed face but physiologically that is not something we truly want to be doing & over time will actually make someone age more quickly & require more intervention.
The way our skeleton, muscles & skin interact is a beautiful process. Our bones have what is known as 'tensile strength' - when we are young they are lovely & strong, & the bone surface is covered with little protuberances (hooks basically) which allow for the attachment of the muscles & skin. As we use our muscles they pull on those bones & it's that tugging that encourages our bone making cells (osteoblasts) to come along & reinforce those skeletal structures. We would then also ferry minerals like calcium in with our magnesium, vitamins D & K2 to bolster those bones further.
So when we paralyse that muscle it gets lazy, it gets fatty & it gets weak, & as a result we don't tug on those bony structures, the osteoblasts go somewhere else & those attachment hooks disappear. The skin & muscle then don't have anything to hold on to & we sag. But don't worry because then we can have fillers, & when they lose their efficacy we can have a facelift......sounds fun doesn't it ...
Plus as we started out by saying the repetitive injection of a toxin into our bodies is not what we want - things do not stay in 1 place within the body & studies show botox can be found in the brain & neurological tissue, vital organs & muscles all over the body. As much as I can impress this from an aesthetic perspective I would also urge the avoidance of such practises from a general health perspective too.
But I'll pause on that for now.
STEPPING INTO A NEW AGE OF ANTI-AGEING
So what do we turn to instead? Well why not simply re-encourage our body to do the work for us? Sounds much better doesn't it, & this is where cosmetic acupuncture comes in.
The needles used in the face are far finer than those used on the body, & the fantastic thing is that because our nerve endings are significantly more numerous in the face they need less encouragement to wake up & do what we want them to!
A cosmetic acupuncturist will identify the parts of your visage that need a little support & use your body's natural regeneration mechanisms to re-plump those areas, this means that you not only experience short term improvements but unlike the process I mentioned above, you are actually prolonging the youthful appearance of your skin.
When the needles go into the skin they cause teeny tiny punctures, as with any form of 'injury' this then means our body floods the area with the things it needs to repair them - collagen & the cofactors for the production of other elastic tissues - & these are the things we lose as we get older. The 2nd mechanism coming into play is the microsimulation of those nerves & muscles - the needles will basically wake them up (think of it as a toning exercise for your face) they contract & strengthen, tug on the bones to encourage that optimal mineralisation, & again we're working on the idea of progressive improvement & long term maintenance, rather than the patching over of the degradation of that natural process.
ACNE & SCAR RELIEF
When we then apply this to spots & scarring what we are looking at is an encouragement towards healing & replacement of tougher, fibrous tissue with fresh & lovely new skin cells. Scars are made up of Types II & III collagen, it's this that makes them inelastic, bumpy, discoloured etc.
By using the needles in specific ways (in clusters around pimples or along scars) the skin is supported to move back towards being clear & smooth. With scars what we are doing is breaking down the tissue & progressively replacing it with Type I collagen - AKA the supple skin cells we all want instead! When you compare this with the laser treatments I mentioned at the beginning I don't really feel there is a comparison, & in terms of the psychological effects of those scars, being able to offer a non-invasive & non-painful resolution, well I am more than 100% behind advising people bypass the approaches of old & turn to this ancient wisdom instead.
INTRODUCING ATHINA + AN INSIDE SCOOP ON A TREATMENT WITH HER
Now at this point I want to make mention of a particular person - Athina Giralea, because as much as I can explain the practice from a general perspective, I would not want to say that all practitioners are created equal (we aren't!).
Athina is 1 of those fantastic people who puts you immediately at ease on entering her treatment room, as I mention at the beginning she is far more than meets the eye, in addition to cosmetic acupuncture she is also a specialist spinal physiotherapist with significant interest in neurological dysfunction, recovery post spinal injury/surgery, & the interaction between the nervous & musculoskeletal systems - basically whatever you go in to see her for she will assess your whole body & treat accordingly!
For example you may appear puffy or dark under the eyes, to her this means she must also address your kidney function & liver detoxification with additional needles in the hands & feet. If you mention you also suffer with headaches she may then suggest work on your neck &/or shoulders, address at your posture etc (you can probably now see why we get on so well with me being such a strong champion of a whole body approach!)
So what will a session involve?! Well quite a bit! In terms of the number of appointments someone may need, this will entirely depend on what it is they want to address, I believe that 6-12 appointments is a standard suggestion but this is something to be discussed based on your individual requirements. I give a basic guide below from my initial consultation session.
STEP 1 - ASSESSMENT
A full & detailed history of your skin, overall health & wellbeing, your cosmetic routine, your sleep cycle, your exercise regime....no stone is left unturned!
STEP 2 - NEEDLES
Then it's on to the couch & time to get started! As I said Athina has the most overwhelmingly relaxing presence so if you're new to acupuncture & concerned it may hurt don't be! She is also so in tune with how the body reacts to the needles she can gauge at which point to stop, this may be at 10 needles or 60 needles, each person is unique.
As I went in with a few spots (not aided by the fact I had picked at them slightly the day before....) needles were used both for the enhanced plumpness & to encourage that flooding of those areas with regenerative cells to help get rid of them quick sharp.
Once she has addressed the areas of the face she is targeting for you that day she will also then add extras to the body - for me we worked on my kidney & liver function in addition to some extras for sleep support as my ever present issue is a tendency to wake far too early!
STEP 3 - MASK
With the needles from my forehead then removed after 10-15 minutes (the others left in) a beautiful sheet mask was then applied & gently massaged with a jade roller. The extra benefit here being that those punctures allow 94% more of the wonderful compounds in the mask to be absorbed. This was left for 10 minutes & I just snoozed off into my own little zen paradise!
STEP 4 - MASSAGE
Post mask the rest of the facial needles were taken out & the treatment was finished with a beautiful massage with an incredibly nourishing moisturiser bursting with even more of those active ingredients to further enhance the regenerative effects. And just before I actually went to sleep & refused to leave the remaining needles were whipped out (I had almost forgotten they were there) & we were all done. The full session was ~90 minutes.
STEP 5 - BLISS OUT!
And I mean truly! I left on cloud 9 & proceeded to meander my way home more than at one with the world & with the most incredibly smooth & plumped complexion! I felt a tad thirsty, as can happen with all acupuncture treatments, so I made sure to increase my fluid intake by about 500-750ml before going to bed.
STEP 6 - THE NEXT DAY
Well let's just say I awoke from the world's best sleep with a start! Usually being someone up with the dawn chorus I slept for an additional 2 & a half hours! My skin most definitely looks & feels plumper, I had gone in with marginal lines around my mouth which literally no longer exist & MY SPOTS WERE BASICALLY GONE! Like actually disappeared (I have now promised I will no longer pick any that do pop up too!)
So yes I am more than a convert & am already excited for my next session when we will be expanding into micro needling ... & as for Athina well she is truly fantastic - find her at West 1 Physiotherapy on London's Harley Street.
For all questions, queries & other points please do not hesitate to be in touch.
With healthy wishes,