Cosmetic Acupuncture Explained

If you’ve ever considered giving cosmetic acupuncture a try, you’ll be pleased to know we offer it on our treatment menu at our Chelsea clinic. Before you sign up to give it a go, though, read our handy guide about the procedure and what to expect.

Cosmetic Acupuncture Explained: What’s Inside this Guide?

The Ancient Origins of Chinese Beauty

Chinese medicine was developed following thousands of years of observation of how the body functions within its own environment, but also in an exterior environment as an interactive whole, perceiving and reacting to certain stimulus from any directional source.

Acupuncture was conceived to trigger body responses in a highly-sophisticated way. So much so that in recent years it has been the subject of a very challenging quest to explain it in a rational, scientific manner.

However, Chinese medicine and its modalities follow a precise methodology and this has evolved in a valid scientific field of medicine by itself. Any attempts of insightful allopathic interpretations are simply a part of what the particular system represents.

Acupuncture as a Therapeutic Tool

Acupuncture has therefore been used as a therapeutic tool, with inspirational applications and variations that justifies its vast potential in clinical therapeutics. In particular, when we examine the applications of acupuncture in regards to its cosmetic uses, we can only scratch the surface when it comes to exploring its science. The science is a multifaceted dynamic skin /mind/organ/function/action interaction that will be addressed in this guide.

The Chinese word ‘beautiful’ originally meant ‘pleasant to sight’ and is one of the earliest characters inscribed on oracle bones from 16-11 BC. The concept of beauty was tremendously evolved through the very adventurous Chinese history, which is influenced by climate, regional wars and opening communication with the western world.

Acupuncture or empirical at the time facial points are widely held to have been used by the Chinese Empress, and the Emperor’s mistresses were further explored far before Song Dynasty (960AD-1279AD). However, is this dynasty with its vibrant capital Huang Zhou (Southern Song Dynasty), which was the cultural, religious and commercial centre at the time, welcoming  a lot of influence from the silk road and yellow  river,  interactions that Chinese medicine reached an academic breakthrough. With the return of Neo-Confucianism, the more peaceful China established social and economic security, with rapid developments in medicine and technology.

This was the era, particularly the second part of this dynasty (Southern Song 1127-1279) where the first printed manuscripts of Ancient medical and spiritual books were becoming the fundamental recorded literature, which sifted the old ways of oral transmission of knowledge from the teacher to the student to a scholar level in systematic academic level.

The Aesthetic Boom

The blossoming of aesthetics within different aspects of life at the time, including, pottery, poetry, painting, textile arts, calligraphy and cosmetology was rapidly developing, particularly from the palace circles and the aristocracy.

Many ancient Chinese sources provide cosmetic prescriptions including the ‘King of Medicine and worshipped as a Medicine God (Medicine Buddha) Sun Si Miao (581-682 AD – Sui Dynasty), who included 105 mei rong formulas in his classic texts, Bei Ji Qian Jin Yao Fang and Qian Jin Yi Fang, as well as acupuncture and moxibustion treatments for cosmetic beatification.

Pathologies of the skin, such as acne, are discussed and their aetiology explained in the Sheng Qi Tong Tian Lun, (Huang Di Nei Jing. The Nei Jing – Plain questions), a book that was first mentioned in the Book of Han, completed in 111 CE, which describes the relationship between diet, health and appearance and has nutritional recommendations. This includes the preparation of specific meals according the Chinese medical principles.

The multi-volumed book (Huang Di Nei Jing) was then edited heavily and the official records claim that what we have today are two books which originated from it and were revised during the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD).

The History of Chinese Herbal Medicine

Chinese herbal medicine until then used to be knowledge-owned by Taoists and Buddhists monks and monastic wanderers, where during Song Dynasty medicine became a subject of study from physicians and scholars.

The Materia Medica of the Jia You  ( 1045-1060) Era recorded 1082 herbs after extensive revision  and editing of ancient texts by the medical authorities imposed by the government at the time. Later, a clinical Materia Medica was recorded which focused particularly on the clinical applications of herbal medicines on different aspects of health.

Medicine at the time had the encouragement to expand in different specialisations. Amongst the benefits was to help rejuvenate and promote longevity (anti-ageing) and beauty. Long life, free from disease and ageing, was a focus of different aspects of medicine and spiritual practices at the time inspired by the old Taoist and esoteric spiritual traditions.

Clinical medicine in the Song dynasty (960/1279) was significantly advanced. Achievements of obstetrics and gynaecology were particularly significant.

In the Imperial Administration of Health of the Song dynasty (960~1279), obstetrical departments were well developed as an academic specialisation. The ‘Fu Ren Da Quan Liang Fang’ (The Complete Book of Effective Prescriptions for Women), written by Chan Ziming, was the first comprehensive monograph on gynaecology and obstetrics.

The Tang’s dynasty (618-907AD) perceptions of beauty that adored round-faced and chubby-cheeked women, gave way to the slender, graceful  women with delicately chiselled facial features became the fashion.

Beauty Enhancements Explained

It is said that a lot of beauty enhancements and herbal cosmetic formulations were employed to become a necessary regime for the ladies in the palace, using extensive knowledge of Chinese meridian systems on the face, which led to experimental beauty modalities. Jade rollers, gold infusions, instrument facial equipment, and while it wasn’t recorded, the use of acupuncture on meridian facial points for acupuncture purposes, as the method was extensively developed during this era.

The ancient principles of energy and blood circulation, balancing the meridians and the associated organs to rejuvenate the skin were the fundamentals of these beauty advanced techniques that later on was developed into ‘Mei Rong’ Chinese medicine cosmetology.

The Chinese extensively mapped the energy (qi) meridians that either commence or terminate on the face and some have internal branches that go to the face, illustrating the relationship of health and beauty that reflects and communicates from within.

Organs and Their Relationship with Skin

Changes and deterioration of the skin, muscle tone, and sense organs reflect the state of the zang fu Organs, qi, blood, yin and yang. The main relationships of organs related to the skin can be summarised as follows:

  • The heart and the skin: blood circulation/ facial complexion, pathogen: irritation/fire
  • The lungs and the skin: pore size and function, skin structural changes. Pathogen: dryness.
  • The spleen and the skin: sebum production, muscle volume, thread capillaries, bruising, microcirculation, and skin sagging, puffiness, pathogen: dampness
  • The liver and the skin: pigmentation, age spots, tone irregularities, pathogen: wind
  • The kidneys and the skin: water retention, hair thinning, premature ageing, deep wrinkles, pathogen: cold

Different treatment methods are employed and appropriate points chosen according to how the ageing process is perceived on an individual level, considering various health aspects, representing the holistic approach of Chinese medicine.  Therefore, facial points were employed in conjunction with body points to address symptoms and causes simultaneously.

A lot of different variations of cosmetic acupuncture have been explored, having slight or big differences according to their academic background, with traditional training, a different focus or different approaches evolving, based on new findings on the subject.

Since this method originated, extensive research papers and extended investigation has taken place to demonstrate the effectiveness of acupuncture as a clinical tool, as well as cosmetic acupuncture. These suggest that the method works in a multifaceted level, activating the brain as well as skin topical responses.

Some of the brain and neurochemical responses of facial acupuncture include:

  • Endocannabinoids: “The Bliss Molecule”
  • Dopamine: “The Reward Molecule”
  • Oxytocin: “The Bonding Molecule”
  • Endorphins: “The Pain-Killing Molecule”
  • GABA: “The Anti-Anxiety Molecule”
  • ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) INTRACELLULAR ENERGY TRANFER from fibroblast cells
  • ADENOSINE REALISE: NEUROMODULATION, BLOOD FLOW REGULATION,
  • ANTI-INFLAMMATORY RESPONSE
  • SENSORY NEURONE UPREGULATION affecting autonomic nervous system via the activation of somatosensory pathways
  • LANGERHANS CELL (dendritic, antigen-presenting immune cells) STIMULATION
  • NITRIC OXIDE INCREASE, enhanced microcirculation leading to localised oxygenation and tissue regeneration
  • EGF (epidermal growth factors) STIMULATION, due to mitogenic effects and differentiation of skin stem cells
  • HYALURONIC ACID, ELASTIN AND COLLAGEN PRODUCTION

On a topical skin level, facial acupuncture affects the skin matrix remodelling process through the micro-wound healing response, by increasing oxygenation levels though microcirculation.

Some of the effects include:

  • LOCALISED DERMAL MICRO-WOUND RESPONSE
  • FIBROBLAST STIMULATION
  • ELASTICITY ENHANCEMENT
  • COLLAGEN PRODUCTION
  • MICROCIRCULATION
  • DENDRITIC CELL STIMULATION
  • EPIDERMAL CELL PROLIFERATION
  • EPIDERMAL GROWTH FACTOR STIMULATION

Acupuncture Research: What Does It Reveal?

A clinical Acupuncture Journal was published (1996) of 300 cases treated in China with cosmetic facial acupuncture, with 90% seeing marked effects with just one course of treatment.

The clinical outcome was improvement in skin texture and complexion, increased elasticity, reduction of depth of wrinkles and an overall sense of wellbeing.

Another pilot study was implemented at Kyung Hee University Hospital at Gangdong from August through September 2011 where they investigated the effects of acupuncture on skin elasticity. They concluded that the methods greatly improved skin’s elasticity levels.

Another study suggests that it can increase the water and oil content of facial skin in a female participant whose water content and oil content were lower before receiving acupuncture than those of the mean values of women of the same age. Acupuncture might therefore contribute to enhancing the appearance of the skin.

One of the pioneers in research into cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in the field of acupuncture and fascia is Helene Langevin, a Professor in Neurology from the University of Vermont. Dr. Langevin and her team found that most of the Qi (energy-acupoints) points occur where fascia planes or networks converge. They showed that acupuncture points mostly lie along the fascia planes between muscles, or between a muscle and tendon or bone.

She also identified that manipulation of the acupuncture needle transmits a mechanical signal to connective tissue cells to increase tissue enhancement. These findings justify the benefits of facial acupressure as an important part of a cosmetic acupuncture treatment.

How Does Cosmetic Acupuncture Work?

Cosmetic acupuncture addresses the  skin’s structural changes, such as fine lines and wrinkles, but particularly aids in activating the skin, improving firmness enhancing microcirculation and preventing photo-ageing by strengthening the skin’s own ability to resist external ageing factors. These include UV sun exposure, as well as digestive intolerances, inflammation, hormone changes and oxidative stress.

Acupuncture affects energy (ATP) release from fibroblasts which are specialised skin cells that produce collagen and elastin.

The fibroblast cells generate collagen and elastin. The skin’s healing process is  triggered by acupuncture and stimulates these cells, which initiate skin’s repair to replenish collagen. This helps rebuild the structural integrity of the skin’s connective tissue, which consists of up to 80% of the dermis of the skin, making this regeneration even more crucial for the integrity of the skin as an organ.

How Does Ageing Affect Our Skin?

It’s probably no surprise to learn that as we age our cells slow down their functions and reduce production of this coveted protein bonds.

Fibroblast stimulation is also responsible for epidermal growth factors responsible for the regeneration and proliferation of skin cells.

Different extracellular matrix (ECM) constituents, including collagens, fibrin, fibronectin, proteoglycans, glycosaminoglycans, and matricellular proteins, are fundamental for fibroblast health, migration, and metabolism which are all affected positively from acupuncture within different levels of skin structural componentry.

The ATP production and associated effects on cell extracellular and intracellular signalling communication, through acupuncture intervention has also been investigated with very promising therapeutic potential.

The most prevalent molecules responsible for this communication are cytokines. Cytokines are proteins, or peptides, that function as biological messengers. Cytokines are water-soluble chemical compounds that are not stored in the body, but are made as needed for a particular function. They are the architectures of cellular communication and are able to trigger skin regeneration and repair, address inflammation, and maintain healthy skin integrity especially stimulated by wound healing process that acupuncture triggers.

The Skin: Further Scientific Studies

Another study examines the meridian system as a network matrix with abundant nerves and nociceptive receptors and connective tissues inside the body, with the flowing interstitial fluid system that operates efficiently for fibroblast and other specialised cell migration, maintaining physiological functions. Also, stimulation on the cell surface triggers Ca2+ responses, resulting in a cascade of intra and inter-cellular communication.

Moreover, nerve endings in the meridian channels interact with mast cells the master immune cell regulators, carrying potent biologically active molecules that are needed for homeostasis, immune surveillance, wound healing and tissue repair and regeneration. Acupoints along a meridian channel, trigger the above functions with specificity and high efficiency.

Acupuncture has a clinically evident research on its anti-inflammatory benefits on the skin, including antihistamine and down regulation pro-inflammatory factors. Acupuncture triggers neuropeptides from nerve endings and subsequent promote vasodilation and anti-inflammatory benefits through calcitonin gene-related peptides.

Can Acupuncture Help Rosacea, Eczema, Psoriasis and Dermatitis?

The neurochemical interactions with the analgesic effects of beta-endorphin and the balance between cell-specific pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory makes acupuncture a very beneficial treatment to treat skin inflammatory conditions such as rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis etc.

Cosmetic acupuncture has shown very promising research on the increasing hydration levels and elasticity of the skin when it comes to enhancing its volume and appearance. Facial elasticity may be developed by restoring resting mimetic muscle tonicity by inserting needles on the face and neck affecting deeper layers of skin, and muscle subcutaneous levels of the face.

An investigative study with an MRI measured changes of the contour of facial muscles in volunteers of different ages with a degree of photo-ageing. The research found that facial mimetic muscles which gradually straighten and shorten as we get older have gained a better muscle tone after an acupuncture treatment.

Acupuncture and Microcirculation

Acupuncture facial treatment is one of the key factors that affect the curative results influencing skin microcirculation, changing muscle blood flow locally at different levels, implied that the phenomenon may be caused by local vasodilator factors within the microenvironment of the skin.

Different physiological functions may take place simultaneously as a result of the localised blood circulation such as cellular oxygenation, tissue perfusion in the capillary network, and neural signal activation. Acupuncture increases the diameter and blood flow velocity of the peripheral arterioles as well as affecting the skin topically.

The therapeutic effects of acupuncture (especially thread embedding acupuncture) has recently been researched regarding its enhancement of facial skin appearance and anti-ageing. The research specifically looks at its effects on inhibiting ultraviolet B Irradiation-Induced skin photo-aging, which plays a crucial role on wrinkle formation and premature skin ageing.

Matrix metalloproteinase (MMPs) are key enzymes produced by the sun in the skin due to UV exposure that contribute to wrinkle formation, causing dermal destruction of the basement membrane. This is followed by degradation of extracellular matrix constituents, including collagen and elastin fibres.

Acupuncture is effective in suppressing signs of photo-ageing including epidermal thickness and collagen fibre reduction. In addition, cosmetic acupuncture owes its photo-protective effects against UVB exposed skin damage by inhibiting natural skin immune-stimulant activation. with subsequent reduction in MMP-9 expression.

How Does Acupuncture Benefit the Skin Overall?

There is clinically evident research on acupuncture’s anti-inflammatory benefits on the skin, including antihistamine and down regulation pro-inflammatory factors. Acupuncture triggers neuropeptides from nerve endings and subsequent promote vasodilation and anti-inflammatory benefits through calcitonin gene-related peptides.

The neurochemical interactions with the analgesic effects of beta-endorphin and the balance between cell-specific pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory makes acupuncture a very beneficial treatment to treat skin inflammatory conditions such as rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis etc.

Another study also suggests that acupuncture (electro-acupuncture) through the micro wound healing process triggers an increase in Nitric Oxide (NO) release, mediating the signalling functions of NO to improve local microcirculation. In addition, Nitric Oxide controls photo-ageing due to photo-oxidation by facilitating keratinocyte proliferation.

Acupuncture and Nerve Growth Factor (NGF)

Acupuncture plays an important role in nerve growth factor (NGF), working as a mediator in the central nervous system (CNS) as well as modulating sensory and autonomic activity.

Nerve growth factor (NGF) is a polypeptide which, in addition to its effect on nerve cells, is believed to play a role in inflammatory responses and skin tissue repair. Acupuncture has a direct pro-fibrogenic effect of NGF on skin fibroblasts and therefore indicates a role for NGF in tissue repair and regeneration.

Since ancient times, the method of skin enhancement by stimulating skin’s own mechanisms has offered a natural, holistic and effective way to address signs of skin ageing and perceive the skin as a communicative organ.

Acupuncture embraces the skin’s own potential to regenerate itself, using its own healing responses, which makes the treatment one of the very few that allows it to do what knows best: heal, protect, communicate and regenerate itself.

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