I was originally going to call this article: ‘How to look like an extra from Hellraiser’. Instead I thought it more suitable to call the article: ‘Facial Acupuncture & Takeshi Kitagawa Cosmetic Acupuncture Training’
The picture above is not a ‘before and after’ photo. Right is Pinhead from the horror movie Hellraiser. Left is me having facial acupuncture.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the part for the audition… Not enough needles.
In this article, I will briefly discuss Facial Acupuncture and my experience of doing a Cosmetic Acupuncture Course with the experienced Acupuncturist – Mr Takeshi Kitagawa, of the Yojo Spa in Japan.
I should note that I do not practice this speciality so much and so I will not be providing practical information on how to perform it.
I will however provide and discuss a couple of scientific studies into the benefits of cosmetic acupuncture in the second half of this article. This may be useful for acupuncturists or people considering having facial acupuncture.
So if that interests you, you may want to skip ahead. That is unless you want to hear about my experience of having needles stuck in my face like a human-Voodoo doll.
What is Facial Acupuncture?
Facial acupuncture, also known as cosmetic acupuncture, is another branch of acupuncture, which focuses on beauty. I will use these two terms – ‘facial acupuncture’ and ‘cosmetic acupuncture’ interchangeably as it refers to the same thing.
Unlike the Classical Acupuncture Systems or Medical Acupuncture, the goal of cosmetic acupuncture is quite simply to make you look more attractive. You can’t go wrong with that really. I mean we all want to look better.
Very simply, cosmetic acupuncture involves inserting lots of very fine acupuncture needles into the face, with a special focus on inserting around wrinkles or areas of imperfection e.g. around bags under the eyes.
Cosmetic acupuncture is said to enhance the circulation of Ki-energy and blood in the face, which helps revitalise it and appear more youthful.
Cosmetic Acupuncture: How well does it work?
I have a colleague who specialises in facial acupuncture and she has told me of some very good cases she has had treating (mostly female) clients to improve their complexion and remove wrinkles. I also discuss two studies later on which indicate that facial acupuncture does bring improvements to facial elasticity and enhances water and oil levels in the skin.
My thoughts on facial acupuncture
Truthfully, I don’t know if it works well or not, as I don’t provide this service currently. I have trained in cosmetic acupuncture, but I prefer to practice more traditional styles of acupuncture rather than focus on facial acupuncture. Occasionally I am asked whether I can give this treatment, but I tend to signpost those people to a colleague who does specialise in cosmetic acupuncture, as the whole process is a bit different to a standard acupuncture treatment.
There are a few other reasons I don’t practice cosmetic acupuncture so much. Firstly, my skin is not exactly great. Ever since I was a teenager, I have always had problem-skin and some minor blemishes. It used to be much worse when I was younger, and still it is not great. I don’t think I give a good example of someone with great skin, so I am not sure how it looks if I offer cosmetic acupuncture. And no, I don’t want to needle my own face.
Another reason is that I find it a little tedious to insert so many needles into the face. It just doesn’t suit my way of practicing. I much prefer palpating the channels (meridians) developing my sense of touch and treating the body in a holistic way.
It is not to say I can’t do cosmetic acupuncture. I simply don’t advertise it as a service.
Training in Facial Acupuncture
The picture above is from a cosmetic acupuncture training course I participated in a few years ago. I was very fortunate to participate in this course led by a facial acupuncture specialist from Japan. The teacher’s name was Mr Takeshi Kitagawa and he is the owner of the Yojo Spa in Roppongi, Japan.
Mr Kitagawa is a very experienced and confident Japanese acupuncturist who came to the UK to do a seminar in June 2015. The event was organised by Michi Naomoto and Uli Burke. It was held at the Gateway clinic in South London
Takeshi Kitagawa Cosmetic Acupuncture
Mr Kitagawa – (Picture taken from his website)
Mr Kitagawa is a very experienced and charismatic teacher. He was quite fashionable and took special pride in his appearance. Many Japanese acupuncturists tend to dress smart and conservatively, but Mr Kitagawa wore bright colours. I think one of the reasons for this may be that he has a popular practice in Roppongi Hills (the Japanese equivalent of Beverly Hills). He primarily uses cosmetic acupuncture and I imagine he has some wealthy or possibly celebrity clients. I can understand how his look may appeal to this type of clientele.
One of the characteristics I admired about Mr Kitagawa is that he was very confident in his abilities. For example, he had us all needling the Gallbladder 21 point on each other and some of the back points. Sure… this point doesn’t seem like a big deal right?
Well, it depends. With the GB21 point, it is recommended to needle GB21 with a posterior oblique insertion approximately 0.5-1 cun, according to Deadman. This is because there is a minor risk of pneumoforax if you needle the point perpendicular and too deeply.
Because of this risk, a lot of acupuncturists will adopt a semi-conservative approach to needling this point. The same goes for some of the upper back points too. This was the case for me.
However, one of the problems with adopting this conservative method is that you can too easily miss the point. GB 21 is an acupuncture point that easily gets painful trigger points in it and also unfortunately, these trigger points can be deep – so deep that you are scared to go for them because of the risk of pneumoforax.
Missing the point
However, Mr Kitagawa had a good understanding of how deep you can go and he would purposely come to each of us when needling and show us that we were being too cautious and make us needle more firmly. A few of us were amazed at his confidence and also realised our own fears over this point. I think some of us in the West are risk-averse when it comes to the needling of some points compared to our counterparts in the East, especially China.
I know that there have been a few occasions, when I really wanted to needle this point – GB21, much deeper on a patient, because I sensed I just wasn’t getting the point, but I would stop myself, because I didn’t want to risk injury.
It may be apparent from this story that Mr Kitagawa does not practice a gentle ‘Meridian Therapy or Toyohari – type treatment. I assume he is influenced by the TCM model of acupuncture and he told us that he did some training in China.
But this article is not about Gallbladder 21. We are discussing Facial Acupuncture.
On this course, Mr Kitagawa gave us a unique approach to carrying out facial acupuncture. He started out with a lecture (as most seminars do) but very soon moved into a practical session. First he demonstrated on a model patient and then it was our turn to practice needling.
Mr Kitagawa has a ‘hands-on’ practical approach to teaching and learning. It is not about listening to lectures. It is about getting on and needling. All the class participants paired up and took it in turns to stick needles in each others faces.
In this, he is truly skilled. There is no half-hearted approach to facial acupuncture. You stick needles in, then you stick some more in, and then more again. You can’t be shy and for most of the points you can’t use guidetubes.
Mr Kitagawa had us all practicing facial acupuncture on each other – needle after needle after needle for both days of the workshop.
Facial Acupuncture can be generally relaxing
Facial acupuncture is pretty relaxing and definitely does bring some circulation back to your face. If you have a grey or pasty complexion, then cosmetic acupuncture may be just what you need. It will give you a glow. Also if you have wrinkles, it may help to reduce the appearance of them. The needles are very thin – and relatively painless when inserted.
Cosmetic acupuncture: Treatment process
The treatments do take a bit longer to carry out, as you are using lots of small fine needles. They are much shorter and have a thinner length than standard body acupuncture points. The Japanese brands are of higher quality and are easier to insert.
When inserting needles into the facial muscles, no guide tubes are used. You have to get used to inserting them with your hands only. They have to be inserted in a certain order and pattern as obviously with so many needles in the face (around a hundred), it does not leave much space to rest your hand. You need to be fairly dextrous with your fingers.
One of the techniques is to insert lots of small needles around wrinkles, in order to cause a mini micro-damage effect, so that the body can repair and renew the skin.
After the treatment has finished,, some cosmetic acupuncture practitioners may use a face rolling tool to help massage the face muscles and improve the circulation.
Have you ever had a needle in your eye?
I don’t mean literally in your eyeball. In acupuncture, there are two acupuncture points that are just by the side of the eye-ball and just inside the eye socket – BL 1 and ST 1. They are safe to needle if carried out by a professional trained in acupuncture.
Just to say, they are two of my least favourite points. I suspect most acupuncturists probably avoid using these points. Although these points are said to be very powerful for any eye problems.
Needling them does produce a very intense and somewhat uncomfortable feeling in the patient. Yes, one of the joys of learning acupuncture is that at some point you will have to practice needling this point on a fellow student and they in turn will needle it on you. What joy. Usually, I can withstand it for a few minutes but then I have to ask the practitioner to remove the needle as the feeling can get a little intense.
Facial Acupuncture course
Well, on this course with Mr Kitagawa, he actually included the eye points as part of the training. I think you have to be pretty confident to have a room full of 20 people needle these kind of points on each other. So once again, I had the pleasure of being needled with BL 1 and then needling it on someone else.
The last time I had needled these points was around 10 years earlier at acupuncture school, and they were just as uncomfortable to experience at this training, as I remember they were back then.
Unless you have an eye problem, you probably don’t need to use those points. Mr Kitagawa did say he doesn’t always use them in his clinic so I guess he was just saving it for us UK acupuncturists. Hmm… I wonder if there is a little bit of a sadist in him?
For facial acupuncture, many of the points used on the face do not correspond to known acupuncture points. It is more like zones or areas and about enhancing the circulation of the Ki of the face muscles. However, there are a few known acupuncture points on the face, which may have an effect on the body as a whole. For example:
- GB 14
- ST 2, ST 3, ST 4
- BL 2
- M-HN-3 (Yintang), M-HN-14 (Bitong), M-HN-18 (Jiachengjiang), M-HN-6 (Yuyao), M-HN-9 (Taiyang)
- SI 18
- LI 19
- GB 1
- SJ 23
- Ren 24
Usually points at the end of a channel are said to have a stronger effect. The points on the face are mostly at the beginning or the end of the channel pathways and I did feel some strong acupuncture Ki energy-type sensations when one of the ST points was needled on my face.
Usually, most practitioners won’t needle face points unless there is a problem with the face, ears nose or mouth. However, it really may be worth using some of the channel-ending points on the face sometimes as they can be powerful.
Cosmetic acupuncture should include treating the whole body
A practitioner should also include a few body acupuncture points to balance the energy. You don’t want too much yang in the head. Some points can help balance the whole body and improve its general function.
Also external beauty is a reflection of your internal health. So by adding some constitutional points on the body to address any underlying imbalances or weaknesses in the body, you can also improve the internal health, which in turn helps improve your external beauty.
Cost of facial acupuncture
The cost may be more than a standard acupuncture treatment. This is because the acupuncturists uses many more needles, which are of a specific brand and are more expensive. Also it takes more time to insert all these needles, so extra time is needed for that.
You also need to do a regular course of treatments in order to see the improvements.
With needling any acupuncture point on the body, there is a risk of bruising. This is more so a risk when needling the face, especially with so many needles used. During this seminar, I don’t think anyone came out with any facial bruising, which is quite surprising. However, facial acupuncture does carry a higher risk of facial bruising, which is not a bad thing as I will explain in a little while.
I think a wise precaution to take is to find out whether the patient is on any blood thinners or has any clotting disorders. If so, then I think facial acupuncture would be inappropriate as the risk of bruising will be higher and healing can be slower. I don’t think pregnancy is ideal for facial acupuncture either as it is a lot of stimulation in the face. Other than that, facial acupuncture is pretty safe when done by an experienced practitioner.
There will possibly be some redness around the needle site, but this should clear within a day or two.
Facial bruising can be good
A note should be made about bruising. With so many needles to the face, there is a higher risk of bruising. However, this may be a good thing as bruising can really help clear energetic blockages and encourage a smoother flow of energy and circulation in the face, once the bruises have healed.
In fact in Mr Kitagawa’s acupuncture, it appears that bruising does have a beneficial consequence as noted in this blog article, by Donna Stewart of Peninsula Family Acupuncture (USA) who also did training with him. In it she wrote:
“Kitagawa’s method is basically needling your wrinkles and saggy places on your face and neck… A single treatment may use up to 100 needles just on the face”.
“With this style… bruising is considered desirable, as it is a sign that stagnant blood and qi are being moved out, and fresh qi and blood are moving in.”
After the needles are removed, you may feel energized, deeply relaxed or both. You may feel your skin has tightened, or your face is lifted. You may feel a sense of well-being”.
Perhaps one of the reason I don’t do facial acupuncture is that it is really energy-intensive. It takes a lot of work to insert these needles and remove them. This is why facial acupucnture sessions are usually much longer and cost more. You need to take time to do it and also the quality of needles used is much higher – hence more expensive.
However, it can be worth it for the results of having better skin and a brighter appearance.
In the next section, I will discuss two scientific research articles into the effects of cosmetic acupuncture on the skin.
Research Article 1
Some research has been carried out into the efficacy of cosmetic acupuncture.
For example, at the Department of Health at the Tsukuba University of Technology, Japan, a preliminary study was carried out into the effects of cosmetic acupuncture. (Cosmetic Acupuncture to Enhance Facial Skin Appearance: A Preliminary Study – Donoyama et al)
This study was designed to explore whether acupuncture can modulate the water and oil content of the skin.
Cosmetic Acupuncture to Enhance Facial Skin Appearance: A Preliminary Study
Two women – a 50 year old (Participant A) and a 29 year old (Participant B), received 5 consecutive acupuncture sessions, once a week for 1 month. Seirin needles were used (Type J15-03, diameter – 0.10mm, length 15.0mm). They were inserted at 20 locations including:
- BL 1
- GB 1
- ST 1, ST 3, ST 4, ST 7
- SI 19
- CV 24
- Ex-HN3 (Yintang)
*My note: I have checked in my copy of Deadman and there does not seem to be a “Ex-HN4” point. I suspect this is a typing error and that the authors meant the ‘Ex-HN14 (Bitong) point instead, which is a acupoint at the side of the nose, in the highest part of the naso-labial groove.
The water and oil content of the skin were measured with a skin analyser before and after the trial to test the results.
The authors noted that there were changes in the water and oil content of the test subjects compared to a control group after the patients had undergone their acupuncture sessions. In particular, they observed:
“The cumulative effects of the five acupuncture sessions seen for participants A and B, respectively, were a change in water content from 89% to 87% and 76% to 80%, compared with no changes in the control condition.”
The authors concluded that:
“These preliminary results suggest that cosmetic acupuncture increased 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.”
Aging of the skin is associated with dryness and a lack of moisture – oil and water, hence the advice to moisturise and the boom of the skin cream industry. If the results of this preliminary study are correct and facial acupuncture can increase the water and oil levels of the skin, then it means that acupuncture can help with the elasticity and lustre of the skin.
Research Article 2:
Effect of Facial Cosmetic Acupuncture on Facial Elasticity: An Open-Label, Single-Arm Pilot Study
In this study, Effect of Facial Cosmetic Acupuncture on Facial Elasticity: An Open-Label, Single-Arm Pilot Study, 27 women aged between 40 to 59 years old received 5 facial acupuncture sessions over 3 weeks, to assess the effects. It was carried out at Kyung Hee University Hospital at Gangdong, South Korea.
Here is a picture of one of the participants:
It appears that standard 1-cun Chinese stainless steel needles were used, instead of the thinner Japanese needles, which implies that benefits can be gained from any kind of acupuncture needle and not just the more expensive Japanese brands.
Also an AcuPro device appears to have been used to insert the needles. I am not familiar with this tool, but I think the needles can be loaded into the device and then it allows you to insert a needle quickly and painlessly. It seems to work like a kind of nail-gun (for the face). A picture of the device is below.
In this trial, needles were inserted into the muscles of the face, head and neck. In addition:
- The treatment was the same for all participants.
- The number of needles inserted ranged from 100 to 110 per treatment.
- The needles were inserted into the insertion point, origin, belly and margin of the head muscles, neck muscles, upper facial muscles, mid-facial muscles and lower facial muscles.
- Needle depth varied according to skin thickness and fatty tissue at the insertion site.
- No specific needle technique was used.
- Needles were retained for 10 minutes.
- An acupuncture treatment aid device was used – AcuPro (NEO Dr.) and stainless steel fine needles were used – (0.2 x 15mm, 0.25 x 30 mm) to reduce pain and to shorten treatment time.
- All participants received 5 sessions over the 3 week period. They recieved treatments twice a week for the first two weeks and then once a week for the last week.
Results were assessed by taking photos of the skin and applying a ‘Moire topography criteria’. Pictures were taken with a digital camera and contour lines of the face were generated using a Moire topography system. An independent evaluator read the contour lines and graded them based on the Moire criteria.
A secondary outcome measure was also taken, by getting the patients to carry our a self-assessment scale and give scores based on their facial elasticity.
Moire Toporaphy is an optical measurement tool that allows a high-precision visualization of the facial shape, kind of like making a contour map of the face. It is used to study the extent of facial palsy, zygomatic fractures and facial morphology. It can also be used to measure facial elasticity.
The authors of the trial noted:
“The Moire topography changed significantly after FCA treatment. Of the 27 participants who underwent all five sessions, 12 exhibited no change, while 15 showed a positive, single-level improvement.”
“These results suggested that FCA improved facial elasticity in women aged 40 and 59 years”
A result of over 50% of positive change is a good outcome measure and the sample size was larger than in the first research article I discussed.
The use of standard stainless steel needles and the emphasis on needling into muscles as opposed to any specific acupuncture points, implies that it may be the stimulation of the muscles which brings about its beneficial results.
We also see how it is not necessary to use the more expensive Japanese needles to get a result. Additionally, the use of the AcuPro device is quite interesting and is something worth experimenting with.
Should I try Cosmetic Acupuncture?
If you are open to exploring different approaches to enhance your complexion and appearance it may be worth a go. You will have to do a course of regular treatments to see some results. However you may find that cosmetic acupuncture has far less toxicity than inserting botox into your face and the price may even be comparable with some of the higher-range skin creams on the market.
Plus, you can always ask your acupuncturist to take some photos of you with all those needles in your face. Then you have something to show your friends or even better – make a Pinhead montage like mine above and put on Instagram.
If you would like more information about facial acupuncture, here is an EJOM article: An Introduction to Facial Revitalisation Acupuncture by Virginia Doran, which you may find helpful (PDF here).
For Mr Takeshi Kitagawa’s Website – Yojo Spa in Roppongi, click here (Japanese only).
Thank you for reading.
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Cosmetic Acupuncture to Enhance Facial Skin Appearance: A Preliminary Study – Donoyama N, Kojima A, Suoh S, et al. Acupuncture Med (2012). doi:10.1136/acupmed-2012-010156. (PDF here)
Effect of Facial Cosmetic Acupuncture on Facial Elasticity: An Open-Label, Single-Arm Pilot Study. Yun Y, Kim S, Kim M, Kim K, Park J, Choi I. Hindawi Publishing Corporation. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Volume 2013, Article ID 424313, http:..dx.doi.org/10.1155/2013/424313. (PDF here)