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Is Facial Acupuncture Safe and Effective?

Is facial acupuncture really a worthwhile alternative to a facelift?

Answer (Published 5/23/2005)

Facial (or cosmetic) acupuncture is being offered by some practitioners as a natural alternative to facelifts. It may provide some temporary improvement in facial muscle tone and help minimize lines and wrinkles on the face. However, you won't get the lasting results of a surgical face lift, in which excess fat is removed, the muscles underlying the face are tightened, and the skin of the face and neck are re-draped. Bear in mind that even a face lift won't stop the aging process - it gives the illusion of turning back the clock somewhat, but it doesn't stop the ticking. Afterward, you'll look younger and fresher, but after a few years, you'll again see the signs of aging that prompted you to seek the surgery in the first place.

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Compared to a surgical facelift, which can cost many thousands of dollars and carries the risks of both surgery and anesthesia, facial acupuncture is far less costly and much safer. But between ten and 25 treatments may be needed before you see any effects. Acupuncturists say that treatments bring more blood and energy flow (Qi) to the face, both of which theoretically improve muscle tone. I'm told that the treatments are relaxing and have psychological benefits, both of which may add to the perceived improvements.

Facial acupuncture involves placement of needles, usually in wrinkles or sagging areas of skin. Each treatment takes about an hour or less. A facelift takes several hours, and is done under either local or general anesthesia; afterward, your face will be swollen and bruised and feel tender and numb. Most patients can resume their normal activities about two weeks after the surgery.

Facial acupuncture seems to be safe enough, but I can't vouch for lasting results, and I'm not a proponent of procedures designed to interfere with the normal aging process. (I have a whole chapter on this subject in my book, Healthy Aging.)

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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