Cosmetic acupuncture seems a viable alternative to cosmetic surgery, and the effects can run much deeper than simply improving appearances, writes Jenifer Miller
While most people wouldn't object to looking a few years younger, the idea of allowing someone to take a knife to your face can be more than a little off-putting. As a non-surgical alternative, cosmetic acupuncture promises a fresh-faced radiance while diminishing the signature signs of ageing. The treatment also claims to address the underlying causes of ageing, which may be preferable to masking the symptoms with invasive procedures.
A facet of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture claims a 5,000-year history and it has been used for cosmetic purposes for nearly as long.
The Chinese believe that energy, or "chi", flows throughout the body's tissues and organs along myriad rivulets and channels known as meridians. This energy, also thought of as life force, is said to regulate the body's innate healing processes and restore balance and harmony within the body. As many meridians either begin or end on the face, cosmetic acupuncture was employed as early as AD 1270 to help the empress and the emperor's concubines maintain their youthful allure.
While the initial desire to look younger may be a simple case of vanity, the effects can prove far more profound than merely improving one's appearance.
Dermot O'Connor, founder of the International Institute of Medical Qigong, practises cosmetic acupuncture at his Ballsbridge clinic. O'Connor likens the treatment to a gardener tending the soil of a plant to produce a healthy flower, rather than superficially trying to polish a petal.
A complete treatment involves a series of 10 sessions, during which a number of hair-thin needles are inserted into specific pressure points along the brow, temples, chin, shoulders, feet and hands.
Following the initial course of treatment, intermittent maintenance sessions can reputedly prolong the results for several years. Also included in the series is a prescription of herbal supplements and treatments, both of which are facets of TCM.
While some may balk at the idea of allowing a stranger to press needles into their tender cheeks and brow, it may help to know that a thorough eyebrow plucking from a trained aesthetician can cause more eye-watering pain than 10 acupuncture needles combined. The treatment may also be preferable to being treated under anaesthetic by a plastic surgeon only to wake up with a faceful of bandages and bruises.
One of the world's leading cosmetic acupuncturists, Virginia Doran, has been instrumental in introducing the treatment to modern western culture. An international teacher, author and practitioner, Doran has appeared on the US's major television news networks toting the benefits of the treatment. So great is the demand for Doran's expertise that anyone wanting to book a session out of her New York clinic must wait until 2005 for an appointment.
Doran's treatment protocol may edge into the Botox market. Botox injections deaden muscle to produce an unlined brow, while acupuncture relaxes the muscle without introducing synthetic chemicals into the body.
In a 1996 research study, the International Journal of Clinical Acupuncture reported that out of 300 test subjects who received cosmetic acupuncture, 90 per cent showed improvements after one series of treatments.
These improvements included improved elasticity of the skin, reduced wrinkles, a glowing complexion and feelings of overall rejuvenation.
Proponents of cosmetic acupuncture say it can offer measurable results after only one or two sessions, eliminating fine lines and reducing deeper wrinkles. Bags under the eyes and around the neck are toned, droopy eyelids can be lifted, sagging and puffiness reduced and even double chins take it on the chin, so to speak.
Other long-term benefits can include increased moisture in the skin, the activation of collagen production, better muscle tone, tightening of the pores, relaxing of the jaw and improved hormonal balance to reduce acne spots.
Even the eyes can look brighter after a few sessions, which is evidence of "chi" flowing properly along its innumerable internal paths, it is claimed. People who should avoid the treatment include pregnant women, migraine sufferers and haemophiliacs. Some light bruising also may occur, which is why no needles are inserted into the delicate areas around the eyes.
Further information is available at www.acupunctureireland.com, or by phoning O'Connor's clinic at 01-6672222