What You Should Know About Facial Acupuncture

Hope you’re not afraid of needles!

The first thing Sandra Chiu, founder of Treatment by Lanshin, wants people to know before coming in to get an acupuncture facial is it’s not an actual facial—at least, not in the traditional sense. There aren’t any masks involved and definitely no extractions. Also, the treatment isn’t confined to above the chin, like most places. For Chiu and her crew, that’s not a full enough picture.

“We’re acupuncturists and herbalists, and so we’re bringing full body knowledge through our work,” she says. “We want to treat the face, but we also want to treat areas that source health in the face.” That’s why the first thing Samantha Story, my acupuncturist, asked me when I sat down on her table about was my last menstrual cycle… and my bowel movements… and my diet… and my oral health… all while tracking my pulse. They’re jarring, if not invasive questions, especially if you’re not expecting them. You’re probably used to divulging the intricacies of your skin-care routine when you walk into a spa, but not what color your period blood is. But this all comes back to the Lanshin philosophy—centering wellness alongside skin health, with the idea being that they’re intrinsically connected.

So, when you lie down and prepare to have tiny needles placed into your face (the feeling is similar to being pinched lightly), they actually start with your body. Story started with my hands, moved on to my stomach, and placed a couple in my feet. Chiu says this is done to “ground the energy,” but, more than that, “we’re doing points on your body because our belief is that the beauty you’re looking for starts there.” Chiu believes that a holistic treatment is the foundation on which beauty begins. “When you’re full of health, your skin looks amazing, and you have a certain energy that other people notice,” she says.

After the body is addressed, the focus turns toward the face. Placement varies and depends on the concerns of the client, but the idea is to look at what’s going on above the surface, like breakouts but, also, where the skin might be experiencing stagnation or congestion that's not visibly detectable. As Chiu explains, the needles are intended to spur circulation—from blood and fluid circulation to the circulation of energy. “It’s kind of like, if you have all these weeds growing in your yard, we don’t just mow the weeds so they look gone,” she says. “We get down into the earth and we pull those roots up—we’re getting to that deeper level to affect circulation.”

Needles are typically also placed in your neck and jaw because that’s where most people experience tightness, especially if you’re constantly looking down at your phone and chewing. So, yeah, pretty much everyone. Acupuncture is meant to loosen that tension. Chiu provides a culinary comparison for this particular experience: “When you needle an area like the jaw, sometimes it feels hard and dry, almost like you're needling into jerky. When you needle it, you can feel it start to restore itself back to more of like a pink chicken breast or a filet mignon feeling.” It might not go back to a perfect piece of steak after one session—she recommends going once a week for up to 10 weeks to see and maintain results—but you’ll notice a change.

You keep the (barely noticeable, not uncomfortable at all) needles in your face for 15 minutes or so. My session also included an LED light to help with my breakouts which sort of feels like being trapped in a spaceship. Then, after the needles are taken out, the session finishes with gua sha, which is a slow massaging of the face and neck with a small jade tool. Chiu compares the two steps in tandem to molding clay that’s become oddly shaped. “Acupuncture resets the tissue and brings back fluidity, while the gua sha contours and sculpts and shapes and soothes.”

For those used to having gunk sucked out of your pores and your skin steamed and cleaned and steamed again, this isn’t that. Again, this isn’t the typical “facial” experience. It won’t heal your acne overnight either, which Chiu says is a common misconception. For someone with chronic cases of acne, she likes to prescribe Chinese herbs. A milder case might benefit from acupuncture, but it could also better benefit from a topical product—it all depends. Likewise, if you come in with a breakout, it might still be there when you leave. “Something like a surface pimple, theoretically, will go away over time,” Chiu says. “Not in an instant like with an extraction, because we're not going in there and digging out the excess sebum, we're just setting up your tissue underneath to be healthier so that, over time, you're not producing as many pimples.”

It’s a gradual process and what Chiu wants clients to walk away with is a better understanding of the complexities of skin-care and bodily health and how they’re interwoven. So, maybe next time you experience a breakout, you won’t look to your medicine cabinet first but, rather, your last Seamless order.