Here's How Acupuncture Can Affect Skin Health

by Jessica Willingham

Should you try acupuncture for acne? It seems a little unorthodox, but if you're struggling with breakouts like me, you might want to give it a whirl. According to experts, acupuncture might actually help your skin by reducing redness, stimulating collagen, and regulating your hormones. We've all heard the basics of acupuncture — it involves needles and something about Chinese medicine, right? Once I started researching acupuncture for acne, I realized there's a lot that goes into this ancient practice.

First things first — how does acupuncture work? And what is it exactly? Acupuncture is a practice in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that uses ultra tiny needles to reduce inflammation, easy pain, heal or manage chronic conditions and regulate hormones. While studies disagree on the effectiveness of TCM, acupuncture is widely used — according to one study, 22 percent of Americans have seen an acupuncturist in the last month.

To get down to the bottom of how acupuncture could affect skin health, I asked licensed acupuncturist and certified wellness coach Amy Kuretsky to break it down even further.

How Does Acupuncture Affect Skin Health?

"When needles are placed in the face, they create tiny micro-traumas to the skin which activates new collagen production in the area," Kuretsky tells me. If you have cystic acne, no worries — your practitioner won't go near any active breakouts. Even if you come into the office with actively broken-out acne or eczema and your practitioner can't treat it directly, the visit can still benefit your skin. By placing tiny needles on specific points throughout the body, the doctor can begin to treat the underlying causes of your breakouts.

"Internally, acupuncture helps regulate our hormones and soothe an irritated gut lining — and all of those things play a role in the health of our skin," says Kuretsky. "Externally, acupuncture can clear heat (reduce redness), drain damp (reduce cystic acne), and nourish yin (soothe dryness)."

Aside from a clearer face, acupuncture might also help your skin in other ways, too. "Acupuncture can even out skin tone, reduce redness and inflammation, and encourage the skin to heal," says Sarah Larson, a licensed acupuncturist. "Cosmetic acupuncture can help to reduce fine lines and wrinkles and reduce facial puffiness, as well as [reduce] hyperpigmentation." Sold.

Who Is The Right Candidate For Acupuncture?

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"By it's nature, acupuncture is an excellent beauty treatment, whether there are needles in the face or not," says Larson. "If you have better energy, sleep, mood, digestion, your hormones are regulated, etc., you're going to feel better, and that will show up on your face and skin and in the quality of your hair."

Acupuncture is for everyone, regardless of symptoms. A common course of treatment is weekly sessions for six weeks, followed by monthly tune-up sessions for several months to keep symptoms in check. With acne and other hormone-related conditions, your acupuncturist might suggest a minimum of eight weeks of weekly treatment in the beginning, since hormone levels fluctuate on a 28-or-so day cycle, says Kuretsky.

How Does Acupuncture Actually Work?

I've had hormone issues and acne for years, and a recent flare-up has been particularly challenging, so I went to see licensed acupuncturist Dr. Mel Drisko in Fort Collins, Colorado for my first acupuncture appointment. Dr. Drisko asked questions about my diet, the color and texture of my breakouts, and checked my tongue. While he said we could treat my specific kind of acne with acupuncture, he said the real magic was in my diet, so he would like to treat with herbs and supplements.

Still, acupuncture could be the answer to a number of skin troubles, like sagging, dullness, or wrinkles, he told me. He placed tiny needles in my shoulders, legs, hands, head and feet — the needles were so small, I didn't notice most of them being applied. When I did feel a needle, it was like a gentle electric pulse — definitely not anything painful. Your doctor will adjust the lights, room temperature, and music to be as relaxing as possible — my acupuncturist told me that most people doze off during their session, and I definitely did.

So how did acupuncture work for my skin? Well, it's a little soon to tell. My initial visit was more about getting to know my practitioner and experiencing acupuncture for the first time, and less about treating my acne. I'll be going back to see if acupuncture could put my breakouts out of business, forever.

But is acupuncture a final, long term solution to skin issues? Not so fast. "The most honest answer isn't all that exciting: The skin is an outer representation of our gut," says Kuretsky. "So when the lining of our gut is upset, it's going to show up most commonly in our complexion." So while acupuncture might benefit your skin health, there are definitely many other factors that could be causing breakouts or other skin issues.

If you're experiencing deeper skin issues, be sure to consult a dermatologist or head to your doctor to get a full health assessment.