I’ve had acupuncture before but never in my face. And I’m not crazy about needles, but as long as I can’t see them I’ll be fine, I reason. (Because they’ll be in my face, right?)
Hence I’m unsure of what to expect when I arrive for my acupuncture rejuvenation facial at London’s Corinthia Hotel, but I’m guessing it’s along the lines of a few painless jabs before being left in a dark room while mandolin music of some description plays.
As it turns out, it’s not like that at all, but luckily ESPA Life’s James Mutkin leaves no stone unturned in talking me through what’s about to happen and more importantly, what it all means.
Ancient Chinese medicine, James tells me, is designed to rectify ailments internally, not just topically.
This means a person’s exterior, including their face, is affected directly by the overall health of their internal organs.
Because of this, my treatment will address my body as well as my face, and as every session is tailored to the patient’s specific needs, we discuss my case history.
I explain I’m 34 and lucky me, I’m still getting acne outbreaks. The older I get the deeper and more painful my spots seem.
I suffer from tension headaches and I estimate my stress levels to be hovering around the 6/10 mark.
I’m a vegetarian and an often frantically busy one at that – meaning I find myself relying heavily on carbs, which in turn does horrible things to my blood sugar levels.
Alarmingly, I also have a white coating on my tongue which I have somehow never noticed.
All these symptoms add up to what Chinese medicine terms a “dampness” in the body, or more simply an accumulation of fluids manifesting in tangible disturbances including cystic acne, congestion, bloating, weight gain, tiredness and low mood.
James tells me this points to a deficiency in my spleen, which I’m informed, is paired with my stomach and plays a central part in my digestion of food – as well as how I process stimulus and information.
The spleen is the central organ in the production of ‘qi’, a force or energy that controls the workings of the human mind and body, James explains, meaning a happily functioning one is critical in supporting the long-term health of an individual.
With regards to my energy levels crashing after carb-heavy lunches, I’m advised to choose foods which have a low glycaemic index and load as they are broken down more slowly, and hence release glucose into the bloodstream at a more manageable rate.
James gives me easy-to-read handouts on what I should be eating and a comprehensive list of glycaemic index and glycaemic load foods which you can see here.
Next comes a massage which sees James map out the trouble spots of my body with his hands, concentrating specifically on activating my meridian lines (the pathways via which the qi flows) and testing the pressure points on my back and neck, predicting where it hurts even before I feel it.
A handful of acupuncture needles go into my arms and legs.
He then performs a lymphatic drainage procedure known as cupping on the length of my back - which I am familiar with thanks to my Chinese stepmother, who likes nothing more than sticking glass jars up and down my spine so I look like a (very relaxed) stegosaurus when I visit home.
As Chinese medicine treats symptoms as a whole, once my body has been addressed, it is then the turn of my face.
I’m smug to hear I’ve few discernible wrinkles or bags under my eyes, but less so about having the complexion of an itchy teenager.
Cupping using tiny glass tubes is performed on my face and while the familiar almost bruise-like blooms steadily emerge on my back – the procedure is so light on my face not a single mark is left.
Facial acupuncture with collagen induction derma-rolling combines traditional acupuncture and advance micro-needling.
It enhances the production of collagen – that fibrous protein that keeps us looking young – and which unfortunately declines as we age, rolling out the welcome mat for wrinkles.
The combined procedures also significantly improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, firmness, enlarged pores and acne scarring. They also help increase blood circulation in the skin and improve natural cell regeneration.
Thus the popularity of the acupuncture facial as a “natural” alternative to the Botox and fillers which simply “paper over” the signs of ageing has reportedly seen it adopted by members of the Hollywood elite including Jennifer Anniston, Angelina Jolie and Madonna.
The finer needles are barely visible and the thicker ones look more like whiskers than the glinting steel spears I had imagined. And I barely feel them going in. All I hear is a tiny tap.
James uses very fine needles for fine lines – mostly across my forehead- with thicker ones being inserted deeper to relax the muscles around my jaw and eyes.
He dabs a topical anaesthetic onto parts of my nose and uses a derma-roller to stimulate my circulation. It has a spiked surface and I’m warned I may experience some redness for a few days.
As he leaves the room to prepare a moisturiser and serum for me to use after the treatment I lie there trying to keep my eyes closed. Of course that doesn’t last and I sneak a peek – and guess what? I don’t, as I expected, look like Hellraiser.
By the end of the session I feel like it’s the first time I’ve been properly introduced to my body. I will relaxed and unflappable to the point where I am spaced out.
For a couple of days afterwards I look like I have a light sunburn on my nose, which quickly fades thanks to the creams James made up for me. My skin is vividly clearer and for the first time in weeks, maybe months I am not plagued by painful patches of acne.
What’s more, I sleep like a rock. Am I rejuvenated? Yes I am. Am I going back for more sessions? You bet.
Sara Nelson was treated at ESPA Life at the Corinthia Hotel in Whitehall Place, London, +44 (0) 20 7321 3050.
A 120 minute initial treatment costs £260, and £220 for each further 90 minute session. For long term results, a treatment course of ten to twelve sessions is recommended.