When people think of acupuncture, they usually imagine long, fine needles being inserted into their hands or legs. The face, with its delicate skin, is one of the last body parts which come to mind.
Despite this, facial acupuncture can help to resolve cosmetic and underlying health problems, said traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners.
Eu Yan Sang physician Anita Pee said it is a customised treatment based on the person's condition and offers a holistic approach to managing skin problems.
She said: "Facial acupuncture aims to achieve good skin by improving the body's constitution and adjusting the internal environment of the body."
The company introduced this treatment at selected clinics in April. Acupuncturists are registered with and regulated by the TCM Practitioners Board under the Ministry of Health.
By stimulating acupoints on the face, as well as related acupoints on the body - such as the hands and legs - acupuncture increases blood circulation to the face. This improves the skin's radiance and promotes collagen production to fill fine lines, said Ms Pee.
According to TCM theory, the facial acupoints are part of channels known as meridians, which link the surface of the body to the internal organs and other body parts. Ms Pee said: "In TCM, the body is seen as a whole and skin problems reflect disharmony within the body. Thus, skin conditions are treated by addressing not only the visible symptoms, but also the root cause of the problem."
For example, skin pigmentation is often associated with poor qi (vital energy) and blood flow to the facial region, or deficiencies in the spleen and kidneys. Needles are therefore inserted into selected acupoints which help to promote the smooth flow of qi and blood, as well as strengthen the spleen and kidneys, said Ms Pee.
She added that facial acupuncture can also help to resolve issues such as dark eye bags, acne, dull skin, wrinkles and a puffy face, as well as stimulate circulation in the area for better skin complexion.
A suggested treatment plan would be 12 sessions, once or twice a week. Prices start from $68 per session at the firm's selected clinics. It also offers its facial acupuncture service at the Grand Hyatt's Damai Spa, at $158 per session. Each session lasts about half an hour, excluding consultation.
Meanwhile, a facial acupuncture session costs about $100 at Raffles Chinese Medicine (RCM), the TCM arm of Raffles Medical Group, said RCM physician Ong Fang Ying. The clinic has seen patients in their 20s to 30s. But most of her customers are women in their 30s to 50s, she added.
RCM has been offering the treatment for more than eight years. Ms Ong said that treatment plans vary - some patients need 10 to 20 sessions to see results, while others need only five to six.
Ms Pee said some people are concerned that facial acupuncture is painful and worry if they will be able to resume normal activities after the session. But the procedure is simple and relatively painless.
However, despite the purported benefits of facial acupuncture, the treatment is not for everyone.
Facial acupuncture is not suitable for people with skin infections, open wounds, tumours, bleeding disorders, serious health conditions and acute diseases. In cases of severe acne, acupuncture will be focused on body acupoints, rather than the face.
Also, acupuncture has still not been scientifically proven.
Undergraduate Sheryl Lim, 24, said that facial acupuncture helped to get rid of the acne on her face. She went for the treatment once a month, over half a year. She said: "My pores are still oily but the pimples disappeared after one to two weeks. I would go back again for aesthetic purposes."
Facing fear of needles
When I was asked to try out a free facial acupuncture session by Eu Yan Sang, I was hesitant, to say the least.
I was apprehensive about having needles stuck into my face. Surprisingly, the treatment was simple and painless.
When I entered the treatment room in Damai Spa at Grand Hyatt, I was greeted by physician Anita Pee.
The session started with a detailed consultation. Ms Pee asked me many questions, and checked my tongue and pulse. This allowed her to diagnose my body condition and constitution, based on TCM theory.
She said I had high levels of heatiness associated with my stomach and liver, and this would be treated during the session.
I changed and removed my make-upbefore I lay down on the acupuncture bed and waited rather nervously.
When the treatment started, though, I began to relax. This was despite 11 needles, each about 0.2mm in diameter, being inserted into acupoints on my forehead, temples, cheeks and lower facial area.
Needles were also stuck into my hands and feet.
Ms Pee adjusted the needles and administered electro- acupuncture, where electricity is passed in pulses to provide stimulation of acupoints.
There was a dull ache in the acupoints on my foot. She said this meant that blood circulation had been stimulated.
The insertion of the other needles was slightly ticklish, without much pain.
The needles were left in my skin for half an hour. When they were removed, a facial massage was done with a jade roller. I enjoyed this.
I could not feel any tangible benefits from the session, but I slept very well that night - whether it was from the facial acupuncture or fatigue due to the sleepless night before, I could not tell.