Writer Kim Fuller tried cosmetic acupuncture, and, spoiler alert: it’s better than botox
I remember the moment when I realized my face was started to visibly age. I had recently hit 30 when I looked in the mirror one morning to see not one wrinkle but several, ingrained upon my forehead and more obvious than subtle.
Thoughts began to swirl: How long have these been here? How am I just seeing them for the first time? Are they going to get deeper and deeper, worse and worse? All those times I should have worn a hat …
I was being dramatic, yes, but also I was intrigued by what seemed like such a sudden shift. I’ve always been pretty good about skincare and wearing sunscreen, but a life spent adventuring at altitude — with occasional bouts of “working on my tan” as a teenager —was now showing up as lines on my face.
And then there’s the fact of it all: my skin will inevitably age, and so will yours. There is, however, quite a lot we can do to slow the process.
“Botox,” a friend had told me after her wedding as we were talking about our newfound relationship to wrinkles. “It doesn’t last forever, but for this it just made me feel more like me.”
I didn’t know much about it, but it didn’t resonate. I was especially turned off when I learned it was a cosmetic treatment that removes wrinkles by temporarily paralyzing facial muscles. And if you want to keep it going, I heard, you have to keep paralyzing those facial muscles, again and again. They get used to the treatments and don’t respond to them as easily. No thanks, I decided.
With my own wedding on the horizon this year, something did catch my attention. It was cosmetic acupuncture, a facial rejuvenation treatment that combines ancient skincare approaches with modern tools and therapies. My curiosity continued to grow until I reached out to Becky Burgess, owner of Vail Valley Wellness in EagleVail.
“The lines on our faces truly tell our stories,” said Burgess, who has been studying and practicing Chinese Medicine since 2010. “We don’t want to eliminate emotion from our faces with nipping and tucking and filling and plucking, but we do want to help you put your best face forward.”
After I learned that cosmetic acupuncture sessions work holistically, invigorating qi (energy) and blood throughout the body and face, while simultaneously focusing on needs of the whole body, I was on board.
“Using strategically placed needles, acupuncture aims to send signals to the body which stimulate collagen and elastin production — both of which diminish as we age,” Burgess said. “By treating the whole body, we also work on balancing digestion, hormones and circulation — all factors in signs of aging that unfortunately show up on our face.”
My case wasn’t the easiest, actually. Younger skin with sun damage like mine doesn’t tend to show improvements from these treatments as quickly. Half way through my 12-session introduction, however, I could definitely see the lines on my forehead softening, the tension on my brow releasing and an overall brightness to my face with a little more distinction of my jawline and cheekbones.
I was starting to feel the effects of acupuncture in my whole body as well. It became apparent to me that the twice-weekly visits to Vail Valley Wellness were helping ease stress and anxiety at work. I could feel that life’s grips were loosening a little, and I could see it on my face.
“Your face is your best asset,” said Burgess. “I love providing skin care that cares about you. It’s so fun to watch each person’s progression. Helping women in this valley reverse skin discoloration from sun damage, old pockmarked acne scarring for which they have tried everything, including literally lasering their skin off, and lifting, firming, toning and brightening their skin gives me the greatest joy.”
And it was a joy for me to have those sessions with Burgess. She is welcoming and sweet, and I began to look forward to my visits to Vail Valley Wellness as a sort of physical and mental therapy. I would share with Burgess any relevant information before each treatment — basically anything that was bothersome or relevant from my day or week that might inform specific needle insertions on my feet and ankles, hands, head, sometimes my belly, and my face.
Enjoy the Process
The needles come first and sit for a while (sometimes paired with a face mask), followed by some amazing facial techniques to complete the treatment.
“When the face is needled, the body sends a wound-healing response to help repair the area of insertion,” Burgess said. “The release of collagen is queued and an increase in blood circulation helps reduce inflammation and give your face a natural glow and vitality. Growth signals are sent to skin stem cells to stimulate fibroblasts, which then transform into collagen fibers that integrate with the existing collagen in the skin. This process helps improve the tone, elasticity and vitality of the face, while helping to fill in small lines and wrinkles.”
Burgess sometimes employs electrical-stimulation, or e-stim — used modestly in Chinese medicine and commonly during Western sports medicine treatments. She uses it to activate motor points with her cosmetic acupuncture protocol.
“It involves attaching electrical probes to the top of acupuncture needles and running a micro- or macro-current through the circuit,” she said. “By eliciting a muscle contraction using electrical impulses, it has been used successfully to encourage muscle strength in the face, which in turn lifts, tones and tightens.”
Sometimes Burgess will add LED light therapy to the facial region during acupuncture. Using near-infrared capabilities, this can help shrink pores, reduce the appearance of small lines and wrinkles, increase collagen, restore skin elasticity, tighten skin and improve dark circles, among other benefits.
Following the acupuncture treatment, an herbal salve is applied to the face to clear heat and toxins and to moisturize the skin. One of my favorite elements of the session is facial cupping, which increases circulation and encourages the platelets to replenish any stagnation just under your skin, plumping up elasticity.
“Don’t worry, it will not leave bruising marks like you see on some Olympic athletes,” said Burgess. “These cups are gentler and the continuous movement of them allows the blood to flow, instead of being stagnant.”
Guasha (pronounced, gwa-sha), comes in at the end as a lovely finale. It’s like a massage using jade and rose quartz tools. The technique is designed to raise the tissues up, drain lymph and encourage collagen production.
Burgess also provides patients with a number of lifestyle recommendations to assist your body in producing the greatest results, including a clean diet, sun protection, utilizing proper eyewear and regular movement.
“The ability of the body to truly transform during six weeks is incredible,” Burgess said.
Three months of the program was healing and rejuvenating for me, felt internally and visible externally. I understand nothing is permanent, and I look forward to visiting Burgess regularly to keep up with the results and benefits of this methodology.
To experience full results, Burgess recommends starting with the 12-session, two times weekly package. Following this intensive segment, once a month or more is recommended for maintenance.