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April 17, 2006

Facial Acupuncture Gives Botox a Run for its Money

Scott Peres, a 42-year-old sales representative from New York City, was bothered by a chronically sore shoulder, so he decided to give acupuncture a try for pain relief.

His acupuncturist, Shellie Goldstein, who practices in New York City and tony East Hampton, N.Y., gently inserted some needles in the area around the shoulder, and soon the pain began to ease. While chatting, Goldstein also mentioned that something called facial acupuncture could reduce the fine lines on his face. So Peres decided to give that a try, too.

At the end of his fourth facial acupuncture session, Peres was increasingly pleased with the results. "My crow's feet have definitely softened out, and it definitely makes the color of my skin look better," he said, adding that a friend even asked if he'd got a "filler" to plump up his face.

While the extent of the trend is hard to gauge because exact numbers are tough to come by, it's clear that facial acupuncture is gaining fans, particularly among aging Baby Boomers looking to roll back the clock. But there are other forces driving demand, including consumers who are tired of getting repeat Botox injections or are wary of the procedure. So, business-savvy acupuncturists are marketing their alternative approach as a holistic solution.

Just like traditional acupuncture, the practitioner inserts small needles into "pressure points" in the face, boosting, advocates say, blood flow to the area, producing tighter muscles and a more youthful appearance.

No one seems to know how many licensed acupuncturists in the United States offer such facial rejuvenation, but Mary Elizabeth Wakefield, a New York City acupuncturist, said she has taught more than 1,000 of her colleagues the technique.

And at the American Association of Oriental Medicine's annual meeting last year, the two workshops on facial acupuncture were standing-room-only, said Rebekah Christensen, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento, Calif.- based group.

The real boom began, Goldstein said, after media reports two years ago noted that many Hollywood celebrities had given up Botox in favor of facial acupuncture. "My practice tripled," she said.

Goldstein has trademarked the name of her technique, Acufacial, which, she said, is good for the "marionette lines" around the sides of the mouth that appear when you smile, the nose-to-lip wrinkles called nasolabial lines and the frown lines between the eyebrows, among other areas.

"It's good for all of those," she said.

Facial acupuncture "is as effective as Botox for fine lines, almost as effective with deeper wrinkles, and without paralyzing the muscles," Goldstein said.

Facial acupuncture tends to cost more and demand more of a time investment than Botox, however.

Typical New York area fees for facial acupuncture range from $140 to $200 a session, with 10 to 20 weekly sessions recommended, followed by monthly maintenance sessions. With that fee schedule, a typical first-year bill would be $2,800 or more, and $4,400 for two years. If you follow that time schedule, Goldstein said, you can expect the effects to last two years.

For Botox injections, the average physician's fee is $376 -- but is often higher in metropolitan areas -- according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, and the procedure is repeated every three months.

Cosmetic surgeons don't dismiss the idea that facial acupuncture works, but for now they say published scientific evidence is lacking.

One cosmetic surgeon who's keeping an open mind is Dr. Laurie A. Casas, an associate professor of surgery at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, who also serves as a spokeswoman for the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

"I never, ever dismiss any modality that has been around that many thousands of years," said Casas, referring to the practice of acupuncture.

But, she added, "I think it is critical that this group of very fine practitioners do some studies and then show us" it works.

While some studies have been published suggesting that facial acupuncture works, Casas said what's needed is a good scientific study, one in which acupuncture is performed on one side of the face and Botox, or no procedure, on the other side. Then, photo documentation could show the effects of each treatment or non-treatment.

"They [acupuncturists] need to prove acupuncture is cost-effective as an alternative to standard methods to reduce the signs of facial aging," she said.

More information

To find an acupuncturist, visit the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine