Poking your face with needles may be the farthest thing from your mind when you’re already suffering from troubled skin. But if you’ve tried every skin care product out there to no avail—and you’re not quite ready yet for more invasive cosmetic procedures—you may want to consider acupuncture.
A component of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture involves the insertion of fine, sterile needles into specific points along the body’s meridians (a network of invisible channels through the body) to clear blockages and encourage the normal flow of qi (“life energy”). This may sound a bit abstract and surreal to you, but according to experts, there’s a solid science behind it. Read on to learn why acupuncture should be on your radar as a potential treatment for skin conditions.
“There are a number of theories that explain how acupuncture activates our immune systems,” said Joshua Hanson, D.O.M., an acupuncture physician who regularly treats patients with skin disorders. “But physiologically, inserting a needle will cause minute tissue trauma that activates the blood coagulation system and produce plasmin, an enzyme that triggers the immune complement system. Stimulating the body’s own immune system so that it can essentially heal from the inside helps address skin disorders by reducing systemic inflammation. Clinically, I’ve found acupuncture to be effective for rosacea, herpes zoster, urticaria (chronic hives), atopic eczema and acne.”
“Chinese medicine looks at skin conditions differently than biomedicine does,” shared Jennifer Mohr-Boscaino, a licensed acupuncturist based in New York. “We talk about the skin as being the body’s ‘third lung,’ which basically means that it’s about ‘letting go’ (as in exhalation and grief).”
According to Mohr-Boscaino, one of the main aspects of the body that falls under the “letting go” category is the intestinal tract. “When emotions and intestines stagnate (read: stress and constipation), the toxins that would normally be eliminated via the intestinal tract are instead eliminated through the pores,” she explained. By focusing needling patterns on acupuncture points that stimulate the intestines to work better and more efficiently, toxins are more easily removed from the body the right way instead of through your skin, where they can promote acne and other related skin disorders.
The results of a clinical study published in 2013 indicated that acupuncture actually slows the production of stress hormones—and that’s good news for people with skin disorders that may be rooted in or exacerbated by stress. “Acne, for example, often surfaces during the teenage years, when the stresses of school, relationships, college prep and family collide,” said Mohr-Boscaino. “If we can help reduce the stress, the emotions stagnate less and the acne is reduced.”
And while the idea of having needles inserted into your body may sound rather stressful in and of itself, the physiological effects are actually quite relaxing. “Acupuncture establishes a deep quality of restoration and balance to the central nervous system,” asserts Mohr-Boscaino—plus, it stimulates the same feel-good chemicals associated with exercise, according to Dr. David E. Bank, Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. “Acupuncture causes a release of endorphins,” Dr. Bank says, another reaction to the minute tissue trauma that needling creates.
The bottom line? The combined effects of a boosted immune system, improved elimination of toxins, and a balanced central nervous system that acupuncture has the potential to deliver just may make it one of the most valuable “skin treatments” you can utilize.
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