Proponents call Facial Acupuncture an attractive Alternative to plastic surgery

LOS ANGELES- Forty tiny needles stick out from Gayla Gabriel’s shiny face, each one probing for imbalances and blocked energy, all strategically placed exactly where she needs them. These busy little needles, she believes, help turn back the clock by helping to fill in her laugh lines, adding luster to her complexion; and so far, successfully stopping the advancing enemy – crow’s feet.

Gabriel became friendly with these acupuncture needles 11 years ago when she turned to the ancient Chinese treatment to heal damaged foot nerves that prevented her from running. On the brink of her 40th birthday, and fearing that years as a sun worshiper were about to catch up with her, the teacher and private counselor followed up on a friend’s suggestion fro another prickly treatment acupuncture face lift and skin care. Gabriel lay down in a serene room at Tao of Wellness in Santa Monica while Maoshing Ni, a medical doctor trained in China, inserted slender half-inch needles shallowly into her face, Then, as she drifted asleep under a heat lamp and classical music played in the background, she felt the muscles in her face relax and an increasing energy flow to it during the 30-minute session. “The needles are like 1,000 little massages,” says Gabriel, now 51. “I feel such a connectedness to my face after a treatment. It’s not so much a matter of changing my face, but of maintaining vitality in my face. When I leave, I felt like my face is alive and breathing.”

From California to New York, baby boomers like Gabriel are experimenting with acupuncture for facial toning and beautifying instead of relying on a scalpel to remove signs of aging, according to acupuncturists and doctors who practice alternative medicine. No one knows precisely how many are resorting to the needles but it is certain that this aging generation and even younger people are not shy about seeking ways to reverse the ravages of times. “I have seen people look 10 years younger,” says Shasta Tierra-Tayman, a San Jose acupuncturist who performs the procedure. A fear of needles, she believe, is the primary reason more men and women haven’t yet tried acupuncture for beauty’s sake. Acupuncture’s popularity as an alternative facial treatment is evident. Movie stars, models, socialites, chief executive, and homemakers eagerly undergo the therapy, which was very popular among the wealthy in China before the Communists took power in 1949. Ni’s needles even go on location in Hollywood when a television or movie star’s vanity is in crisis before a taping. “It’s fascinating to see how the facials work. You can make a great living from that these days, but it’s not what I want to do with my practice,” say Ilan Migdali, a licensed acupuncturist who felt more like a cosmetologist when his office was in Beverly Hills. He is more satisfied treating injuries and illnesses now in Hollywood and Simi Valley.

Acupuncture is based on the Taoist belief that two life forces yin and yang combine to produce a vital energy called ch’I, which flows through the body along 14 pathways known as meridians. When these life forces are out of balance, a person becomes ill. Needles inserted at pressure points along these invisible pathways stimulate neurological, immunological and endocrine responses and promote the release of endorphins and other healing chemicals in the body, pushing the unbalanced forces into equilibrium. In this way, the needles repair injuries, treat some physical and mental illnesses and can also renew the body, according to its proponents. “Our focus is on total body rejuvenation,” says Ni, who operates Tao of Wellness with his older brother Daoshing Ni, also a medical doctor trained in China. “The face records a lot of life’s history, your health, and condition. Quite often, if the skin is not healthy, it’s because of what’s going on inside, so we have to address that as well.” Maoshing Ni says. “Our therapy includes acupuncture, herbal medicine, changes in diet and lifestyle, stress management and even spiritual guidance.” The needles are painless, although some patients experience a slight, stinging in sensitive points. The complete facial therapy can include herbal drinks, topical creams, and massages, and can cost anywhere from $60 to $115 for treatments that last up to an hour.

Result less dramatic

Tierra-Tayam recommends twice-weekly treatment for about four to eight weeks. Results from acupuncture facial treatments are never as dramatic as those achieved with traditional plastic “surgery, acupuncturists and patients agree. The face does not acquire a tight, pulled-back look: and the needles cannot remedy heavy jowls or a double chin. “If heavy jowls or a double chin. “If somebody needs a face lift their face is just drooping acupuncture trained physicians remain skeptical about acupuncture, the U.S. governments has said the ancient technique appears to be effective. In 1997, a National Institutes of Health panel concluded that acupuncture successfully treats muscular and skeletal disorders, helps with drug addiction and weight loss and cures some illnesses, such as asthma, migraines, and Bell’s palsy. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration began regulating the needles like hypodermic syringes, eliminating them as experimental medical devices. Santa Monica plastic surgeon Dr. Steve Teitelbaum sometimes refers patients who have post-surgical problems such as numbness in cheeks to acupuncturists. The treatment, he says, helps damaged nerves regenerate faster.

Not For Wrinkles

“I am a big believer in acupuncture, but if you have deeply ingrained wrinkles on the surface of the skin, I don’t think a responsible acupuncturist will tell you that it’s going to go away,” he says. “But it can elevate sagging and can help with fine lines. I think of it as a skin treatment. I believe it can make the skin a lot healthier.” After eight to 10 treatments, acupuncturists, and their patients say, fine lines are erased, deeper wrinkles are less noticeable and the face glows youthfully. The needle therapy can also help to lighten or erase freckles and age spots, and can be used to treat acne, says Edmund Chow, a Chinese-trained doctor who practices at California Acupuncture and Herbal Medical Center in Little Tokyo. “After a treatment, you improve,” Chow says. “But you’re always aging. You’re not permanently looking younger. But you grow older slowly and with maintenance, the effect last.”

Face-lift risks

Acupuncture might do wonders as a preventive measure as well. “They say it’s most beneficial for people between 45 and 65,” Tierra-Tayam says. “But I really believe if people started around age 30, it would greatly reduce the need for face lifts. “When Margie Hoffman of West Lost Angeles used to look in the mirror; her face reflected the toll of past illnesses and 14 surgeries to her body. The watercolor artist considered plastic surgery but dropped the idea when her girlfriends’ operations went awry. An unruly nerve left one girlfriend with permanent bumps on her face; another was left with permanent twitches at her mouth and eyes. So, Hoffman, 70, turned to Maoshing Ni. The woman in the mirror now, she says, looks better than ever. “A scalpel? Who needs that?” Hoffman says. “People think I look like I’m in my late 50s or early 60s and it’s because everything is up instead of down. My face feels like it’s getting the same exercise I get when I walk every day. Plastic surgery is frightening I mean, you can only do so much cutting to the face. I’d rather spend my money on a big trip. I’ve only got one life.”

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