"It sounds scary, but it is not painful at all," Victoria Tan, a physician at Pulse TCM Clinic laughs at my gasp as she dishes out a heap of needles for our facial acupuncture session.
In the past year, Tan observed a growing trend for facial acupuncture in Singapore. Younger patients in the 30s were coming to her for facial acupuncture, in seek of alternative aesthetic treatments for beauty-related issues. Yet, facial acupuncture is not a new method. When Traditional Chinese Medicine came about in China over 2,000 years ago, physicians were doing acupuncture treatments on the entire body — which included the face.
That is because every part of the face corresponds to an organ system in the body. "The forehead relates the heart, the nose to the spleen — which is part of the digestive system, the chin area for the kidney system and our reproductive organs, and the two sides of the face will be the lungs and the liver," Tan explains that this is called the face mapping technique.
For a physician like Tan to know which part of the face she has to focus on, they first go through a thorough consultation with the patient to identify their aesthetic concerns and any underlying health conditions that might be causing these skin issues. "It's to find out what is their body type and why they develop the conditions that they do. For dark eye circles, it could be water retention, digestive issues, or bloatedness.'
She then develops an acupuncture treatment plan for the patient — which means that the acupuncture may not merely be concentrated on the face, but may require acupuncture on corresponding parts of the body as well.
As she speaks, Tan pulls out two types of acupuncture needles — a short one that measures an inch, or 2.5 centimetres, and a longer needle that triples in length. "These needles are hair thin. When they puncture the skin, you will feel the needle going in but there is not too much pain. When the needle goes deep into the skin and transcends the pain receptors, you no longer feel the pain."
The needles cause microtraumas where they puncture the skin, which "localises immune cells and increases blood circulation to these points that we target." When that happens, electrical signals are sent to the brain as well, and "the brain will send signals back to the body to balance it — we call it homeostasis," explains Tan. "These are the two effects of acupuncture."
The shorter needles are popped straight into the skin. "We don't insert the whole needle, but half of the inch. It's very shallow in the skin," says Tan. "The longer ones, we normally insert them diagonally into the skin, not straight in, mostly for lifting purposes." These longer needles can be used in the cheeks, for instance. "You can relate it to thread-lifting — it's to bury the threads in the muscles of the patient, right? In facial acupuncture, we leave the needle on for 20 to 30 minutes on the face, and by now there is no pain. And we use electric stimulation and heating lamps to stimulate the lifting effect."
"You will feel anything but pain," she reassures as she prepares for the first jab.
I guess part of the doctors and physicians' jobs are these white lies about pain and needles. No, it was painful. One could liken it to a small, red ant's bite — and the smallest pricks they hurt the most. Yet, Tan was right. The pain dissipated almost immediately — but by then she was pricking somewhere else, and another. And it went on and on.
Half an hour later, she removed all the needles. My face was tingling, numb, warm and flushed. Looking into the mirror, there was an immediate rosy glow, which accompanied me for the next two days. I walked out of the treatment room, in search of Tan.
"How was it?" she laughs.
"Not as bad as I thought," I reply in hindsight. This could be a quick-fix for the face prior to occasions such as weddings, events, or parties. There is no mess, no blood, no bumps, and perhaps most importantly — no downtime. "That is why you always have to try it to know," Tan replies.
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