Puncture Me Pretty

An ancient pain-relieving treatment sets its sights on the wrinkle.
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Precise placements of needles target problem areas.

Society’s obsession with youth makes us do curious things. To keep the unwelcome claw marks of Mother Nature off our faces we slather on expensive creams, eat anything billed as a “super food” and sit in front of the mirror willing double chins to disappear. Currently, the most popular answer to visage fatigue is Botox, with over three million treatments estimated annually in North America. For those of us who can’t fathom the idea of having tiny pricks of poison injected into our foreheads, cheeks and other expressive parts, there is now a kinder, gentler and non-surgical option to combat the aging process: cosmetic acupuncture.

The bad news is that there are still needles involved; the good news is that they’re hairline thin. The basic practice of acupuncture involves the insertion of tiny needles into any one of hundreds of predetermined points on the body, all mapped out and verified over thousands of years of practice in China. Many channels begin or end on the face while others have internal branches that go to the face. With this knowledge, a cosmetic acupuncturist knows how to specifically effect the face while also treating the underlying factors that contribute to the aging process.

Yin, Yang And Qi

The life force energy qi (pronounced chee) is at the heart of the philosophy of traditional acupuncture. According to a famous Chinese proverb, “Where qi goes, blood flows.” Acupuncture grew out of the theory of two principles: yin and yang. It is believed that these two forces act in our bodies the same way as they do out in the world and must be balanced to bring harmony and health. Disease or discomfort is an imbalance of these two principles in which the qi is blocked and unable to circulate. Acupuncture clears the channels, letting the qi circulate, bringing back balance and restoring health.

With western culture tending to cherry pick the best of other cultures’ food, style and mannerisms, it’s hardly surprising this ancient Chinese pain-relieving ritual has been adapted into a new form of cosmetic treatment. But we aren’t the first to do so—improving physical appearance using cosmetic acupuncture harkens back over 800 years ago to the Sun Dynasty when the emperor and empress’s concubines used it to maintain their youthful looks and vitality. Interestingly, it was originally used in North America for patients with facial muscles paralyzed by Bell’s palsy or a stroke. So effective was the treatment that it easily segued into a measure for anti-aging and beauty.

The use of acupuncture in cosmetology, especially in reducing and preventing wrinkles, has garnered great attention in Japan, Hong Kong and Sweden. A quick flip through the Vancouver Yellow Pages under “Acupuncture” proves it has now attracted attention in our fair city. Nearly every advertisement showcases cosmetic acupuncture in large attention-grabbing script. This treatment has definitely enchanted Vancouver.

One attempted interview was waylaid by a waiting room overflowing with patients, bumping our meeting time from 10:00 am to never. My next attempt was successful and led me to practicioner Pardeep Dherari. He revitalizes his patient’s faces in an office on a quiet street in Kerrisdale, Vancouver.

Dherari became interested in acupuncture when his mother used it to help ease her sciatica after various western techniques had failed. Trained under Virginia Doran, a US-based recognized expert in the field of facial rejuvenation, he speaks about the practice with obvious passion and knowledge.

The Benefits Are More Than Skin Deep

Dherari’s clients range from those in their early 30s seeking preventative measures, to ones in their mid-60s willing to try something different in the war against wrinkles. “Cosmetic acupuncture is a powerful treatment,” he explains.“It’s not just the cosmetic impact.Yes, it does make you look better but, wow, you feel energized.” When asked how it measures up to Botox, Dherari says it’s not a fair comparison.“I cannot get rid of the wrinkle exactly, but I can minimize the depth of it.” Typically, his patients notice a change in their face and skin after three treatments, and he notes that with everybody’s energies so different, it’s only logical that the number of treatments and their outcomes will vary.

After escorting me from the comfortable waiting area to a padded table in a private room, Dherari gathers his first tool, “the Cadillac of needles,” and begins. As an anti bruising pellet dissolves under my tongue, he carefully swabs a patch of skin, then with a gentle tap, inserts a needle. Swab, tap, insert, repeat. I breathe deeply, calm as he describes the purpose and significance of each placement. Yes, I am getting a cosmetic treatment, but I also need needles in my legs and feet to help keep me grounded. With the volume of blood in my face being stimulated, it would be a disastrous finish to the treatment if I stood up, then immediately fell flat on my new face.

He firmly gathers the loose skin clinging to my chin and manipulates it upwards, rolling and pushing it up into my scalp, and plugs a few more needles in. After all the needles are in almost painlessly (the one between my eyebrows and the one in my chin provoke some eye watering), Dherari turns on a heat lamp to warm the ones wiggling in my legs and knees, leaving me alone for 20 minutes with the instruction to “Just relax.” Physically, the sensation is hardly noticeable. The needles I felt going in give off a dull tingle, but the rest I soon forget about.

Lying flat on my back with 70 color-coded needles quivering in my face, ears, neck, hands and legs is not a typical way to pass a Sunday morning, but the gentle soundtrack of CD—generated waves crashing, combined with the splash of car tires in the rain outside, has me relaxed and present. After nearly going cross-eyed trying to look at the red needle bobbing at the end of my nose and desperately willing the itch to subside, I submit and close my eyes.

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Being Poked Into Peace

Traditional acupuncture patient Jodi Greene has twice-weekly visits to the Active Life Health Clinic to help with her arthritis, the most common ailment treated by acupuncture. After years of pain and trial and-error with traditional medicine, she decided to try a non-medicinal option during her first pregnancy. Two years later, she is confident with her decision and thrilled with her treatments, comparing visits to a day at the spa. “I go, get the needles stuck in me and fall asleep drooling. Acupuncture is a miracle worker.” When asked if she would consider a cosmetic acupuncture treatment, she replies, “Absolutely.”

“My [first time] patients may be nervous, but once they get into it, they are relaxed,” explains Bijan Doroudian, another Vancouver practitioner of cosmetic acupuncture. He saw the cosmetic side of acupuncture start to explode in the last five to ten years, and also received instruction under Virginia Doran to help diversify his business. He believes that for optimal results, like most self-care regimes, the earlier the start the better. Unlike Botox, with cosmetic acupuncture he can maintain the integrity of the patient’s face, keeping it “still natural looking.” His average client is living holistically with a careful eye on the changing landscape of their face.

One of Doroudian’s clients, Daniela Schwab, fits that description perfectly. A petite blonde in her early thirties hailing from Switzerland, she’s been living in Vancouver for the last year and a half. Back home she describes the traditional practice of acupuncture as “booming,” using it herself to help ease lower back pain. Once in Vancouver, on the recommendation of a friend, she approached Doroudian about cosmetic acupuncture. “I always wanted to do something preventative for my face, my wrinkles. I had bad acne when I was younger. But I didn’t want to start Botox because it looks so artificial.”

Schwab went for 10 treatments over five months, a schedule Doroudian recommends for the best results, and she can’t profess enough her love for the experience. “The good side effects were not only the lessening of wrinkles and acne, but I slept much better. I felt relaxed. I felt younger.” Migraines that she’d struggled with decreased, and friends took notice, looking closely and commenting on the freshness and fullness of her face. She recommends the treatments 100 percent, and not just for cosmetic reasons. “It motivated me to not drink that much coffee anymore, to eat healthier. It motivated me to change my whole lifestyle.”

New Client, Quick Results

As my first treatment wraps up, Dherari comes back into the room and I pretend I wasn’t almost asleep. He gently extracts all the needles, plops them into a tray, and gives me a strong facial massage that nearly lifts me off the table.This will help distribute the lactic acid that has rushed to my face due to tiny muscle tears, he explains, but more importantly, it feels wonderful. As I’m left to slowly get up, roll down my jeans and fix the bird’s nest my hair has become, I breathe deeply and walk out of the office feeling light and delicious.

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A 1996 report in the International Journal of Clinical Acupuncture reported that among 300 cases treated with cosmetic acupuncture, 90 percent had marked affects with only one course of treatment. So how did I fare?

Once in my car, inspecting my face in the rear-view mirror in the harsh morning light, I go through a mental checklist of the cosmetic acupuncture claims: Improvement of elasticity of facial muscles? My cheeks do seem pulled higher and my eyebrows are floating closer to my hairline. Leveling of wrinkles? The smile lines parenthesizing my mouth are less pronounced. Skin becoming delicate and fair? Over the next week, my complexion is akin to that of a young child—my blush sits abandoned. Overall rejuvenation? Yes, absolutely. You can call me vain, or call me shallow, but please call me a convert to cosmetic acupuncture.

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