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Acupuncture versus Botox: Salesmanship or science?

National report — Proponents of facial acupuncture say it represents a viable and increasingly popular alternative to Botox (botulinum toxin, Allergan) treatments for some facial rejuvenation patients.


Ms. Wakefield
Cosmetic surgeons, however, say they'd like to see proof of its efficacy.

How popular?

Mary Elizabeth Wakefield, L. Ac., M.S., M.M., adjunct faculty of facial acupuncture at Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College, Berkeley, Calif., and a recognized advocate of facial rejuvenation acupuncture in North America and worldwide, says that while no one tracks the number of acupuncture procedures performed annually, she has personally trained more than 2,000 acupuncturists to perform her trademarked treatments in Constitutional Facial Acupuncture Renewal. She herself does 30 to 40 such procedures weekly.

Dr. Carruthers
"I've seen a rise in interest" reflected through media interviews and stoked by treatments she provided in conjunction with the 2005 Oscars, later profiled nationally on Discovery Channel's "FitTV," says Ms. Wakefield, who practices in New York City.

"I treat close to 20 patients a week," adds Shellie Goldstein, L.Ac., M.S., an acupuncturist who practices in Manhattan and East Hampton, N.Y., and has trademarked a technique called the AcuFacial.


Dr. Casas
"One would expect acupuncture to be tried in New York or Los Angeles," says Jean D. Carruthers, M.D., clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. However, she says she treats many actors from those locations who work in Canada, "And they're not changing over" from Botox.

Conversely, a number of Ms. Wakefield's practitioner-students in the Los Angeles area have reported that they are routinely "de-Botoxing" young Hollywood hopefuls who, due to their inability to emote as a result of the injections, have been instructed to "unfreeze" their immobile facial muscles.


Dr. Narurkar
Nevertheless, Ms. Goldstein tells Cosmetic Surgery Times that while Botox treats only specific complaints such as wrinkles, "Acupuncture treats the entire body." In research she conducted with a physician, she says that the AcuFacial — for which she typically uses 10 facial needles and 10 more distributed between the arms and legs — improved both facial wrinkles and complaints including headaches and gastrointestinal problems (presented at American Academy of Medical Acupuncturists Symposium, March 31-April 3, 2005, Atlanta; submitted for publication).

"Acupuncture treats the energetic system of the body," which Chinese medicine interprets as a system of meridians that normally flows freely, Ms. Goldstein says. However, problems including stress and injuries block this flow, while inserting acupuncture needles at points along these meridians helps direct energy (or qi) where needed, she says.

Studies needed

Regarding facial acupuncture, Dr. Carruthers says, "The skin swells when one puts needles into it. It's an interesting concept, but where's the proof? It's good marketing, but it's not science."

The procedure's effects need to be quantified, says Laurie A. Casas, M.D., associate professor of surgery, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine (and American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery spokeswoman).


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