New Wrinkle in Facelifts: Alternative to Botox?

Sat, 05/09/2015 - 01:52 -- Douglas A. Schw...

My sister Judy who lives in California got talked into going to a ‘Botox Party’.  You know the kind of party where self appointed pseudo-doctors dole out wine, cheese and injections of the botulism toxin?  Judy came home from the party and her husband was shocked to see that her face was permanently frozen into an expression that seemed to be channeling Macaulay Culkin from the Home Alone movie. 

Being the good husband he is, he posted a picture on Facebook for the world to see.  Knowing my sister, he paid dearly over the weeks it took for the Botox to wear off.

We get wrinkles as we age because the supporting proteins under the skin start to collapse.  These proteins, primarily collagen and elastin, act as scaffolding for the skin and when they go away the skin sags into what we recognize as wrinkles.

There are a couple ways to fight this relentless side effect of aging. Surgery can be used to pull the skin taunt over the collapsed areas giving the illusion of a fuller face.  Botox injections work by using the potent Botulism poison to paralyze facial muscles so they don’t pull the skin flat against the crevices in the face which highlights them.  Probably the riskiest procedure is the injection of collagen or silicon into the face to ‘fill’  the spots that natural collagen & elastin has vacated.  The problem here is that these foreign materials can migrate away from the injection site resulting in distorted facial features.

So is there a natural alternative to surgery or injections?  Years ago I was on a cruise. I noticed that the cruise had a physician onboard who practiced Traditional Chinese Medicine and was offering acupuncture to the passengers.  I made it a point to wander down and introduce myself-- figuring he was treating the usual assortment of injuries, seasickness etc that one would expect on a cruise. When I got to his office I noted a long line of passengers down the corridor and in the tiny waiting room adjacent to his office.  Since it was hopeless to see him then I waited until I encountered him during his off time on the ship.  I introduced myself and remarked how popular acupuncture seemed to be.   I wondered aloud if he was primarily treating seasickness?  He laughed and told me 75% of what he was doing was acupuncture for facial rejuvenation: Acupuncture Face Lifts!

Now I must admit that I have seen my share of miracles with acupuncture: From treating disabling chronic back and neck pain, regulating skewed menstrual cycles, promoting fertility, assist in smoking cessation, weight loss and have also managed truck loads of depression & anxiety.  But I had not thought about using this powerful tool to take on laugh lines and crow’s-feet!

We ended up having dinner that night together and he offered to come back to my cabin and give me a ‘facial rejuvenation’ to see for myself what it felt like.  At the time I was only in my early thirties and not particularly vain but my wife was happy to point out tiny crow’s feet creeping out from the sides of my eyes as well as a few permanent lines snaking out across my forehead.

As he worked on me I felt the familiar warm, a tingly feeling, rolling across my cheeks and brow. This sensation is common to any body part treated with acupuncture and indicates the flow of qi (energy) and xue (blood flow) into the areas of treatment.  He followed up the 20 minute acupuncture session with pin-point laser/microstimulation of additional acupuncture points . After one session I was left with a facial warmth and feeling of tautness. I noticed a sleight softening of the lines in the treated areas.  

So how does acupuncture work in reducing wrinkles?  Wrinkles develop when underlying supporting proteins like collagen and elastin are damaged through excessive sunlight exposure, poor nutrition or even simple aging.   Acupuncture works by restoring blood flow and vitality to the areas of treatment. In the initial sessions wrinkles are reduced by increasing local muscle tone. Over weeks of treatment the increased blood flow allows reestablishment of this lost connective tissue.

Every patient responds differently. The ideal age for treatment is in the 30 to 50 age group -- before significant support tissue loss.  Much better results are obtained retarding existing connective tissue loss rather than completely starting over to replace it.

On returning home I decided to look deeper into this area of acupuncture.  I took some courses in facial rejuvenation techniques and practiced on a willing crowd of relatives.  Ha!   Eventually our office put together a treatment program based on available research.  Most of our patients settle on an 8 to 10 visit program at a frequency of twice weekly. After this initial treatment patients usually return once every month or two for a treatment. We have added laser and microstim treatments to the program to help tonify certain facial muscle groups.  The entire treatment lasts about 30 minutes in our office. Those that are squeamish about needles can opt for just the laser and microstim treatments for facial rejuvenation. 

Of course, facial rejuvenation is a specific subspecialty of Traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture. So it is imperative that one select a practitioner with experience in the field.

One must also keep in mind that a tip top healthy body is ultimately what underlies a youthful looking face.  For optimum results one must incorporate proper nutrition and lifestyle choices with acupuncture in order to present your best looking face to the world!

Dr. Schwan is a Doctor of Chiropractic and a Diplomat of the International Academy of Medical Acupuncture. He is president of Schwan Chiropractic & Acupuncture Clinic in Toledo, Ohio.  He is an author, lecturer, and one time stand-up comedian.  He has maintained an active practice in Toledo, OH for the last 29 years. He is available for lay lectures and may be contacted at Dr_Schwan@acupuncturetoledo.com. For more information on Alternative medicine please visit our website at www.acupuncturetoledo.com.