Beauty editors are typically unafraid to go to extremes to test out the latest and weirdest beauty trends, and I’ve always thought myself to be rather fearless: whether it’s experiencing icy cryotherapy, oxygen facials, strange underwater massages or bee venom plumping treatments, I’ve dived right into it. But when I was recently met with the opportunity to try facial acupuncture, I was pretty unsettled. Admittedly, needles and sharp tools are my kryptonite; I’m just terrified of jabs.

However, I worked up the courage to accept the challenge — after all, millions of people around the globe every day undergo acupuncture therapy to treat serious health and skin ailments. I could endure several minutes of it in the name of beauty. Plus, I get bragging rights that I experienced the most metal facial (literally) ever — mostly for the ‘gram.

I headed to Eu Yan Sang’s Causeway Bay clinic for my trial: The renowned TCM brand is best recognised for purveying various medicinal ingredients, supplements and pre-packaged herbal remedies, but perhaps lesser known to the public is that it has two Chinese medicine clinics in Causeway Bay and Sheung Wan.

It felt very much like going to a doctor’s appointment: taking in the plain decor, handing in your ID card to register, perusing pamphlets, glancing nervously at the prescription room and waiting for the nurse to announce “the doctor will see you now.”

facial acupuncture - Eu Yan Sang
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During my consultation, I met with Chinese physician Nancy Leung, who has specialised degrees in practicing acupuncture and moxibustion as well as general Chinese medicine from the University of Hong Kong. She took my pulse on both hands and gave a general diagnosis on my health: that my chest and lungs were weak (true) and that had a direct impact on my digestion; both systems are connected and in Chinese medicine, both need to be in balance for a healthy constitution.

Leung explained to me that using acupuncture for the face was typically done for clients with more serious symptoms, such as chronic acne, rather than myself, who just wanted to see what beauty benefits needling would be able to offer.

The idea behind acupuncture is that fine needles are inserted along meridien lines in the body or face, stimulating blood and qi flow to those ailing parts, and triggering the body’s natural healing reactions. There’s conjecture about the concept of acupuncture as a bona fide tool for healing (particularly in the western scientific community), but if you believe that gentle, controlled trauma to the skin can induce collagen production (such as is the case with cryotherapy); or that massage can help with circulation and lymphatic drainage, in turn also firming the skin, why wouldn’t acupuncture help in some way to improve your health and look?

I explained my recurring skin concerns, which were typically my enduring whitehead and oily T-zone problem and dark, puffy under-eye circles, as well as some puffiness under my chin and jawline — a common city symptom from an overuse of smartphones, Leung explained. Constantly looking down at our phones creates bad posture; stagnant, downturned necks means low blood circulation in the area. In fact, most of these skin ailments were attributed to poor circulation, which acupuncture is said to alleviate.

However, Leung warned me that although effects would be immediate, it wouldn’t last beyond a day or so. Sustained results from acupuncture are only evident from regular treatments, and most patients don’t see a marked difference until 10 to 12 sessions later: that’s why many of her clients with terrible, scarring acne tend to come to her to get acupuncture at least once a week.

Upon learning of my apprehension of needles, Leung ripped open a few to show me: Wrapped in single-use medical grade packaging, the needles came in various sizes, but only the finest, hair-thin needles would be used on my face. The largest, looking almost like sewing needles or thin lead pencil refills, were made for larger body parts, such as the buttocks or legs. After some words of reassurance, mentally, I was ready. Or at least, I breathed deep and hyped myself up for it.

facial acupuncture - Eu Yan Sang
Image credit: Wavebreakmedia/iStock

The experience would take just 20 minutes, which is not too bad. 20 minutes is four 5-minute intervals, which is what I tell myself when I’m doing cardio. Laying flat on my back on a clinic bed, Leung lightly sanitised the points she chose for needling, then went straight to it: one between my eyebrows; two on either side of my nostrils; one under my lower lip just where it dips into my chin; two on my jowls, pointing from below my face; and the last one right in the fleshy bit beneath my chin. To my surprise, each needle felt simply like an ant bite, or having someone poke you gently with a pencil. Once the needle was in, that area of the face felt virtually numb.

I wanted to laugh in relief, but as all different parts of my face were pinned down, I was warned not to move, lest the needles change in position. An image came to mind where my face was a dissection specimen, spread open and pinned out on the surgical table. Again, it was hard not to laugh — this was perhaps the weirdest and hardest thing about the whole procedure. Another was the heat induction lamps above me — poised to heat my body as the horizontal posture would lower my body temperature during the procedure, though my feet and arms were left out in the cold the whole time.

At the end of the silent, strained 20 minutes, I had begun to ease into it, that is, begun to feel comfortable with needles in my face. But when it was time to extract them, I clenched my fists slightly, nervous as Leung plucked them out like little swords.

facial acupuncture - Eu Yan Sang
Image credit: Wavebreakmedia/iStock

I was surprised to find that there were apparent results: I had attained a slight rosy tinge on my cheeks, the tired bruise-y tinge under my eyes seemed to have lightly faded, and the softness under my chin indeed tightened up, ever so slightly, to give a sharper silhouette. As for my T-zone oiliness and whitehead situation, I had too much half-melted makeup on from a day of running around town to tell. Quite striking for just 20 minutes, but it’s obvious to say that I didn’t feel the relaxing satisfaction that I get after a luxe spa facial, or even after a brutal extraction and toxin-draining massage.

Having not continued the treatment past the first session, I can’t argue for long-term results from acupuncture; but for those with more chronic skin issues, you might want to get a professional opinion from practitioner Leung and her colleagues at Eu Yan Sang to see the best TCM treatment that they can offer for you. For those like me just wanting a quick fix and overall skin pick-me-up, perhaps challenging your fear limits with an ‘extreme’ treatment such as this might not be the best thing. After all, without even needing to blink, I’d pick an indulgent spa facial over needles any day.

A consultation at Eu Yan Sang Clinic starts at HK$180 for first-time visitors; Acupuncture services start at HK$350. Eu Yan Sang Clinic, 6/F, The Sharp, 11 Sharp Street East, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, +852 2574 9132 / +852 2574 9133

Evelyn Lok
Managing Editor
When not trying out the latest beauty and wellness trends, Evelyn is likely enjoying a perfectly balanced negroni or exploring some of Hong Kong's best new places to eat and drink. At Lifestyle Asia she covers everything from the biggest events in town to interviews with Hong Kong specialists, with topics spanning art, food and drink, health, tech, and travel.