Sticking needles in your ankles might not seem like an obvious way to rid your face of wrinkles, but for Barbara Leivent, it’s better than plastic surgery or cosmetic injections.
Twenty-six needles pierce her ankles, knees, arms and face as she undergoes the first of a series of acupuncture treatments intended to erase the laugh lines around her mouth, crow’s feet around her eyes, scowl lines on her forehead and sagging at the sides of her chin.
“It’s better than going under the knife, that’s for sure,” said the suburban after-school tutor, 54, who blamed her facial wrinkles on “worrying if I should get Botox or not.”
In what might be called a Botox backlash, women from Leivent to Hollywood celebrities are trying acupuncture face-lifts, which proponents say can shave years off an aging face.
At the suburban office of acupuncturist Ping Zhang, a series of 10 hourlong appointments every other day -- at $150 apiece -- is supposed to last six months or more. Other experts recommend monthly maintenance.
By comparison, Botox injections cost several hundred dollars per treatment, which last about three months.
Traditional surgical face-lifts can run anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000, but they last for years.
Dr. Scott Spear, president of the American Society of Plastic Surgery, says acupuncture may help with pain but such face-lifts have not proven to be effective or long-lasting.
“The idea that it’s going to make your face look younger and correct the things we know aging does, I think is very unlikely,” the Washington-based doctor said.
“It’s not demonstrated to work,” he said. “You’re wasting your time and your money.”
No pain, no gain
The best part of her acupuncture face-lift, said Leivent, closing her eyes as Zhang tapped thin green-tipped needles into her skin, is that it’s painless.
“I feel nothing,” she said. “And I’m a horrible patient. I’m the worst.”
The needles stay in Leivent’s face about 20 minutes. Then it’s time for a first look in the mirror.
The laugh lines that had been deep are less so, while the scowl lines that had been dark are lighter.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “Now I’m hooked.”
Acupuncture face-lifts work by balancing the body’s inner energy and letting it flow freely, said Zhang.
“We never talk about beauty being only skin deep,” she said. “That’s the real fountain of youth -- the inside.”
New York plastic surgeon Tabasum Mir said acupuncture face-lifts don’t last. “You’re paying a lot of money for maybe two months worth of tightening,” she said.
Days later, Leivent was still pleased, especially after a neighbor complimented her skin.
“I think the creases on my forehead are dissipated somewhat, and also around my mouth,” she said after her second treatment. “It’s hard to tell on yourself.”
The toughest critic, alas, was her husband, who offered a “Yeah, I guess,” when asked if he could see a difference.
“We can’t go by him,” Leivent said. “I think it’s amazing. Just amazing.”