Cosmetic Acupuncture

Recently I noticed that a local Naturopathic doctor is promoting “cosmetic acupuncture” on her site. This is a use for acupuncture that I had not heard of before and my curiosity was piqued.
According to Charles Yarborough, director of the American Cosmetic Acupuncture Association:

Cosmetic acupuncture – also known as acupuncture facial rejuvenation or acupuncture facelift – is finding its way into an increasing number of full-service spas, and for good reason. This new modality can enhance not only your physical appearance but also your overall health, giving you a glow that radiates from deep within.

Then he talks about clinical trials.

What’s more, acupuncture’s ability to improve a variety of skin conditions has now been documented in legitimate clinical studies. Its effectiveness is no longer a question of hearsay or testimonials.

He supplies no references, however, and searches of Cochrane reviews and PubMed didn’t turn up any positive review articles. What showed up were articles such as these:

Complementary and alternative medicine for psoriasis: A qualitative review of the clinical trial literature
Results Although many randomized controlled trials were found, both the results and the quality of the studies varied.
Limitations The main limitations were the relatively low quality of studies (as assessed by Jadad scores), lack of inclusion of unpublished studies, and the fact that only one author determined inclusion of studies and assignment of Jadad scores.
Conclusion There is a large body of literature in regard to complementary and alternative medicine for the treatment of psoriasis. More work is necessary before these modalities should be recommended to our patients.
Psoriasis (chronic plaque)
We don’t know whether treatments that might affect possible triggers, such as acupuncture, balneotherapy, fish oil supplementation, or psychotherapy, improve symptoms of psoriasis, as we found few studies.

Yarborough then makes some other claims

Since facial acupuncture is based on time-tested principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, a person’s overall health may also benefit. Insomnia may be corrected and weight gain may be controlled. Cosmetic acupuncture is, after all, a whole-body treatment. In the Traditional Chinese Medicine view, a person’s face is affected selectively by his or her internal organs. Facial features reflect organic strengths, and as internal organs are fortified, one’s face reflects the improvement.

Back I go for more searches for reviews in PubMed and Cohrane

Acupuncture for insomnia? An overview of systematic reviews
Conclusion: The evidence for acupuncture as a treatment of insomnia is plagued by important limitations, e.g. the poor quality of most primary studies and some systematic reviews. Those that are sensitive to such limitations, fail to arrive at a positive verdict about the effectiveness of acupuncture.
Acupuncture for insomnia
Authors’ conclusions The small number of randomised controlled trials, together with the poor methodological quality and significant clinical heterogeneity, means that the current evidence is not sufficiently extensive or rigorous to support the use of any form of acupuncture for the treatment of insomnia.

I was unable to find a review article for the use of acupuncture for weight loss, and of course, there is no physiological basis to the claim that “a person’s face is affected selectively by his or her internal organs”.

You may be bothered by the needles, but don’t worry, there is a treatment for that too—water.

Depending on the technique used, there is a slight chance of minor temporary bruising, although your practitioner may lessen the possibility by starting your session with a homeopathic remedy.

What Yarborough doesn’t mention is the possibility of more serious side effects from acupuncture treatments.

Outbreak of acupuncture-associated cutaneous Mycobacterium abscessus infections.
Conclusion: Nontuberculous mycobacteria should be recognized as an emerging, but preventable, cause of acupuncture-associated infections.
Acupuncture granulomas.
Abstract Silicone compounds have recently been a source of controversy with regard to their potential role in the genesis of collagen vascular diseases. Foreign body reactions to injectable silicone were noted early in its cosmetic use and led to subsequent abandonment of this procedure. Here we report the first documented case of silicone granulomas to occur after acupuncture.
Acupuncture: Does it alleviate pain and are there serious risks? A review of reviews
Abstract Acupuncture is commonly used for pain control, but doubts about its effectiveness and safety remain. This review was aimed at critically evaluating systematic reviews of acupuncture as a treatment of pain and at summarizing reports of serious adverse effects published since 2000. Literature searches were carried out in 11 databases without language restrictions. Systematic reviews were considered for the evaluation of effectiveness and case series or case reports for summarizing adverse events. Data were extracted according to predefined criteria. Fifty-seven systematic reviews met the inclusion criteria. Four were of excellent methodological quality. Numerous contradictions and caveats emerged. Unanimously positive conclusions from more than one high-quality systematic review existed only for neck pain. Ninety-five cases of severe adverse effects including 5 fatalities were included. Pneumothorax and infections were the most frequently reported adverse effects. In conclusion, numerous systematic reviews have generated little truly convincing evidence that acupuncture is effective in reducing pain. Serious adverse effects continue to be reported.

MDs are required, by law and by their ethical standards, to report any adverse effects of any treatments they observe. Pharmaceutical companies are also required to list any possible side effects, no matter how rare, in their advertisements. We see this every evening on TV.

There is no such requirement for NDs or acupuncturists. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the adverse effects attributable to acupuncture are under-reported. At what point will there be some acknowledgement of these effects? Ever?

The practitioners of Alternative Medicine are constantly looking for acceptance into the mainstream of modern medicine. At the same time, they constantly fight the requirements for scientific standards and even medical ethics that the health practices they so vehemently oppose must follow.

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3 Responses to Cosmetic Acupuncture

  1. Pingback: cosmetic » Cosmetic Acupuncture | PEI Curmudgeon's Blog

  2. Sam says:

    New Research: Acupuncture treats Breast Cancer Lymphedema
    08 September 2011, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
    “…acupuncture significantly reduces lymphoedema related arm swelling in women after breast cancer surgery.”

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