Acupuncture for aging?

A major portion of my practice is devoted to cosmetic dermatology, and more specifically, improving signs of aging like lines, wrinkles and sagging.

As a society, we’re obsessed with looking youthful, so it’s no surprise that a variety of alternative treatments are being touted as a solution for the visible signs of time — and acupuncture is no exception.

Yes, I’m trained in Western medicine, but I am open-minded about Eastern medicine. The way I look at it, if acupuncture and similar alternative modalities have been practiced for thousands of years, there has to be some benefit. (The National Institutes of Health also agree that acupuncture is an effective treatment for nausea and vomiting related to pregnancy and chemotherapy, pain and other ailments.)

But based on my knowledge about the science and anatomy of the skin, when I see practitioners claiming that acupuncture is the fountain of youth, I’m definitely more than a bit skeptical.

The main premise of Chinese medicine is that illness and disease occur when there is an imbalance or blockage of energy in the body. Acupuncture restores balance to the body by inserting very small needles in specific points on the body, and treatment often includes herbs and specific foods.

Since Chinese medicine holds that any sort of symptom is the manifestation of an internal energy imbalance, skin issues are commonly treated with acupuncture and herbal blends designed to treat the root of the problem. But when it comes to aging, few studies have been performed on the effects of acupuncture, and since we know that most outward signs of aging are caused by external factors like sun exposure, it’s hard to fathom treating wrinkles from the inside-out.

Still, electro-acupuncture may be an exception. This process involves sending a small electric current through the acupuncture needle, and according to one study, improvement in slack skin and wrinkles was seen in about 70 percent of subjects after 10 to 15 sessions. Although the physiological process of skin regeneration through electrical stimulation is still not completely understood, it seems probable the results are due to increase in collagen synthesis.

But until there are enough studies to prove that this treatment is worthwhile, I’m going to say save your money for anti-aging treatments that have been proven to work — and perhaps use acupuncture for symptoms that it’s already been shown to be beneficial for.