Chinese Medical Cosmetology (Mei Rong) has a well-documented and venerated history dating back to the Qin (221-206 BC) Dynasty. Chinese medical physicians were employed to perform acupuncture and herbal medicine on Empresses and Emperors' concubines to enhance natural radiance, delay signs of aging, and maintain a youthful and lustrous appearance.Available at that time to only the wealthiest, this imperial secret was a holistic regimen designed to preserve beauty and maintain health.
The modern application of ancient Mei Rong, referred to as Cosmetic Acupuncture, Facial Cosmetic Acupuncture, Facial Rejuvenation Acupuncture, Constitutional Facial Acupuncture, or AcuFacial, is rapidly becoming a recognized and desired alternative or adjunct to well-established beauty enhancing services such as Botox™, fillers, and surgery. Cosmetic acupuncture is currently the third most popular speciality within the acupuncture profession. In fact, the results of a 2014 NCCAOM "Acupuncture Facial Rejuvenation Certification Needs Assessment Survey" revealed that based on acupuncturists responses, 62% of their patients inquired about cosmetic acupuncture services for the purpose of appearance enhancement.
However, within the community of Chinese medicine practitioners, its application still remains one of controversy. Some believe that modern Mei Rong treatment is a diversion from Classical Chinese medicine, diminishes the integrity of the profession, and is a waste of time. Others say it has deep-seated roots in Chinese medical culture; treatment reinforces the fundamental principles of Chinese medicine, and plays a significant role in the health and well being of those seeking it.
The Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, the first compilation of Chinese pharmacopoeia, contains 43 herbal cosmetology references. The renowned Chinese medicine physician and author of the Sui and Tang dynasties, Sun Si Miao, included 105 Mei Rong formulas in his classic texts Bei Ji Qian Jin Yao Fang and Qian Jin Yi Fang. Li Shi Zhen, the great doctor and scientist of the Ming Dynasty, mentioned 270 cosmetic herbal drugs in his epic treatise, Ben Cao Gang Mu. Descriptions of age related skin conditions are found in the classic works, Huang Di Nei Jin. In this text the relationship between appearance enhancement and internal organs and meridians are explained. Acupuncture, moxibustion, facial massage, and qi gong anti-aging treatments are described.
In keeping with the philosophy of Mei Rong, modern practitioners of cosmetic acupuncture view a disharmony in the Zang-Fu organs, meridians, qi, blood, and fluids as the core of cosmetic related complaints. A dysfunction of any or all of these can be reflected on the face in the form of wrinkles, loss of muscle tone, decreased skin elasticity, skin problems (acne, rosacea), a withered or dry appearance, and more. The etiology of these conditions is imbedded in the pattern recognition, diagnosis, and treatment of qi, blood, and fluids as they influence and are influenced by the elements, organs, and meridians.
As practitioners of Chinese medicine, we know that patients' primary complaints are generally one of a myriad of disharmonies. For example, those presenting with allergies often have abdominal disturbances, loose stools, and possibly heaviness in their extremities; all of which can be related to spleen qi deficiency with dampness. Treating the spleen can resolve allergies, and at the same time address abdominal disorders, loose stools, and limb heaviness. Patients presenting with menstrual problems related to liver blood deficiency and qi stagnation commonly experience muscle spams, headaches, and have difficulty sleeping. Treating the root of menstrual disorders, the liver, can also relieve headaches, ease muscle spams, and alleviate insomnia. Patients with chronic low back pain related to kidney yang and essence deficiency often feel tired, are chilled, and prone to sexual dysfunctions. Treating the kidneys can resolve low back pain, while reducing fatigue, increasing internal warmth, and enhancing sexual performance.
A growing number of today's consumers initially seek acupuncture for their sagging face muscles, wrinkles, and aging skin rather than the classical familiar complaints. Although seemingly different at the onset, the educated Chinese medicine practitioner soon realizes that the underlying issues are one and the same. Lack of muscle tone, or sagging face muscles, is generally an issue of the spleen. Repetitive muscle contractions leading to wrinkle formation can be resolved by treating the Liver. A Kidney Yang deficiency is ultimately the root of most advanced aging complaints.
Equally, if not more important, is the relationship between physical complaints and emotional conflict. In Chinese medicine, there is no dualism between the body and mind and hence no hierarchy of somatic and psychological symptoms. A spleen disorder can cause mental confusion, a liver imbalance can lead to anxiety, and a disharmony of the kidneys can present as depression. In our youth-driven culture, there is an overwhelming urge to enhance one's appearance and erase the visible signs of aging when faced with the realization that one is getting older. Generally referred to as a "midlife crisis," this period of life is often driven by the awareness of ones mortality, and commonly characterized by periods of psychological upheaval and emotional instability - namely confusion, anxiety, and fear. During this phase, many patients turn to acupuncture to erase face wrinkles, tone sagging face muscles, reduce puffiness under the eyes, re-sculpt the contours along their cheeks and jaw line, and rejuvenate their withering complexions. The truth, however, is that they are not just looking for a superficial makeover, but for emotional and spiritual healing as well.
In essence, acupuncturists of all walks are trained to view the body, mind, emotions, and spirit as one, and to address the exterior symptoms by treating the underlying root cause. The common thread between both is the knowledge that superficial symptoms whether allergies, menstrual disorder, low back pain, or sagging face muscles, face wrinkles, and signs of aging is a reflection of a deeper internal imbalance. Our goal as Chinese medicine healers is to help our patient's live and healthier and happier lives. Their reason for seeking treatment should not be ours to criticize or deny.
Shellie Goldstein has been practicing cosmetic acupuncture for over 23 years, teaching cosmetic acupuncture and my AcuFacial technique for over seven years, and am most recently serving on the NCCAOM facial rejuvenation certification CQ panel. I am the author of Your Best Face Now:Look Younger in 20 Days with the Do-It-Yourself Acupressure Facelift (Avery Publisher 2012). For your viewing convenience please visit my website www.hamptonsacupuncture.com or www.hamptonsacupuncture.com.