I booked this facial looking for sharper cheekbones, that elusive skin glow and maybe a snooze – if I was lucky. But what I got was way more beneficial than those three things combined.
I’ll be honest: needle-based beauty treatments have never appealed to me.
I’ve never had microneedling, even though I’ve seen first hand the way it can make skin glow. I’ve never had hyaluronic acid injections although I’m well aware of their ability to make skin plump and juicy. And as for PRP, no thank you. Pierce my skin to insert a new Lark & Berry earring any day, but puncture my complexion in the name of better skincare absorption? It’s just never appealed to me.
But there’s one beauty bandwagon that even I - a staunch needle-averter - couldn’t help but jump on: the acupuncture facial. And specifically, the one by cosmetic acupuncturist Sarah Bradden. Having already archived selfies of three fellow beauty editors lying on Bradden’s treatment bed looking like a pincushion above long captions about the magic of the treatment, I knew I needed to book in.
What is cosmetic acupuncture?
Cosmetic acupuncture is where a trained therapist inserts tiny needles into certain areas of the face and body. While its roots lie in Chinese medicine, a therapy to alleviate stress and pain, it’s also widely used to give skin a renewed bounce and brightness.
“Cosmetic acupuncture relaxes facial tissue, defines, sculpts and encourages renewed circulation,” Bradden tells me. “The treatment focuses on rejuvenating, re-energising and addressing all signs of skin concerns by stimulating, repairing and renewing skin mechanisms from within the dermis, resulting in a more noticeably invigorated and youthful skin.” Impressively, the technique can treat all skin concerns including acne, dermatitis, scars and ageing.
And it’s on these benefits that most cosmetic acupuncture facials tend to focus, whereas Bradden prefers to treat both the mind and skin through an all round more holistic approach.
What happens in an acupuncture facial?
“Stick your tongue out,” was the first instruction I received upon entering Bradden’s treatment room in London’s Harvey Nichols. Unusual, but I went with it. “The tongue gives me a greater understanding of my clients overall health,” she explains. “I look at the colour, shape, texture , movement, grooves - this tells me so much about what is going on in the system.”
Next, Bradden asked me all about how my body feels on the daily. Do I feel sluggish? Yes. Tired? All the damn time? We spoke about my digestion (perfect, touch wood) and menstrual cycle (regular, if not brutally painful). And finally, she asked me about mood swings of which I am abundantly ‘blessed’.
The verdict? I was running on empty. Deficient in all manner of vitamins (I have the blood tests to prove that) with zero energy. Add to that that my grandfather had passed away three days prior, and it’s safe to say, I was a wreck.
I climbed onto the bed, fully dressed, before Bradden lifted my top and lay a LED pad over my bare stomach - “It’s fantastic for the organs and gut health. The lights oxygenate the blood and cells and help accelerate the healing process and reduce inflammation,” she told me. It felt much like a hot water bottle.
Then came the needles. Bradden placed a few in my ears, a few on my feet, and around 25 on my face.
“Specific points on the body correlate with certain organs, as well as the nervous system,” she explains. “By stimulating these points, the brain is calmed. The acupuncture needles help release feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin so when our system is flooded with those hormones, we are reminded of how we should be feeling: brighter, lighter and calmer.”
They were a little uncomfortable when they first went in, but once there, I felt nothing. Well, apart from one.
There was one needle placed into the right side of my forehead that felt like she had jabbed a biro into my skin. And the pain didn’t subside like it did for the others. It throbbed and throbbed and throbbed. I even considered asking her to take it out, but I persisted through the pain.
Next, she hooked me up to an oxygen machine and after around 10 minutes of reflexology on the feet and a similar LED panel over the face for brightening, Bradden pulled out all the needles. The spot on my forehead continued to throb, so I had to tell her. And this is where things got really strange.
She told me that that very spot of the forehead is connected to the gallbladder – which, in Chinese Medicine terms, is the organ through which we process grief. I see you raising that skeptical eyebrow, but considering the traumatic weekend I had had prior, it all made too much sense to doubt. It was as though the throbbing sensation was the needle piercing the grief I was feeling, and letting all the air out of it.
Visually, my eyebrows appeared to have risen a few millimetres and my jawline definitely looked more defined. As for the complexion, I swear, I was glowing. And I continued to glow for days afterwards. But more than that, I felt a weird sense of relief, as though the pain I’d been feeling was slowly unfurling. And while I’ll take a newfound sheen any day of the week, that was one benefit I genuinely just didn’t see coming.
How to book
Sarah Bradden’s Signature Acupuncture Facial Treatment costs £300 for 90 mins, available with the new services space at Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge. To book, call: 0207 259 4410.
Images: Courtesy of Sarah Bradden at Harvey Nichols / Shannon Peter.