Facial acupuncture is gaining popularity, especially among Baby Boomers who want to diminish signs of aging.

There are other forces driving demand, too, including consumers who are tired or wary of repeated Botox injections. So, business-savvy acupuncturists are marketing their alternative approach as a holistic solution.

The Procedure

In facial acupuncture, the practitioner inserts small needles into "pressure points" in the face. According to supporters, this boosts blood flow to the area, producing tighter muscles and a more youthful appearance.

No one seems to know how many licensed acupuncturists in the United States offer such facial rejuvenation, but Mary Elizabeth Wakefield, a New York City acupuncturist, says she has taught more than 1,000 of her colleagues the technique.

Shellie Goldstein, an acupuncturist who practices in New York City and East Hampton, New York, has trademarked the name of her technique, Acufacial, which, she says, is good for the "marionette lines" around the sides of the mouth that appear when you smile, the nose-to-lip wrinkles called nasolabial lines and the frown lines between the eyebrows, as well as other areas.

Facial acupuncture "is as effective as Botox for fine lines, almost as effective with deeper wrinkles-and without paralyzing the muscles," Goldstein says.

Differences In Cost And Time

Facial acupuncture tends to cost more and demand more time than Botox. Typical New York-area fees for facial acupuncture range from $140 to $200 per session, with 10 to 20 weekly sessions recommended, followed by monthly maintenance sessions. With that fee schedule, a typical first-year bill would be $2,800 or more, and $4,400 for two years. If you follow that schedule, Goldstein says, you can expect the effects to last for two years.

For Botox injections, the average physician's fee is $376 (it may be higher in metropolitan areas), according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, and the procedure is repeated every three months.

Scientific Tests Are Needed

Cosmetic surgeons don't dismiss the idea that facial acupuncture is effective, but for now published scientific evidence is lacking, they say.

Dr. Laurie A. Casas, a cosmetic surgeon, an associate professor of surgery at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and a spokes woman for the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, says, "I never, ever dismiss any modality that has been around that many thousands of years." But, she adds, "I think it is critical that this group of very fine practitioners do some studies and then show us" that it works.

While some studies have been published suggesting that facial acupuncture reduces lines and wrinkles, Casas says that what is needed is a good scientific study-one in which acupuncture is performed on one side of the face and Botox or no procedure on the other side. Then, photo documentation could show the effects of each.

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