Sunday, June 15, 2008

A sharp idea to look younger

Acupuncture can give you a lift without facing the knife, says Katharine Shaw
A face full of needles may not be your idea of spa heaven. Yet as more and more of us seek natural alternatives to lasers and Botox, cosmetic acupuncture could well become the new "facelift" of choice.
Being the kind of person who faints when having a blood test, I may not be acupuncturist Gemma Jimenez's dream customer. But as she takes a look at my overall health history, discussing everything from bowel movements to my tongue, she is reassuring. "They are tiny needles," she says. "Most people really don't feel them go in at all."
The treatment begins with cleansing. Then the needles go in: first a couple in the legs, which stings a little, then one on the belly. Still manageable. Then the face. Call me hysterical, but this feels like red ant bites along my jaw, brows, smile lines and crow's feet. Ouch. Jimenez, calm and efficient, expresses surprise at my low pain threshold and - perhaps because I am beginning to beg for mercy - she stops at 12 needles (normally you would get about 14 in the face). Once in, they are, indeed, painless.
Jimenez herself has been having the treatments regularly for years. A gorgeously fresh-faced 51, she has never been near a scalpel or an acid peel in her life. "I see many women in their 50s and beyond who do not want surgery or invasive treatments, but want to look their best," she says. Her clients include actresses who come for beauty maintenance or a quick boost before a big night under the flashbulbs.
The treatment can also help with medical conditions: Jimenez once treated a 25-year-old woman suffering from a pigmentation problem on her face; heavy-duty concealer had failed to hide the dark blotches. After a year of cosmetic acupuncture treatments, Jimenez claims, the woman no longer even has to wear make-up. One client went to her to correct lumps left by a plastic surgeon's "fillers", another to have treatment for herpes-induced facial paralysis.
"I first saw Gemma when I lost a tooth and my face was slightly sagging on one side, making the smile line more prominent," says Renata Dutra, a 36-year-old actress and architect from London, who has been visiting Jimenez for 18 months. "I had 10sessions and was amazed - my facial muscles were more balanced, but also the skin tone was improved and I looked much younger. It's really wonderful." There is half an hour of relaxation with the needles in place, then they come out (just tweaks) and a facial massage ensues.
To my amazement, I look distinctly refreshed and two hours later even my husband notices (an event in itself). The effect wears off after a day, though a penny-sized bruise on my jaw remains. "You have to maintain the treatments," says Jimenez. "It isn't just a one-off." No pain, no gain?
• Cosmetic acupuncture with Gemma Jimenez costs £75 for a one-hour treatment in Kensington or Middlesex. Contact Jimenez at Healing Hands, 120 Preston Hill, Kenton, Middlesex (07957 298766).
Cosmetic acupunture
The pros
• Not a syringe, scalpel or laser in sight.
• Relaxing and holistic: your overall health really matters.
• Nurturing: Gemma Jimenez is sympathetic and kind DResults: it really does seem to make a short-term difference.
The cons
• Time consuming: initially you need sessions two to three times a week, then once every three weeks for maintenance.
• Ouch: the needles can smart.
• Pricey: over a lifetime, on a purely cost basis, you might be better off with a scalpel.

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