As Lora Lipman entered her 60s, she began to notice not only fine lines around her eyes and lips, but an uneven skin tone she described as somewhat grayish and ashy.
She was reticent to opt for chemical enhancements, or the typically invasive nips, tucks, and pokes of plastic surgery.
So instead, on a recent afternoon, she lay perfectly still on a spa table as dozens of the tiniest of acupuncture needles were gently inserted into the skin of her face and head. It was her fourth week undergoing a cosmetic treatment at the steady hands of Stephanie Kula at the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead.
“Now,” said the 62-year-old from Beverly, “people say ‘Your skin looks so nice, so clear and healthy.’ ”
Cosmetic acupuncture — new to the North Shore JCC but reportedly favored by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, and Madonna — is on the growing list of natural alternatives to procedures such as face lifts and Botox and collagen injections.
It targets specific points on the face, with the tips of dozens of tiny needles — just as with other acupuncture procedures — placed beneath the skin to stimulate blood flow as well as the production of collagen and elastin. The goal, according to Kula, a licensed acupuncturist, is essentially to “overstimulate” certain areas.
The process can help to fade age spots, improve fine lines, diminish deeper wrinkles, even out and brighten skin tone, reduce jowls, rosacea, and acne, and reduce puffiness, Kula said.
She listed reducing pain, stress, symptoms of depression and anxiety, minimizing hot flashes and night sweats, and improving digestion and sleep cycles as some of the overall holistic benefits of acupuncture.
“It’s an internal and external process, and it works to relax your whole system,” said Kula, who studied the ancient practice at the Academy for Five Element Acupuncture in Gainesville, Fla., and owns the Salem-based North Shore Community Acupuncture. “It’s a way to really take care of yourself. Self-care is something we don’t really do that much of.”
While acknowledging that people can be put off by the very idea of becoming the equivalent of a human pincushion, she said it’s a relatively painless procedure because the needles are thin, less than an inch in length, and akin to a “cat whisker.”
“A lot of people come in with the fear of getting blood drawn,” she said, but having an acupuncture needle inserted is “a sensation you feel for a couple seconds, then it goes away.”
At the JCC in Marblehead, Kula offers what’s known as the Mei Zen method of cosmetic acupuncture, as developed by Denver-based practitioner Martha Lucas. The protocol involves placing 90-plus needles in various points in the face and head; Kula also has incorporated “cupping” into the process, which she says helps to speed up results through the use of suction cups placed and drawn across the skin on the face, neck, and chest to pull up the underlying muscles and tissue and increase blood flow.
She began offering the service at the JCC on Oct. 1. A full run of the procedure is five weeks — twice a week in 60- to 90-minute sessions — with follow-up maintenance once a month after that. Kula charges $150 per session throughout the five-week period, then $85 for follow-ups.
“This is a commitment you make to yourself,” said Lipman, who has been getting general acupuncture treatments for more than 30 years, and reports that they have helped her deal with reflux, sciatica issues, and a sprained ankle. And when the treatment is over, she feels “very relaxed,” she said. “My mind seems clearer. If I have any stress, it’s gone.”
On a recent afternoon, her session began as she lay down on a spa table in a private room, pillows beneath her head and calves. Her long hair was pulled back with a headband, jeans rolled up above the knees.
Kula asked how Lipman was feeling; then, after swabbing each area with antiseptic, she stuck various-sized needles into the tops of Lipman’s feet, around her ankles, below her knees, in her hands, and at her wrists.
Then, she placed a half-dozen smaller needles into the top of her head, and, finally, moved to her face, inserting numerous miniature needles above her eyebrows, on the sides of her nose, around and behind her ears, and tracing her cheekbones, lining her lips, and crowning her chin.
“I feel totally relaxed,” Lipman said as Kula softly pricked her skin. “I really don’t feel most of them. With some, it’s just a little bit of pressure — hardly at all.”
Roughly a half-hour later, Kula carefully removed the tiny implements — Lipman’s skin tinged pink in some areas where they had been applied — then proceeded to place cups on her neckline and face.
“I feel great, wonderful. It’s like having a minivacation,” Lipman reported when it was over.