Most of us have come to recognize cupping therapy, thanks to the circular bruises spotted on the backs of celebrities like Michael Phelps and Gwyneth Paltrow. But renewed interest in the practice has a new focus: Facial cupping is the latest Eastern medicine-based skin-care method to gain attention from stars and beauty editors. It’s popped up in social media feeds, and there are at-home kits which promise to deliver the same benefits as an in-spa treatment.
The ancient remedy uses cups to increase blood circulation and lymphatic drainage, as well as stimulate collagen and elastin production from fibroblasts in the skin, according to Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC. Yet, instead of sitting on the body, facial cupping requires the cup to constantly move across the face with the help of a facial serum or argan or coconut oil to avoid bruising (which can happen if you’re not careful). “By using a ‘suction/vacuum’ technique we can control where we want the [fluid] movement to flow,” celebrity facialist Ildi Pekar (whose client roster includes models like Miranda Kerr and Lindsay Ellingson) explains in an email.
Cosmetic acupuncturist Shellie Goldstein compares cupping to a massage, which has similar benefits. “With a massage, you’re using compression to press on the tissue. With the cup, it’s the inverse of that,” she says, as the suctioned cup pulls blood to the skin’s surface. Practitioners often use heat to eliminate the oxygen in the cups, which Dr. Zeichner says enhances blood flow to the skin further. Also, there are electrically charged magnets, which Pekar uses in her practice, and Dr. Zeichner says it further stimulates collagen and wound healing. As such, the practice is said to improve natural skin hydration, increase skin’s radiance, and even reduce acne after eight to 10 weekly treatments. In fact, studies have shown that cupping significantly improved acne cases compared to more conventional methods.
Similar to other Eastern medicine practices like gua sha, Goldstein and others trained in facial cupping move the cup in rows from the base of the neck up to ensure the lymphatic fluid can easily drain out. Then, they work their way up to the forehead, with the cups moving from the center of the face out to sides, following the drainage path down the neck. “When you slide the cups, there are certain patterns and directions that you want to use in order to promote lymph flow, and force it to the primary lymph nodes, which are at the base of the clavicle towards the center of your breastbone,” she explains. “You’re going to bring everything out to the side of your face and down the sternocleidomastoid muscle, which is that big [neck] muscle that turns your neck from side to side…that’s where the major lymph drainage portals are.”
This movement, in turn, promises to help reduce puffiness (especially during allergy season, according to Goldstein) and tighten skin for a “lifted and sculpted” look. “That’s going to give you rosy cheeks; it’s going to give you a nice, bright complexion,” she says. Also, Pekar added, “When we create better flow, we can guide nutrients to the surface of the skin, reenergizing and refreshing it.” In fact, Goldstein often compares the treatment to giving your skin a real workout for those tight and toned results. “It’s like taking your face to the gym. So you have to work the muscles and train the tissue,” she says. “So that and with strategic acupressure [on the] acupuncture points specifically designed for face lifting and anti-aging, you can see a difference of maybe up to five to 10 years.”
While the benefits fulfill our need for instant gratification, the experts stress that your lifestyle can affect how long the effects of the treatments last. A night out drinking with friends or an indulgent meal can cause the puffiness the treatment reduces to quickly return. “It’s not a permanent treatment,” Goldstein said. “It may not be as puffy, but tissue fluid is tissue fluid. And so, depending on your lifestyle, you may just want to do it to look good for the night.”
an even tighter and more sculpted visage. Pekar agrees, saying, “At-home kits are great, only if you know what you’re doing. It can be easy to bruise yourself if you don’t know how to create the right pressure or move it in the right directions. I would recommend seeing a professional to get this done.”