Points Taken

A facelift doesn't have to be traumatic. And it doesn't require a knife.

Mom always told me to keep sharp objects away from my eyes. And my ears, for that matter. So why am I lying on a table at Midtown Acupunture in Cooper-Young, a needle in each of my hands and feet, three more in each leg, and — for crying out loud — eight needles in my face?

It's all in the name of facial rejuvenation acupuncture, an alternative — less invasive and much less expensive — to a scalpel and botox in the effort to regain a bit of lost youth in what acupuncturist Jessica Puckett calls our body's "history book." A graduate of the Midwest College of Oriental Medicine in Chicago, Puckett has trained with the renowned Mary Elizabeth Wakefield, who custom-designed an acupuncture facial in conjunction with the 2005 Academy Awards. Puckett opened Midtown Acupuncture in February with the aim of educating Memphians on the benefits and virtues of a practice with a track record 5,000 years old.

And before you tremble at the thought of needles in your face, it should be noted these are hardly the daggers you recall from your last flu shot. Each tiny needle is no more than half a centimeter in length. For my treatment, the eight needles ran along a single wrinkle line across my forehead (the furrowed brow of a journalist leaves its mark). Among Puckett's skills is an ability to recognize the different needs of a patient, not only by reading facial wrinkles — she prefers to leave "joy lines" alone — but by measuring a person's entire constitution.

"Every person is different," stresses Puckett, "and that's a big difference between Eastern and Western medicine. You can't come to me with hand pain and expect me to just treat your hand pain. There's always a root issue to pain. It's a manifestation." Central to acupuncture's healing powers are meridian systems that serve as pathways for qi (Chinese for "energy"). Feeling pain in your shoulder? A needle to a certain point in your leg may be the key to relief, depending on a specific energy line. Similarly, facial rejuvenation requires access points well below the area you may consider the primary target. (Thus the needles in my feet.)

"We're stimulating the nervous system," explains Puckett. "Today we can become stressed out just watching CNN on our couch. And that energy isn't expended. Stress causes digestion issues, heart issues. Acupuncture is very good at resetting your sympathetic nervous system, so your normal bodily functions can benefit you."

There is little, if any, pain when an acupuncture needle is placed. Smaller needles are used for areas with less cushion (like my forehead), while longer needles can be inserted as far as two inches into the body (with no bleeding). The key to the procedure is stimulating blood flow, drawing fresh fuel to an area that has been neglected or overworked. (Minor bruising can occur at the needle's point of entry, but this fades within a day or two.) It should be noted that once a needle is used on a person, it's thrown away. Hygiene, first and always.

Puckett offers a 12-session facial program that costs $1,250 (each session is about 90 minutes). Included in each session is a pair of herbal masks — one before and one after the acupuncture — followed by a facial massage and treatment with a jade roller. (Don't underestimate the soothing value of that cool, smooth stone rolling down your cheeks.) She recommends twice-weekly sessions for six weeks. The resulting increase in collagen production can diminish wrinkles and, depending on your mirror, take a few years off your face.

Puckett has seen a surprising number of men in search of facial rejuvenation, particularly during her days in Chicago. As for age groups, she says she's treated people in their mid-thirties all the way up to an 82-year-old woman. "I love working in acuptuncture," says Puckett, "because people who come to me want to improve their health. They expect to see and feel results."

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