There’s a needle in my peripheral vision. It has to be one of the weirder sensations I’ve experienced, and I used to be heavily involved in the experimental theater world. I’m staring at its thin shadow courtesy of CAP Beauty, a West Village boutique and spa whose slogan is “Wellness Is Beauty, Beauty Is Wellness.” I am lying on a surface that’s somewhere between an exam table and a spa bed, contemplating the ceiling as I try to avoid the temptation to scratch my nose, since my face and hands are full of needles and that would result in something out of a horror movie.
I came here for the CAP Lift, a $375 acupuncture version of a face-lift that’s meant to be a holistic alternative to treatments like Botox and fillers. “Thousands of years ago, the Chinese were not doing facial acupuncture,” admits my acupuncturist, Elizabeth Alexandre. “It’s obviously a very modern technique on a very ancient medicine.” (This particular style was, she explains, created by an acupuncturist named Virginia Doran.) After multiple sessions (12 is recommended), the treatment promises to help reduce the appearance of puffiness and fine lines and build collagen. I’m just getting one, but “some have seen benefits from a single treatment,” per the CAP site, and I’m hoping to be one of those “some.” It also promises a “vital mysterious glow,” which sounds like a symptom of radiation poisoning, but could be a cool look for me, I guess.
Because I can’t do anything without it abruptly becoming uncool, my appointment happens to coincide with a big week for acupuncture skepticism. A few days before my CAP appointment, Scientific American publishes a story about studies casting doubt on the benefits of the ancient practice.
“We have no evidence that [acupuncture] is anything more than theatrical placebo,” one researcher is quoted as saying. In one study, patients reported the same degree of pain relief whether toothpicks or real acupuncture needles were inserted into their skin. A doctor friend tells me that she tells her patients “it won’t help you, but it won’t hurt you,” when it comes to acupuncture. That said, obviously people have been doing this for thousands of years, and the practice has passionate advocates in the mainstream medical field (and also, in the field of “being Gwyneth Paltrow”).
Clearly, the scientific community is divided, and I have no desire to wade into this feud. The important question here is: Can acupuncture make me more vibrant-looking, especially when I need to look my best for an important Third Eye Blind concert I have coming up?
My skepticism dissipates when I am subjected to the most detailed medical history (and the most involved intake form) I have ever experienced. Now that most doctors have dwindling time with their patients, it’s unusual to hear someone asking questions in the unhurried way Alexandre does. She touches on everything from digestion to sleep to chronic conditions. “Even though it’s going to focus on the face, I’m still going to assess you from a whole-body perspective,” she explains. At one point, she asks, “Are you exhausted when you wake up or do you crash in the middle of the afternoon?” I contemplate saying, “Is … that an either/or?”
Alexandre says she’s going to go easy on my face, since, in her words, “You look ten years younger than you are,” and “you have no lines or under-eye bags.” (It’s not bragging if you’re reporting direct quotes from a subject! Self-love is an important part of wellness.) She breaks from her disquisition on my impossible freshness to insert needles into my face and different energy points on my body, like my ears, ankles, and wrists. The sensation isn’t painful — it’s more like, “Well, this is happening.” At the risk of sounding extremely crunchy, I feel a wavy energy in my wrists, and as I lie prone on the table, I could swear my body is starting to feel lighter. The needles were in for about 20 minutes.
The following day, for the first time in a while, I don’t wake up feeling like someone hit me over the head with a two-by-four. In fact, I have a lot of energy, but it’s calm energy. I don’t obsess over every missed Slack message or unopened email, and I don’t find myself crashing (and trawling the office for Swedish Fish) at 4 p.m. The metaphor I keep reaching for to describe it to people: It feels like I’m on really good drugs. As far as the wellness component of this goes, consider me sold.
As for whether I look more youthful, the jury’s out — and by “the jury,” I mean the friends and co-workers I assembled throughout the day, demanding “DO I HAVE A VITAL, MYSTERIOUS GLOW?” — but I certainly feel it.