Grace Under Pressure : The Time-Honored Technique of Acupressure May Be the Newest Path to a Serene, Youthful-Looking Face

Linda Evans and Joan Collins may have prompted many of us to think twice about the sex appeal of women over 40, but America remains a nation obsessed with youthfulness. Despite the fact that face-lift surgery can cost $2,000 to $10,000, the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons reports a 23% increase in such operations since 1984. But many who dream of looking younger still fear the surgeon's knife--and rightly so: A face lift is major surgery involving anesthesia and at least a week of recovery time.

Many who disapprove of Western medicine's emphasis on surgery have turned to acupuncture, which is based on traditional Chinese techniques involving the insertion of needles at certain points on the body. Others are trying acupressure, in which pressure--not a needle--is used to release "energy blockages," thereby reducing pain and increasing the body's ability to heal, according to Margo Jordan, a certified acupuncturist and director of the Center for Beauty and Revitalization in West Los Angeles.

Now the benefits of acupressure--performed manually or with the added boost of electrical stimulation--are being adapted for facial rejuvenation. Actress Lindsay Wagner recently released a videotape called "New Beauty: The Acupressure Face Lift," which shows how to locate energy points and massage them to improve muscle tone.

Wagner says that by massaging 15 points on the face and neck for about 30 minutes each day, men and women can "achieve a more youthful appearance--a way to turn the lights on in your face and keep them on--no matter what age you are."

Jordan, who has a doctorate in Oriental medicine, teaches similar techniques at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Santa Monica. But unlike Wagner's method, which emphasizes massage, Jordan's involves constant, firm pressure on one spot at a time.

Jordan is one of the few acupuncturists in the United States who combine electromagnetic therapy with acupressure. The treatment is administered with an instrument called a Myopulse, which stimulates nerves by sending electrical charges to injured parts of the body, supposedly increasing the body's natural healing power and relieving pain.

Jordan discovered that the Myopulse could be used in facial rejuvenation while she was treating clients for temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome, an ailment in which the jaw hinge slips out of alignment, causing pain in one or both sides of the face. She says she noticed that clients' facial muscles looked more toned after treatment. "The difference was especially noticeable when I worked on only one side," she says. "That side appeared fresh, firm and lifted; in contrast, the other side looked older."

Jordan researched the treatment for several years and concluded that most clients would look significantly younger after 12 hourlong treatments administered twice a week over a six-week period.

"These treatments don't replace surgery for everyone," she says, "but in many cases they do." Jordan says that after the first 12 visits, most clients need to come in for maintenance appointments every two to four weeks.

Dr. C. Norman Shealy, a neurosurgeon and pain specialist based in Springfield, Mo., says, "I'm a big fan of these machines." But, he says, he does not think that they offer the results of a conventional face lift.

"The face looks great for several hours after treatment, but it eventually falls again," he says. "To say that the muscle tone can be maintained with once-a-month treatments is like saying that you can exercise regularly to get in shape and then stay in shape by working out one day a month. The body doesn't work that way. You'd have to use a machine every day to sustain it."

Shealy is more impressed with the manual acupressure techniques that Wagner and Jordan are teaching. "This is something people can do for themselves on a regular basis. This is facial exercise, and it can have a tremendous effect."

Electro-stimulation and / or acupressure may not take the place of a surgical face lift for every patient, but these procedures do represent options that do not pose the risk or carry the price tag of surgery. Such a painless route to a youthful, rested look may mark the beginning of a new age in facial rejuvenation.

Hair and makeup by Wendy Osmundson / Cloutier; model: Isa Anderson / Nina Blanchard Agency.

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