In today’s article I’m going to be covering does facial cupping work.
This is a topic you have requested me to cover.
Table of Contents
What is Facial Cupping?
Cupping is a traditional practice in Chinese medicine in which suction is applied to the surface of the skin in an effort to increase blood flow and circulation to the underlying tissues.
It is thought to improve muscle recovery as well as a variety of different medical ailments and conditions.
In cupping, the practitioner applies a vacuum with a dome-shaped glass cup to the surface of the skin. This draws up gentle suction that then increases blood into the underlying skin.
I think many of you have probably seen individuals who have had this done because it results in something called suction purpura or a bruise. People will have it down on their back and you’ll see bruised like circles on their back.
A facial cupping on the other hand is very similar and involves the application of a vacuum to the skin on the face with gentle suction. But in facial cupping it doesn’t typically result in the extent of a purpura or bruising that cupping has when done on the body. It is typically a much more gentle suction than what you would get in having your back treated.
Facial cupping is really popular in a lot of salons and it works just like regular cupping. It increases circulation to the underlying skin so you can see an instant improvement in skin firmness. The skin appears more plump.
People really like to have this done in salons. Unfortunately it can be incredibly expensive. It runs like $200 sometimes in salons.
While it’s super expensive to do it in a salon, of course you can DIY it yourself with a kit from Amazon.
Amazon sells a variety of different at-home facial cupping kits. There are ton of different kits on Amazon and everywhere else on the Internet. It seems to be a really popular trend.
It’s kind of similar to massage or facial massage where it can improve a little bit of the circulation in the massaged area.
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What Studies Have Found?
Like most complementary or alternative interventions in Western medicine, we don’t have a lot of strong data to support the use of facial cupping for the treatment of any skin condition.
I would say probably one of the most well studied skin conditions using facial cupping is acne.
There are actually six randomized controlled trials looking at facial cupping either alone or in combination with some other traditional Chinese medicine techniques, like acupuncture or different herbs for the improvement in acne.
Quite a few of those studies actually do show some improvement in acne with facial cupping.
But there is something called the Cochrane review, which takes a look at all of all data that’s available on a given question, like does this work.
They take a look at all of the studies and critique the studies and rank them and decide what the evidence suggests. Unfortunately all of these studies suffer for many limitations, as is often the case with things like this.
It’s really difficult to control and so they’re considered of poor quality. Because the studies are a poor quality, it’s going to be recommended at all as part of standard of care for acne.
Side Effects of Facial Cupping
In these studies there were very few actual reported adverse side effects. There were no severe adverse side effects and the most common adverse side effect is bruising, even though it seems to be less of an issue with facial cupping, where the degree of the vacuum suction is a little less.
But it can still happen, particularly if you have more mature skin and you’ve lost some of the support framework or if you’re on a medication that predisposes you to bruising, you’re on blood thinners. These are all reasons to have increased bruising.
You may not like that and also bruising takes a while to resolve and that’s not necessarily something that’s going to be desirable.
But as far as the data on acne, the Cochrane review concluded that the data is poor quality and is insufficient to make any recommendation for cupping for the treatment of acne.
Basically we need more studies. But there are some literature out there looking at cupping for acne. But other than that, there’s really not a whole lot else.
In terms of the risks associated with this though, it is definitely not something for people with sensitive skin or definitely not for people with rosacea, because increasing the blood flow to the skin can lead to irritation. If you have rosacea it can generate a flush and that flush can become persistent and really bothersome.
It also can break the little capillaries in the skin. Those can take a long time to resolve and sometimes they don’t, sometimes they require a laser to to get rid of them. That’s not something that anyone wants.
Those are some of the adverse effects of doing facial cupping.
Do I Recommend Facial Cupping?
It’s one of those things where it’s there’s no data to really support the use of this for any condition. There are obvious adverse side effects associated with doing it and the extent to which it’s helpful is not well understood, if at all.
To me it’s not really worth it. I think that a lot of the perceived benefit with facial cupping that people encounter can also be achieved by just doing some cardiovascular exercise. It will increase blood flow to the skin, improve hydration in the skin and it’s good for your overall body. It helps with inflammation levels in the body.
That would be what I would encourage you to do. But that being said, some people have serious medical issues that make it difficult to impossible to do intense cardiovascular or any kind of cardiovascular exercise.
That may be more challenging for other people. In which case sometimes people find that doing these spa type treatments is relaxing, it’s enjoyable, it’s a little luxury, so I can totally understand wanting to do it.
I just can’t recommend it to you, given the risk to benefit ratio as far as what the data suggest for it being helpful.
Those of you guys who do this, please comment below if you think that facial cupping is helpful or if it’s more of a relaxing thing that you do. Do you do the at-home stuff with the kits from Amazon or do you go to a salon?
Rebecca is a licensed aesthetician and certified laser technician with almost 15 years experience in the dermatology. Her life-long passion is making people look good and happy.