Who doesn’t love a good massage? I’ve had my share – for back pain, sporting injuries and relaxation – but I’ve never had a facial massage, let alone facial acupuncture.
So it is that I find myself ascending the stairs to The Calmm in Bondi for an “acu-facial” one sunny spring morning. The hybrid massage-acupressure treatment is meant to deliver a natural face lift by loosening facial muscles and surrounding tissue and encouraging lymphatic drainage. Proponents say it improves circulation, increases oxygen flow to the skin, and results in an overall smoothing of the complexion. Some are even calling it a natural alternative to botox. But I’m a little sceptical.
When I enter the plant-filled treatment room bathed in natural light, I meet The Calmm’s founder Jessie Whittaker – the best advertisement for her work, thanks to her glowing skin and easy, relaxed manner. But, according to Whittaker, this wasn’t always the case.
“I was going through turmoil after a breakup and changing careers from working in fashion, so I moved to Byron in 2017 and began to study acupressure,” Whittaker tells me. “I was really intrigued by the profound effect it had on our emotional state and I found I’d never felt so centred, grounded and content.”
Whittaker opened The Calmm two years ago so she could help others experience the same skin and wellbeing improvement.
“[Acupressure is] based on traditional Chinese medicine, and I focus on different acupressure points to shift stagnant energy in the face and bring back blood flow,” she says. “We also integrate about 10 minutes of Japanese facial massage to lift the face and warm it up, and lymphatic drainage to clear toxins and excess fluid.”
Before we start, Whittaker does a comprehensive personal health check, asking me about my stress levels, my sleep and any medical conditions she should be aware of. I hop onto the bed for a cleanse, then she gets to work.
After 45 minutes cycling through various massage styles (Whittaker) and deep relaxation (me), the treatment concludes with the application of some face oil. I reluctantly prise myself from the bed to take a look at my skin. It appears refreshed, and while my wrinkles and fine lines are still apparent, they do look a little blurred.
“In the same way you’d get a shoulder massage to melt away tension, facial massage softens up habitual frowning and tension,” says Whittaker.
Pleased with the results, I’m hungry for more and decide to take things to the next level with an acupuncture facial at Onda Beauty in Paddington. I’m no stranger to needles – I’ve used acupuncture to help with my chronic insomnia – but I’ve never gone the full porcupine on my face. Onda’s treatment involves both facial and body acupuncture along with a deep cleanse, exfoliation, LED light, scalp massage and gua sha (a traditional Chinese tool used to “scrape” the skin to boost circulation and reduce puffiness).
My therapist Renee Boyd, who studied Chinese medicine at UTS, tells me that when used on the face, acupuncture promotes healing, reduces inflammation and stimulates collagen production to reduce fine lines and lift the skin. She says the benefits are not only seen on the outside, but felt internally as well, through better sleep, regulated hormones and a general feeling of wellbeing.
Boyd begins with a cleanse, then the needles go in. They’re fine and sharp, but the pain factor is zero. The needles stay in while I have a tiny nap on the bed, then, as she puts me under the LED light, she removes the needles as expertly and painlessly as she inserted them. She then stimulates my skin with a jade gua sha tool before applying moisturiser, a face oil and SPF to finish. Boyd sees the treatment as “an alternative to cosmetic surgery and other invasive procedures”.
I sneak a peek at my visage in the mirror on the way out and am pleased to note no redness from the needles. My face is glowing and my skin feels bouncy to the touch. But the most welcome surprise comes that night, when I have my best sleep in years. “Facial acupuncture takes an integrative approach to health, promoting youthful vigour and wellbeing,” says Boyd.
After experiencing tangible benefits to my skin and my sleep, I couldn’t agree more.
The Calmm’s acu-facial is $100 for 45 minutes. Onda’s facial acupuncture treatment is $320 for an initial 90-minute consultation, then $290 for follow-up appointments.