Can Acupuncture Treat Acne?

Acne is the most common skin condition in the U.S., affecting most people at some point in their lives, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association. Even though it's not unusual, however, acne can be stressful to deal with. Bumps and blemishes may cause embarrassment, depression, and anxiety, says GoodRx Health. Physically, too, acne can trigger a domino effect of other issues such as scarring and hyperpigmentation that last even after the original pimples have healed (via Mayo Clinic).

Treating acne as soon as possible can mitigate some of these complications, though conventional treatments aren't without their own potential problems. For example, antibiotics used to control acne can lead to drug resistance if taken for too long, and Accutane for severe acne can cause serious side effects, per Healthline.

A natural and alternative treatment like acupuncture may be preferable for some. But does sticking needles in your skin actually get rid of acne?

What is acupuncture, exactly?

According to Medical News Today, acupuncture is a traditional type of Chinese medicine where needles are inserted into the body through the skin to treat a variety of health conditions. Though it's not exactly clear how acupuncture works, devotees claim it rebalances Qi — the life force that circulates through the body — by tapping into specific meridian points.

Acupuncture is becoming more mainstream and is now the most commonly practiced form of traditional medicine, according to a report by the World Health Organization. Science mostly backs up the hype surrounding the ancient technique. There's some evidence that suggests acupuncture promotes circulation and blood flow, such as one study from 2007 published in Anesthesia & Analgesia. Well+Good also explains that it might help with hormonal imbalances and conditions related to hormone issues. There's also evidence that acupuncture can relieve inflammation (via Harvard Magazine) and ease stress, per Healthline

The effect of acupuncture on acne

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, adult acne rarely pops up randomly. Instead, it can often tell you about your health in general, revealing underlying hormone fluctuations, stress, or other medical conditions that may be causing pesky breakouts.

Acupuncture is said to treat many of these acne triggers. That's why some experts say the technique may help clear up acne spots. "By targeting the underlying cause of why the patient's body is producing acne, instead of just treating it topically, they can have more lasting results," acupuncturist Samantha Manka-Sega told Byrdie. Professionals like Manka-Segal look at the location of the acne on the body to determine its cause. Then, acupuncture needles are placed at points that are thought to treat that underlying issue, eventually improving acne too.

So far, at least one study from 2018 published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine put these claims to the test. The study found that acupuncture cleared up acne as well as retinoids while causing fewer side effects.

Besides preventing new breakouts, acupuncture may also fade scars from old ones, according to Healthline. Don't expect skin to change overnight, though. Acupuncture expert Shari Auth explained to Women's Health that it can take one to three months of consistent sessions to notice a significant improvement.