What is Facial Cupping?

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You may not know what cupping is, but chances are you saw the pictures of Michael Phelps’ large, bruise-like circles on his back at the 2016 summer Olympics—the result of the Chinese medicine treatment, which is often used to provide relief for pain, migraines, fatigue and high blood pressure. Facial cupping, however, is a treatment all its own, and when done right, it can make your skin glow. Here’s what we know.

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“Cupping uses small glass or silicone cups to create negative pressure by stretching the skin and underlying tissue that dilates capillaries,” says Dr. Elizabeth Trattner, holistic aesthetician and cosmetic acupuncturist, noting that it feels like a gentle massage of sorts. “It has been used for thousands of years on the body and the face to stimulate tissue blood flow and the draining of lymph, which moves stagnant energy. By bringing circulation of blood to the face, collagen and elastin production is improved, which can soften the appearance of lines and wrinkles. It also delivers an anti-inflammatory effect and can help with facial pain like trigeminal neuralgia as well.”

Plus, you don’t have to worry about those purple circles when it comes to facial cupping because, as Dr. Trattner explains, the cups are always moving with the help of a serum, oil or cream that facilitates movement rather than continuous suction in one spot. You definitely don’t want to try cupping on dry skin. And just like any massage, remember to drink water after a treatment to help flush the lymph.

Although cupping touts big benefits, New York plastic surgeon and wellness expert Kenneth Rothaus, MD, says there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence to support any of its claims. “Even if cupping has recognizable benefits, it is not for everyone,” he says. “If you are on anticoagulants (blood thinners) or have a rash, an open wound or any skin condition that results in skin fragility, you should not try cupping. The treatment should be approached with some caution and tempered optimism.”

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Dr. Tratter says you should also avoid cupping if you have inflamed skin or sunburn, or recently had fillers or neurotoxins (Botox) two weeks prior. “It’s important to always seek care of a trained cosmetic acupuncturist or aesthetician, as aggressive cupping over carotid arteries, such as those in the neck and chest, may release blood clots.”

Both doctors note that facial cupping can be done as often as three times a week—if attempting to DIY, it’s essential to learn the proper technique. “At least once a month someone comes in to see me with a bruise on their face from doing cupping at home themselves the wrong way. I advise investing in a lesson where a qualified practitioner can help you address your specific issues, rather than watching a video online.”