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What's the Deal with Facial Cupping?

By: Kristin Bugden

Cupping is hardly a newfound treatment to the wellness world but was put a bit more on the map courtesy of the 2016 Olympics. (You might recall seeing the large, circular bruises on Michael Phelps’s back). While this traditional form of cupping, also known as fire cupping, is used to help with ailments like muscular pain and tension**, you might not be familiar with the ancient practice as a means to achieve a glowing complexion. 

What Is Facial Cupping?

Facial cupping differs from traditional fire cupping in the sense that smaller, specialized cups are used sans heat and constantly moved around the different areas of the face. “Facial cupping is a technique used to rejuvenate facial tissues by facilitating the flow of oxygenated blood to the skin’s surface — it also breaks up and drains any lymphatic waste,” says Maura Watson, owner of Go Spa Chicago. She adds that a typical session lasts for approximately 30 minutes during which time you can expect the soft cups to create a vacuum-like suction on the skin. “Once the seal is created, you gently lift the skin and glide the cup upward and outward, release the suction and repeat. This is continued throughout the face including neckline, jawline, cheekbone, sinuses, under-eye and forehead,” she adds.

Ildi Pekar, skincare expert, owner of Ildi Pekar Skin Care and founder of I PEKAR, offers a unique facial cupping service at her NYC-based skincare clinic. She tells Lively the facial uses a magnetic-cupping technique to “increase local chi and draw nutrients to the surface of the face.” The facial also includes a vibrating face mask. Pekar explains the vibrations help to promote movement in the face and allow toxins to be transported away from the skin**. “Through this luxurious and calming treatment, cell structure is stimulated, resulting in a smoother and lifted complexion,” she says.

Sonya Schwartz, MS, LAc, Founder & Director of Golden Folk Wellness in Los Angeles, has an important prep tip before partaking in any facial cupping session. “I cannot stress the importance of prepping the lymph system beforehand as the lymph flushes cellular waste and excess fluids from our tissues — if the lymph pathways are not cleared prior to facial cupping, excess fluids and toxins do not have a place to drain,” she notes. “This is done by using a light pressure or pulsing to the lymph areas that drain fluids from the head and neck prior to any type of facial massage, additionally H2O intake before and after treatment is key to help cellular waste and fluid move out of the body.”

What's the Deal with Facial Cupping?

The Benefits of Facial Cupping

There is a myriad of benefits that can be associated with this practice. “Facial cupping can increase blood and oxygen circulation, strengthen muscle tissues, release muscle tension, promote collagen production by stimulating cells, brighten the skin, reduce puffiness, tighten and tone the skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” says Watson.

She adds that it can even help with sinus pressure and headaches**. Schwartz elaborates a bit on the collagen factor noting that by increasing blood circulation to the face, fibroblast cells are stimulated which produce natural collagen and elastin. “With age, everything dries up and begins to sag­­­increasing fibroblast activity helps with cellular rejuvenation to thicken skin back to its youthful state and repairs thin, slacking skin,” she explains. She also remarks that results can be seen immediately after one treatment.

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How Often Should I Do It?

Watson tells Lively that to achieve desired results, facial cupping can be done 1-3 times per week for several weeks, adding that while one treatment can be beneficial, results will be more temporary as opposed to receiving multiple treatments. Pekar also notes that you can probably spread the treatments out a bit if you invest your time in a good diet along with deep, restorative sleep and active exercise.

Is It Suitable for All Skin Types?

Our experts agree that the treatment can be done for the most part on all skin types. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. “You will want to avoid cupping if you have a sunburn, open sores, skin ulcer, any recent trauma or are taking blood-thinning medication,” says Watson. Additionally, Mona Dan, LAc., MTOM, herbalist, acupuncturist and founder of  Vie Healing – a favorite among celebs – notes that in instances of cystic acne or severe breakouts, it’s important the practitioner is incredibly gentle and might avoid particular areas with the cups.

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Will It Leave Any Marks on My Face?

If you’re a bit put off by the circular marks that can come as a result from traditional cupping, don’t worry because this won’t happen with facial cupping. “When you receive a body cupping service, you’ll get bruised because the function happens on one static point of your skin,” says Pekar. “During facial cupping, we’re constantly moving the cups, so you can’t get bruised.”

“Too much suction or too much time in one spot on the face can end up tearing collagen fibers or capillaries which leads to bruising— it is strongly encouraged to have treatments done by a professional to maximize the benefits and results from facial cupping,” adds Watson. “There are at-home cupping kits available but please consult with a professional first.”

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