I have always been curious about acupuncture, but until recently, I had never been able to pull the trigger. It seemed expensive and kind of mysterious, and I was never quite sure what it was actually supposed to do. I had a few friends who did it regularly and raved about their practitioners, but when I researched them, I would find a bare-bones, semi-functional website at best, get intimidated by the often-$200-plus price of a first-time session, and end up dropping the whole thing and forgetting about it.
Then I started reading about it and seeing people like Allure’s editor Michelle Lee post about a new acupuncture studio called WTHN (pronounced “within”), which opened in New York City’s Flatiron neighborhood last November. It had a functional, informative website with a menu of treatments like In the Clear, which strengthens immunity, and Sleepyhead, meant to target insomnia. I was especially intrigued by Face Time, which claimed to “reduce wrinkles, calm inflammation, boost collagen and relax your whole face.” With first-time sessions priced at an impulse-worthy $65, I went for it.
WTHN is not the first brand to take an ancient eastern wellness practice and boutique-ify it with minimalist, millennial-grabbing graphic design. It is not even the first one to do it with a name with all the vowels removed (elsewhere in Manhattan, there is a book-by-the-pillow meditation club called MNDFL). It joins a wave of infrared saunas, yoga-slash-reiki studios, drop-in facial bars, and vitamin IV drip “sanctuaries” that promise to keep our bodies balanced and our anxieties in check. We are more open to alternative therapies than ever — as long as they fit within our expectations of what wellness is supposed to look like.
The studio itself is filled with light, plants and shelves stocked with a very appealing smorgasbord of rose-infused body oil, cedar incense, gua sha tools and herb blends. It feels less like a clinic and more like a low-key day spa. The waiting room has crystal infused water, adaptogenic mushroom tea and a pile of books about mindfulness.
I made an appointment with WTHN’s co-founder, Chinese herbalist Dr. Shari Auth, who has been practicing acupuncture for 20 years (and counts Olivia Wilde as one of her clients). She said she set out to open her studio for basically the exact same reasons I had been scared away from it in the past. As I sipped my mushroom tea, she and I sat down and we chatted about what I was hoping to get out of the Face Time treatment, and what I could expect.
“Acupuncture stimulates circulation, which is of particular interest [to] the face because it’s going to boost collagen and elastin,” she says. “So, collagen plumps the face to reduce wrinkles and elastin is going to firm and tone the face.” (And there are studies that support this, although the level of efficacy appears to be both temporary and minimal). She compared it to a sort of subtle, natural version of Botox: “Wrinkles don’t cause wrinkles, muscles cause wrinkles,” she said. “So, just the same way Botox is going to paralyze the muscles to get rid of the wrinkles, this is going to relax the muscles, so they’re less likely to create a wrinkle.”
Acupuncture stimulates circulation to boost collagen and elastin.
At 28 years old, I am still mostly in the prevention phase when it comes to anti-aging. But I was having an acne flare-up that I could not quite make sense of. I had been doing my normal routine, which has kept most pimples at bay for at least a few years, and all of a sudden, I was dealing with a crop of angry zits along my jawline that kept coming back. And I could not help but pick at them (I know, I know) so I had a few dark marks that were taking their time fading away. So I was hoping she might be able to work some magic on that whole situation.
And apparently, she could: “A lot of acne is hormonal, or systemic,” Auth explains. “If you’re working on acne, you might not have any needles in your face at all. There are points throughout the body that are known to promote hormonal balance or to benefit the skin in some way.”
So we got right to it. I lay down on a cushy, heated table (similar to the kind you lie on for a normal facial) with a Turkish towel draped over me, and Auth started with a few spritzes of helichrysum spray (an herb known for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties) over my face.
Then, she placed a few whisper-thin needles in my forehead, along my jawline, on the sides of my nose and, to help with acne, a couple of points in my ankles and just below the knee, as well as on my wrists and between my thumb and forefinger. On a pain scale of 1-10, I put waxing at an 8, extractions at a 7 and plucking one eyebrow hair at a 4. Acupuncture needle insertion is a 1. And once it is in there, you really do not feel it at all, nor do you need to do anything. You just lie there for a while as the needles stimulate nerve points within your body’s fascial system, which in turn send signals to your brain, which releases various hormones, endorphins and enkephalins that help with a variety of ailments, from pain to inflammation and nausea.
At WTHN, you have the option of pairing acupuncture with LED light therapy, another proven collagen-boosting and skin-healing practice. “Your skin cells turn the light energy into cellular energy, and so the cells start producing lots of collagen and elastin,” Auth says. “Coupled with the acupuncture, there are great results.” You are effectively doubling-up on increasing circulation, which leaves you with an instant glow.
She placed protective covers over my eyes and the LED panel over my face, which rested probably six inches above my nose and, through the pinpricks of the eye covers, looked kind of like one of those technicolor light-up ceilings in a limo. Lots of little tiny points of blue and red lights. Then she placed a little buzzer in my hand that I could press if anything felt off or I needed something, asked if I wanted to do a guided meditation (why not?) and left me there for 30 minutes, listening to Auth’s recorded instructions to breathe in and out over ambient-spacey sounds created by sound therapist Nate Martinez (kind of like… Spa House music, if that existed, but without a beat).
And that was it! She came back, removed all of the needles, did another round of helichrysum spray, then used a facial roller to help it penetrate into the skin. I walked out (resisting the wellness wall once again) with not quite that cleaned-out, the tingly-fresh feeling of a facial, but a more subtle glow. Like I was just extraordinarily well-rested and well-moisturized. Also, I felt super calm. Turns out if you lie down for 45 minutes with your eyes closed, breathing deeply on a warm bed, it is impossible not to be relaxed.
For a second session with LED therapy, it is $95 dollars (which, in a city where the most buzzed-about facials often run you closer to $300, not including tip, feels downright reasonable). A monthly membership brings it down to $75 per session, including complimentary LED and cupping.
A few days later, the pimples had all but disappeared. And the dark marks from the picked-at ones? Totally faded. The effect was actually remarkable, and kind of crazy considering she had not actually done anything directly to them. No squeezing, no masking or spot treating. Just hormonal balance.
So I am a convert. Would I suggest it if you needed a really good, blackhead-destroying cleanout? Probably not. But I think I will use it in conjunction with my sort-of quarterly (OK, semi-annually … OK, completely random) facial schedule. It is enjoyable, accessible and effective. I have already booked my next appointment.
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