Q: Does acupuncture have any side effects?

A: Though the risks are minimal, they include bruising or slight bleeding where the needle is inserted, nerve damage and, very rarely, a punctured internal organ. By seeking treatment from a certified acupuncturist, your risks are greatly diminished. Still make sure to talk to your acupuncturist about common and rare side effects and always communicate what you’re experiencing.

Q: Do you recommend acupuncture over Accutane?

A: When compared with Accutane, known for its strong side effects (e.g., severe skin drying, red eyes, itching, dry mouth, nosebleeds, birth defects), acupuncture has fewer potential complications. But, Accutane is proven to effectively treat acne, while acupuncture is not. Also, traditional topical treatments, including retinoids, might be helpful. The best person to answer that question is your dermatologist.

by team
Learn all about acupuncture, what to expect at your first appointment and whether it’s really worth your time and money.

Basic facts

Most people are aware of acupuncture and perhaps you know someone who’s tried it. But, many aren’t familiar with its basic aspects.

  • The history: Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine practiced for approximately 5,000 years. It consists of inserting tiny needles into specific locations on the body to help treat common ailments, disease and even mental health concerns.
  • The theory: A person suffers from certain ailments, because the energy in one or more of the 12 energy lines isn’t flowing correctly in the body. By inserting needles into one or more of the 1,000 acupuncture points, the flow is unblocked and the energy can move through the body again.
  • Alleviating acne: To treat acne, acupuncture focuses on regulating the body’s hormones. Acupuncturists believe that hormones that are out of sync cause more secreted oil in the skin. By regulating these hormones, the oil is diminished resulting in less acne.
  • FDA’s role: The FDA regulates the use of acupuncture needles. These needles must be sterile, clearly labeled, used only once and available exclusively to qualified practitioners. Make sure you ask your practitioner if he or she is using FDA-regulated single-use needles.
  • Finding a certified acupuncturist: Becoming certified to practice acupuncture requires completing the education and training set by each state. Visit National Certification Commission Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) to search for a certified acupuncturist in your area.

Your first visit

Here’s what you can expect from your first appointment.

  • Medical history: Before you begin, the acupuncturist will ask about your medical history, including health concerns, lifestyle, diet and stress level.
  • Needle time: The practitioner begins by inserting up to a dozen tiny needles into your body — which are so thin that they resemble a single strand of hair. When treating acne, the practitioner will likely give Auricular acupuncture, also known as ear acupuncture. Inserting needles into your ear is the most common location to treat acne, because certain areas in the ear are believed to represent your skin’s health.

    In Auricular acupuncture, the acupuncturist places a total of eight to 12 needles in specific locations on the ear for up to 30 minutes.

  • How the needles feel: While everyone has a different pain tolerance, the general consensus is that acupuncture doesn’t hurt. But, you might feel a slight pinch when the needles are inserted.

    Unlike a needle that draws blood or gives an injection, acupuncture needles are solid (not hollow), which makes them much easier on your skin. Once the needle is in place, you might notice a tingling or numbing sensation, which is to be expected, and how you’ll know it’s working.

  • Post treatment: After the needles are removed, you might feel relaxed, groggy or energized. These feelings should go away within 24 to 48 hours. Clear your calendar following treatment, since you won’t know exactly how you’ll feel afterwards.

Does it work?

Unfortunately, there’s been little research on acupuncture’s ability to treat acne, and results have been mixed. But, some individual cases and small studies have reported improvement.

  • Research: According to a study published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, after eight to 15 treatments, the majority of patients saw a reduction in their acne. In another study, 61 patients with acne and other skin ailments received nine treatments. Most of the patients experienced noticeable improvement, while half also healed completely.

  • Bottom line: Because there’s no conclusive research one way or the other, your best bet is to consult your dermatologist.
  • The costs

    While acupuncture might help to treat your acne, it isn’t cheap or a quick fix.

    • Cost per session. The average price is anywhere from $60 to $120 per session. And you’ll likely need a series of appointments.
    • Check your insurance. Not all insurance companies cover acupuncture, so make sure to check with your provider before you go.
    • Added costs. Many times your practitioner will prescribe herbs, tonics or herbal skin care products to work with your treatment — all of which are added expenses.

    Learn everything you need to know about acne-fighting skincare in our Complete Acne Handbook.


    "The information provided on is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you have a medical question or concern regarding any news item or article on this news magazine, please consult your physician..."