You could argue that cupping is perhaps one of the most bizarre wellness trends out there right now, mostly because of how strange the marks are. It makes it look like you got hugged by an aggressive octopus! The thing is, cupping isn’t just a trendy treatment or passing phase. The technique has deeply historic roots, and people have sworn by its ability to heal the body for centuries; it’s used to help with muscle pain, inflammation, blood flow, and can also be used for de-stressing, relaxation, and as a form of deep-tissue massage.
For the face, cupping has amazing anti-aging effects, not to mention it will help chisel your cheekbones and jawline! So, with expert help, we’re unpacking this weird practice and helping you determine if it’s worth trying out on your body or your face!
First Off, What’s the Point?
The primary goal of cupping is to increase circulation where applied. This helps promote lymphatic drainage while also fostering cell repair and regeneration.
“The lymphatic system is the body’s natural detox system. I like to think of cupping as turning on the switch for a garbage disposal,” says Alisandra Tobia, an aesthetician at Just Ageless Body Sculpting and Beauty Lab. “The process of cupping helps move and drain excess interstitial fluid (lymph) from various parts of your face and body where it can collect. For example, when you have puffiness or bloating in your face, that’s fluid being held in these tissue spaces. Cupping moves the fluid into the lymphatic system, where it’s cleaned and then ultimately mixed back into the blood.”
Cupping can also bring some relief if you’re dealing with muscle tension and it’s a wonderful supplement to massage and/or acupuncture (though not necessarily a replacement). There are even some legit scientific studies backing up cupping claims, including this one from 2012 and this one from 2015.
Facial Cupping Vs Cupping on the Body
For the face, cups are moved along the lymphatic system, which helps increase circulation while draining toxins through your lymph system. It also stimulates collagen-producing cells, thereby helping to brighten the skin and improve the appearance of fine lines. It also helps to tone the fascia (the connective tissue beneath the skin) and relaxes tightness in areas like the jaw while chiseling cheekbones and decreasing puffiness.
With facial cupping, there are no bruises left behind at all!
What is Cupping?
“In short, cupping is a modern spin on an ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine practice where a small vacuum cup is applied and then removed on different spots around the body and face,” says Tobia.. “It’s been around thousands of years, and there are examples referenced in medical textbooks that date back as far as 1500 BC.”
There are three primary forms of cupping you’ll come across:
- Glass/Fire Cupping: This method involves quickly placing and removing a small flame inside a glass cup, then pressing it gently onto skin. The heat and smoke create a natural suction effect.
- Plastic Cupping: This is a heat/fire-free method. The plastic cups are shaped in a way that allows the administrator to press into the cup to create suction.
- Vacuum Therapy Cupping: This is a more modern version of cupping that uses a machine to create the suction effect
What type you use ultimately depends on what your provider feels is best for your needs
“At Magnolia, we use both glass and plastic cups depending on the patient’s needs. For example, we use glass cupping on the back for muscle tension and low back pain, and we’ll use plastic cupping on areas of curvature, like the shoulder, for a rotator cuff injury,” says Angela Sinnet, founder of Magnolia Wellness in Orange County, Calif.
There are also three different types of techniques used when cupping: flash cupping, moving cupping, and stationary cupping.
“Flash cupping warms up the energetic channels by popping the cups on and off the body in one-second intervals and is the precursor into the remaining types. Moving cupping is similar to Gua Sha in the sense that it creates a lot of friction on the surface of the body, allowing for significant detoxification and circulation improvement,” says Sinnet. “Stationary cupping is great for drawing out isolated toxins like lactic acid in a muscle knot after a tough workout.”
Does Cupping Hurt?
Even though the purple/red marks left behind look brutal, cupping doesn’t hurt at all. Some compare it to a bruise, but even that’s not really accurate. It’s more like a hickey – no pain, no tenderness, just a mark. If anything, you might feel a slight itchy sensation, but only during the cupping and up to an hour after. The marks do last for about a week, so it’s important to plan accordingly – or rock them like a fashion statement.
Bottom Line: “People are much more aware of the benefits of combining modern medicine and other treatments with holistic care that keeps your system operating as well as possible and are seeking out ways to keep themselves healthy,” says Tobia. “Focus is shifting to promoting wellness instead of just treating illnesses, because people have realized that wellness and healthy living is what prevents illness in the first place.”
Whether you decide to try cupping is ultimately up to you. However, Sinnet says that anyone is an ideal candidate and that you can have it performed as frequently as twice a month if you like. Think you’ll go for it?