I Pulled a Michael Phelps and Tried Cupping—on My Face
The first time I visited Ildi Pekar, facialist to supermodels like Miranda Kerr, I expected that the New Yorker would pull out an array of all-natural face masks, toners, and moisturizers to help get me that supermodel glow she's famous for imparting. What I wasn't anticipating? That she would pull out a small suction cup and stick it on my face.
And yet, after a quick mask to cleanse and purify my skin, Pekar did exactly that, explaining that she was going to cup...my face.
Cupping for soothing sore muscles and managing chronic pain? Makes sense. But cupping for a glowing complexion? Er....
While in the wellness world, cupping is hardly a newfangled treatment (after all, Gywneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston were spotted with circular hickeys years ago), the practice reached the mainstream this past summer during the Olympics. Multiple athletes—notably Michael Phelps, he of 23 gold medals—flashed red and purple bruises on their backs, shoulders, and legs.
Cupping for soothing sore muscles and managing chronic pain? Makes sense. But cupping for a glowing complexion? Er.... But after Pekar reassured me a few (dozen) times that I would not leave with a polka dot bruise-covered face, I finally acquiesced (all while wondering to myself if worker's comp would cover job-related trauma).
Here's what happened when I tried facial cupping.
For about eight minutes she dragged a small suction cup—which I can only describe as a clear, rubber, thimble-like device—up the right side of my face. She would glide it along my neck, cheekbone, or under-eye area, release the suction, and then repeat the move over and over again. It didn't hurt—in fact, it felt very soothing, like I was getting a face massage.
When she finished with the right side of my face she paused, pulled out a mirror, and let me take a peek. I was in awe: Not only were there no marks to be seen, but the side of my face that she had just worked on was significantly less puffy. (Who even knew my face was so puffy to begin with?)
Relieved that I didn't suddenly look like some bruised ogre, I let her continue on to the left side of my face. Pekar explained to me that the suction being applied to the skin works to gently lift the facial tissue, resulting in increased blood circulation as well as stimulation and draining of the lymph nodes.
By the end of my treatment, my skin looked visibly tighter and brighter. Even better? Unlike extractions or peels, which are sometimes harsh enough that you need to cancel your post-facial plans, with this there was zero redness. In fact, I was so pleased with my post-facial complexion that I was ready to sign up for facial cupping on the regular.
The good news (for me, my wallet, and anyone not based in New York City) is that you don't need to book an appointment with someone like Pekar to get the benefits of facial cupping.
Here's how to make facial cupping an (affordable) beauty habit.
Turns out, there are at-home kits (Pekar recommends Lure Home Spa Face and Eye Cupping Set) so you can DIY the treatment.
"We are thrilled that cupping is finally getting the recognition it deserves, because it seriously works," Stella Rubinshteyn, founder of Lure Home Spa, explains. "It's an incredibly powerful—and non-invasive—beauty tool."
For beginners, like myself, Rubinshteyn suggests trying it out for five to ten minutes, two to three times a week. She stresses that you should always—always—start with a clean face (the Lure kit comes with a complimentary face scrubber) and use something to help lubricate the skin (such as coconut or argan oil, which allows the cup to glide effortlessly).
As part of my at-home Sunday spa day—during which I generally just apply a face mask and paint my nails while it dries—I decided to give the face cupping a go.
While my first try wasn't nearly as successful as with Pekar (shocker, right?), I was pretty amazed by one immediate benefit: My usually stuffy sinuses were completely clear. As someone who constantly suffers from congestion and sneezing (thanks to those wonderful end-of-season allergies that have hit New York City), I was suddenly breathing through my nose better than I had in a long time. Victory!
Luckily, as I continued through the week I got better at my cupping pursuits. I used coconut oil and learned that it's helpful to reapply as you go, to allow for supreme suction. By the end of my DIY de-puffing week, I started nailing the technique. Not only were my sinuses clear as a whistle, but my under-eye swelling was way down.
Gold medal-worthy? Maybe not—but if Phelps is looking for a way to spend his post-retirement life (beyond barre, that is), I think he could have a future as a facialist.
Would you try at-home face cupping? Let us know in the Comments!
Athletes and celebrities love cupping, but they're also into another ancient wellness practice called gua sha—which involves some scratching and bruising. Too much for you? Try getting rid of your under eye circles the Ayurvedic way.
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