By Frances Childs
Out of the corner of my left eye, I can see the red tip of a long needle protruding rather alarmingly from my cheek.
If I look down I can see another needle, this one stuck into my chin, and I daren't move my head in case I dislodge or snap off the needles sticking out of the top of my head and both temples.
I resemble a human pin cushion. I am lying in a pristine white room in a clinic in central London, only just daring to watch as acupuncturist Samara Reid gently taps super-fine, sharp needles into my flesh. It doesn't hurt, there's just a slight tingle as each of the 25 needles sinks in.
Needle work: Frances underwent facial acupuncture to improve the quality of her skin
Once Samara has finished, I lie still, reflecting on the fact that I've willingly subjected myself to this bizarre experience.
I am having facial acupuncture because, put simply, I am terribly vain and at 44 I am becoming increasingly depressed about losing my looks. The turning point came recently when an idiot on the train asked me to move my son's bag.
The man he thought was my son was a complete stranger of at least 30 years old. I was already concerned about my drooping jaw line and deepening crevices, but now I had confirmation that urgent action was required. If I did nothing, I'd soon be mistaken for my seven-year-old's grandma!
'That's it. I'm having Botox,' I later wailed to my friend Lisa, who has a suspiciously taut face. She looked shocked, but not, alas, at the idea that my face needed a bit of strategic intervention.
'Botox is so passé. Facial acupuncture is where it's at,' she told me, confiding that regular sessions keep her looking rejuvenated.
'Cosmetic' acupuncture is the latest weapon in the anti-ageing war, and a favourite among stars such as Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston.
Like me, these A-listers are past the first flush of youth. Unlike me, they have glowing, smooth, impossibly perfect complexions.
Samara Reid, who has been a facial acupuncturist for more than two decades, says there has been a rise in those wanting the treatment in recent months.
'It's driven by a fear of fillers and Botox,' she says. 'Clients are looking for natural solutions to the ageing process. People don't really want to inject poison into their faces.'
Before and after: Frances looks fresher after undergoing three sessions of acupuncture
Acupuncture is a form of ancient Chinese medicine in which fine needles are inserted into the skin at certain points on the body. It originated more than 2,000 years ago, and is used to treat everything from backache to migraines and fertility problems. Some acupuncture - though not cosmetic - is even funded by the NHS.
But how can sticking needles into the skin improve our faces?
Samara explains that when needles are inserted at pressure points, energy and endorphins are released. This minor trauma improves blood flow and stimulates cell re-growth.
'We put needles in at vortex points where energy is travelling to and from organs along lines we call meridians,' she explains. 'When energy flows more efficiently, circulation is improved, helping the body rejuvenate.
'Traumatising the skin by inserting tiny needles will also encourage the production of healing collagen, the protein which the body uses to keep the skin youthful and elastic.'
'When I look in the mirror, I am pleasantly surprised. I can't say my face looks younger, but it definitely has a glow which it lacked before.'
When I arrive at the Hale Clinic, my nerves swell into full-blown panic when Samara tells me to remove my shoes and tights. 'But I'm having a facial!' I protest.
Samara says she works on the whole body, not just the face. I tell her that I hate my feet, but Samara insists she needs access to them as the feet and hands contain the calming and cleansing meridians, and before she can work on my face these must be activated.
'Come on. I've seen worse,' she says encouragingly, before tapping a needle between my big toe and the one next to it. It doesn't hurt, though once the needles are in I can feel a faint tingling sensation.
One by one, she inserts ten needles in my feet, legs, and hands before putting 15 more into my face, head and temples. The experience makes me slightly queasy. But then, suddenly, I relax.
Samara explains: 'The needles between your toes increase blood flow around your body. They target the kidneys and cleanse the system.'
The needles in my legs will help the energy flow to my digestive system which is sluggish, she adds. This accounts, in part, for my grey complexion.
Ancient heritage: Over 2,000 years old, acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine that treats everything from backache to migraines and fertility problems
When they're removed 30 minutes later I am slightly disoriented, as though I've had a few gin and tonics. Apparently this is normal, the result of a release of feel-good endorphins.
When I look in the mirror, I am pleasantly surprised. I can't say my face looks younger, but it definitely has a glow which it lacked before.
Feeling uncharacteristically relaxed, I head off into rush hour. Even an hour-long train delay doesn't send me into my customary paroxysms of fury. I simply smile beatifically.
The next morning, I take a long, hard look at my face in the mirror. My skin looks smoother and my complexion appears brighter. I've definitely got more colour. But the most extraordinary change is that I feel totally angst-free. For the first time in months, I haven't woken up fretting.
My second session is less daunting than the first, and even baring my feet feels like less of a challenge.
The session goes smoothly, I leave, and by 9pm that evening I can barely keep my eyes open. I feel as though I've done a two-hour workout and slope off to bed. I then have one of the best night's sleep I can ever remember.
The unusual dreamy feeling stays with me days later. Even as I'm trying to hit a deadline past midnight I feel oddly carefree.
After three sessions, I can see a definite improvement. My skin is rosier and clearer, my cheeks plumper. The lines around my mouth are less visible, and my forehead unfurrowed.
I look healthier, with a much better complexion than someone whose staple diet consists of doughnuts and coffee deserves.
Samara recommends a further seven to ten sessions for maximum benefit. At £80 a session, facial acupuncture isn't cheap, but compared to around £295 for Botox, it's worth it for the relaxation alone.
Meanwhile, I know I'll never again look like I did in my 20s, but I am at least rediscovering the carefree attitude of my youth.