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Cupping Therapy And Its Effects On Acne & Other Ailments

By Megan Griffith

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jaggi Rao,
MD, FRCPC Double board-certified dermatologist

If you suffer from skin ailments such as acne, muscle tension, digestive discomfort, or even high levels of stress, then you may already have tried every possible cure which you could get your hands on. One remedy you may have missed, though, is cupping. This type of therapy is even used by professional athletes like Nathan Adrian and Michael Phelps who both scored gold medals at the 2016 Olympics. Gymnasts such as Alex Naddour and Chris Brooks, who solely rely on their body for success, also invest time in cupping to soothe their sport-induced physical discomforts and to ensure their perfect physical shape. Celebrities have also given cupping a try, with divas like Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow appearing with traces of cups on their backs. Moreover, specialists, including both modern masseuses and alternative healers, use this strategy to alleviate their patients’ complaints. Indeed, cupping can be used against a wide variety1 of physical and mental complaints – even recurring breakouts. So, how does cupping therapy work?

Cupping therapy for acne
Cupping has been used to help with a host of skin conditions, including eliminating acne and eczema, reducing skin inflammation.

What Is Cupping Therapy?

Cupping is an ancient method of curing a myriad of ailments – from the flu to skin-related concerns. Various civilizations have used this therapy for centuries. For instance, cupping is more popular under the names of Ba Hou Guan in China, Al-Hijama in Arab countries, and Bankes in Jewish communities. The method originates from the eastern parts of Asia. In present day, you can experience its healing powers in a modern medical facility, as well. Its success is based on accelerating the body’s blood flow2, and thus ridding it of heat and sickness. Cupping involves placing a cup on the surface of the affected skin area, and allowing it to ‘suck’ in the skin, freeing it of inflammation. The cup ‘sucks’ the skin in when a flame is placed inside of it, therefore depressurizing it. The cups are usually made of glass or plastic, and tend to measure between 3 and 8cm.

What Can Cupping Be Used For?

In addition to potentially treating acne, the method is allegedly effective against many other kinds of skin problems3,the common cold, muscle tension, and even stress and anxiety. Depending on the type of complaint, there are different ways of applying cups to the body. Glass cups are usually heated and then placed on the skin, seeking to pull it outward, so as to stimulate blood circulation. The significant difference between traditional alleviation of muscle aches, etc. and cupping is that the former usually relies on applying pressure onto tissue, while the latter resorts to pulling the tissue out of its comfort zone.

There are two general kinds of treatment – namely, dry cupping and wet cupping. Dry cupping is typically used for relaxing muscles and for treating symptoms of the cold and the flu. One type of dry cupping involves sliding the cups over the affected surface of the body, which has been generously lubricated with Vaseline or petroleum jelly in advance. Another type of dry cupping is called flash fire cupping and it involves quickly switching the cups around the affected area, over and over again.

Wet cupping, on the other hand, is typically useful for more serious complaints, such as infections, swollen areas or any other kind of irritation that involves excessive heat within the body. Wet cupping is also often referred to as bleeding cupping, as it involves pricking the targeted skin before placing a cup on it. This allows for the depressurized cup to draw the blood out from the cut, therefore reportedly sucking out the built-up heat, as well.

Both kinds of cupping are said to be generally helpful in encouraging the circulation of blood and of the energy qi4 within the body. Moreover, this method allegedly does away with heat toxins by drawing them out via suction. Bleeding cupping, in particular, is said to be specifically efficient in removing oxidants which damage healthy cells. It can thus be a potent remedy against inflammation and irritated skin.

Cupping Therapy And Skin Conditions Like Acne

One major ailment that can potentially be treated with cupping is acne. Some specialists, especially those that swear by Chinese traditional medicine, claim that repeated breakouts tend to be caused by stagnant blood circulation resulting from the warmth and dampness of the skin’s environment. It is believed that pricking the skin and sucking blood out with a cup can help in alleviating heat and regenerating dynamic blood circulation. Has cupping been successful in treating acne so far? Indeed, it has even been found to be a better cure for it than certain antibiotics like tetracycline. Researchers report5 that some patients have relieved their acne-related symptoms via wet cupping, in particular. In fact, cupping has been found to be especially effective against difficult cases of skin inflammation, such as cellulite, cystic acne and herpes infection.

What are the technicalities of the cupping method, as used against acne? Because the symptoms of this skin condition are thought to be toxin- and heat-based, specialists aim to remove these factors by drawing them out from the back of the patient. Even in cases of eczema, for example, the cups are placed on pressure points on the legs and spinal cord, as opposed to the actual inflamed region. To treat cellulite, the rims of the cups are oiled up and traced around the needy area, but not necessarily placed directly on the affected tissue. Another effect that may be sought after via cupping is the slowing down of the aging of the skin. The nutrients that cupping brings to the surface of your complexion serve to light your face up, in addition to allowing face creams and essential oils to soak into your face more efficiently. More practically, the suction of the cup tightens your facial skin by stirring the connecting tissues under it and therefore reducing its creases. Naturally, the same method can be applied in the case of facial puffiness – the lymph glands are emptied of excessive fluids and your face can hence get its healthy glow back. Here is an extra hint – if you are still hesitant to try cupping, try massaging your facial muscles so as to help them relax and soften – this is basically what cupping therapy does to them, but in a more intensified manner.

Indeed, this kind of therapy is done in this way regardless of the location of the actual pimples, inflammation or other sort of affected region. What it demonstrates is the ability of the cupping method to target health problems at their core, rather than merely treating their symptoms. Other illnesses may require different placement of the cups. For instance, mucus blockages in the chest are often treated with cups placed on the chest, while lower back pain requires the cups to be placed in that respective area. All in all, the method relies primarily on energizing needy tissues throughout the body and providing them with the accelerated blood circulation, nutrients and antibodies that they require. It is founded on the notion that ailments represent a consequence of the blockage of positive energy within the channels of the body. The cups’ suction is a tool which allows the opening up of these channels and stimulates the human physique to remedy itself.

Cupping Against Acne, In combination With Other Treatments

In order to effectively target acne, the treatment is combined with other traditionally Chinese healing techniques, such as acupuncture or the application of plant medicine. Most surprisingly, the combination of cupping with another kind of method tends to have a better outcome than that of other methods alone. In fact, more than 90 percent of people who tried wet cupping for acne during a particular trial, managed to significantly reduce their symptoms. Wet cupping was found to lead to particularly impressive results6 when performed while the patient also applied herbs to the affected areas.

Cupping Therapy And Pain Relief

How does cupping lead to pain relief? The therapy works on the principle of increasing blood flow around the affected area. Basically, the cups apply pressure to the painful soft tissue, stimulating a stream of energy, including oxygen and nutrients, along the channels close to the region. In more extreme cases, the method’s pressure and heat can be combined with other forms of therapy, such as acupuncture.

As mentioned, athletes most often tend to use cupping as a method for alleviating pain7 and relaxing their muscles. This kind of therapy has also proven useful for more severe injuries, such as inflammation. When a joint or a muscle becomes inflamed, this means that the body is preparing to heal itself. In essence, inflammation is not a bad thing; it is your organism’s way of getting your blood’s white blood cells, as well as fibroblasts, nutrients, and platelets to begin feeding and healing the tissue. Basically, cupping acts as a catalyst and speeds up this process to bring you quick relief from adhesions, knots or even simply from an intense gym session. Cupping has also been known to aid in relieving migraines, joint pain, and back soreness.

However, the method can be used for actual illness-related pain, as well, such as that caused by cancer. Indeed, numerous medical studies have proven cupping to be more effective than traditional medicine like analgesics.


Cupping, Digestion And The Build-up Of Toxins

If you have digestive problems, cupping can be of aid in that department, as well. It is believed that if your digestive system is not working as efficiently as you would like it to, that may also be due to tenseness stored up in your body. Just like your muscles form knots when you are stressed, your digestive tracts can also tense up and lead to indigestion, congestion and constipation. The same is valid for irritable bowel syndrome, which can not only result from overly sensitive organs, but also from the body reacting to anxiety. The method can be effective against all sorts of related issues such as stomach pains, gastritis, water retention, lack of appetite, diarrhea, etc. Indeed, undergoing cupping therapy can help relax both your mind, as well as your body and its digestive system.

Likewise, cupping can be of help when your body becomes overwhelmed with toxins8. The toxins in your body are stimulated and encouraged to move along via the accelerated blood flow, and you are thus able to rid yourself of them in the natural ways. The same goes for built up phlegm in the lungs or sinuses. Granted, your organism, itself, works to rid you of mucus via coughing, but you can speed up the process of curing your allergy or cold by more quickly stimulating your immune system’s blood and lymphatic fluid. The result – naturally cleansed and newly healthy vital organs.

Cupping Against Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

It has been suggested that cupping can even fight concrete disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome9, which affects an average of 7 million, predominantly female, Americans. The condition leads to progressively decremented hand function. This is not only painful but can lead to completely losing sensation and operability of one’s hands. Luckily, cupping can provide a certain level of comfort, as a German study posits that even one-time exposure to the therapy of cupping leads to an alleviation of the disorder’s symptoms. How does it work? While a placebo effect resulting in the bettering of the patients can not be excluded, it is more likely that wet cupping had antinociceptive effects or, alternatively, it could have amended the patients’ tissue perfusion, improving the medial nerve’s activity.

Relaxing With Cupping

Last but not least, cupping can not only help you perfect your body’s functions but also your mind’s ability to relax. Laying still in the calm type of environment in which cupping is usually performed can already have beneficial effects on your spiritual well-being. After all, a few moments of motionless rest are already incredibly beneficial for your state of mind. The cupping, itself, further aids in the relaxation by releasing stress from your muscles, by extension – from your nervous system and, ultimately, from your mind.

Now that you know more about the practice, you may also have gathered the courage to attempt it yourself. While this type of therapy is generally safe, there are cases in which it has led to the lack of red blood cells in the blood, causing anemia. Other than that, the only side effect is the temporary bruising which the cups leave behind. If you have been trying to get rid of one of the listed conditions, or if you are simply looking for a guided way to relax yourself amid a busy lifestyle, you may want to give cupping a tentative try.


  1. Lauche R., Cramer H., Hohmann C., Choi K., Rampp T., Saha F.J., Musial F., Langhorst J., Dobos G. The Effect of Traditional Cupping on Pain and Mechanical Thresholds in Patients with Chronic Nonspecific Neck Pain: A Randomised Controlled Pilot Study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012.
  2. Lowe D.T. Cupping therapy: An analysis of the effects of suction on skin and the possible influence on human health. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice (Journal). 2017;29:162-168.
  3. Soliman Y., Hamed N., Khachemoune A. Cupping in dermatology: a critical review and update. Acta dermato-venereologica (Journal). 2018;27(2):103-107.
  4. Mehtaa P., Dhapte V. Cupping therapy: A prudent remedy for a plethora of medical ailments. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. 2011;4(9):54–61.
  5. Cao H., Yang G., Wang Y., Liu J. Acupoint Stimulation for Acne: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. Medical Acupuncture (Journal). 2013;25(3):173–194.
  6. Cao H., Yang G., Wang Y., Liu J.P., Smith C.A., Luo H., Liu Y. Complementary therapies for acne vulgaris. Cochrane Database Syst. Rev. 2015.
  7. Kim J., Lee M.S., Lee D., Boddy K., Ernst E. Cupping for Treating Pain: A Systematic Review. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2011.
  8. Umar N.K., Tursunbadalov S., Surgun S., Welcome M.O., Dane S. The Effects of Wet Cupping Therapy on the Blood Levels of Some Heavy Metals: A Pilot Study. The Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies. 2018;11(6):375-379.
  9. Michalsen A., Bock S., Lüdtke R., Rampp T., Baecker M., Bachmann J., Langhorst J., Musial F., Dobos G.J. Effects of traditional cupping therapy in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. The Journal of Pain. 2009;10(6):601-8.
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