Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow are not afraid to let folks know that they’ve been cupped. They’ve even been seen at public events in backless gowns, revealing what appears to be a bruise in a perfect circle, the temporary marks of cupping — a traditional healing art in Eastern medicine used in China for thousands of years, from the Qing dynasty onward.
During a cupping treatment, glass cups that look like miniature fish bowls are heated inside to produce a vacuum. The heated cups are then placed open-ended on the surface of the patient’s skin. The suction forces the cup to adhere to the skin, pulling the body’s surface tissue up into the cup, which provides the therapeutic effect and the odd circular bruising afterward.
Cupping can reduce muscular tension and aches, treat cellulite or vein problems, and even help relieve digestive problems, blood pressure issues, and skin conditions, according to Dr. Robin Fan, an instructor in the acupuncture and Oriental medicine program of National University of Health Sciences in Chicago.
“Cupping is actually very comfortable,” Fan says. “And once patients receive the treatment, they often request it each time they come in. [Because] we can apply the technique to key acupuncture points, it can be therapeutic for almost any health condition if done by a properly trained practitioner.”
Different sizes of cups treat different areas of the body, and create different levels of suction.
While cupping is generally considered safe, there are certain conditions where cupping should not be used. “We do not advise cupping for any patient taking blood thinning medication, or who has a sunburn, wound, skin ulcer, or recent trauma,” Fan says, adding that cupping is not generally recommended for children, and carefully used on pregnant women.
Be forewarned: Cupping leaves a temporary bruise. But according to enthusiasts, a little black-and-blue circle is well worth the potential health and cosmetic benefits.