Gold Medals, Michael Phelps & Cupping: A New Skin Care Trend?

If you’ve been watching the Rio Olympics, you’ve probably noticed the dark, purple circles on the backs and shoulders of many athletes. “It’s seems to be the trend this year, especially among the swimmers,” says Dr. Adam Mamelak, board certified dermatologist at Sanova Dermatology in Austin, Texas. These marks are┬áremnants of an ancient Eastern medical procedure known as cupping.

What is Cupping?

Schrpfen“Cupping actually originated in China and involves placing heated glass cups on the back, extremities and skin,” explains Dr. Mamelak. This practice is thought to stimulate blood flow to specific areas of the body, helping conditions like muscle soreness and arthritis. “After they are applied to the skin, the heated glass cups begin to cool, and create a suctioning effect on the skin. This ultimately causes the small blood vessels in the skin to burst, leaving a circular bruise.”

Does It Work?

Currently, there are not many formal medical studies to support the successful use of this treatment for any bodily ailments. That being said, cupping has been used for centuries and is still performed today by practitioners of Eastern medicine. “Whether this is truly therapeutic with a physiologic change in the body, or an attractive placebo effect, is a question that needs a better, more detailed answer,” says Dr. Mamelak. “However, it does not look like cupping is going away soon. If anything, with all the visibility at the Olympics, it seems to be becoming more popular.”

So should you locate your closest cupping expert? “We’ve definitely seen alternative medicine complement many of the Western treatments we prescribe in dermatology,” says Dr. Mamelak. “While I’m not an expert in this area, I’m definitely open minded. I also believe it is the patient, not the doctor, that has to be most comfortable with the treatment they are prescribed.”

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