At one point, every celebrity on earth was into cupping. There was Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lady Gaga and Victoria Beckham – most of whom were doing it as far back as the early Noughties – as well as a whole host of famous athletes, including Anthony Joshua. Even Kim Kardashian tried it to treat her neck pain. The tell-tale circular back bruises became a badge of honour among devotees, and those who weren’t getting it were fascinated by it.
Hailey Bieber with cupping bruises in Paris, June 2021.
But the buzz subsided, and famous faces seemed to move on to wellness pastures new. Until recently, that is. Leave it to our 2021 post-Covid world to bring back a treatment designed to help chronic back pain (music to the ears of WFH-ers), tense muscles, and all manner of other bodily ailments. In the Vogue office, a number of editors confirm they’re cupping regulars, while Hailey Bieber recently showed off her own dome-shaped bruises in Paris last month.
“Cupping is a form of treatment in Chinese medicine which involves placing cups on the skin on certain parts of the body to create a suction,” explains Ada Ooi, traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and wellness expert. “This works to increase blood flow to your fascia and muscles, stimulates the lymphatic system, and creates reflexive reactions along the Chinese Meridian network. It brings in oxygen and nutrients, guides immune cells into the area to loosen tension, and enhances qi [life force] flow in order to aid recovery and healing.”
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It also helps to flush out toxins or noxious “inflammatory molecules”, while helping to stimulate the organs, relieve tension, relax, boost radiance and promote waste management in general – Ooi also uses it to treat cellulite. Put simply, it’s an excellent treatment to try to eliminate the bad and draw in the good. With its origins in both early Egyptian and Chinese medical practices, it’s not new but its renaissance does feel timely. In fact, Ooi puts its massive boom in popularity down to the fact you can feel results quickly – the swift Covid-era fix we all need. “It feels good during and after the treatment, while also tackling prolonged and unresolved tension within the body,” she says.
Jennifer Aniston with faint cupping marks in 2013.
The cups themselves come in all shapes and sizes and can be used wet or dry – although dry cupping is more popular. The wet form actually involves puncturing the skin to suck stagnant blood out, a treatment which, Ooi says, is believed to originally been used to treat snake bite wounds in the days where rogue animals, rather than a rampant virus, were our biggest problem.
It has evolved over the years, of course, and now Ooi likens its function to that of Gua Sha. “It creates broken blood vessels just beneath the skin, breaking up adhesions that are blocking the flow of qi and nutrients to different parts of the body,” she says. “The red marks that form will then be transported through our waste system, arousing new activities for healing at the same time.”
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Interestingly, the marks themselves, which fade after about 10 days, “indicate the level of blood and qi stagnation and toxin accumulations, with their colour and pattern reflecting the level of stagnation in that area,” explains Ooi, who says they will vary from person to person as well. “Once the accumulation is broken down, qi, fluids and blood circulate better – it’s almost like murky water being filtered and flushed away.”
One Vogue editor visited an acupuncturist complaining of stress after the turbulent past 16 months. “He told me that cupping was better for me as my symptoms were exhaustion, low energy and back tension – he advised that it was excellent for the nervous system,” she says. “I have to say I already feel a lot less tense and I’m sleeping better than I have in a long time.”
A treatment that promises to unknot, unblock and reboot? There’s no time like the present.