It's safe to say that over the past 12 months many people's physical self-care routines have been stepped up a few notches, perhaps due to the temporary closure of spas or simply to satiate a desire to feel soothed and pampered and confident when so many other factors felt out of control. Or maybe a bit of both. In any case, with an increase in the awareness of options that can be done from home came a renewed interest in facial exercise, an allegedly centuries-old practice (some say it was part of Cleopatra's often mythicized beauty routine) to achieve the same benefits regular workouts offer the body.
Facial exercise, or face yoga as it's also sometimes called, has been popping up on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok accounts more and more frequently these days — and it's even inspired some in-studio treatments — but is it actually effective? And if so, can it help you stave off the use of filler and Botox? Admittedly, there's still scant solid research done in this arena, but some experts do believe there's something to this ancient practice and it could appeal to those who want a reduction of facial tension, a more glowing complexion, and yes, a reduction in some visible signs of aging.
But it's not quite a miracle: There are a few caveats if you're considering incorporating facial exercise into your personal self-care routine. TZR tapped dermatologists, celebrity estheticians, and self-proclaimed beauty-junkies-turned-skin-care-entrepreneurs to find out the details of what is is, what it can (and can't) do, and some best practices for trying it at home. Read ahead for everything you need to know.
Facial Exercise: What Is It?
Simply put, facial exercise is exactly what it sounds like it is. Just as is the case with your body, fitness practices create muscle tone and the theory here is that toning for face this way will help combat the sagging effects of gravity as well as increase the appearance of volume, which is also lost with age. "If you think of the sagging face as being the result of gravitational pull on the facial muscles, one way to combat this (particularly on the mid cheeks, jowls, and smile line) is to regularly exercise these muscles," explains Dr. David Goldberg, author of Light Years Younger and Secrets of Great Skin. "Think of this as the same thing we do with our core muscles. Core muscle exercise helps the muscles of the abdomen — and we can do the same for our face."
Dermatologists including Dr. Lily Talakoub do however note that while exercise of all kinds does, in fact, increase muscle tone, facial exercise may not prevent skin thinning, the result of age, environmental factors like sun damage, and genetics. Not only that, but there is the possibility that excess facial movements could actually create more fine lines. "[Keep] in mind that it's our muscles of facial expression that cause many of the wrinkles on our faces — particularly the crow's feet, the 'elevens' between the brows, and the horizontal lines across the forehead," shares NYC Dermatologist, Dr. Hadley King.
Facial Exercise: What Can (& Can't) It Do?
Patricia San Pedro, author of Face Fitness, began and honed in her facial exercise practice as a fitness instructor after realizing it could offer her the same results workouts afforded her body. "I realized I had a different glow after every workout and I loved that feeling," says the Korean American, who also notes her heritage's deep rooted interest in skincare. "I always wanted to maximize this glow by getting facials, doing facial massages, and developing my own techniques for skincare and skin health." According to her, plumped skin, rosy cheeks, a sculpted look, and a natural glow are some things you may notice from consistent practice, but that in the long term, facial exercise can result in better product absorption, smoothed lines, and even clearer, more even-toned complexions.
FaceGym's founder Inge Theron is another example of a skin care guru who happened upon this practice as a result of a lifelong passion for beauty treatments. "I started FaceGym after a series of invasive facial procedures left me housebound," explains the entrepreneur, whose UK-based business is now offering guided virtual facials for those who can't get into a studio. "I booked a ticket to Tulum and met with a shaman who healed the damage from overuse of Botox and fillers through facial massage and after consistent practice I felt and looked better than I ever had." After researching the ancient practice of facial massage and exercise, she wanted to find a modern way to bring it to the masses, therefore introducing it as an option for those in the same boat that she had been in. "We believe that in order to have truly healthy skin you need to go deeper and focus on the scaffolding or what we have coined as ‘the forgotten 40’ muscles of the face," Theron says. "Each exercise and movement is designed to create muscle memory to lift, tone, and sculpt."
While San Pedro and Theron found facial exercise to be a non-invasive alternative to Botox and fillers, many skincare professionals say not to anticipate identical results to those treatments. "You shouldn’t expect a facelift," says Celeste Rodrigues, a celebrity esthetician who counts P. Diddy and Machine Gun Kelly and clients. "However if you have healthier skin tissue and muscle structure in your face it can optimize and maintain the results for more invasive treatments."
Several dermatologists pointed to one particular study that showed the benefit of facial exercise with a few catches. "The most promising and most-often-cited support comes from research published in JAMA Dermatology," shares Dr. Geeta Patel of River Oaks Dermatology. "In the study, a group of participants ages 40 to 65 performed facial exercises for 30 minutes a day for eight weeks. Then for 12 more weeks, they practiced the exercises three to four times per week. At the end of the 20 weeks, the study participants saw improved upper and lower cheek fullness." Additionally, the participants were perceived by professionals as looking more youthful.
Dr. Patel notes that the participant sample was small, but believes this evidence is promising. Still, she believes other in-office treatments to be a bit more effective. "Procedures, like neuromodulaters, fillers, and lasers are the standard in dermatology and have a track record for being safe and efficacious when it comes to improving appearance of the face and reducing visible signs of aging," she says. "But facial yoga is non-toxic, non-invasive and safe for anyone, plus it’s inexpensive and you can do it on your own time." Dr. Goldberg adds that while he believes facial exercise will work best on people ages 20 to 35 (to prevent sagging versus reverse the effects of already sagging skin) he finds it to be "an exciting addition" to the use of lasers, injectables, and other modern treatments.
Facial Exercise: How Can You Try It?
There are a few different ways to try facial exercise — but experts differ on how long and how frequently to do it. Based on the results of the aforementioned JAMA study, it may require 20 to 30 minutes daily for a few months to notice a change, and then the same timeframe a few times a week to maintain results, which may not be sustainable for some. However, as Peterson Pierre MD of the Pierre Skin Care Institute explains, if you're able to add on this time to your daily/weekly routine, there is some reward for your efforts. "If you thrive on structure and think you can be committed and consistent with this program, you can reap the benefits of firmer skin, fuller cheeks, and a younger appearance," he says.
That said, San Pedro has noticed results in a fraction of that time. "By practicing consistently for two minutes a day or eight to 10 minutes at least once a week, you will see long-term results," she says, adding that you'll need to commit for at least three to four months for those visible changes.
For a few examples of exercises to try, consider Theron's daily routine, which she amps up with the use of tools like an mini exercise ball and sculpting device, like a gua sha. "I start each day with three to five platysma stretches to tone and lengthen this muscle which stretches from the corners of your mouth all the way down your pectorals," says Theron. "You push your lower jaw forward by bringing your lower teeth in front of your upper teeth and slowly raising your chin toward the ceiling in five counts. Hold for five counts and return to your starting position. I then use the FaceGym Ball to work on the orbicularis oculi, which wrap around our eyes and are responsible for maintaining our upper and lower eyelids. You press the [ball] to the outer corner of the eye and scoop upwards to get a nice lift. Fiercely blink your eye 10 times. You work against the tension of your ball to feel the muscle around your eye get stronger. Repeat on the other side. I finish my practice with our Multi-Sculpt to release the muscles I just worked and aid in lymphatic drainage. I do a series of draining movements starting on the neck with the long edge, holding it horizontally at a 15 degree angle and lightly sliding it from the jawline down to the collarbone five to eight times on each side. Then holding it vertically, I work from the nasolabial folds to the ear and down the neck. Finally I take the hug at the bridge of the nose and hold for three seconds to release tension and up the forehead." Many other techniques can be found in San Pedro's book.
Rodrigues also looks to additional tools, like a microcurrent device — which stimulates facial muscles with electricity — to help tone her own facial muscles. "I prefer to use tools when exercising the facial muscles," she explains, adding that the practice also helps her relieve stress and tension in the face and even prevent migraines.
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