Do Facial Exercises Really Work?

Facial exercising is a thing. You can easily find online videos of the strange faces people claim will help tone the skin. But you don’t have to spend several hours a day exercising your actual face muscles to see a difference in your skin’s firmness and elasticity. Rather than exercising your face muscles via tugging or pulling, there are some massage techniques that estheticians have been using for a long time that are known to lift and tone—and that you can do with your own two hands! There are also some affordable tools out there, such as jade rollers or microcurrent machines, to help with your facial massage journey in case you are new to facial massage techniques.  

What are facial exercises and do facial exercises work

Just like anything else in the health and wellness world, you can overdo it. Overworking, tugging or pulling on the face too much can actually have the opposite effect of what you’re looking for. Moderation is the key. Board-certified dermatologist Anna Karp and NYC-based esthetician Anastasia Cupcea of DAPHNE weigh in on the topic.

There’s no question that exercise is good for the body. Reading, studying and meditation techniques are great ways to “exercise” the mind. But what about exercising your face in order to maintain younger-looking skin?

There’s a lot of conversation surrounding facial exercises, or “face yoga,” and whether or not it’s actually effective. With all the facial rolling tools out there, there has to be something surrounding all the hype. There have been two opposing schools of thought with facial exercise: estheticians have been using massage techniques for a long time that are thought to lift, tone and stimulate collagen, whereas some people feel that doing a lot of repetitive motions or exercises with your facial muscles can actually exacerbate fine lines and wrinkles. If skincare gurus have been believing in facials exercises/massage techniques for all this time, it’s surprising there haven’t been more scientific studies to prove it.  

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For the first time ever, a study was published in JAMA Dermatology that is thought to finally answer the question on whether or not facial exercises are actually effective. The study followed a small group of middle-aged women over the course of 20 weeks. Over the course of the study, they were given a specific set of facial exercises, which they did every day for 30 minutes a day for the first 8 weeks. After that time, they switched to doing their facial exercises every other day for 12 weeks.  

The study showed that, for those who completed the 20 weeks, there was a noticeable difference in the appearance of the skin, particularly in the center of the face. The upper and lower cheek areas were where the participants noticed a drastic difference in the youthful appearance of their skin.

The study has limitations to it, including that there was only one age group that was studied (middle-aged women). The study was also only conducted for a short period of time, and there have been no long-term studies to date regarding the lasting effect of facial exercises. The issue with having no long-term studies is that there are some that believe repetitive facial movements can actually contribute to more fine lines over time.

Long-term dermatological studies of the past have confirmed other culprits that definitely age the skin, including sun exposure, diets that are high in sugar, dehydration, smoking and alcohol use. Long-term studies have also confirmed the positive effects of healthy diets, sleep and certain skin care ingredients (like vitamin A). So drink your water, get some rest and stock up on your favorite retinol products to ensure healthy looking skin.

While this study has its limitations, it’s the first of what will likely be many regarding the benefits of facial exercise. In tandem with a healthy diet and habits, facial exercise could be the new wave of “fitness” for the face in order to achieve youthful-looking skin.

Microcurrent technology

“I think facial exercises may actually do more harm than good by increasing wrinkles that come from repetitive movements,” Karp says. “I like microcurrent treatments which stimulate the facial muscles, tightening them and bringing increased blood flow to the skin.” She recommends the NuFace toning device for at-home use and the various microcurrent procedures available in-office. “I also like Ultherapy, which is a non-invasive in-office procedure that uses ultrasound waves to help lift and tighten the skin by stimulating our facial muscles and deep layers of the skin.”

Buy it now: NuFace Facial Toning Device from Sephora, $325

Gemstone facial rollers

These aren’t just a trend because they look pretty. Gemstone rollers, gorgeous as they are, are also great for lymph drainage and de-puffing the skin. “I recommend using a roller for the face to help fine lines and wrinkles as well as pressing your fingers to different pressure points on the face,” Cupcea says. “Two by the mouth, cheeks, eyebrows and temples.” Like Karp, she also recommends microcurrent technology. “At DAPHNE and Penelope & The Beauty Bar, we utilize some of the best microcurrent machines in the industry. Our non-surgical “facelifts” are like a workout for your face.” She adds that they plump and tone skin, restoring volume and elasticity.

Buy it now: Jade Facial Roller from Skin Gym, $32

Callahan is a fitness enthusiast who moonlights on the growth team at ClassPass. She's a certified fitness trainer, with years of fitness experience both inside and outside of the gym. When she's not working you can find her pursuing her passion projects as editor of Trek Montana, contributing writer to the Ultimate Nashville Bach Planning Site and Plan Your Bach.
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