There are more than two dozen individual muscles on either side of your face, but you won’t find any equipment at your gym to help strengthen or tone any of them. If you’ve been diligent in exercising your body, can you do the same thing for your facial muscles?
Many experts say that it’s absolutely possible, as long as you remain committed to a consistent practice of facial yoga.
And while several expensive spas and salons offer “face gym” type services, you can do facial yoga at home, for free. Here’s what experts say about it.
Does science back it up?
“A lot of people hold tension in their faces, and facial yoga can help alleviate that tension,” physical therapist Sandra Gail Frayna told HuffPost. “Facial-focused yoga exercises can help you achieve a more sculpted and slimmer look by allowing muscles to relax and appear more youthful,” she said.
There is some scientific evidence to prove the effectiveness of facial toning exercises, also known as facial yoga. During a five-month Northwestern Medicine study, a 30-minute daily or alternate-day facial exercise program improved the facial appearance of middle-aged women, resulting in a younger appearance, with fuller upper and lower cheeks. Evaluators observed almost a three-year decrease in age appearance over the five-month study.
“There’s some evidence that facial exercises may improve facial appearance and reduce some visible signs of aging,” said lead author Dr. Murad Alam, vice chair and professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine dermatologist, when the study was released. “The exercises enlarge and strengthen the facial muscles, so the face becomes firmer and more toned and shaped like a younger face.”
Stronger facial muscles can do wonders for sagging, aging fat pads. “If the facial muscles become bigger, the skin has more stuffing underneath it, and the firmer muscles appear to make the shape of the face fuller,” senior study author Emily Poon, an assistant research professor in dermatology at Feinberg, said when the study was published. “It increases facial volume and counteracts the effects of age-related fat thinning and skin loosening.”
How Facial Yoga Works
The facial exercises used at Northwestern were developed and provided by Gary Sikorski of Happy Face Yoga, who is a co-author of the study. A certified facial toning yoga instructor, he told HuffPost: “These exercises are a natural alternative to plastic surgery. The isometric and resistance work is just like using weights for strength-training the body.”
Sikorski suggested that facial yoga can help with increasing blood circulation, and said that improvements often are visible in just two to three weeks. “The skin will become more elastic and softer to the touch,” he said. A consistent program can also “widen eyes, lift cheeks, lift mouth corners and firm the jawline. And, as muscles are toned and lifted, skin will be tightened and smoothed, helping to smooth away fine lines.”
Research participants did a series of 32 exercises, holding each one for about a minute. Here are some good starting points for your practice:
Cheek lifter: Open your mouth and form an O, position your upper lip over your teeth, smile to lift cheek the muscles up, put your fingers lightly on the top part of cheek, release the cheek muscles to lower them, and lift back up. Repeat by lowering and lifting the cheeks.
Happy cheeks sculpting: Smile without showing teeth, purse lips together, smile forcing the cheek muscles up, place your fingers on the corners of the mouth and slide them up to the top of the cheeks, hold for 20 seconds.
Lion’s pose: Dermatologist Jeannette Graf recommended this pose to HuffPost. First, sit in a comfortable position. Lean your arms forward, with your hands stretched on the floor. Take a deep breath in and, on an exhalation, open your mouth and make a loud “haaa” sound, like a lion’s roar. Exhale completely, pointing your tongue toward your chin. “Over time, you’ll notice benefits in your breathing, throat chakra, neck, eyes and skin smoothness,” she said.
Take It Easy — And Be Consistent
The good news is that you don’t have to sweat yourself into submission to pull off these exercises, which could easily be done during routine Zoom calls (camera off, of course). Elsa Jungman, who has a Ph.D. in skin pharmacology and began her career working in research and development for L’Oréal in Paris, takes a relaxed, holistic approach to facial toning.
“The No. 1 reason for skin issues is mental health issues,” she told HuffPost. “Research shows that when you’re under stress, you produce cortisol, which affects the skin. Doing facial yoga exercises can help so much.” But Jungman sees the practice less as grueling exercise and more as gentle self-care. “It’s more a chance to reconnect with your skin and help it relax. In France, where I’m from, people aren’t so intense. We recommend just a few minutes of exercise a day.” On her website, she offers short videos of exercises like Ear Pinch, Blowing Raspberries and Eye Victory. There’s even a Serum Ceremony, which is about applying products in a more mindful way.
Like any other health-related activity, it’s only going to work if you keep at it. “The only downside is you have to do facial exercises consistently — 20 to 30 minutes per day, six to seven days a week,” dermatologist Shilpi Khetarpal, associate professor of dermatology at the Cleveland Clinic, told HuffPost. “And it takes at least three to four weeks before you start to notice results.”