In a recent quest to de-stress through self-care, I went on something of a Groupon shopping spree and purchased a handful of hour-long treatments I thought would help me rebalance. One of the treatments I selected was a facial massage—more specifically, a fascial facial massage (no, that's not a typo). I had previously only experienced facial massages during facials or for a handful of seconds during a body massage, but the idea of a full-hour of attention to my face alone seemed utterly blissful. I suffer from tension headaches and every so often I experience tremendous pressure around my brow or the back of my skull (near the nape of my neck). What I sought out was an hour of tension-release and relaxation—but what I experienced, and gained, was so much more.
At the start of the session, Kathleen Fleetwood, a Blend Fascial Facial therapist at Nature and Nurture Therapies in Philadelphia, walked me through the many benefits of fascial facial massage, noting that it can refresh and lift the face, smooth out wrinkles, and restore a youthful plumpness to the skin (many use it as a natural alternative to Botox). She also gave me a heads up that I might get so relaxed I fall asleep (I did—twice).
Fleetwood cleaned my face with a line of all-natural skincare, then began the treatment, slowly and gently massaging various points around my face. Reflecting back on the experience, I must have been in a trance-like state because I can barely recall the specifics, but I do remember a definite change in my skin at the end of the treatment. Visually, my skin looked a bit more lively, rejuvenated with a certain plumpness that I've noticed has been diminishing every year since turning 28. To the touch, I could feel a noticeable difference in the smoothness (likely due to the added volume) and my uneven skin texture and slight scarring from teenage acne were less noticeable. My facial muscles also felt tauter, like everything was suddenly engaged and awake.
To learn more about the goings-on of the hour-long session (that flew by, thanks partly to my two naps), I asked Fleetwood and Blend Fascial Facial massage co-creator Tracey Kiernan to walk me through the science, benefits, and how to recreate the experience at home.
The Blend Fascial Facial massage was created by Kiernan and Debbie Tamblyn Jones and takes the science and techniques of myofascial release and blends them with a holistic facial. Kiernan and Tamblyn Jones combined their many years of experience as massage therapists and myofascial bodyworkers to create this all-natural treatment. It was after Kiernan began to understand the role of fascia and how it gets "stuck"—creating restrictions and pain in your body—that she questioned whether wrinkles could be fascia restriction on a smaller scale. The focus of this treatment is to use facial techniques to lift and smooth your skin, without the need for expensive product ranges, harsh chemical peels, or machinery.
The 101 on fascia
"The very focus of many beauty treatments and products is aimed at increasing collagen production and elasticity to the skin," observes Fleetwood. "Most anti-aging treatments, however, rely on applying products to the skin in an attempt to moisturize and feed the skin with various nutrients (with the idea of reducing the signs of aging via topical application). We hear talk of 'increasing collagen production' and 'improving skin elasticity' as being vital to young-looking skin, yet still no mention of fascia, which we know is made up of collagen and elastin," she explains.
To understand why this treatment works, it's necessary to understand the fascial system. "Fascia is a specialized body system often referred to as the 'endless web,'" explains Fleetwood. "It penetrates every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein, and internal organs." As she describes, it's composed of elastin, collagen, and a lubricating ground substance. "Trauma, inflammation, repetitive actions, and surgical procedures create restrictions in the fascia which can hold tensile pressures of around 2,000 pounds per square inch," she warns.
The benefits of fascial facial massage extend well beyond relaxation. For me, the visual changes in the life and suppleness of my skin were immediate (though subtle) and Fleetwood reminded that regular sessions could yield significant improvements to my skin that would eventually have a long-lasting effect. The aesthetic benefits are a direct result of what's going on beneath the skin to improve overall functioning and health.
Fascial facial massage improves skin suppleness because it reduces and releases muscle tension in the face and jaw. As Fleetwood describes, it's powerful enough to release stuck fascia within the layers of the skin. By stimulating rejuvenation and cellular activity, fascia facial massage can help to tighten the skin and underlying muscles and reduce expression lines and wrinkles. Furthermore, the massage promotes blood and lymphatic circulation, increasing the supply of nutrients to the cells. Lastly, it aids in the removal of dead skin cells to reveal a fresh, youthful appearance that begins from within. "People see changes in one treatment, which continue to improve over the next 48 hours," describes Kiernan. "We recommend a course of up to 6 weekly treatments to achieve the best results. After that, monthly maintenance should keep you looking smooth and fresh-faced."
Trying it at home
"You do not need any particular products for this treatment, just a clean dry face," explains Kiernan. "Combining these techniques with your favorite skincare routine will amplify the benefits. Fleetwood and Kiernan recommend a super gentle approach to fascia facial massage at home that you can do every day. "Lean your elbows on a table and let your hands wrap gently around your chin and lower face," says Kiernan. "Gently but still engaging the tissue, fix your intention on shifting the tissue upwards—like pulling on a delicate pair of silk stockings. Turn the head to one side and using one hand, sweep up the whole side of the face from the upper chest, over the neck, then the top of the face, and into the hairline. With both thumbs in the middle of the forehead, sweep out across the forehead and up into the hairline. With fingers, stroke up the forehead and into the hairline."
Things to know
"This treatment is so gentle and suitable for all ages," notes Kiernan, though she would not recommend this work on anyone under 18. "It is never too soon or too late to start looking after your fascia." The treatment is not recommended for anyone with Botox or fillers as the work may cause things to move around. "If someone has had these interventions, we advise waiting until they have worn off before trying our work—you may decide you don't need Botox or fillers again!" says Kiernan. "People with skin conditions, recent scar tissue, bruising, undiagnosed lumps and bumps, recent broken bones, or swelling should avoid treatment," advises Fleetwood. As usual, consult with your doctor before beginning treatment if you have any concerns.
Here are seven other Botox alternatives that give similar results.