You probably know that working out your body is great for staying happy, healthy, and strong, but did you know that exercising your face has benefits, too? There's a reason that FaceGym, gua sha, and all kinds of facial massage are more popular than ever: Giving your face muscles a little TLC goes a long way when it comes to relieving tension, improving circulation, and creating a more radiant, sculpted appearance.
These techniques are some of the oldest in skincare: "Facial exercise dates back many years, with reports [of techniques] originating in China, Mexico, France, and Sweden," board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD, tells us. This rich history means that no matter your goals, skincare concerns, or preference between professional and DIY, there's probably a facial exercise regimen for you. Ahead, we spoke with Garshick and two other skin experts about all there is to know on facial massage and exercise, so you can "work out" your way toward a healthier, bouncier complexion.
Meet the Expert
- Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York, NY. She specializes in medical and cosmetic dermatology.
- Brooke Jackson, MD, FAAD is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology Associates, based in North Carolina.
- Julie Lindh is a holistic skincare expert and the founder and creator of her eponymous skincare line.
What Are Facial Exercises?
Facial exercises are pretty much exactly what they sound like. "Facial massage refers to the act of massaging your face using hands or tools to help stimulate circulation," Garshick tells us. "It can often be done in conjunction with a topical serum or oil. Facial exercises are thought to strengthen and tone certain facial muscles to give the skin an overall more contoured and lifted appearance." The drooping and wrinkles that come with aging are a result of natural collagen loss, and holistic skincare expert and entrepreneur Julie Lindh tells us that putting your face muscles to work via massage and exercise will help maintain plumpness and bounce, especially in the cheek area.
While facial exercises use your hands or special tools instead of weights and workout machines, the benefits really are like going to the gym for your face. “Muscle is muscle,” Lindh explains. “Facial muscles react the same way as your arms and legs do when you go to the gym to work out. The movement helps increase heat and microcirculation in those areas—the stronger the muscles beneath the skin, the tighter it looks on the surface.”
Benefits of Facial Facial Exercise
Facial exercises strengthen your muscles and aid in circulation, which has a whole range of potential benefits for the look and feel of your skin. While the specific results will vary based on the technique and your skin concerns, a few main perks are as follows:
- Improves plumpness and radiance: "Facial massage may be a way to temporarily give the skin a lifted and plumper appearance by helping to stimulate circulation," Garshick says. Much like with working out your body, your skin is likely to be flushed and rejuvenated after completing facial exercises, and the benefits—from sculpting to natural glow—only increase with consistent practice.
- Reduces puffiness: If you have perpetual under-eye bags or your skin is holding excess tension and fluid buildup, Garshick says that thanks to the circulation benefits of facial exercise, it can also help to reduce puffiness. When done regularly, you may find that your skin looks sculpted and more awake, plus you might feel a sense of release after aiding your lymphatic drainage processes through these techniques.
- Creates a more sculpted appearance: Just like when you tone the muscles on your body, facial massage can help you achieve more definition and lift. “When you do facial exercises, you’re contouring your face and shaping it up,” Lindh tells us. As your face muscles get stronger, you may see longer-lasting effects.
- Can smooth wrinkles and fine lines: Garshick says that face yoga and stretching, in addition to lifting and tightening your complexion, can minimize the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines by making your skin appear plumper and smoother.
While facial exercises have several potential benefits and few major risks, you should not expect them to thicken the skin. "We all have muscles that contract and allow movement in one direction, along with an opposing group of muscles that allow movement in the opposite direction," explains board-certified dermatologist Brooke Jackson, MD, FAAD. "Strengthening of one muscle group with repetitive exercise allows that muscle to thicken, get larger, and more defined. However, muscles of the face (think: the forehead, around the eyes, and on the neck) are generally very thin and unlikely to get appreciably larger from exercise, as they are not intended to do the heavy lifting that our large muscle groups are." She adds that there are no clinical trials that show a significant benefit of facial exercises, so be realistic about your expectations.
How Do Facial Exercises Work?
Just as with body workouts, facial massage and exercises achieve their objectives through motions, stretching, and consistency. "Facial exercises involve performing several stretches and movements of the face in order to help tone the face and give a more lifted appearance," Garshick tells us. "Similar to yoga for the body, face yoga helps move the muscles in your face with various stretches and exercises of the face."
While facial exercise has several benefits and is fairly simple to perform, you shouldn't expect it to solve every single concern. "It is important to remember that while this may help to stretch the skin, it may not replace other treatments," Garshick says. "It also may be important to avoid overstretching certain areas and to avoid being too aggressive."
What Kind of Results Can You Expect?
You can expect temporary effects like radiance, plumpness, and improved circulation as soon as you complete a facial massage session, while other potential results, such as muscle tone and reduced signs of aging, are best with consistency. Facial massage can be particularly effective if you're looking to boost plumpness in your cheek area: "One study showed that a 30-minute daily or alternate-day facial exercise program sustained over 20 weeks may improve the facial appearance of selected middle-aged women, particularly with upper and lower cheek fullness," Garshick says.
The above photos are of a woman who participated in the aforementioned study, conducted at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in 2013 and published in 2018. Each participant learned 32 facial exercises from Happy Face Yoga's Gary Sikorski to strengthen muscles that are likely to weaken with age, then continued the exercises for a half-hour daily for eight weeks, then every other day for the following 12 weeks. From left to right, the pictures document the woman's skin before beginning the facial exercises, after the first eight weeks, and after the full 20 weeks. Her complexion looks plumper and more radiant with minimized under-eye puffiness, helping to explain why dermatologists' average age estimate of the participants decreased by three years over the course of the study.
Facial Exercises to Try
Facial exercises and massage are fairly easy to perform yourself, as long as you know the proper techniques. Below, our experts detail a few methods that will help you to start working out the various muscles of your face and achieving a plumper, more radiant complexion.
- Brow stretch: Garshick says a facial massage technique that many have found helpful is using your forefinger to push your eyebrows away from each other. This may help with stretching out fine lines in the area.
- Circle your tongue: Sometimes, a small internal motion can be majorly helpful in improving the strength and tone of your face muscles. "Place your tongue inside the mouth to make a circle around where the nasolabial folds are," Garshick instructs. "Then, go around five circles clockwise and counterclockwise."
- Fish lips: To work out your cheek muscles, "suck in your cheeks like a fish, with your lips pursed," Lindh says. "With your lips still pursed, smile as hard as you can. Try to relax every other part of your face, including your eyes, while doing this. Hold for 10 seconds, then relax." For best results, Lindh says to do four reps of this facial exercise per day.
- Kiss face: This exercise is similar to the fish lips, with a subtle switch-up in expression. "Pout your lips like you're about to kiss someone," Lindh explains. "Smile as hard as you can with your lips still pursed, making sure to keep your eyes relaxed. Hold for 10 seconds, then relax." It's also best to do four reps of this move per day.
- The whistler: This one is a little more complex, as it involves two parts. For the first, "Make an 'O' with your lips, like you're going to whistle, and smile as hard as you can with your lips still forward in the 'O' shape," Lindh instructs. "Hold for ten seconds, relax, and repeat three times." For the second part, smile as hard as you can in the "O" shape again, then "pump your cheeks up and down 12 times with your lips still in an 'O' shape, relax, and do this four times a day."
The Final Takeaway
Facial exercises can be a helpful way to ease tension, boost radiance, and improve plumpness and structure, as long as you do them consistently and follow the proper techniques. While you shouldn't expect them to thicken your skin or be as powerful as certain products and treatments, consistently engaging in the movement and stretching of facial massage has several potential benefits to help you look and feel better. Given it's simple and fairly easy to do yourself, it's definitely worth a try if you're curious to discover its benefits for yourself. At the very least, you'll be engaging in some intentional self-care that's sure to have you feeling relaxed and appearing a bit more rejuvenated.
Cleveland Clinic. What you need to know about aging skin. Updated December 18, 2020.
Alam M, Walter AJ, Geisler A, Roongpisuthipong W, Sikorski G, Tung R, Poon E. Association of Facial Exercise With the Appearance of Aging. JAMA Dermatol. 2018 Mar 1;154(3):365-367. doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2017.5142