We all carry and store fat in different ways—and for some, the first sign of gaining a few pounds is a puffier, rounder face. And, unlike any other area of the body, your face is not the easiest area to cover up until you get it back to where you want it to be.
There are other factors that can contribute to a fuller-looking face, particularly for women. Changes in your hormones—such as your period or pregnancy—can make your body retain water and, therefore, make your face look a little bloated. Thyroid issues can also cause your face to look rounder. But there are some things we can do, from changing our diet to exercising, that can have major impacts on the puffiness and complexion of our faces. We spoke to facial exercise practitioner Gary Sikorski and personal trainer Gemma Yates for their tips on slimming the face and reducing puffiness.
Meet the Expert
- Gary Sikorski is a facial exercise expert and the founder of Happy Face Yoga in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His work—which focuses on utilizing exercise to lessen fine lines and slim the face—has been studied by Northwestern University.
- Gemma Yates is a personal trainer, focused on pre- and post-natal fitness. She lives and works in Great Britain.
Amp Up Your Cardio Routine
It goes without saying that exercise helps contribute to weight loss (particularly if a routine is undertaken alongside healthier eating habits, but more on that below). Yates advises those looking to slim any part of their body begin by incorporating cardio into their exercise routines. "You need to get your heart rate up and into that fat-burning zone by working at a high intensity," says Yates. "It also results in EPOC—excessive post-exercise oxygen consumption—where your body works hard to repay the oxygen deficit from exercise for up to 24 hours later. In other words, you burn more calories afterward than you would be working out at a lower intensity."
So whether that's swimming (a great option if you have joint problems), a HIIT workout that you can do at home to fit around your schedule, or simply putting on your trainers and going for a brisk walk—invest in a Fitbit ($200) to monitor how many steps you take, and each day, try to walk more—the key is doing it.
Cut Back on Sodium
The adage that you are what you eat actually rings pretty true. If certain foods make you bloat (salty potato chips, sodium-rich sushi), they'll naturally contribute to puffiness and should, therefore, be avoided—at least, most of the time. You don't need to be a nutritionist to realize that cutting out fast food will help you lose weight, but it's also about reducing the amount of sodium you're consuming.
If you have too much salt in your system, your body clings onto all the water it can so it doesn't dehydrate, which is why your face can look puffy. Of course, salt (sodium chloride) is necessary to regulate hydration levels and to assist in nerve and muscle activity, but the CDC recommends Americans consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day as part of a healthy eating pattern. If you're not able to eat a home-cooked meal three times a day, be sure to check the salt contents of any packets.
Eat More Veggies and Whole Grains
A healthy, everyday diet means one rich in nutrients, leafy greens, and whole grains (and light on processed foods). While we wish we could tell you that there was a magic cream that would make all our faces look less puffy the day after we've gone HAM on a few California rolls, but the reality is a bit different. Of course, doctors advise against crash dieting or even removing entire food groups. Rather than focusing on a number on a scale, the key is to include plenty of leafy greens alongside that sushi, stay active, and hydrate. In other words, focus more on your health and less on your weight.
Reduce Your Sugar Intake
We've written at length about the many impacts sugar can have on the human body, so it's no surprise that it can have an effect on both your skin and your weight. "Sugar certainly doesn't help in terms of added weight or your complexion," says Sikorski.
Not only will lessening your sugar intake provide you with more energy (and without the dreaded sugar crash later), it will help maintain a more youthful appearance. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that those who consumed a diet low in sugar were less prone to wrinkles and sagging (which can contribute to a puffier appearance).
Try Exercises That Target the Face
While face yoga has been touted for its anti-aging benefits, Sikorski suggests undertaking a more vigorous routine for those looking to slim the face. "The difference between facial yoga and facial exercise is that yoga is more focused on relaxation and breathing techniques," he says. "Exercise puts more emphasis on actually strengthening the muscles."
Many of Sikorski's exercises involve using the fingers and hands to create resistance—much in the same way that you'd use weights or an exercise band to work out your entire body. In a study done at Northwestern University and published in the medical journal JAMA, those who undertook Sikorski's facial exercises on a daily basis saw improvements both in the tightening of their skin and in their overall youthfulness. "Across the board, there were improvements and the average person looked three years younger," he says. "I've found that those who exercise their faces not only increase circulation, and therefore brighten the complexion, but they tone—they're essentially lifting the muscles back up toward their original position."
Get More Sleep
Not getting enough shut-eye can have major impacts on your overall health and well-being. A study conducted by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that sleep deprivation can lead to darker under-eye circles, puffier skin, and red eyes.
Perhaps even more shocking than the study results is the fact that, according to the Academy, some 30 percent of U.S. adults don't get enough sleep. Getting seven to nine hours per night is key to avoiding puffiness.
Invest in a De-Puffing Tool
Understand Some Puffiness Is Normal (and Unavoidable)
While puffiness in the face can be attributed to a number of factors, from weight gain to poor diet, sometimes, it all comes down to heredity. "Exercise doesn't even necessarily do too much if it is hereditary," says Sikorski.
Age, too, can play a role, causing the muscles to sag over time and contributing to fatty deposits in the face. "Sagging muscles can cause the muscles to appear fatter, and lead to jowls and pouches," notes Sikorski. And while facial exercise can target those muscles to a certain extent, there's only so much we can do to change our actual face shape (short of undergoing plastic surgery).