There's a little-known secret in Korea, and her name is Ryu Bae, also known as The Star Face-Maker. Her spa is unlike any other spa I've visited. After one session, you walk out with a noticeably different face, and after ten sessions, you look like you might have had plastic surgery because you look so different—but in a good way. While the transformation could be dramatic for many, you mostly just look like the best version of yourself. And the best part is it's all natural—there are no knives, no surgeries—ever.
Ryu Bae is a highly trained therapist with a very particular set of skills that she's developed into a singular technique that I've only ever seen her employ. Her spa is on the 14th floor of an office building in the heart of Gangnam, and when you walk in, signed photos of countless A-listers are lined up at the front desk. These celebrities openly share how their newly more symmetrical, somehow more balanced-looking faces were not obtained through going under the knife, but through a very specific set of massages by Ryu Bae herself. To find out more, I met her for lunch to understand exactly how this all works, and I scheduled a couple of treatments with her.
Keep scrolling to get a taste of what this treatment is actually like.
It comes down to the bones
The human head has 29 different bones—they're not static. Depending on how we use our muscles, she tells me that the bones can shift in sometimes very noticeable ways.
She tells me that the face is a reflection of your overall health, and it is the key to knowing how your whole body is working together. After studying my face for a full five minutes, she concludes that I have a taxing job, I don't sleep enough, I have a lot of stress, I cross my left leg over my right too much, and therefore my face is a bit longer than it probably is meant to be and not symmetrical. I'm a skeptic. I tell her that I generally have a long face and my face was never perfectly symmetrical. She encourages me to see if I can find any photos of myself from ten years ago. I find some in an old Facebook album, and we study the picture together. Sure enough, ten years ago, my face was decidedly a bit more symmetrical… and shorter. I thought this was just gravity taking its toll, but she delivers the good news that my skin is still firm (ah, the benefits of running a beauty company!), and the elongation is from my bones shifting around, and it's not due to gravity. Some people experience bones shifting horizontally, which results in a wider face, while others have faces that can both widen and elongate over time. She tells me that this isn't the way faces naturally evolve, but it's a direct result of poor habits and lack of health.
Using the bones as clues to improve overall health
When she saw my elongated face, she knew that there was a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders. These shortened and tightened muscles pull my face bones down, making my face longer. She also knew that my hips were probably not aligned, which could also impact the way I walk and the burden I'm putting on my joints. And with tension all over, she also concluded that I likely don't have optimal circulation, which also results in reduced radiance.
Price: $1000 for 2.5 hours.
Recommendation: 10 to 20 times, once per week (around 50 hours total).
Results: Improved health, which then, in turn, results in a more stunning facial structure (often times a smaller and more sculpted face).
Technique used: Her own expert hybrid techniques—a mixture of a fascia massage, craniosacral therapy, acupressure, bone adjustment, and what I can only describe as using the knuckles to knead muscles and bones.
Purpose of her techniques: 90% of the treatment is focused on root causes and 10% is focused on adjustments. So, for example, she'll work various acupressure points to relieve tension, which tightens my muscles, thus pulling my face down. She'll also manually push my facial bones up and in to reset to where they normally sit.
What Went Down
I was treated by her twice. I didn't go two weeks in a row, but I went six months apart. Interestingly, when I ask her if results are temporary, she says that that's not the right question. As long as I keep good habits and know how to manage stress to have less tension in my neck and shoulders, the facial bones should not shift downward again. So all treatments produce incremental results versus fixing things that then reverse back to how it used to be pre-treatment.
The first thing she did was press down extremely hard on my finger joints and twist them all around. She mentioned that this really helps reset a lot of the muscles throughout my body. (Pain level: 8 out of 10, with 10 being unbearable pain, or the moment I walk out and never look back.)
Next, she taped little balls made out of geramanium to my ears all along the outer edge, which helps to relieve tension throughout the body, as seen in the image above. (Pain level: 3 out of 10.)
She then began to knead my cheekbones to loosen up the muscles in my face so that when she works the rest of my body, the bones can more easily shift and reset back to where they naturally should be. (Pain level: 6 out of 10.)
Then, she stuck her fingers in my mouth and started massaging the gums, the inner cheeks, and the inner corner of my lips. I had actually gotten a similar massage before, but this one was more intense and incredibly painful. She told me she's both working out my face muscles and ironing out some muscles that are tense. (Pain level: 7 out of 10.)
She also spent a lot of time massaging the bones all around the ears, including putting her finger into my ear and pressing hard against the walls. This is supposed to help boost circulation, kick-start facial muscles and relieve tension. (Pain level: 7 out of 10.)
This next part was probably the most painful, but it was a stomach massage. (The intestines themselves; not the stomach muscles, to be clear.) I was told that my stomach is a bit weak (it's true), and she could help get it pumping and working better. It felt like she was grabbing my intestines up, and then just sort of squeezing them. I endured this as well. (Pain level: 9 out of 10.)
Then, I was asked to lay on my stomach, and she did some sort of deep tissue massage on my upper back. (Pain level: 2 out of 10.)
Throughout, she also did acupressure massages. (Pain level: varied.)
Next came the scalp—there was a lot of knuckle-kneading and grabbing parts of my head with the whole hand and sort of manually shifting things around. This part felt relaxing and not painful at all. Apparently, this is to again focus on tense muscles, and also see how the bones are positioned, which gives more clues to the bad habits I've cultivated over the years. No pain, all pleasure!
After the first treatment, I noticed five remarkable things: 1. My elongated face was shorter—more than face length, though, I just looked more like myself in my 20s; 2. My skin was so radiant, I felt like I could glow in the dark; 3. My face looked symmetrical; 4. I had a stronger stomach (no indigestion, no matter what I ate, for the next couple months); and 5. Much, much more energy.
I loved the results so much that despite the 150 minutes of mild to severe pain, I signed up for more. Treatment number two yielded much of the same results, but in a more dramatic way because all of the results build on each other.
What I loved best is how she pointed out that she's not in the business of making someone look prettier by trying to make someone have this ideal face shape (even if on television she does focus more on the aesthetic results, like having a slimmer face). Rather, her goal is to help people look how they should when your body and bones are aligned the way they are intended to. She was simply returning me to my most natural and harmonious state—and that ended up being the prettiest version of myself. After around ten treatments, when bodies align back to their most natural and healthy state, faces can look dramatically different. Her mantra is a healthy body results in your most beautiful face.
My husband was with me in Korea, and he was treated by her, too. He didn't see results that were as dramatic as mine, but he noted that overall he felt more energy and stood a bit straighter.
What You Can Do at Home
I asked her what I could do at home to keep this structural bliss—here are three helpful and easy tips:
- Take the palm of your hand and press down hard on your cheekbones and massage. This will keep your facial muscles loose and prevent them from hardening and tightening in a way that moves your face bones around. This can help slim down a face that widened from muscle strain.
- Squeeze the joints around your fingers (both the top and middle joint), press hard, and roll fingers around the joint as you squeeze them. This keeps the muscles throughout the body loose and relaxed, which also helps prevent your muscles from pulling bones in unnatural ways.
- Take your index fingers, find the little bone that's right in front of your ear, and rub that intensely for about two minutes. This is supposed to relax the muscles that can cause wrinkling around the eyes.
Opening Image: H&M