“If you keep making that face it will stick that way.”

How many times have we heard that “old wives’ tale” from our mothers, aunties, and grandmothers? The old wives’ tale may have been used to encourage (frighten) girls and young ladies to smile to appear more pleasing to others. However, there is some truth behind the overall concept that making certain faces repeatedly causes expression lines and wrinkles by training the muscles to stay in that position.

You have also likely heard or read it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile. The exact number of muscles it takes to produce the smiles and frowns is undetermined, as it varies from source to source, but it is a fact that facial muscles can be trained. The strength or position of the muscles in the face can be affected through repeated facial expressions, manual or electronic stimulation, or remaining in the same position for long periods of time (such as sleeping on the same side of the face every night).

In fact, facial exercise, also known as “facial toning” and “facial contouring” has been used therapeutically to “retrain” facial muscles in those recovering from stroke, Bell’s Palsy, or causes of facial muscle paralysis. Our focus today, however, is on whether or not facial exercises are beneficial for preventing premature signs of skin aging, and/or improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

What is facial exercise?

Though facial exercise to keep the skin looking toned, slim, smooth, and supple has re-emerged as a skincare fad recently with the popularity of “face yoga,” there’s nothing new about it. Different forms of facial exercise have been trendy across cultures and generations for more than 2000 years. “In ancient times, such historical figures as Cleopatra and the Empress of the Imperial Court in China 2,000 years ago were known to use facial exercises to maintain a youthful appearance. Since then, traditional Chinese facial exercises have been used to this day.”

Facial exercise was also used by courtesans and their ladies in waiting in the 17th and 18th centuries, and have continued into the modern era through advertisements and articles in ladies’ magazines and books, such as Elinor Glyn’s The Wrinkle Book; and later, through branded modalities by personalities such as Jack LaLanne, Senta Maria Runge, Carole Maggio, and Deborah Shelton, just to name a few.

Instead of recommending physical facial exercises, some aestheticians prefer to offer facial toning through holistic modalities such as gua sha or the kansa wand or specialized types of facial massage; while others use radio frequencies such as microcurrent and nanocurrent, or ultrasound to manually or electronically stimulate facial muscles.

What are the benefits of facial exercise?

Like exercising the rest of the body, facial exercise is meant to stimulate the muscles, and increase both blood and lymphatic circulation. This allows for increased delivery of nutrients to the cells in the dermis, which promotes healthier growth of the various cells and structures that form the layers of the skin. “The increase in blood supply also reduces potential damage from free radicals, chemicals and bacteria.” Exercise also aids in the removal of toxins by keeping the lymph moving, and by preventing excess fluid buildup in the tissues.

Is there a downside to facial exercise?

Like anything else, it is possible to overdo it with facial exercise, which can result in muscles that are fatigued and slack, rather than firm and supple. Regular and gentle facial exercises are typically beneficial, as long as they are done in moderation. However practices such as gua sha, micro- or nanocurrent, or any other form of muscle stimulation that involves a tool or apparatus are best performed  by a licensed aesthetician in the treatment room.

Just like any facial treatment, the goal with facial exercise should be to support the skin’s natural functions, so that they can perform their jobs optimally–not to take over or hinder.

We’d love to hear from you!

Have you ever done facial exercise personally, or do you incorporate it into your services for your clients? Please share your experience in the comments below!




Photo credit: Rhona-Mae Arca