Some like to call them facial exercises, others face yoga. But is all this facial contorting actually doing anything? Writer Chloe Gray finds out.
Facial exercises are having a moment. When Boy George was seen scrunching and pouting while in the jungle on 'I’m A Celebrity', Google searches for ‘face yoga’ spiked. ‘Face exercises’ has also been searched and viewed over 11.2 billion views on TikTok, while there are over 1,000 books about the practice on Amazon.
Like with exercising or stretching any other part of your body, facial exercises involve moving the muscles in your jaw, cheeks and forehead. Think raising your eyebrows, ‘O’ing your mouth and sucking in your cheeks.
Some attribute face exercises to ancient yoga practices – Lion Pose (Simhasana) is one example of a traditional asana that involves opening the mouth and sticking out the tongue. But what's all this modern pouting about? We take a look at the science, and whether it's worth you trying it for yourself.
“Face exercises' main purpose is to help decrease puffiness and tone the face for a more rounded and symmetrical look, as well as reducing lines and wrinkles to make you look younger and fresher in appearance,” says Dr Salome Dharamshi, dermatologist and founder of the Sky Clinic Birmingham.
In a world where expensive skincare and cosmetic treatments are on the up, could we really all be missing a trick by skipping some free face scrunching? “There definitely needs to be more studies carried out before we can definitively say that facial yoga makes specific improvements,” says Dr Dharamshi.
Indeed, in 2014, researchers from Belgium reviewed the science behind facial exercises for anti-aging but found insufficient evidence for the claim. Again in 2021, a study published in the Journal of Korean Physical Therapy concluded there is still low evidence to prove that face exercises can rejuvenate and strengthen the muscles in the face.
That’s not to say there’s no research into the practice. According to a more promising study from 2018 published in JAMA, 30 minutes of face exercises a day for 20 weeks was found to “modestly improve the facial appearance of selected middle-aged women… [with] significant improvement in upper and lower cheek fullness."
Given that this study was only performed on 27 people and required 70 hours of work for ‘modest’ changes, is it worth it? “I don’t think it is the most effective way to reduce fine lines and wrinkles,” says Dr Dharamshi.
However, there may be some short-term aesthetic benefits to working your face. Namely, research shows it can help lymphatic drainage, removing puffiness and inflammation from the area.
In a 2007 study, participants who had just had their wisdom teeth removed performed manual lymph drainage by massaging and moving their face. Researchers found that the practice reduced swelling by an average of 22mm, as well as reduced pain. While the study was small and perhaps more useful as a solution for genuine medical swelling, it does suggest that face yoga is a way to ‘depuff’.
“Another reason people opt for face yoga is to help control facial muscles and release tension,” says Dr Dharamshi. It’s true that many of us hold tension in our jaw, clenching with or without noticing. In the same way we stretch out tight shoulders or hips, you might find facial exercises offer a form of release for tightness in the face.
Science supports this theory too: in a 2019, a survey of experts on the temporomandibular joint (the joint that connects your jaw to your skull) concluded that jaw exercises are effective for people with aches and pains in facial muscles.
Facial exercises may also help improve functionality of the muscles in people with medical conditions. One study from the Clinical Rehabilition journal found that they helped people with bells-palsy, a temporary weakness or paralysis of the face.
But for the majority of us, face yoga might just be used best as a solid form of self-care. “Face yoga is associated with a reduction in stress and tension headaches, as well as improved sleep,” says Dr Dharamshi.
In fact, research has found the act of spending time stretching your face might be as good for your mental health as full-body yoga, with a 2021 paper reporting that “voluntary facial muscles exercise may help improve depressive symptoms, mood, and reduce the level of chronic stress.”
The effectiveness of facial exercises largely depends on what you expect from them. “Everyone has different priorities and lifestyles, so what may work for you may not work for someone else,” says Dr Dharamshi.
“If you really want to see benefits, you’ll have to do facial workouts three to five days a week for at least 20 minutes a time. You might want to do them once in the morning to wake up your muscles and again just before bed to relieve stress accumulated during the day.”
If taking that time for yourself is important and feels good, then have no shame in swinging your jaw and twisting your cheeks. Just don’t expect to change what your face looks like a huge amount. “Daily cleansing, a balanced diet, good skin care and clinical treatments are the best and most effective ways to change the appearance of your skin,” adds Dr Dharamshi.
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