Scientists Are Investigating Facial Exercises to Make You Look Younger

When it comes to ageing, many of us would like to look younger, but most anti-ageing remedies not only aren’t back up by science, they’re also prohibitively expensive, or painful. Or both.

Now, scientists have found early evidence that a free and non-invasive technique can actually make people’s faces look visibly younger in just 20 weeks – facial yoga.

Don’t laugh, because we fully appreciate how ridiculous that sounds. But researchers from Northwestern University in Illinois were able to show that by spending 30 minutes a day exercising the muscles in your face, it’s possible to tighten and lift the cheek areas to look more youthful.

People have been doing these types of facial exercises, or facial yoga, for years, but this is the first study to look into whether it actually works.

“Now there is some evidence that facial exercises may improve facial appearance and reduce some visible signs of ageing,” said lead author Murad Alam, a dermatologist from Northwestern University.

“The exercises enlarge and strengthen the facial muscles, so the face becomes firmer and more toned and shaped like a younger face.”

To be clear, this was a proof-of-concept study and only involved a small sample size of 16 people who completed the full 20-week program. So before we get too excited, this research needs to be replicated in a much larger group.

But it does offer some hope that we don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on our faces in order to make them look younger.

“Assuming the findings are confirmed in a larger study, individuals now have a low-cost, non-toxic way for looking younger or to augment other cosmetic or anti-aging treatments they may be seeking,” said Alam.

The study worked like this – 16 women aged between 40 and 65 were recruited, and underwent two face-to-face, 90-minute training sessions with a facial exercise instructor.

Over the next 20 weeks they were told to continue the exercises at home – for the first eight weeks they did them for 30 minutes a day, and for the rest of the time they did the same exercises every other day.

The exercises involved learning 32 different facial expressions, which were each held for about a minute.

For example there’s “The Cheek Lifter”, where you open your mouth and form an O shape.

With your lips over your teeth, you smile to lift your cheek muscles up, placing your fingers lightly on the top part of the cheek so you can feel them lifting. You repeat this for a minute by lowering and lifting the cheeks.

Another exercise is called “The Happy Cheeks Sculpting”: Purse your lips to cover your teeth and then smile forcing your cheek muscles up, placing fingers on the corners of your mouth and sliding them up to the top of the cheeks. You hold this for 20 seconds.

The change was measured through photographs and blind assessed by dermatologists – which means they didn’t know the participants or anything about the study.

These dermatologists assessed the photos using a standardised facial ageing scale and rated 19 features on each face at the beginning, middle, and end of the study.

At the start of the study, the dermatologists rated the patients to be 50.8 years on average, and that dropped to 48.1 over the course of the study.

“That’s almost a three-year decrease in age appearance over a 20-week period,” Alam said.

The most dramatic effect was upper and lower cheek fullness, which rounded out and appeared fuller throughout the study.

Of course, this is an incredibly small sample size, and it’s limited by being made up solely of middle-aged women – we have no evidence as yet that facial yoga would work in other demographics.

The study also didn’t mention or monitor what else the women were doing to their faces throughout the experiment.

But it’s promising early evidence that simply by toning our faces like we do our bodies, we could make ourselves look younger.

The study didn’t look into how facial yoga might deliver results, but the team explains that as the face ages, skin loses elasticity and the fat pads between the muscle and skin become thinner. This causes the skin and face to drop.

“But if muscle underneath becomes bigger, the skin has more stuffing underneath it and the firmer muscle appears to make the shape of the face more full,” said senior author Emily Poon.

“Muscle growth is increasing the facial volume and counteracting the effects of age-related fat thinning and skin loosening.”

There’s definitely not enough evidence as yet to start adding facial yoga to your daily routine, but it’s definitely something worth thinking about next time you spend hundreds of dollars on the latest anti-ageing fad.

The research has been published in JAMA Dermatology.

There’s no question that exercise is good for the body. Reading, studying and meditation techniques are great ways to “exercise” the mind. But what about exercising your face in order to maintain younger-looking skin?

There’s a lot of conversation surrounding facial exercises, or “face yoga,” and whether or not it’s actually effective. With all the facial rolling tools out there, there has to be something surrounding all the hype. There have been two opposing schools of thought with facial exercise: estheticians have been using massage techniques for a long time that are thought to lift, tone and stimulate collagen, whereas some people feel that doing a lot of repetitive motions or exercises with your facial muscles can actually exacerbate fine lines and wrinkles. If skincare gurus have been believing in facials exercises/massage techniques for all this time, it’s surprising there haven’t been more scientific studies to prove it.

For the first time ever, a study was published in JAMA Dermatology that is thought to finally answer the question on whether or not facial exercises are actually effective.

How It Worked

The study followed a small group of middle-aged women over the course of 20 weeks. Over the course of the study, they were given a specific set of facial exercises, which they did every day for 30 minutes a day for the first 8 weeks. After that time, they switched to doing their facial exercises every other day for 12 weeks.

The Results

The study showed that, for those who completed the 20 weeks, there was a noticeable difference in the appearance of the skin, particularly in the center of the face. The upper and lower cheek areas were where the participants noticed a drastic difference in the youthful appearance of their skin.


The study has limitations to it, including that there was only one age group that was studied (middle-aged women). The study was also only conducted for a short period of time, and there have been no long-term studies to date regarding the lasting effect of facial exercises. The issue with having no long-term studies is that there are some that believe repetitive facial movements can actually contribute to more fine lines over time.

Long-term dermatological studies of the past have confirmed other culprits that definitely age the skin, including sun exposure, diets that are high in sugar, dehydration, smoking and alcohol use. Long-term studies have also confirmed the positive effects of healthy diets, sleep and certain skin care ingredients (like vitamin A). So drink your water, get some rest and stock up on your favorite retinol products to ensure healthy looking skin.

While this study has its limitations, it’s the first of what will likely be many regarding the benefits of facial exercise. In tandem with a healthy diet and habits, facial exercise could be the new wave of “fitness” for the face in order to achieve youthful-looking skin.

/Tatyana DzemilevaWe all experience feeling tired from time to time (here are seven reasons why you might feel that way), but looking tired is a whole other ball game. We experience laugh lines, furrowed brows, and drooping eyelids as we get older. Though aging is inevitable, targeted facial exercises claim to work against gravity and help us look younger than ever.

What are facial exercises?

Facial exercises are Isometric exercises with resistance that promise to tone, tighten, and even lift these facial muscles to help us look younger, livelier, more awake—and possibly be a substitute to cosmetic surgery if done correctly and regularly. Cynthia Rowland, founder of Facial Magic, says, “When I first learned of facial exercise I was highly skeptical and with good reason. Twists, puckers, funny faces and contortions are touted as facial exercise but to me they’re wrinkle-producing repetitive motions that do not lift, tone, or tighten sagging facial muscles.” But, after some time learning what they were and mastering the skill, she created a video that was well-received on HSN, QVC, and the Canadian Home Shopping and endorsed by Mark Berman, MD and Carolyn Doherty, MD. The video’s popularity showed her that women everywhere were hungry to learn more. (Here are some secrets to getting clear, healthy skin you might want to check out.)

Here’s how she explains her system: “We divide the face into 15 regions and use 18 proven exercises to lift, tone, and tighten sagging facial features. Each exercise requires 35 seconds. Two exercises per week are learned and then added to this strength building program. At the end of nine weeks, all 18 exercises have been learned and the time required to execute the entire program is about 24 minutes.”

Here’s an example: The Upper Eye exercise which Rowland says lifts the brows and begins to tighten lax forehead muscles. It’s done by placing three fingers of each hand underneath your eyebrows, then dropping the palms of your hands to your face. With your forehead and face relaxed, push your eyebrows straight up and anchor (hold). Keep your eyes open, look straight ahead. Now use your forehead muscle to push down into your fingertips. Count to five. Release the contraction, remove your hands, take a deep breath and begin the exercise again, the next time counting to ten. At the seventh second, close your eyes while you keep pushing up with your fingertips and down into your fingertips with your forehead.

Do facial exercises work?

It sounds promising, but we’re all asking the question: do facial exercises work? Mark Deuber, MD, board certified plastic surgeon in Dallas, says, “Generally speaking, many of the gross lines on our face develop over time perpendicular to the pull of the underlying muscles. Horizontal forehead lines, for example, develop on top of the frontalis muscle (which has vertically oriented fibers). So, you’re looking at a “t” shaped, perpendicular relationship between facial muscles (up and down) and the wrinkling skin (side to side) on top of it. Freezing or stopping the forehead muscle movement is the way to avoid these lines. We treat patients with Botox in this area, which temporarily paralyzes those underlying muscles, lessening the lines (and sometimes even making them disappear). As you can guess, paralyzing the muscle is the extreme opposite of exercising it.” Here’s what you should know about Botox before getting it.

He encourages that “it’s never a bad idea to exercise,” however, “it’s very important to keep in mind that exercising a specific area of the body does not directly cause that area of the body to look better. For example, no number of sit-ups will lead directly to the appearance of toned abs. A six-pack belly appears when you drop your body fat low enough to allow the abdominal muscles (that we all have) to show through thin overlying tissue cover (belly skin). It takes exercise to get there, yes, but it’s the very strict diet that is actually a much bigger part of getting that six-pack.”

And when it comes to facial aging, there’s more to consider like, “skin quality, sun damage, body fat, inevitable facial volume loss from aging, and the long terms effect of underlying muscle pull,” Dr. Deuber says.

Overall, it unfortunately seems like our dreams of sitting and doing facial exercises in bed at night are not the answer. If we want to appear ageless, a visit to our dermatologist is in the future or these proven secrets to looking younger.

If you want to get toned, defined Michelle Obama arms, you might try pushups and planks. For six-pack abs, add some bicycle crunches to your gym circuit. So it makes sense that if you want to define and tone the contours of your face, you’re going to need to work those muscles, too, right?

Exactly, says Gary Sikorski, founder of Happy Face Yoga, a program designed to stimulate and work out the 57 muscles that hold up our face, neck and scalp.

“You’re strengthening your muscles and moving them back into place,” Sikorski tells NBC News BETTER about the face workout. “So the skin naturally follows and starts to smooth.”

It may sound like a futile time-suck for people with way too much time on their hands (and there are a lot of skeptics), but dermatologists at Northwestern University recently published a study that shows Sikorski’s facial exercise program might work.

The data suggest the exercises do help the face look younger (at least for more than a dozen women followed over the course of the study). But following the program will cost you — a chunk of time out of your schedule, that is. The women in the study spent 30 minutes daily for eight weeks, and 30 minutes every other day for 12 weeks after that, doing the exercises.

Why the Exercises May Actually Change How You Look

One concern about the exercises was that they might actually create more wrinkles, frown lines and crow’s feet than they were getting rid of, says the study’s lead author Murad Alam, MD, Vice Chair and Chief of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery in the Department of Dermatology at Northwestern Medicine’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “But this didn’t happen in any of the participants,” he tells NBC News BETTER.

The muscle growth is enough to add more definition to the cheeks and counteract the drooping and sliding of the skin and fat tissue in the face, making it look younger.

The opposite happened. And the most marked area of improvement for the women in this study was fuller cheeks. That’s because the muscles you’re working grow in size (just like your biceps get larger when you work those muscles). And that muscle growth is enough to add more definition to the cheeks and counteract the drooping and sliding of the skin and fat tissue in the face, making it look younger, Alam explains. “It’s like blowing up a deflated beachball.”

The exercises work because they’re based on the same principles as resistance training, Sikorski adds. In most cases that force of resistance your face muscles are working against comes from your fingers, so you actually strengthen and tone those muscles.

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To do the “cheeklifter,” you open your mouth wide, fold your upper lip over your front teeth, and smile to lift up the check muscles. Put your index fingers lightly on the top of the cheek and relax the muscles; then smile again to lift the cheek up (you should feel that cheek muscle tightening up under your finger). You repeat that lift 10 times and hold it in the upward position for 20 seconds on the last one, Sikorski says. That’s one set.

You’ll know you’re doing it right because your face muscles will feel it, he adds — similar to that muscle “burn” you feel after doing a particularly taxing workout for your abs.

Wait, It Takes How Long?

The study by Alam and his colleagues testing the exercises included 20 women, between 40 and 65, who all attended two 90-minute, in-person training sessions with Sikorski to learn 32 different exercises. Within a few weeks, four women had dropped out. For the following eight weeks, the remaining women were asked to spend 30 minutes daily performing the exercises — and for the 12 weeks after that, they spent 30 minutes every other day doing the exercises.

At the end of the five months, both the women and the dermatologists leading the study rated the women’s faces as looking younger.

But Sikorski says, based on work he’s done privately with his own clients, you may notice results sooner. Though everyone’s face is different, meaning that results will vary, too, depending on things like what you eat and drink, the environment you’re exposed to (such as sun and wind), and your genetics.

For instance, the first result many people start to see is a brighter complexion, likely because you’re getting more blood circulating to your face, Sikorski says. That “glowing appearance,” as Sikorski describes it, can start to show in just a few weeks.

You may notice fewer fine lines, wrinkles and crow’s feet, and less puffiness under the eyes.

However, Alam notes that the study didn’t measure the effect of the exercises on blood flow in the face. “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but currently we just don’t have good evidence to show that it does,” he says. And it’s worth adding that the recent study from Alam and his colleagues is one of the first to provide high-quality evidence that these types of exercise actually help at all. A 2014 review of the research in this area found that overall, other evidence is scant.

And as you start to strengthen the other major muscles of the face, such as the obicularis oculi (the big muscle around the eye) and the zygomaticus major (the muscle you use to smile and the one that can cause dimples in some people), the skin starts to firm up. So you may notice fewer fine lines, wrinkles and crow’s feet, and less puffiness under the eyes, Sikorski explains.

Is It Worth Trying?

Anti-aging procedures, like neuromodulaters, fillers and lasers, are the standard in dermatology when it comes to improving appearance of the face and reducing visible signs of aging because they have been proven to be safe and effective, Alam explains. “And they’re not going away anytime soon.”

But facial yoga is non-toxic, non-invasive and safe for anyone, plus it’s inexpensive and you can do it on your own time, he says. “There does not appear to be much to lose.”

Photo: IMaxTree

To tone the body, we’re told to build stronger muscles. The act of pulsing the muscles through repetition of movement, whether through cardio, strength training or barre classes, is the only way to achieve results. Yet, to tone and lift the skin, we turn to topical treatments. Would you ever trust a topical cream that claims to help you lose weight? Not a chance! So what about facial exercises that claim to tone and tighten the face?

The idea of “facial exercises” has become really popular lately, although the trend has been disputed by many doctors and surgeons. “Working the muscles out on the face is not likely to yield results,” says Dr. Omar Ibrahimi, the medical director of Connecticut Skin Institute. “Repeated use of the muscles on the upper half of your face might actually hasten the appearance of deeper wrinkles, such as frown lines, crow’s feet and bunny lines.”

Not so, according to Cynthia Rowland, founder of Facial Magic. She claims that the key is to contract the facial muscles. When she first started her program, many doctors didn’t believe the results could possibly be from manual movements. “They were accustomed to just seeing these twists and puckers —funny faces that people would make and call it facial exercise. I teach isometric techniques that anchor the muscles, to create a contraction to lift the face. When you do that, the muscle lifts up and pulls back into the hairline, taking the skin with it.”

This is because facial muscles are attached to skin, not bone. “Because the muscles are attached directly to the skin, that oxygenated blood is forced into the tissue of the skin and all of a sudden it looks plump and juicy again. Your skin is thicker and more vibrant looking.”

Rowland’s program consists of nine progressive weeks where you add two new 35-second exercises each week, totaling 18 movements at the end of the program. Your thumbs and fingers are the only tools you need to work different muscles—the forehead, upper cheeks, the neck and chin. Rowland herself teaches each movement on a 1-hour DVD with complete instructions.

“To maintain the lift, you need to devote yourself to the program,” says Rowland. Maintenance includes performing the full set of 18 exercises 2-3 times a week.

A full commitment with manual exercises isn’t the only answer. For those who want faster results (without the homework), try a microcurrent facial. New York-based esthetician Ildi Pekar uses the $250 facial as her go-to when she’s prepping her celeb clients, like Miranda Kerr, for the red carpet.

“Microcurrent is a form of electricity,” says Pekar. “This method works with our body to stimulate over 35 different muscles in your face, helping to tone and strengthen your skin. This will eliminate excess water, toxins, and fat, leaving your skin firmer, smoother, tighter and vibrant.” The treatment also helps to rejuvenate muscle tissue, promote cell metabolism and the skin’s natural production of collagen and elastin. However, the results only last up to two days.

To get the most out of microcurrent, aesthetician Shellie Goldstein incorporates acupuncture in her trademarked AcuFacial, available in New York. “Acupuncture on its own tightens the muscles,” claims Goldstein. “With the acupuncture we are treating internally by regulating the body, helping to relax the body and strengthening different systems like digestion or hormones.” This regulation, of course, prevents more pronounced aging and dulling of the skin. “Then when we use the microcurrent, we exercise each muscle of expression . Muscles that you want to tighten, you use the microcurrent one way, muscles that you want to relax, you use it another way. With the microcurrent and acupuncture, we can manually change the muscles of expression. We call it taking your face to the gym.” Results can last up to a few weeks.

However, it’s important to note that muscle isn’t the only factor to consider. “Studies using CT and MRI imaging conclude that we lose some volume (both bone and fat) and that the fat we keep tends to descend down our face, such that a triangular shaped face with high cheek bones becomes more of a pyramid over time,” says Dr. Thomas Sterry, a NYC board certified plastic surgeon. While muscle sculpting will help with toning the face, it won’t restore fat or volume. Fillers are, at this moment, the only solution.

Read more: The Best Anti-Aging Ingredients for Your Age, Simplified

Does your face need a workout?

Facial exercises are being touted as a way to reverse signs of aging. A workout can’t hurt and might even help. But there’s little evidence of benefit.

Published: January, 2019

Image: © Jasmina81/Getty Images

It used to be that women’s magazines only gave fitness advice for your body. But today when you open the pages of many publications, you’ll see advice on exercising not only your body, but your face, too. Articles tout strengthening exercises for the facial muscles — and even face yoga — as a way to slim and tone facial structures and help fight signs of aging.

Sounds great. But is it true? Should your workouts extend above the neck as well as below? And will those exercises really do anything for those wrinkles, sagging jowls, or double chin?

“The first thing to know is that there really aren’t any good, rigorous, scientific studies that verify claims that face workouts are effective,” says Suzanne Olbricht, an associate professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School. And at first glance, at least some of the claims appear a little dubious, she says. In one article, for example, accompanying photographs show a woman who claims to have benefited from facial exercises. In this case, the changes to her appearance show improvements to the surface of her skin — mostly to her skin texture — which would be unlikely to result from exercising the underlying muscle, says Dr. Olbricht. Changes like this would be expected if she’d undergone a cosmetic treatment that targeted the surface of the skin, such as microneedling or a chemical peel, but would be unlikely to result from face workouts.

However, while a dose of skepticism is definitely warranted when it comes to some claims, this doesn’t mean you should completely discount the idea of exercising your face, she says. At least in theory, it’s possible that facial exercises could produce some benefits. Among them:

Reducing the appearance of thick scars. Face exercises, including stretching and movement, can be used to loosen up and lessen the appearance of a tight scar. “Massage and exercises that stretch the skin affected by scarring can make a thick scar become thinner and more pliable,” says Dr. Olbricht. This is a clear instance where facial exercises are recommended and likely to be effective.

Fighting gravity. Face exercises might also help improve muscle tone in the face and could theoretically help with gravity-related fat loss or redistribution on the face, says Dr. Olbricht. Building muscle in the face could potentially help keep fat — which might otherwise slide down with the pull of gravity — where it belongs. But now for the bad news: if exercise is able to produce an effect, any changes would likely be very subtle and far less than could be accomplished by other cosmetic methods, such as dermal fillers, she says.

“Truthfully, it’s hard to say whether face exercises are useful or not,” says Dr. Olbricht. But if you’re interested in giving it a shot, there’s really no drawback to trying. It’s not dangerous, and it won’t produce any ill results. “While I’m not convinced,” she says, “there seems to be little downside.”

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Do facial exercises work

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