You know that exercise keeps you looking and feeling your best. But can extending workouts to your face have similar effects?
Possibly. That’s the idea behind face yoga, a growing trend that claims to deliver skin-lifting effects without surgery, needles, or even expensive skin-care products. While many people have been shelving their usual facials and procedures in favor of staying home and minimizing their risk of contracting COVID-19, some have turned to face yoga as a DIY approach to younger-looking skin.
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What Is Face Yoga?
First things first: Face yoga doesn’t involve the usual shavasana or Downward-Facing Dog poses you’re familiar with from your yoga practice. “Yoga” is just a catchy way to say facial exercises that move the muscles on your face into certain positions — kind of like yoga for your body. The idea is that performing these exercises will keep your face looking toned and young, lifting areas that are sagging and drooping, and trimming years from your visage.
“The aim is to create a moment of self-care where you improve blood circulation for a healthy glow and reduce stress and tension in your face,” says Elsa Jungman, PhD, a scientist, microbiome expert, and proponent of facial yoga based in San Francisco.
Most people hold tension in their faces, whether through facial expressions or too much time in front of a screen. “All these daily activities cause patterns in how we use our face and the specific muscles we recruit,” Dr. Jungman says. “This is why we want to focus more on releasing and softening our faces to let go of these patterns and any held facial tension.”
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Touted Benefits of Face Yoga
Facial yoga is said to help counter those effects. According to two popular programs, Happy Face Yoga and Face Yoga Method, face yoga helps to:
Release tension, which can minimize the appearance of stress lines
Strengthen and tone facial muscles to ultimately widen eyes, raise cheeks, and firm up the jawline
Increase circulation and blood flow to the skin, which makes the skin glow
Smooth fine lines and wrinkles
Counter the effects of gravity
Reduce the appearance of scars
Some dermatologists say there’s some truth to these claims. “The goal of face yoga is to increase the blood and oxygen supply to your skin, which improves the life of the cell,” says Deborah Longwill, DO, a board-certified dermatologist at Miami Center for Dermatology in Florida and cofounder of Doctor’s Daughter Skincare. “This leads to glowing and rejuvenated skin.”
Lucy Chen, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Riverchase Dermatology in Miami, also says you could reduce visible signs of aging by toning the muscles through specific facial exercise training.
It should be noted, though, that there isn’t much research about facial yoga or facial exercises. The most promising and most-often-cited support comes from research published in March 2018 in JAMA Dermatology. In the study, a group of participants ages 40 to 65 performed facial exercises for 30 minutes a day for eight weeks. Then for 12 more weeks, they practiced the exercises three to four times per week. At the end of the 20 weeks, the study participants saw improved upper and lower cheek fullness. They also looked younger at the end of the study, with two dermatologists estimating the participants’ average age was 50.8 years old at the start of the study and 48.1 years 20 weeks later.
You shouldn’t expect drastic changes, though. The JAMA Dermatology study authors noted that their participant sample was small and the results were modest. And keep in mind that face exercises won’t alter the texture of your skin, according to Harvard Health, though moving and stretching scarred skin through face yoga can lessen the appearance of scars.
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Potential Risks of Face Yoga
Leaning on face yoga as your go-to anti-aging regimen may backfire, too. Some experts say contorting your face in these ways can actually lead to more wrinkles.
“Many facial wrinkles — for example, crow’s-feet, laugh lines, and forehead wrinkles — result from repetitive facial muscle activity such as frowning or smiling,” Dr. Chen says. “Some question whether routinely pulling your face and exercising those muscles could create wrinkles and fine lines.”
Think of Botox, which works by “freezing” the muscles in the face in order to minimize the appearance of wrinkles. With face yoga, you’re doing just the opposite, and if done too aggressively or incorrectly, Chen says facial yoga may actually accelerate signs of aging.
Not to mention, sweaty hands carry dirt, oil, and bacteria that can clog pores and cause breakouts. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends not touching your face to help prevent acne.