What Facial Exercises Can (And Can't) Do For You

They say you need to train your brain by doing puzzles or word games (Wordle, anyone?) to remain mentally sharp and keep your cognitive abilities in check. You're also expected to perform full-body workouts on a regular basis to stay fit, boost your endurance, strengthen your bones and muscles, and reduce your risk of certain diseases. But aside from engaging in brain and body training, you apparently also need to exercise your face, too.

Facial exercise, or facial yoga, may sound like something Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop conjured up to peddle expensive wellness products, but it's actually a practice being adopted by a growing number of folks hoping to look younger than they are. As you've already probably seen on TikTok and Instagram, facial exercise is the act of giving your face a massage using your hands or special tools to stimulate its muscles and reduce puffiness. "Facial exercises are thought to strengthen and tone certain facial muscles to give the skin an overall more contoured and lifted appearance," holistic skincare expert Julie Lindh explained to Byrdie.

Working out at the gym is already laborious enough of a task, so the idea of allotting time to massage your face doesn't sound all that appealing. While facial exercises don't require as much extensive physical labor, they still demand effort, so it's worth delving into their putative benefits before you follow the first tutorial that pops up on your For You Page.

Inside the benefits of facial massages

Are facial massages actually worth trying out? Well, that depends on who you ask. Anecdotal evidence points to its wonders, with many vouching for its ability to tone your face shape and make you appear slimmer and well-rested. Popular content creator FaceYogaPro claimed that face massages can "slim down the appearance of your face and improve some features" as well as "stimulate lymphatic drainage" and "reduce swelling and puffiness."

On the flip side, experts are not as convinced, but they're not discounting those who like to do it either. After all, a 2018 study published in JAMA Dermatology had a group of middle-aged women perform all sorts of facial exercises for half an hour across 20 weeks, and the results were rather astonishing. It's the only known experiment that challenged the efficacy of facial exercises to date, and the women who were able to complete the experiment (some dropped out due to the heavy commitment it required), reported significant changes in how they looked in terms of fullness. "The improvement was actually greater than I had expected," Dr. Murad Alam, who led the study, told The New York Times.

Ultimately, though, there's still very little scientific evidence that confirms the efficiency of massaging your face, but if you keep at it, Nicholas Joss — Meghan Markle's facialist — shared with Cosmopolitan that it helps in "improving blood circulation," draining out fluid, "eliminating puffiness" and removing "tension and stress in muscle tissue."

Facial workouts can't alter your face shape

If you do manage to find the time to perform facial exercises regularly, you can probably work to achieve a plumper, brighter complexion, but you'll only be left disappointed if you expect it to change your face shape drastically. Facial massages can't do much about making you look years younger. Dr. Adam Friedman, professor and chair of dermatology at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, pointed out to Today that "strengthening those facial muscles have no real impact on the support structures in the skin that over time break down and lead to the signs of aging." Dr. Sebastian Cotofana, associate professor of anatomy at Mayo Clinic, also shared with the outlet that exercising your facial muscles doesn't have the same effect as exercising the muscles in your body. "The facial muscles are embedded in a three-dimensional framework of connective tissue, like a honeycomb, and when you move the muscles, all the soft tissues move," so you're only really just playing with tissue.

If you have sensitive skin, you're also advised to avoid performing facial exercises entirely. "Excessive massage can cause skin inflammation or irritation and will have negative effects in sensitive skin types," dermatologist Dr Natasha Cook, explained to The Guardian

For guaranteed results, you're better off booking a trip to the dermatologist's office for botox and fillers. "If you're going to invest time or money into something for the purpose of maintaining or improving the appearance of your face, you might as well invest in things that actually have some supporting evidence," added Dr. Friedman.