If exercise is good for your waistline and heart, could it be good for your face? Yes, say some researchers from Northwestern Medicine in Chicago.
The researchers say regular facial exercises may strengthen the muscles just below your skin and produce fuller upper and lower cheeks. This can lead to a more youthful appearance.
“Now there is some evidence that facial exercises may improve facial appearance and reduce some visible signs of aging,” Dr. Murad Alam, vice chair and professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of the study, told Northwestern Now.
The researchers say this means you won’t need to hit the treadmill to fill in laugh lines on your forehead or kickbox to hide wrinkles around your eyes.
Instead, you’ll just need to do a little yoga — for your face.
Three years younger in 20 weeks
There are no “downward dogs” for your cheeks or “sun salutations” for your eyebrows.
In their place, you do “happy cheeks sculpting” or the “cheek lifter” — two stretches participants did perform in this study, which was published in JAMA Dermatology.
Exercises for the face work in much the same way as exercises that strengthen your biceps or quads.
As your muscles grow stronger, they enlarge and begin taking up more space in the pocket just below your face’s skin.
The firmer muscles also help hold fat pockets in place, which prevents them from slipping and creating the “droop” commonly associated with facial aging.
While facial exercises are nothing new, the study’s authors say this was the first scientific look at the impact facial exercises can have on improving appearance and reducing the signs of aging.
For this report, the researchers examined 27 women, ages 40 to 65, over a five-month period. Sixteen of the participations completed the entire study.
At the beginning of the study, each woman took part in two 90-minute training sessions with a specially trained yoga instructor. These sessions were designed to educate each participant on the proper way to perform the exercises so the practices were consistent among participants.
After the training, they were sent out to continue the program on their own.
For the first eight weeks, the participants did their facial yoga every day. For the final 12 weeks, they switched to an alternate-day facial exercise routine.
Photographs of the study’s participants were compared at three intervals: the beginning, week eight, and week 20.
The two dermatologists who reviewed the images used standardized facial aging scales and rated the age of each participant’s face at 19 different points.
The average age for participants as determined by the dermatologists at the beginning of the experiment was 50.8 years. By the eighth week, the average for the photos fell to 49.6. Twelve weeks later, at week 20, the doctors placed the group’s average age at 48.1, almost three years younger than the start of the study.
“Even when we reduced the exercises to every other day from every day after eight weeks, we continued to see improvement,” Alam told Healthline.
An alternative to needles and knives
Alam and his team created the facial exercise regimen for this study with Gary Sikorski of Happy Face Yoga.
The participants performed 32 distinct exercises, each for about one minute.
The study looked at the cumulative effect of all these exercises on the face’s appearance. The exercises were not studied individually, so, Alam says, it’s not clear which exercises were the most beneficial.
“We don’t know which exercises are most important for improving facial appearance and which maybe are less important,” Alam said. “Maybe once we know which exercises are most useful, we can recommend fewer exercises, which may be easier to learn and do.”
If you want to erase a few years from your face, cue up your own facial exercise plan. You can consult a facial yoga guru like Sikorski, Alam says, or you could try to create your own strategy.
However, Alam adds, you may not see the results the study’s participants did if you go solo.
“I do think the exercises are difficult to master just by reading their names and descriptions, or seeing one or two pictures,” Alam said. “If people want to learn them, they may want to surf the web for videos, or even purchase a video. There are also live instructional courses.”
Dr. Larisa Geskin, an associate professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, says you need to set realistic expectations for results.
“Facial exercises have recently become popular as an antiaging technique. While I do not believe facial exercises are harmful, there is likely only a limited antiaging benefit, and individuals should not expect to see a drastic change,” Geskin says.
Geskin says real antiaging benefit may only be achieved with a combination of exercises and more traditional options such as “fillers and other noninvasive or minimally invasive cosmetic interventions.”
“Combining facial exercises with cosmetic procedures is likely optimal to achieve the best cosmetic outcome,” Geskin told Healthline.