Facial Exercises to Look Younger

Does fitness for your face help turn back the clock?

Woman puckering lips
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Yoga aims to relax your mind and body, but a different kind of yoga exercise promises to revive and refresh your face, helping to rid you of wrinkles and sagging skin.

Yoga for the face is a series of techniques being pitched through books, DVDs and online, so you can try them at home (which is a good thing, since you wouldn't want to do them in public).  It's not a brand new idea - the book Facercise was first published in the mid-90s by Carol Maggio -  but more books and videos are coming on the market, extolling the benefits of a face-lift without the risks or expense of plastic surgery.

  Here's a look at what facial exercises are, and whether they have the anti-aging effects they promise to deliver.

What is facial yoga?   Essentially facial yoga is a series of daily exercises designed to tone the muscles of the face to prevent or reverse sagging and wrinkles.  Proponents of the method argue that just as stretching and strengthening regimens can build biceps, or six-packs on your abdomen, facial exercises will tone your facial muscles to create a better scaffolding for otherwise drooping or wrinkling skin.

What kinds of exercises are they?   Though each facial yoga therapist has their own favorite exercises, most involve isometric contractions, a type of static motion which works the muscle without involving a joint.

Here are some examples of yoga exercises for the face (positions to be held for a few seconds and repeated):

  • To combat a "turkey neck", or sagging jowls:  do a wide grimace showing your bottom teeth
  • To prevent a double chin, stick your tongue out and downwards as far as possible
  • To make your lips fuller, purse them and push them forward as if reaching for a kiss
  • To fight drooping eyelids, squeeze your eyes shut for 5 seconds and release, or raise your eyelids as high as possible and hold

What research is out there about whether facial yoga can fight wrinkles?  Unfortunately, little to none.

  A systematic review was published in the Journal of Aesthetic Surgery in 2014 by a team of speech pathologists, led by neurolinguist John Van Borsel of Ghent University in Belgium.  

Of the nine studies gathered by the researchers, all reported positive results, though none were randomized or controlled - conditions considered to be the highest standard in experimental design.  The team laments the small study sizes, involving a total of only 43 subjects across all nine trials, with some including only one participant.  In addition, many of the studies were subjective in nature, with some asking the subject themselves to evaluate whether facial exercises yielded any improvement.  Since several exercises were usually prescribed together, it was not possible to evaluate one move over another for its effectiveness.

The team concludes that in the absence of large well-designed trials, there is simply not enough evidence to show whether facial rejuvenation exercises do anything at all.

More treatments, similar conclusion:  In addition to exercises, some of the studies involved facial massage, acupressure, and acupuncture.

As with the facial poses, the authors conclude that poor study design and small sample size fail to reveal any significant positive effect of these regimens.

But wait - what about the biceps analogy?  I put this question to Edwin Williams, board-certified facial plastic surgeon and President-elect of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS).   Williams tells me that the comparison with skeletal muscles just doesn't apply to muscles in the face.

"Muscles like those in the bicep are attached on either end to bone, and if you work that muscle it will develop some tone to it," he explains.  "But facial muscles are attached to soft tissue.  You might be able to create a little more tone in that muscle, but that won't tighten your face."

What's more, notes Williams, is that exercising your face regularly may actually cause additional wrinkles.

"There are numerous anecdotal examples of stroke patients who've suffered paralysis on one side of their face; they have very smooth skin on the side they can't move.  Botox studies have been done on identical twins as well - where one twin has had Botox injected in the eye area and the other hasn't - and ten years later the one without Botox is the one with the wrinkles."

Botox involves injecting a refined botulinum toxin into a muscle to block contractions; essentially, it temporarily paralyzes that muscle.

While Williams notes that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved Botox injections for the prevention of wrinkles, he says that's what many doctors are witnessing.  He calls it evidence that muscle activity is a major factor contributing to wrinkles.

What does work?   Sun exposure causes the vast majority of premature skin aging, and smoking also is a major threat to a youthful appearance.  Wearing an anti-aging sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and avoiding tobacco are known to prevent wrinkles.  As a topical treatment, vitamin A derivatives (such as tretinoin) are considered the gold standard of anti-aging skin care thanks to their ability to reduce wrinkles, improve tone and even out pigmentation.

Bottom line:  There's no empirical proof that doing facial exercises will keep you looking young, and the opposite may be true.  When asked if there's any merit to a facial fitness routine, Williams' answer is unequivocal.

"The short answer is no - save the time, and go out and do something fun instead."


Do facial exercises work on platysma? Sutton Graham, MD, FACS. "Ask a Surgeon": American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery Public Information Sheet. Accessed October 1, 2014.

Van Borsel J, De Vos MC, Bastiaansen K, Welvaert J, and Lambert J. "The Effectiveness of Facial Exercises for Facial Rejuvenation: A Systematic Review." Aesthetic Surgery Journal 2014, Jan 1; Vol 34 (1) 22-27.

Williams, Edwin. Pres-Elect of American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS). Interview conducted by phone Oct 1, 2014.

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