While the human face is a thing of beauty, maintaining taut, smooth skin often becomes a source of stress as we age. If you’ve ever searched for a natural solution to sagging skin, you may be familiar with facial exercises.
Fitness celebrities have long endorsed facial workouts designed to slim the face and reverse the aging process — from Jack LaLanne in the 1960s to soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo in 2014. But do these exercises actually work?
Countless books, websites, and product reviews promise miraculous results, but any evidence that suggests facial exercises are effective for slimming cheeks or reducing wrinkles is largely anecdotal.
There’s little clinical research on the efficacy of facial exercises. Experts like Dr. Jeffrey Spiegel, chief of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery at Boston University School of Medicine, believe that these muscle-blasting facial workouts are a total bust.
However, a small study conducted by Dr. Murad Alam, vice chair and professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine dermatologist, shows some promise of the possibility of improvement with facial exercises. Assuming that a larger study supports the same results, it may not be time yet to give up on facial exercises.
Why don’t they work?
For weight loss
Generally speaking, exercising muscles burns calories, which can mean weight loss. However, we don’t decide where in the body those calories come from. So, while facial exercises may strengthen your muscles, if what you’re after are slimmer cheeks, rhythmic smiling alone won’t get you there.
Spiegel notes that “spot reduction,” or working out a particular area of the body to lose weight there, does not work. Other experts agree. The only healthy, nonsurgical way to reduce facial fat is overall weight loss achieved through diet and exercise. In fact, working out your facial muscles can have undesirable effects, such as making you appear older.
For wrinkle reduction
The muscles in the face form a complex web and can attach to bone, each other, and the skin. Unlike bone, skin is elastic and provides little resistance. As a result, working out facial muscles pulls on the skin and will stretch it out, not tighten it.
“The truth is that many of our facial wrinkles come from excess muscle activity,” Spiegel says. Laugh lines, crow’s feet, and forehead wrinkles all come from using facial muscles.
The idea that toning facial muscles prevents wrinkles is backward, notes Spiegel. “It’s like saying ‘stop drinking water if you’re thirsty,’” he says. “The opposite works.” Botox, for example, prevents wrinkles by freezing muscles, which eventually atrophy. Patients with partial facial paralysis often have smoother, less-wrinkled skin where they’re paralyzed.
What does work?
The primary nonsurgical way to slim down in your face is to slim down as a whole, with diet and exercise. Everybody is different, though, and a fuller face may be the result of bone structure, rather than fat.
If preventing wrinkles is your goal, simple steps like using sun protection, staying hydrated, and moisturizing can go a long way. Try a facial acupressure massage to relax muscles and relieve tension.
If erasing wrinkles is what you’re after, Spiegel suggests meeting with a facial plastic surgeon. “If this is important to you, don’t spend your day reading blogs,” he says. “Go to a specialist and let them give you an opinion. Ask about the science and find out what works. It doesn’t hurt to talk.”
There’s no foolproof guide to aging gracefully, but knowing what works and what doesn’t can help make the process less stressful. If one thing’s for sure, it’s that worrying does give you wrinkles. However, as noted earlier, don’t give up on those exercises just yet. More studies are sure to be coming soon.