Facial reflexology has been practiced for centuries in many countries around the world. It involves the application of pressure and massage to specific points on the face.
This traditional healing system is making its way into the mainstream as an alternative method to everything from stress reduction, sleep hygiene, anti-aging, and more.
While facial reflexology is a long-standing practice, there is little science to support its intended benefits.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the face is a microsystem of the internal organs with different parts corresponding to different organs.
The concept of facial reflexology is that there are meridian points on the face that correspond with various organs in the body.
Dr. Shari Auth, DACM, LAC, is a holistic health practitioner in New York City and co-founder of WTHN. Auth suggests facial reflexology uses these corresponding points for healing.
“Facial mapping has traditionally been used to diagnose and bring the body into balance,” explains Auth. “In addition to facial mapping, there are. acupoints on the face that can be used for acupuncture or acupressure. Just like acupoints on the body, these points have a variety of therapeutic benefits.”
According to Brian Goodwin, an esthetician, herbalist, and international educator at Eminence Organic Skin Care, reflexology works by stimulating the brain.
“Stimulating these reflexology points does not affect the organs directly, but instead affects the brain’s areas responsible for the regulation of those organs,” says Goodwin. “Stimulating these meridian points with massage benefits their correlating organs through self-regulation, and, as a result, adverse symptoms may be relieved.”
Schools of thought
According to Auth, facial reflexology has two main streams: the Dien Chan, created by Dr. Bùi Quôc Châu, and the Sorensensistem Method, created by Lone Sorenson.
“Châu’s method is largely inspired by Traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicinal systems, while Sorenson’s method is inspired by both Eastern and South American traditions as well as neuroanatomy,” says Auth.
Although reflexology has been practiced in many countries for thousands of years, it’s important to note that there is still little scientific evidence available to prove its effectiveness.
According to Auth, reflexology was documented in Europe in the 1800s, though this is anecdotal.
“In the late 1800s, German doctor Alfonso Cornelius was documented to have practiced facial reflexology on himself that resulted in healing a serious infection,” says Auth. “He went on to use facial reflexology in his surgeries for patients.”
A 2013 study published in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies indicates that the meridians of TCM may have an effect on the cardiovascular and nervous systems.
Facial reflexology may be beneficial as a treatment alongside other treatments for a condition, but the evidence is lacking. If you want to give it a try, consult your doctor first.
Reflexology has been practiced across cultures for centuries, but the scientific evidence to support it is lacking.
Facial reflexology’s touted benefits are extensive, including:
- better sleep
- increased energy
- healthier skin
- elevated mood
- pain relief
- improvement in immune deficiencies
- headache relief
- clearer sinuses
- calmer mind
- body detoxification
Researchers found a drop in systolic blood pressure of 8.5mmHg immediately after the facial massage, compared to 1mmHg recorded after the foot massages.
Within the study, facial and foot massages were equally effective in reducing subjective levels of alertness during the interventions, with facial massage marginally better at producing subjective sleepiness.
Although this study was done using massage techniques, rather than reflexology techniques, it may indicate that facial reflexology could be an effective complementary treatment in treating stress and sleep issues.
Again, it’s important to note that this study was done using facial massage rather than facial reflexology.
When it comes to improving the skin, Goodwin says reflexology is designed to promote overall health.
“Most practitioners’ intended goal in reflexology is not just increasing the beauty of the skin itself, but instead targeting the body’s holistic health,” says Goodwin. “As a result, your skin may look more radiant, hydrated, and soothed.”
He notes that acne and rosacea may be an exception, claiming that reflexology can trigger these issues within a holistic context.
According to Auth, there are three common points used in facial reflexology that you can practice at home.
“The temples are acupressure/acupuncture points collectively known as taiyang,” says Auth.
Its uses include:
- soothing tension headaches
- relieving stress
- calming the mind
How to practice it:
- Place the pads of your index and middle fingers on your temples.
- Rub the point in a circular direction, slowly breathing in and out for 10 deep breaths.
- Rest your fingers in the center of your temples, hold for two deep breaths, then release slowly.
The bitong point can be found under the nostril, where the nasolabial groove meets the nose.
Its uses include:
- clearing congestion
- calming inflammation
- helping with seasonal ailments
How to practice it:
- Use your index or middle finger to apply pressure to bitong.
- Make small circles to bring circulation to your sinuses.
If you’ve been finding yourself glued to your smartphone, computer, and TV too often these days, you might want to consider targeting Yin Tang.
According to Auth, this point is located on the third eye, the space on the forehead between your eyebrows.
Its uses include:
- clearing the mind
- relieving pressure around the eyes, nose, and head
- relieving eye fatigue
How to practice it:
- Using your first or middle finger, lean your head forward to gradually release the weight of your head onto the support of your finger.
- Apply firm pressure and make a circular motion with your thumb.
- Take 10 deep breaths while massaging, then release.
Three common reflexology points include:
- Taiyang: the temples
- Bitong: the nostril at the nasolabial groove
- Yin tang: the center of the forehead, or “third eye”
There are multiple tools you can use at home to practice facial reflexology on yourself or a loved one.
“The tools used for facial reflexology are numerous, with some resembling jade rollers and others looking like rakes and pointed rolling tools,” says Goodwin. “The hands are also used.”
According to Auth, small wands or gua sha tools can be used to stimulate specific zones of the face corresponding to organs in the body.
Tools used for facial reflexology inclu
- jade rollers
- rolling tools
- gua sha tools
Though many practitioners’ approaches vary and often combine other therapies with facial reflexology, you should expect to be asked about your health concerns and have the practitioner analyze your face.
“They may also perform diagnostics on your skin,” says Goodwin. This involves “creating sensations in the facial skin with tools and asking for your feedback on where you feel the most sensitivity or tenderness.”
This is to identify trouble areas, explains Goodwin.
Treatments are generally gentle and relaxing, and some individuals may even fall asleep.
According to Auth, your skin may have a glow after just one session.
“If you’re looking to reduce existing signs of aging, I recommend going [to a professional] regularly and using DIY tools, such as a gua sha, for maximum results,” says Auth.
Auth suggests visiting your practitioner once a week.
If you’re using facial reflexology to target pain and anxiety, Goodwin says that many people experience immediate relief after the first session.
“It’s expected with repeated visits that symptoms will continue to improve, though each case is individual, and there is no specified amount of treatments that alleviates ailments,” says Goodwin.
On the other hand, some patients have reported experiencing worsened symptoms for the first couple of days after their initial treatment, Goodwin points out. Typically, symptoms subside a few days later and the patient shows marked progress.
“The belief is that as the brain and body respond to the treatment and energetic shifts created by reflexology, there may be an initial worsening of symptoms before improvement,” says Goodwin.
Goodwin explains that, due to its complex nature, extensive instruction and schooling are necessary to perform therapeutic-level facial reflexology.
“I would be wary of any classes that claim to teach facial reflexology in one session or within a couple of hours,” says Goodwin.
Instead, look for schools with these traits:
- recognition through your state’s licensing board
- courses taught by reputable practitioners
- comprehensive programs with at least 80 hours of training spread over multiple modules
Whether you’re suffering from headaches, anxiety, a lackluster complexion, or something else, reflexology experts will tell you there’s a pressure point for that.
Facial reflexology has been practiced for thousands of years around the world. While more scientific research is needed, reflexology is a popular and widespread alternative treatment.
Daley Quinn is a beauty and wellness journalist and content strategist living in Boston. She’s a former beauty editor at a national magazine, and her work has appeared on sites including Allure, Well + Good, Byrdie, Fashionista, The Cut, WWD, Women’s Health Mag, HelloGiggles, Shape, Elite Daily, and more. You can see more of her work on her website.