A group of dermatologists at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago were highly skeptical of the proliferation of websites touting facial exercises to reverse the visual effects of aging. Presented by men and woman with no medical credentials, these programs were touting “nonsurgical face-lifts” with only anecdotal evidence of any beneficial effects. The dermatologists decided to find out if there was any scientific proof behind these claims.
It is well researched that as we age facial sagging occurs because the fat pads under the skin tend to thin. When we’re young, the pads fit together like Lego pieces, giving structure to the contours of our faces. But the pads change with the years and gravity draws then down, loosening connections, leaving cheeks hollowed and an overall droopier look. Could regular exercising counteract these changes?
The scientists set up a small pilot study with 27 women between the ages of 40 and 65 who were happy to try the facial workouts. All were photographed and then taught 32 exercises – about a 30 minute session – some involving smirks, puckers and other expressive manipulations of the face. They were instructed to do a session everyday for eight weeks at home, followed by another photograph, then to continue the full routine every other day for another 12 weeks, after which they sat for a final photograph.
Overall the woman were very enthused about the results. Though some dropped out because they couldn’t keep up with the program, those who stayed were invigorated and felt they looked better in subtle, but pleasing ways. They liked the feeling of being more expressive and alive. A group of dermatologists not involved in creating the study noted significant improvements in the fullness of the women’s cheeks after 20 weeks, but not much apparent change on their faces or necks. They also estimated the women to be younger after the program than before, on average, about 3 years younger.
Of course, this was a small, short-term study without a control group, but, as Dr. Murad Alam, leader of the study, said, “The improvement was actually greater than I had expected.” He now considers it reasonable to regularly contort your face to foster a younger look: “It’s a nontoxic, inexpensive and self-administered therapy and I suspect it would be hard to hurt yourself.”
Here are 2 examples of face “gymnastics” used by the dermatology study group. You can see this and other exercises in this video produced by Happy Face Yoga. Or, perhaps, make up your own.
The Cheek Lifter
This exercise is designed to lift sagging cheeks and help develop the upper lip.
- Smile. Open your mouth and form a long “O.”
- Fold your upper lip over your front teeth. Smile again to lift the cheek muscles up. Place your index fingers lightly on the top part of your cheek, directly under the eyes. Relax the cheek muscles, allowing them to return to their original, relaxed position.
- Smile again with the corners of your mouth to lift the cheek muscles back up. Visualize pushing the muscles up toward your eyes as you smile. You have just completed one “push-up.” Do 10 of these “push-ups.”
- On the 10th “push-up,” hold your cheek muscles up as high as you can. Imagine that your cheeks are moving up from your face toward the ceiling.
- Move your index fingers an inch away from your face then up over the scalp area. This will help you visualize your cheek muscles moving up. Hold this position for 20 seconds while looking up toward your fingers. Tightening your buttocks during these 20 seconds will help you push your cheek muscles even harder. Release and relax.
- Repeat the exercise three times.
This exercise helps create a better cheekbone shape. It tightens all of your cheek muscles and helps lift the middle part of your face.
- Smile without showing any teeth, while rolling your lips outward as if you were trying to show as much lip as possible. Try to smile with the corners of your mouth as you force all your cheek muscles up. You should feel a slight “burn” in your mouth corners.
- Place your index fingers just above the corners of your mouth, pressing firmly. Now slowly slide your index fingers up to your cheekbones, pressing deeply into the muscle, using very firm pressure.
- Maintaining that pressure, use your fingertips to lift those strands of muscle up and over the cheekbones, toward the corners of your eyes. When you get to the top of your cheekbones, stop, and press tightly, holding the muscles in place.
- Hold for 20 seconds. You should feel the muscles tightening in your cheeks. Be careful not to slide your fingers up too far, past your eyes, as you will lose the grip on those thin strands of muscle.
- For added pressure, and to help hold the grip in place, press your middle fingers on top of your index fingers. Keep smiling with the corners of your mouth.
- Relax, then repeat this exercise two more times.
Though there appears to be some validity to nonsurgical face-lift claims, the reality is, it takes a long time and serious commitment to see modest results. For those who feel good doing it, why not? Others may want to focus simply on enjoying the here and now, eating whole fresh foods, exercising moderately, sleeping well and smiling a lot which also strengthens those facial muscles! Aging gracefully is part of a full life, something to be proud of. As the saying goes (author unknown, though often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt):
Beautiful young people are accidents of nature,
But beautiful old people are works of art.
Association of Facial Exercise With the Appearance of Aging” – JAMA Dermatology
“Facial Exercises May Make You Look 3 Years Younger” – New York Times
“Facial Exercises: The Key to Looking Younger?” – Medical News Today