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Aesthetics

What Is ‘Face Yoga’, And Can It Really Make You Look Younger?

Posted on 22 November 2023

Face yoga is a technique that involves various facial exercises that are supposed to stimulate the muscles, skin and lymphatic system of the face to improve its appearance. The idea of face yoga isn’t new, but has recently experienced a resurgence in popularity on social media. It is claimed that these practices can reduce wrinkles, tone the muscles of the face and more.

Regardless of whether you think face yoga sounds silly or not, we all know that scientific data is the best way to reach the truth, regardless of what before and after photographs from influencers claim to show. So, what do scientific studies of face yoga have to say on the matter?

Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot to go on, and those studies that do exist have problems. Take for example this 2018 study titled ‘Association of Facial Exercise With the Appearance of Aging’. Researchers recruited 16 women aged 40-65 who were taught 32 facial exercises by a certified facial exercise instructor. Participants then performed these exercises for 30 minutes a day for 8 weeks. Photographs were taken before and after the intervention and then again after 20 weeks, and dermatologists rated various characteristics of facial ageing for each photograph. They determined that participants had, on average, significantly improved cheek fullness and reduced estimated age. 

Table showing dermatologist facial ageing assessment average scores at baseline, 8 weeks and 20 weeks post treatment start.
Association of Facial Exercise With the Appearance of Aging

However, aside from having only 16 participants, the study had some major flaws. First among these was the lack of a control group who did not perform facial exercises (or better yet, a placebo control group taught to do fake exercises). This means we have no idea if signs of facial ageing would have decreased anyway. Why might facial ageing have decreased? Because the study recruited participants who were ‘interested in facial exercises’, which means they were probably doing other things in an attempt to improve their appearance. The authors did not tell participants to stop other practices like the use of beauty products during the study, and did not even ask them if they were using any.

Just in case you think we cherry-picked a particularly bad study, this is actually one of the better face yoga studies, simply because the dermatologists were not told which pictures were taken before and which were taken after the treatment. A systematic review looked at 9 studies with positive results. Not only did not a single study feature a control group, but the benefits of the treatment were sometimes assessed by the study authors themselves in full knowledge of which pictures were post treatment! A rare example of a study that did use a control group failed to conclude that facial exercises were beneficial.

So, does this mean we should completely write off the idea of face exercises for reducing signs of facial ageing? Well, not entirely – the existing data may be poor, but better designed studies may still be able to find some benefit. While exercising or massaging the muscles of the face is unlikely to have any effect on your skin, it’s at least plausible that it could improve muscle tone. According to Suzanne Olbricht, an associate professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, building muscle in the face could potentially help prevent fat from being redistributed under the pull of gravity. The key word here is ‘potentially’, since the science still doesn’t really support a benefit to facial exercises at this time. These benefits, if they exist, are also likely to be quite small.

While the science may not be very convincing, face yoga is unlikely to do you any harm. However, we propose that your time would be infinitely better spent by simply doing normal physical exercise. We know for a fact that exercise suppresses many processes involved in ageing, such as inflammation and senescence. These are system-wide benefits that apply to the skin and muscle throughout the body just as they apply to the heart, brain and other tissues. There are scientific studies showing that physical exercise improves skin quality, and while more research is needed, these studies already look far more convincing than those for facial exercises.

Summary of results from a study that comparing resistance training to aerobic exercise. The study relied on objective measurements like collagen production and elasticity to assess the effects of the intervention. They found that resistance training was more beneficial than aerobic exercise. Unfortunately, this study did not include a sedentary control group.
Resistance training rejuvenates aging skin by reducing circulating inflammatory factors and enhancing dermal extracellular matrices

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    References

    Title image by eva wilcock, Upslash

    Association of Facial Exercise With the Appearance of Aging https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/article-abstract/2666801?redirect=true

    The Effectiveness of Facial Exercises for Facial Rejuvenation: A Systematic Review https://doi.org/10.1177/1090820X13514583

    Facial exercises for facial rejuvenation: a control group study https://doi.org/10.1159/000354083

    Resistance training rejuvenates aging skin by reducing circulating inflammatory factors and enhancing dermal extracellular matrices https://doi.org/10.1038%2Fs41598-023-37207-9

    Does your face need a workout? https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/does-your-face-need-a-workout

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