Skin

Should we really be ‘exercising’ our faces?

February 17th 2017 / Anna Hunter

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You’ve mastered crow pose and you’ve got ‘scissors’ down, but can you really apply yoga and exercise principles to your face?

Whether you spend your weekends downward dogging or could do Hundreds for days, most of us have dabbled in a bit of yoga or pilates, but of late exercises inspired by those carried out on the mat have been migrating to the face. Holding facial expressions in the style of yoga poses and adopting Pilates inspired facial massage moves are becoming increasingly popular in the skincare arena, with masterclasses held via Skype and spas framing facial treatments in a ‘warm-up’, ‘workout’ and ‘stretch’ context. Is facial stretching, kneading and posing the next step in an altogether more relaxed skincare regime (the botox backlash), or could facial ‘exercising’ be causing unnecessary wear and tear? We weigh up benefits and drawbacks of getting physical with your face…

Pros

Facial yoga has stood the test of time. Facialist Abigail James thinks that the current interest in a more holistic approach to wellbeing has triggered a resurgence in interest in yogic facial techniques:

“The trend has been around for a long time; more than a few decades! It’s becoming ever more popular as we are looking for a combined approach to keeping of faces looking young and fresh.”

“The idea behind facial yoga is to work through a series of ‘expressions’ to firm and lengthen facial muscles, but to reap any benefits you need to be doing it correctly (see Abigail’s beginner’s guide videos here for starters).”

There’s a lot to be said for actually breathing. Seems simple, but many of us are short changing ourselves on deep breathing front, often due to elevated stress levels or ingrained habits, and this can have a knock on effect on our skin. Abigail recommends borrowing savasana style routines and applying them to your skincare regime:

“Yogic breathing immediately makes the shoulders drop and the face relax. An increased intake of oxygen, which of course all cells require, lowers stress levels and balances the heart rate. There is a huge connect between stress and an increased rate of skin aging as well as acne, so yogic breathing can be a great way to soothe both mind and body, plus it costs nothing.”

“In a nutshell, never underestimate the link between the wellbeing of the body and mind with the vibrancy of the skin, mental balance, reduced stress levels and increased oxygen flow. They are all crucial to healthy skin.”

Pilates and yoga inspired massage can make all the difference. Circulation-boosting massage can enhance the appearance of the skin from the get-go (holler rosy glow), and even facilitate the action of skincare products. For Abigail, it’s a vital component to a good facial:

“A facial from a professional can be a little like a well thought out class- there’s a structured process that you go through and each stage has its benefits. Starting with a cleanse is key, but following up by softening the neck and shoulder muscles with massage before anything else helps the head and neck to drain better, making what you then do on the face more effective.”

Dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams agrees that drainage massage techniques have their place in a skincare regime:

“The only facial massage technique that I am quite fond of is lymphatic drainage massage. Lymph is a fluid that flows in a complex system of lymph vessels, carrying away waste from our tissues; a very important job. We have lymph vessels all over our body, but it’s a completely separate system to our blood vessels, and it was discovered much later.”

Dr Stefanie has devised the only dermatology grade facial in the UK currently using lymphatic drainage massage- the Fit Skin Forever facial is non-invasive yet regenerative, combining everything you'd expect from a superior in-clinic facial (advanced microdermabrasion, gentle peel and a go with the frankly incredible 'Hydrafacial' machine) with firming, de-puffing massage. Lymphatic drainage massage is also key component of many newly launched holistic treatments that aim to address stress in addition to skin issues. The Bamford Bespoke Facial, £85 for 60 minutes, aims to release facial tension by way of yogic breathing, lymphatic drainage massage and the application of cooling jade stones, not to mention a treatment room filled with Palo Santo wood embers to calm your nerves on arrival. Décleor Facial Pilates, £75 for 1 hour 15 minutes, was designed by massage specialist Chiro Shigeta to lift, stimulate circulation and drain lymph tissue, following the principles of a warmup, workout and stretch in terms of massage style and intensity, combined with a back massage for ultimate wellbeing feels.

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Last but not least, Face Gym’s Yoga Facial, £50 for 30 minutes, goes one step further in terms of literal yoga borrowings, beginning with gentle body stretching and sun salutations, alongside breathwork, before a cleansing warm-up, rhythmic acupressure facial massage and meditative finish.

We’ve established that there’s many uplifting features associated with a yoga or pilates inspired skincare approach, but you can overstretch it…

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Cons

Certain facial exercises can accelerate ageing. Not what facial yoginis want to hear, but Dr Stefanie counsels against getting too physically active with your face:

“Many people think that by doing facial exercises they can prevent or reverse the signs of facial ageing, such as sagging and volume loss, but this is a myth. Loss of cheek volume with skin sagging is mainly related to deflation of fat tissue and resorption of underlying bone structure, rather than a loss of facial muscle, so facial exercises won’t help.”

“In fact, facial exercises may even hinder your quest against ageing, as many lines and wrinkles form as a result of facial expression, just think about smile lines or frown lines. That’s why relaxing certain facial muscles (as we do with Botox or Bocouture treatments) is so highly effective to soften lines and wrinkles.”

You can’t ‘workout’ your face, per se…

Pumping iron doesn’t quite have the same effect on your visage as it might on your biceps, as Dr Stefanie explains:

“Facial muscles are very thin in structure, and very different from the much bulkier muscles on say the thighs or buttocks. So even by exercising your facial muscles daily, you would never be able to ‘bulk’ them up like you can do with muscles on the body.”

In short, take the weight off your face.

Application ain’t everything

The products that you use are more pertinent than the way you apply them, according to Dr Stefanie:

“For homecare products, the products that you use and the order in which you apply them is more important than how you touch your face or which gadgets you use when you apply your products.”

“Facial massage with facial massaging tools will help to increase the skin’s blood and nutrient supply, which is why your skin will look rosy and luminous post-massage. It does not however increase collagen production or have significant or long-lasting anti-ageing benefits in my opinion.”

The takeaway? By all means inhale, exhale and indulge in a spot of relaxing ‘exercise’ themed massage for an instant skin and sanity boost, but don’t get carried away with pulling poses, stretching skin or pushing your face to defy gravity. If you need me, I’ll be in child’s pose.

Book an appointment with Abigail here and a consultation with Dr Stefanie and her team here

Follow Abigail on Twitter @Abigail_James, Dr Stefanie @DrStefanieW and Anna @AnnaMaryHunter


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