From instructional DVDs to group classes, women are now stretching and flexing their faces to achieve firmer, smoother, younger-looking skin. This new type of workout targets facial muscles using exercises like pursing the lips, frowning and raising the eyebrows. Proponents of facial exercise argue that the benefits are similar to exercising any other muscle in the body. You sculpt firm, attractive abs and build strong biceps by contracting your muscles, so why wouldn’t you see similar benefits from exercising your face? But, is it really possible to achieve a younger-looking complexion with brow raises and funny faces? Here are the facts.
Reasons for aging skin
Before exploring this fad, let’s examine why skin ages, sags and loses firmness in the first place. In addition to the natural aging process, multiple factors are responsible, including:
- Sun exposure. Even if you rarely sunbathe, daily exposure to UV rays adds up over the years, breaking down collagen and elastin. In fact, up to 90 percent of the visible signs of aging are caused by the sun, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. This means UV rays can cause dryness, discoloration, deep wrinkles and loose, leathery, sagging skin.
- Collagen loss. Collagen is key in keeping skin firm and taut. It affects skin's overall feel and texture. As we age, collagen production naturally slows down, causing the skin to lose its firm and plump feel.
- Gravity. Gravity also contributes to wrinkling and sagging by “acting over time on the connective ligament-like tissues that hold the fat pads of the face in place,” dermatologist Fred Fedok, M.D., tells St. John Health.
- Facial expressions. Years of smiling, frowning, glaring and squinting can lead to sagging skin, lines and wrinkles.
The facts from dermatologists
So, are facial exercises something you should try or avoid at all costs? Here’s a list of reasons to pick the latter.
- Facial exercises can't undo years of sun damage.
- It’s impossible to build up more collagen with exercise, unlike building muscle tone in other areas. In other words, loss of collagen leads to loss of firmness, and because facial exercises won't produce more collagen, they won't work to firm your skin.
- The squinting and puckering movements involved in facial exercises will actually produce lines and wrinkles. Dermatologist Audrey Kunin, M.D., tells WebMD that facial exercises can cause more lines and creases and even highlight the lines you already have. A perfect example is laugh lines and crow’s feet.
- If you’re doing a bizarre contortion, you might even cause your muscles to spasm and have permanent damage, cosmetic dermatologic surgeon Min-Wei Christine Lee, M.D., tells Time.
Tips for younger-looking skin
Since it’s highly unlikely that facial exercises are the next effective thing in anti-aging, here’s what you can do:
- Try facial massage.
Using the pads of your fingers, try a gentle facial massage. Estheticians, technicians and nurses frequently perform massages before a facial treatment or chemical procedure. It can help boost circulation and draw bacteria and other impurities to the skin's surface for easier removal, explains Linda Nelson, national technical director of Skin Authority, on Consumer Guide to Plastic Surgery.
- Look to skincare.
Younger-looking skin always appears supple, hydrated and firm, effects you can achieve with topical treatments. To help skin maintain firmness, look for peptides in your creams, which assist with collagen production, dermatologist Fran E. Cook-Bolden, M.D., tells Woman's Day. Retinoids and alpha hydroxy acids (i.e., glycolic acid) are particularly powerful in producing collagen. To hydrate the skin, find products that contain hyaluronic acid or glycerin.
- Practice sun safety.
Healthy sun care habits are vital to younger-looking skin. As part of your routine, make sure to apply sunscreen every day, never sunbathe or use tanning beds and wear a hat and sunglasses. Seeking the shade is helpful but it shouldn’t substitute your sunscreen and protective clothing. In fact, “Concrete and sand can reflect most of the sun's harmful rays,” according to St. John Health.
- Ask a pro.
Dermatologists offer all kinds of surgical and non-surgical procedures to rejuvenate the skin. One option is Thermage, a device that uses heat and radio waves to penetrate skin's deeper layers, stimulating collagen, tightening tissue and causing skin to become firmer.
The bottom line
Many factors are responsible for aging skin. And facial exercises can’t correct any of them. So, regardless of how many squints, squeezes or puckers you do, facial exercises won't counteract sagging or wrinkles. Fortunately, you have a wide array of anti-aging options for maintaining younger-looking, healthy skin.
Learn everything you need to know about anti-aging skincare in our Anti-Aging Handbook.