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What lies behind facial yoga

It’s trending on social media, but can exercising your facial and neck muscles really keep wrinkles, sagging chins and other signs of ageing at bay? 

Your face has over two dozen muscles on either side, essential for chewing, yawning, speaking and making expressions to communicate emotions. As we age, they lose elasticity, wrinkles form and our chins sag.  

Advocates of facial yoga in the slew of YouTube and TikTok posts online contend that by exercising and massaging your face each day, you can help keep these effects at bay. They say it strengthens the muscles, stimulates the skin and promotes blood circulation and lymphatic drainage, helping to define cheekbones, reduce puffiness and promote radiance. 

What science says  

So far there’s been little clinical research to substantiate these claims, and experts such as plastic and reconstructive surgeons have largely dismissed the idea of facial exercise. A systematic review of nine studies on ‘The Effectiveness of Facial Exercises for Facial Rejuvenation’ in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal concluded: “Although facial exercises have been promoted as an alternative to traditional medical procedures for facial rejuvenation, the paucity and quality of available evidence are insufficient for determining whether the exercises are effective for this purpose.” 

However, a small study in the journal JAMA Dermatology has shown promise. Women aged 40 to 65 with sun damage to their skin received instruction in 32 facial exercises, which they did daily, then every other day, for 20 weeks. “Facial exercise resulted in improved upper cheek fullness and lower cheek fullness,” reported the authors. “Mean estimated age decreased significantly when baseline was compared with end of the study (and) participants were more satisfied with all ageing outcomes.” 

The lowdown  

If your aim is to reduce facial fat, spot reduction doesn’t work – the only way is to reduce your overall fat through diet and exercising your body, says Johannesburg registered dietitian Debby Watkins. 

If you hope to reduce wrinkles, exercising facial muscles can pull on skin and stretch it, rather than tightening it, says Dr Hetesh Pitamber, a dermatologist at Sunninghill Hospital in Gauteng. Many of our lines come from excess muscle activity, which is why we call them ‘frown lines’ or ‘smile lines’, and the most common solution is Botox, which smooths wrinkles by freezing muscles.   

Your best bet to keep wrinkles at bay is simply to use sun protection daily, keep hydrated, eat healthily and moisturise your skin, Dr Pitamber advises. 

That said, you may like to incorporate some gentle facial yoga exercises to help boost circulation and give a glow to your complexion, and to relax and destress. Anecdotal evidence suggests you may benefit from improved posture, fewer headaches, reduced teeth grinding and better sleep.  

“Always use clean hands and use an oil or serum so your fingers glide smoothly over the skin without pulling and stretching it, especially around the eyes,” Dr Pitamber says. “You can also use a massage roller (available on sites like Amazon) with small, gentle movements to apply oil or serum.” 

Also read: The most important beauty hacks

5-minute facial yoga workout  

To relieve tension:
Use your fingers to press the inner corners of your eyes for half a minute, then gently circle them in one direction for half a minute. Repeat in the other direction.

To improve circulation and reduce eye puffiness:
Position your fourth fingers on the insides of your eyebrows, then tap gently towards the outside of your brows. Keep tapping above your cheekbones to the inner corners of your eyes. Continue for 30 seconds. 

To relax and smooth your forehead:
Rest your fingertips on the centre of your forehead, facing inwards, then gently press down as you move them towards your temples. Repeat for half a minute. 

To relax neck tension and encourage lymph drainage:
Tilt your head slightly back and rest your fingers at the top of your neck. Pressing gently, slide your fingers down to your collarbone. Press into it for a few seconds then release. Repeat for half a minute. 

For relaxation and to boost circulation (to brighten your complexion):
Start at your forehead and rhythmically tap your skin with your fingertips all along your face to your jawline. Then tap the front of your neck and across your shoulders. Move up the back of your neck to your head. End by rubbing your hands together to generate warmth, and cup your hands over your face while you take a few deep breaths. 

Words by: Glynis Horning
Photography: Gallo/Getty Images 

Also read: 5 reasons to take up yoga

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