What Is Face Yoga? Plus, 5 Exercises to Try at Home
Just like going to the gym keeps your body in shape, these yoga-inspired exercises are said to tone the muscles on your face to help keep you looking young.
You know that exercise keeps you looking and feeling your best. But can extending workouts to your face have similar effects?
Possibly. That’s the idea behind face yoga, a growing trend that claims to deliver skin-lifting effects without surgery, needles, or even expensive skin-care products. While many people have been shelving their usual facials and procedures in favor of staying home and minimizing their risk of contracting COVID-19, some have turned to face yoga as a DIY approach to younger-looking skin.
What Is Face Yoga?
First things first: Face yoga doesn’t involve the usual shavasana or Downward-Facing Dog poses you’re familiar with from your yoga practice. “Yoga” is just a catchy way to say facial exercises that move the muscles on your face into certain positions — kind of like yoga for your body. The idea is that performing these exercises will keep your face looking toned and young, lifting areas that are sagging and drooping, and trimming years from your visage.
“The aim is to create a moment of self-care where you improve blood circulation for a healthy glow and reduce stress and tension in your face,” says Elsa Jungman, PhD, a scientist, microbiome expert, and proponent of facial yoga based in San Francisco.
Most people hold tension in their faces, whether through facial expressions or too much time in front of a screen. “All these daily activities cause patterns in how we use our face and the specific muscles we recruit,” Dr. Jungman says. “This is why we want to focus more on releasing and softening our faces to let go of these patterns and any held facial tension.”
Touted Benefits of Face Yoga
- Release tension, which can minimize the appearance of stress lines
- Strengthen and tone facial muscles to ultimately widen eyes, raise cheeks, and firm up the jawline
- Increase circulation and blood flow to the skin, which makes the skin glow
- Smooth fine lines and wrinkles
- Counter the effects of gravity
- Reduce the appearance of scars
Some dermatologists say there’s some truth to these claims. “The goal of face yoga is to increase the blood and oxygen supply to your skin, which improves the life of the cell,” says Deborah Longwill, DO, a board-certified dermatologist at Miami Center for Dermatology in Florida and cofounder of Doctor's Daughter Skincare. “This leads to glowing and rejuvenated skin.”
Lucy Chen, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Riverchase Dermatology in Miami, also says you could reduce visible signs of aging by toning the muscles through specific facial exercise training.
It should be noted, though, that there isn’t much research about facial yoga or facial exercises. The most promising and most-often-cited support comes from research published in March 2018 in JAMA Dermatology. In the study, a group of participants ages 40 to 65 performed facial exercises for 30 minutes a day for eight weeks. Then for 12 more weeks, they practiced the exercises three to four times per week. At the end of the 20 weeks, the study participants saw improved upper and lower cheek fullness. They also looked younger at the end of the study, with two dermatologists estimating the participants’ average age was 50.8 years old at the start of the study and 48.1 years 20 weeks later.
You shouldn’t expect drastic changes, though. The JAMA Dermatology study authors noted that their participant sample was small and the results were modest. And keep in mind that face exercises won’t alter the texture of your skin, according to Harvard Health, though moving and stretching scarred skin through face yoga can lessen the appearance of scars.
RELATED: 6 Yoga Poses for Glowing Skin
Potential Risks of Face Yoga
Leaning on face yoga as your go-to anti-aging regimen may backfire, too. Some experts say contorting your face in these ways can actually lead to more wrinkles.
“Many facial wrinkles — for example, crow’s-feet, laugh lines, and forehead wrinkles — result from repetitive facial muscle activity such as frowning or smiling,” Dr. Chen says. “Some question whether routinely pulling your face and exercising those muscles could create wrinkles and fine lines.”
Think of Botox, which works by “freezing” the muscles in the face in order to minimize the appearance of wrinkles. With face yoga, you’re doing just the opposite, and if done too aggressively or incorrectly, Chen says facial yoga may actually accelerate signs of aging.
Not to mention, sweaty hands carry dirt, oil, and bacteria that can clog pores and cause breakouts. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends not touching your face to help prevent acne.
5 Face Yoga Exercises to Try at Home
Want to give it a try? Here are five exercises used in the JAMA Dermatology study. Jungman recommends practicing for five to 10 minutes each day to start, eventually working your way up to 15 to 20 minutes per day as part of your skin-care routine and self-care practice.
- The Cheek Lifter Open your mouth and form an O. Position your upper lip over your teeth and smile to lift cheek muscles up. Place your index fingers lightly on top of your cheek muscles, directly under your eyes. Release cheek muscles to lower them. Then smile again, thinking about pushing the muscles up toward your eyes. Repeat by lowering and lifting the cheeks 10 times. On the 10th time, hold your muscles up as high as you can and hold for 20 seconds. Repeat three times.
- Happy Cheeks Sculpting Smile without showing your teeth and roll your lips out as if trying to show as much lip as possible. Try to smile with the corners of your mouth so you feel a slight burn in the corners of your mouth. Press your index fingers into the corners of your mouth and slide the fingers up to your cheekbones as you press into the muscle. Lift the muscle up to the cheekbones, toward the corners of your eyes. When you get to the top of your cheekbones, hold for 20 seconds and feel the muscles tightening in your cheeks. Keep smiling with the corners of your mouth as you do this. Repeat three times.
- The Eyebrow Lifter Press three fingertips under each of your eyebrows to force your eyes open. Smile as you try to lower your eyebrows against your fingers. Hold. Then close your eyes and roll your eyeballs toward the top of your head. Hold for 20 seconds and keep smiling. Release and repeat three times.
- Jaw and Neck Firmer Open your mouth and make an “aah” sound. Fold your lower lip and the corners of your lips into your mouth and hold tightly as you extend your lower jaw forward. Using your lower jaw, scoop up slowly as you close your mouth, pulling your chin up about 1 inch each time you scoop and tilting your head backward. Open and close your lower jaw 10 times. On the 10th scoop, your chin should be pointing to the ceiling. Hold this position for 20 seconds and think about the sides of your face lifting. Repeat three times.
- Temple Developer Press your fingertips into your temples as you close your jaw, clenching your teeth together and tilting your chin up. Clench your teeth and concentrate on the temple region, thinking about trying to move your ears backward. Hold for 10 seconds, then clench your back teeth down and hold for 10 seconds. Your temple muscles should flex with each clench. Relax and then repeat three times.