Can facial exercises reverse signs of aging?

Patients often come into my office asking, “How can I look younger?” While I always recommend healthy living — a balanced diet and regular exercise — in order to look and feel younger, I have never thought of facial exercises as part of that regimen. That is, until a recent study, published in JAMA Dermatology, showed promising results that routine facial exercise may slow the unrelenting tide of time.

Facial exercises: A fountain of youth for your face?

The rationale behind the study stems from the fact that a major part of facial aging is due to the loss of fat and soft tissue, which leads to sagging and exaggeration of wrinkles. If we can lift weights at the gym and enlarge our biceps, why couldn’t the same be done for muscles in our faces, thereby filling out those contours to create a more youthful countenance?

The concept of facial exercise is not a new one. A simple Internet search will produce a litany of blog posts and books on the subject, touting a variety of programs that promise to be the next fountain of youth. What the JAMA Dermatology researchers did in their study, which was the first of its kind, was to examine this question from a more rigorous scientific perspective. They enrolled 27 women between the ages of 40 and 65 to perform daily, 30-minute exercises for eight weeks, and then continue every other day for a total of 20 weeks.

Dermatologists who did not know the participants were asked to rate their photographs before and after the exercise regimen. The dermatologists found an improvement in cheek fullness and estimated the age of the participants at 51 years of age at the start of the program and 48 at the end of the 20-week study. Furthermore, all the participants felt improvement in their own facial appearance at the end of the study.

While these results seem exciting, the study has some obvious limitations. Of the 27 patients enrolled, 11 dropped out before completing the study. One reason may be that the program was too time-consuming, clocking in at 30 minutes a day. The overall small size of the study also limits its generalizability to the larger population. In addition, there was also no control group, meaning a group of participants who did no facial exercises, which would have helped minimize the possibility that this improvement occurred by chance.

It’s also hard to draw conclusions about the longevity of these results. Presumably the exercises must be continued to maintain their effects. But for how long? And how frequently? Which exercises are most fruitful? More studies are needed to address these questions.

Facial exercises may help, but sunscreen is tried and true

For those who are still skeptical but wish to try something more evidence-based to maintain youthfulness, I have one simple suggestion: use sunscreen. You may roll your eyes at the suggestion of sunscreen from a dermatologist, but there is an enormous body of research that demonstrates the sun’s role in prematurely aging our skin. You can protect your skin from these damaging effects by using broad-spectrum, SPF 30 or higher sunscreen daily, especially on the face. An analogy I often make is to think of a rug of in front of a window in your house. How does it look after five or 10 years? If the sun can fade an inanimate object to such a degree, think of what it can do to your skin.

As for facial exercises, the jury is still out. But unlike youth-preserving cosmetic procedures that require money and time for recovery, facial exercises are free and almost certainly not harmful. So why not try facial exercises if you have the time? If they don’t make you look younger, these goofy moves will, at the very least, make you smile.

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Related Information: Skin Care and Repair

Comments:

  1. Akram

    What are the exercises? I would like to learn how to do them. Thanks.

  2. Jill

    J.K
    I have been an excerise junkie for the last 43 years, every day on the treadmill, drink 8/10 glasses of water every day since I was a kid and being a professional chef the last 38 years also helped in making good food choices, I too, in my car, a long commute home after work got bored and started exercising my facial muscles, and have been doing this for the last 24 years everyday, always wanting to age gracefully, all above paid off, I’m 63 years old, people tell me I look like I’m 45 😊 and it’s never to late to start anything in life, excerise, water, good food choices and facial exercises!!!

  3. Diane Evans-Blake MACCC/SLP

    I am a Speech Language Pathologist and I have practiced in hospital and rehabilitation facilities with adults for over 40+ years. I wear sunscreen daily and provide oral range of motion exercise training for my clients all day long. Not only am I improving their oral motor strength, but maintaining my facial/ laryngeal muscular also. I will celebrate another birthday this year looking and feeling great! I am also a Vegan . Facial exercises, sunscreen and a healthy diet work.

  4. LINDA B.

    12 years ago I said to myself that I do exercises to tighten my body muscles so why don’t I do them for my face. This was when my jowls were starting to sag at age 57. Well at age 69, those jowls look better than they did 12 years ago! I do face exercises 4 or 5 times per week and almost always when I am in my car. People always comment about how nice my skin looks and that I don’t look my age. I hardly have any lines or wrinkles. Of course I eat a healthy diet–lots of fruits and vegetables,etc.– and do cardio 3 or 4 times per week which keeps the oxygen moving and the skin glowing! Find many exercises on the internet including “Kiss the Moon” which really helps the jowls and neck.

  5. Sylvia

    I have done facial exercises for over 30 years on and off. My routine which exercises the forehead, cheeks, and under-chin areas take me about 15 min. I started doing these because I observed that men (who rarely use facial moisturizers) are in General more youthful-looking than sane-age women. Men do a series of facial excercices when shaving—without realizing that they are doing this. Therefore…I simply imitated what husband was doing but did series of 10-12 of each plus invented some of my own. I think they work! Skin tightens up, more blood flows to face when muscles are being used. Face definitely stays youthful and skin subtle without drastic surgery or Botox !

  6. R.T. Neary

    Try prayer. I never frown when I do so – but only relax …

  7. Valda

    I have been doing facial exercises for many years. I have never disclosed my daily regime which I do on awakening every morning or in the car on the way to work ( but not stopped at traffic lights) to anyone even my husband. I get many comments on my youthful looks and how I don’t look my age (69). I am still working and feeling great. My little secret.

  8. Alexandria Weida

    Actually, I tried these about ten years ago and maybe it was an annomly but I think I looked worse after several weeks. I would not recommend them at all but that was just my experience. I do agree with the other writer, ‘goofy’ is not quite what I’ve come to expect from Harvard medical.

  9. Carol rubenstein

    What are the exercises? I would like to learn how to do them. Thanks.

  10. Marcia Cox ( retired Science teacher)

    The title is CAN facial exercises……. and makes it quite clear that this was not a scientific process, rather testing an idea.

    I don’t see that this reduces the standard in anyway as it was not set up as a test of an hypothesis.

  11. Eliana Andrade

    Facial exercises reverse signs of ageing. You need to do more research than pick one small study, or google superficial opinions. I’m disappointed this is the new standard for Harvard. “Goofy moves will at least make you smile”?!!! This article is pretty goofy.

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