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Gym for Your Skin

April 10, 2015

Story at-a-glance

  • Your facial muscles play a key role in the contouring and shaping of your face
  • Facial exercises help tone and tighten these muscles, which will support your skin and prevent sagging
  • Increasing blood flow and circulation through facial exercises can also help counteract wrinkles

By Dr. Mercola

You probably think nothing of going to the gym to exercise the muscles in your arms, legs, shoulders and back. But what about the 57 muscles in your face and neck?

These muscles need attention too, and regular facial exercisers say toning and tightening the muscles in your face can lead to fewer lines and wrinkles, improved skin tone, less tension, a firmer jaw line and even fewer headaches and less eyestrain.

Facial exercises have become quite trendy in recent years. At one Manhattan pop-up boutique called Face Love Fitness, for instance, it's said that massage and purposeful movement to your facial muscles, done two to three times a week, helps with detoxification and increases oxygen and blood circulation to your skin. As reported by CNN:1

"Under the skin there is an area of fatty tissue called the subcutaneous layer. It diminishes with age. The loss of this area contributes to decreased firmness, giving facial skin an older, tired look.

Exercising the facial muscles tones and lifts the skin because your facial muscles are attached to your skin and the bone like a web that forms the shape of your face. Through the massages and resistance training, Face Love Fitness claims muscles in the face become stronger and taut, rejuvenating the appearance of the face."

Why Exercising Your Face Makes Sense

Any time you make a facial expression, whether that be a smile, a frown, or a scowl, it causes movement in underlying facial muscles, which will form a groove perpendicular to the movement.

Your unique pattern of facial expression lines predicts your pattern of future persistent wrinkles, leading some to conclude that the less you move your facial muscles, the better as far as wrinkles are concerned.

Facial exercise, however, works muscles that you probably don't move with much regularity, helping them to stay fit and toned. Just as working on your biceps may help the appearance of your arms, working on your facial muscles may help the appearance of your face.

In fact, your facial muscles play a key role in the contouring and shaping of your face, and this is how facial exercises can help you maintain a more youthful look as you age, by preventing drooping eyelids and a sagging neckline, for example.

By regularly exercising your various facial muscles, you can ensure they remain firm, which will support your skin and prevent sagging. Increasing blood flow and circulation through these muscles can also help counteract wrinkles. Some even liken the technique to a natural facelift.

As for scientific evidence to back it up, one systematic review of the effectiveness of facial exercises for facial rejuvenation found that positive outcomes were achieved in all nine studies reviewed.2

However, because none of the studies used a control group and randomization process, the researchers concluded evidence to date is insufficient to determine whether the facial exercises are effective.

As Valeria Georgescu, a face-exercise guru in Washington, D.C. and creator of FACE (Facial Activation Conscious Engagement) Val-U, told Slate when asked about scientific research, "Try it for a month, five minutes a day, and that's your research." 3

Yoga for Your Face

Adopting a regular facial exercise routine is certainly to be preferred over costly, and potentially dangerous, plastic surgeries or botox injections. It doesn't require any special equipment, although you can find various contraptions that claim to help. But in general, you can easily perform face yoga using nothing more than your fingers to create light resistance.

According to Anelise Hagen, author of The Yoga Face: Eliminate Wrinkles with the Ultimate Natural Facelift:4

"The muscles of the face are no different from the muscles of the rest of the body. If you don't exercise the muscles below the neck, they become weak and flabby, and the same thing will happen to your face with age.

Just as yoga routines work the muscles in the body, the stretches and movements in … [face yoga] tighten and tone the face muscles-and combat wrinkles."

As for how long it takes to see results, Eva Fraser, a facial fitness instructor who is in her 70s but often mistaken for being 20 years younger, says your face will be stronger after doing the exercises for about 10 minutes daily for four weeks. She says in about six months, you can shave two decades off your appearance.5

In addition to exercises, some face yoga routines also use acupressure, or applying gentle pressure to specific points on your face in order to increase energy flow, or prana. If you want to give it a try, oil puling is actually one of the simplest techniques to use. Oil pulling involves "rinsing" your mouth with coconut oil, much like you would with a mouthwash (except you shouldn't attempt to gargle with it).

The oil is "worked" around your mouth by pushing, pulling, and drawing it through your teeth for a period of about 20 minutes. Oil pulling is excellent for your oral health, but it will also work your jaw muscles significantly as another benefit.

In addition, here are three face exercises to reduce lines around your eyes and mouth, firm your cheeks and jaw and tone your neck, as reported by The Telegraph:6

"1. The 'V': to reduce lines and wrinkles around eyes

Put both middle fingers together between your eyebrows then apply pressure to the outer corners of eyes with index fingers. Look up and start to move the lower eyelids upwards. Relax and repeat six more times. To finish, squeeze eyes shut for 10 seconds then relax.

2. Smile Smoother: to reduce lines around mouth; to lift and firm cheeks and jaw

Hide your teeth with your lips and make an 'O' with your mouth. Then, smile as widely as you can and keep hiding your teeth. Repeat six times. Next, hold the smile shape and place one index finger on your chin. Then start to move your jaw up and down as you tilt your head back. Relax and repeat twice more.

3. Giraffe: to tone and lift neck

Looking straight ahead, place finger tips on the top of neck and pull the skin down as you tilt head back. Bring head back down and repeat twice. Then jut lower lip out as far as possible, place fingers on collarbone and point chin upwards, pulling the corners of your mouth down. Hold for four deep breaths."

Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy: More Than Just Good Looks

Many devotees to facial exercise are looking for a more youthful appearance, but orofacial myofunctional therapy does much more than that. Myofunctional therapy is the "neuromuscular re-education or re-patterning of the oral and facial muscles."7 The therapy includes facial and tongue exercises and behavior-modification techniques to promote proper tongue position and improved breathing, chewing and swallowing. Proper head and neck postures are also addressed. There are good studies to substantiate that it may resolve jaw problems and orthodontic relapse working in a multi-disciplinary team.

However, it may also be an alternative or adjunctive treatment to facial plastic surgery, to help get rid of lines and saggy facial muscles, which is exciting. In fact, in Brazil, some myofunctional therapists work with plastic surgeons. Myofunctional therapy doesn't just address your oral cavity and tongue—it addresses all the facial muscles -- your head and neck.

It teaches you to breathe through your nose and rest your tongue against the roof of your mouth. You also exercise all your facial muscles, and work on functional posturing and chewing. Joy Moeller is a leading expert in this form of therapy in the US. What are some signs your orofacial muscles may need retraining?

Orthodontic relapse

Bottle feeding

Developmental delays, such as low muscle tone

Long Face Syndrome

Speech problems

Allergies

Frequent headaches

TMJ problems

Thumb sucking, nail or lip biting or other oral habits

Bloating due to air swallowing

Food texture sensitivities

Neck pain

Teeth grinding

Frequent choking, gagging or trouble swallowing

Mild to moderate sleep apnea

Snoring

If you have any of these issues, I would urge you to find a trained therapist who can customize the exercises based on your specific anatomy, and enter into a long-term coaching relationship. There are hundreds of exercises, and each individual is unique. It's a grave mistake to think that you can just do a few basic exercises from a book for a few weeks and be done. In order to really re-pattern all the muscles involved, you need to do it slowly, over time, to reprogram your muscle memory.

To get all your oral-facial and neck muscles working correctly can make a huge difference in your health, well-being and appearance. It can even change the way your face looks, as it actually may change the facial structure. Your skull bones may shift in a slow, comfortable manner. Moeller explains:

"Everybody thinks, 'Oh, your face is your face.' But you know, I see a lot of people that have these long-face syndromes from sleeping on their sides or stomach, mouth-breathing, and resting their tongue in the wrong place. You change that and there are little cells called osteoblasts and osteoclasts. They break down and build up, break down and build up, and within a very short time – months – the whole shape of their face changes."

Your Diet Also Contributes to Glowing, More Youthful Skin

If you're interested in preventing wrinkles, facial exercises alone likely won't cut it. You've also got to pay attention to your diet. One of the most profoundly effective ways to create the most attractive glow for your skin is by consuming vegetables and fruits that are high in carotenoids. Carotenoids give red, orange and yellow fruits their color, and also occur in green vegetables. Studies have shown that eating foods with these deeply colored pigments can make your face actually look healthier than being tanned.8

The more red and yellow tones found in your skin, the more attractive the people were found to be. The redder tones are caused when people are flushed with blood, particularly if the blood has lots of oxygen in it. Researchers found that, given the choice between skin color caused by suntan and skin color caused by carotenoids, people preferred the carotenoid skin color, so if you want a healthier and more attractive skin color, you are better off eating a healthy diet. In order to have clear, healthy skin, you need to make sure your body is relatively free of toxins as well, so cleansing your body of dangerous substances while putting in the finest nutrients is essential.

Eating a healthy diet as described in my nutrition plan, which focuses on whole, bioavailable organic foods, is your number one strategy for helping your body detox naturally while supplying the necessary nutrients your skin needs to thrive. That said, some foods are particularly effective at promoting beautiful, clear skin, including:

Animal-based omega-3 fats: Omega-3 fats help to normalize skin lipids and prevent dehydration in the cells. This keeps skin cells strong and full of moisture, which can help to decrease the appearance of fine lines.

Fatty acid deficiency can manifest in a variety of ways, but skin problems such as eczema, thick patches of skin, and cracked heels are common. Plus, omega-3 fats may have an anti-inflammatory effect that can help to calm irritated skin, giving you a clear, smooth complexion. Sardines and anchovies are excellent sources of animal-based omega-3s, as is krill oil.

Vegetables: Ideally fresh, organic and locally grown. Fresh vegetable juice is also wonderful for your skin.

Fermented foods are even better as they can start with the same vegetables but are converted by bacteria to superfoods, which help promote the growth of friendly intestinal bacteria and aid in digestion. Signals from these gut microorganisms are sent throughout your body—they even interact with organisms in your skin. Researchers are now looking into how these interactions can help with a wide variety of skin conditions, including dryness and poor collagen production.

Avoid Sugars, Fructose and Grains: This is probably the single most important step you can take to improve your skin health. If you eliminate all sugars, fructose and grains from your diet for a few weeks there is a major likelihood you will notice rapid improvement in your complexion.

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Sources and References

  • 1 CNN March 30, 2015
  • 2 Aesthet Surg J. 2014 Jan 1;34(1):22-7.
  • 3 Slate January 20, 2011
  • 4 The Yoga Face: Eliminate Wrinkles with the Ultimate Natural Facelift
  • 5 Daily Mail
  • 6 The Telegraph March 17, 2013
  • 7 The Critical Missing Element to Complete Patient Care, By Joy L. Moeller, RDH, BS, COM
  • 8 Evolution and Human Behavior Volume 32, Issue 3, May 2011, Pages 216–227
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