These Exercises Took Years Off Aging Faces

Could facial exercises be a natural alternative to cosmetic surgery?
January 18, 2018 Updated: January 25, 2018

A regular facial exercise program sustained over 20 weeks improved the facial appearance of middle-aged women, resulting in a younger appearance with fuller upper and lower cheeks, report researchers.

“Now there is some evidence that facial exercises may improve facial appearance and reduce some visible signs of aging,” said lead author Murad Alam, vice chair and professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine dermatologist. “The exercises enlarge and strengthen the facial muscles, so the face becomes firmer and more toned and shaped like a younger face.”

“Individuals now have a low-cost, nontoxic way of looking younger or to augment other cosmetic or antiaging treatments they may be seeking.”

Published in JAMA Dermatology, it’s the first scientific study to test the premise that facial exercise improves appearance.

As the face ages, skin loses elasticity and fat pads between the muscle and skin become thinner. The fat pads, which fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, give the face much of its shape. As skin becomes saggy, the thinning fat pads atrophy and slide, causing the face to “fall down.”

“If muscle underneath becomes bigger, the skin has more stuffing underneath it and the firmer muscle appears to make the shape of the face more full,” said senior study author Emily Poon, an assistant research professor in dermatology at Feinberg. “Muscle growth is increasing the facial volume and counteracting the effects of age-related fat thinning and skin loosening.”

Smiley Exercises

Study participants, women aged 40 to 65, underwent two sets of face-to-face 90-minute training sessions from a facial exercise instructor. At home, they continued to do these exercises for a total of 20 weeks. For the first eight weeks, they did the exercises daily for 30 minutes. From week nine to week 20, they did the same exercises every other day for 30 minutes a session.

Study co-author Gary Sikorski of Happy Face Yoga developed and provided the exercises.

“Facial exercises that may be beneficial include those that entail puckering and squeezing the cheeks,” Alam said. “There are many muscles that collectively allow movement of the cheeks, and our study showed that building these up makes the upper and lower cheeks look fuller.”

Participants learned and performed 32 distinct facial exercises, each one for about a minute. One is The Cheek Lifter: Open the mouth and form an O, position the upper lip over the teeth, smile to lift cheek muscles up, put fingers lightly on the top part of the cheek, release the cheek muscles to lower them, and lift back up. Repeat by lowering and lifting the cheeks.

Another exercise is the Happy Cheeks Sculpting: Smile without showing the teeth, purse lips together, smile forcing the cheek muscles up, place your fingers on corners of the mouth and slide them up to the top of the cheeks, then hold for 20 seconds.

Of the 27 participants initially recruited, 16 did all the exercises for the entire duration of the study. Limitations of the study were the small sample size and that the participants were all middle-aged women. It remains to be seen if the results apply to other populations, the authors say.

3 Years Younger

Dermatologists assessed before and after photos using a standardized facial aging scale (Merz-Carruthers Facial Aging Photoscales). The dermatologist raters looked separately at 19 features of the face and rated all of those at three different time points: at the beginning, at week eight, and at week 20.

They also rated each participant’s age at the beginning, at eight weeks, and at week 20. Lastly, they asked how happy participants were with the results.

The raters found that upper cheek and lower cheek fullness, in particular, was significantly enhanced as a result of the exercises. In addition, the raters estimated average patient age decreased over the course of the study. It started at 50.8 years, dropped to 49.6 years at eight weeks, and then to 48.1 years at 20 weeks.

“That’s almost a three-year decrease in age appearance over a 20-week period,” Alam said.

Participants also reported being highly satisfied with the results and noticed an improvement in nearly all the facial areas that were rated.

This article was originally published by Northwestern University. Republished via under Creative Commons License 4.0.