Facial exercises, also known as facial yoga or face yoga, have become a popular natural anti-aging treatment. The technique promises to reduce wrinkles, tighten skin, and sculpt facial features by using your fingers to perform various exercises that target different muscles in the face.
But do facial exercises really deliver the claimed benefits? Or are you better off saving your time and money?
Here, we’ll review the evidence on facial exercises and whether they can truly help reduce signs of aging.
How do facial exercises work?
The concept behind facial exercises is that repetitive motions can strengthen, tone, and increase muscle volume in targeted areas of the face and neck, similar to how strength training builds muscles elsewhere in the body.
By activating and contracting different facial muscles, advocates claim you can:
- Increase blood flow and collagen production
- Release facial tension
- Build muscle volume to lift sagging skin
- Smooth out wrinkles and fine lines
Proponents say facial exercises may also improve facial symmetry, reduce puffiness, minimize the appearance of double chins and jowls, and sharpen facial features.
The most common types of facial exercises include:
- Forehead lifts: Looking upwards and raising your eyebrows as high as possible.
- Eye smootheners: Gently pressing your fingers on either side of crow’s feet wrinkles, then opening and closing your eyes.
- Cheek lifts: Placing your fingers on your cheeks and smiling to lift the cheek muscles up toward the eyes.
- Lip plumpers: Puckering your lips tightly like you’re giving someone a kiss.
- Jawline chiselers: Opening your mouth wide and feeling the stretch along your jaw.
- Chin toners: Pushing your chin out while keeping lips closed.
- Neck strengtheners: Slowly moving your head forward and back to feel the stretch in your neck.
A facial exercise routine may involve performing 8–12 repetitions of each exercise daily. Advocates often recommend doing them for at least 20–30 minutes per day to see results.
What does the research say?
Despite plenty of anecdotal reports of facial exercises improving skin tone and elasticity, there’s limited scientific evidence that they live up to these claims.
Here’s what the research says so far:
Small studies show some benefits
A few small studies suggest facial exercises may provide minor improvements:
- A 2018 study in 80 middle-aged women found facial exercise led to fuller upper and lower cheeks after 8 weeks, but no difference in wrinkles or elasticity (1).
- A 2014 study in 30 middle-aged women found facial exercise decreased jowl volume after 8 weeks but didn’t affect wrinkles (2).
- A 2018 study in 28 women found facial exercise reduced wrinkles and improved facial elasticity after 5 weeks (3).
- A 2019 study in 60 women found facial exercise led to increased cheek fat volume after 8 weeks (4).
While these studies suggest some benefits, they had very small sample sizes. Larger, longer-term studies are needed.
Muscle growth is minimal
Facial exercises are intended to build facial muscle. However, research shows any increases in muscle size or volume are minimal:
- A 2020 MRI study found facial exercises increased muscle thickness by just 3.5% after 4 months (5).
- A 2021 MRI study found facial yoga increased muscle volume by only 1.47% after 8 weeks (6).
These gains are tiny and unlikely to dramatically rejuvenate facial appearance.
No evidence for anti-aging effects
Despite claims that facial exercises increase collagen, reduce wrinkles, and lift sagging skin, most research has not observed meaningful anti-aging effects:
- A 2020 review found facial exercises had no significant effects on wrinkles, skin elasticity, or collagen (7).
- A 2021 review found insufficient evidence that facial exercises improve facial appearance, sagging skin, or wrinkles (8).
- A 2022 study found facial yoga did not affect wrinkles, skin texture, pigmentation, or sagging after 8 weeks (9).
More research is needed, but the lack of convincing evidence is concerning given how widely touted the anti-aging benefits are.
When performed correctly, facial exercises are unlikely to cause harm. But improper form could potentially lead to:
- Muscle strains. Overexerting facial muscles could lead to pain, soreness, and strained muscles.
- Excessive tension. Some exercises require making exaggerated facial expressions, which could increase facial tension and worsen wrinkles over time.
- Skin irritation. Pressing or rubbing the skin excessively could irritate sensitive facial areas.
It’s important to be gentle, avoid overexerting facial muscles, and stop if any discomfort or pain develops.
Who may see more benefits?
While facial exercises seem to offer minimal improvements for most people, some evidence suggests certain populations may see more anti-aging benefits:
Facial exercises may help prevent signs of aging if started earlier in life before wrinkles develop. But benefits remain unproven.
People with facial movement issues
For people with limited facial mobility from Bell’s palsy, facial paralysis, or muscle atrophy, gentle exercises could aid facial reanimation and strength.
As a complement to cosmetic procedures
Some plastic surgeons recommend facial exercises after procedures like facelifts, eyelid surgeries, or filler injections to enhance results. The exercises may help strengthen and tone treated areas. However, research is lacking.
The bottom line
Despite widespread claims about their anti-aging abilities, there’s minimal evidence that facial exercises substantially increase muscle volume, collagen, elasticity, or reduce wrinkles.
Mild improvements in facial fat and muscle may occur with consistent, long-term practice. But most research shows negligible benefits for the average person.
Other anti-aging treatments like retinoids, alpha-hydroxy acids, vitamin C serums, and wearing daily sunscreen are far better proven for reducing wrinkles and improving skin tone and texture.
That said, facial exercises are non-invasive and low risk for most people. practicing them consistently could still modestly improve facial muscle tone and volume over time in some individuals.
Are facial exercise devices worth it?
Various at-home facial exercise devices have grown in popularity alongside claims of spot-toning and anti-aging benefits. These include:
- Facial toning devices delivering microcurrents or low-level light therapy
- Facial massagers and gua sha stones
- Resistance-based tools like facial yoga straps and balls
But does using specialized tools lead to better results than simple facial exercises with your fingers?
Here’s what the research says so far:
Microcurrent facials use gentle electrical currents to stimulate facial muscles. Small studies show they may temporarily improve muscle tone and skin appearance after 6–10 weeks of use (10, 11).
However, reductions in wrinkles and sagging skin tend to be mild. Improvements also reverse once you stop using the device (12).
Red light therapy
Light emitting masks use red and near-infrared light to boost collagen production in the skin. While research shows benefits for improving signs of skin damage, just one small study has looked at using light therapy for facial exercise benefits.
That study in 10 people found combining facial exercise with red light therapy increased collagen production after 12 weeks. But larger studies are needed (13).
Massage tools like jade rollers or gua sha stones may enhance circulation and drainage during facial exercises. But no studies have directly tested whether they amplify results.
Resistance bands and balls can add extra intensity to facial exercises. One study found a specialized facial exercise ball improved neck and lower face muscle strength after 8 weeks of use (14).
But overall, research on resistance tools remains minimal.
The bottom line
Certain devices like microcurrent tools and red light masks may offer mild improvements to facial tone and skin quality when combined with facial exercises. But benefits are temporary and research is limited.
With little evidence that any tool substantially boosts results, simple facial exercises using just your fingers may work just as well for most people.
Are facial exercises right for me?
Facial exercises are not a magic solution to turn back the clock. But they may provide minor improvements in facial muscle tone for some people.
Here are some things to consider when deciding if facial exercise is worth a try for you:
Don’t expect dramatic anti-aging effects. View facial exercises as a way to potentially maintain and enhance facial muscle tone, not erase wrinkles or sagging.
You need to practice regularly—ideally daily—to have any chance of noticing changes over months. Sporadic exercises likely won’t do much.
Proper technique is vital. Target facial muscles specifically and avoid contorting your face. Start with gentle repetitions and don’t overexert.
Consider getting instruction from a physical therapist or licensed facial exercise practitioner to ensure you use proper form.
Realistic time commitment
To see results, plan to spend at least 20 minutes per day consistently practicing exercises long term.
Pair with other self-care
Facial exercises alone have limited effects. Combine them with skin care, diet, sleep, and stress management for overall facial rejuvenation.
Starting facial exercises at a younger age may offer more preventative value before advanced signs of aging develop.
When beginning a facial exercise routine, keep these safety tips in mind:
- Warm up face muscles first with a warm towel or gentle massage
- Start with just 5–10 repetitions of each movement
- Focus on proper form, not speed
- Apply moisturizer to avoid dragging delicate facial skin
- Never exercise to the point of strain, discomfort or pain
- Stop immediately if you experience pain, numbness or cramping
- Avoid excessive facial tension and hard pressing on the skin
- Don’t contort face muscles into extreme distortions
Also, consult your healthcare provider before starting facial exercises if you have any medical conditions affecting your face, neck, or skin.
Research on facial exercises remains limited. While some people may notice mild improvements with consistent, long-term practice, dramatic anti-aging effects are unlikely.
Most experts consider facial exercises a supplementary practice at best, not a replacement for proven wrinkle treatments and skin care. Managing expectations is key.
That said, a regular facial exercise practice is low risk for most people and may help maintain facial muscle tone as part of an overall skin rejuvenation routine. Just don’t expect facial exercises alone to miraculously reshape your appearance.
The bottom line
Facial exercises may provide minor improvements to facial muscle tone and volume with regular, long-term practice.
But evidence that facial exercises meaningfully reduce wrinkles, increase collagen and elasticity, or lift sagging skin remains minimal.
Most research shows facial exercises offer negligible anti-aging effects for the average person. More proven wrinkle treatments should be your first line of defense.
While results are modest at best, facial exercise remains low risk if practiced correctly. Incorporating gentle exercises into your self-care routine may help maintain a youthful appearance over decades of consistent daily practice.