Wrinkle-Fighting Facial Exercises

By her own admission, Kristin Bebelaar prefers to look younger than her 51 years. But the prospect of undergoing a surgical facelift or injections seemed daunting. “The idea of having an alternative to those procedures really appealed to me,” said Bebelaar, a Manhattan and Amagansett resident. “I was already doing yoga, so it made sense to me that there could be exercises that one could do for the face as well as the rest of the body.”

Enter face yoga, a series of poses that enthusiasts say tone and tighten the skin by strengthening the muscles. While devotees and the medical community tout the benefits of face yoga’s ability to stimulate circulation and speed the regeneration of cells to prevent wrinkles, doctors stop short of endorsing the practice as a way to minimize mild to moderate signs of aging. “Every culture has some kind of remedy for the face,” said Annelise Hagen, face yoga instructor and author of The Yoga Face. “Like your grandma sitting in the corner doing a chin patting exercise, this is something people have always been aware of.”

The poses are exaggerated facial expressions like puckering lips and blowing a kiss or sucking in cheeks to make a fish face. Some exercises benefit the full face while others target specific areas. Bebelaar, who has taken workshops with Hagen, practices the “upside down wink,” a lower eyelid exercise. “The exercise tones under my eye and reduces the puffiness and appearance of dark circles,” she said.

One session can result in a temporary, rosy glow, said Hagan, who also incorporates facial acupressure into her program to target pressure points. But to smooth wrinkles, she advises working out for 10 minutes, two to three times a week. “This is something you can do on your own. It’s pretty simple and it doesn’t take long.”

At FaceLove Fitness, a pop-up “skin gym” in Manhattan, co-owners Rachel Lang and Heidi Frederick offer face yoga classes and facials that are a hybrid of massage, acupressure and muscle strengthening. “There are 57 muscles in the facial area and when you tone and strengthen them, you get 10 times the circulation to the surface of the skin than you do with inactive muscles,” said Lang, an aesthetician who founded FaceLove Fitness in 2013. “By activating the muscles, you get a dramatic surge of oxygen and nutrients to the skin, which instantly softens lines and gives you a temporary red-carpet fix.” Treatments cost $30 for 15 minutes and $50 for 30 minutes. Lang said mild crow’s feet and pesky frown lines can be reversed on men and women of all ages and with all skin types within a month.

Dr. Neil Tanna, a plastic reconstructive surgeon in the Department of Plastic Surgery at North Shore-LIJ Health System, debunked the myth that facial exercise and massage stretch the skin and cause character lines. “They definitely play a role in preventing and minimizing mild wrinkles,” he said. However, the jury is still out on whether they can actually reverse mild to moderate signs of aging. “I don’t think the data is there,” Tanna said.

Tanna cautioned that facial exercise and massage should be avoided for the first 24 hours after injections of  Botox or fillers and for up to four weeks after a facial surgical procedure. “Facial massage and facial exercise are part of a lifestyle modification that goes along with routine exercise and a natural diet,” he said. “It’s another modality to achieve youthful, firm and healthy skin.”

Want to be face fit? Face yoga advocates favor these exercises.

The Chin Press

1. Place the flat part of both fists under the chin and tuck elbows in to create a resistance platform.
2. Lengthen spine and slowly press chin to chest against the platform for 5 counts.
3. Repeat 10 times.
4. Use the same formation but open mouth and drop chin onto the platform for 5 counts.
5. Repeat 5-10 times.

Eye Toning

1. With elbows out, press fingers flat under lower eyelashes.
2. Squint deeply so cheeks rise up to press against hands. Hold for 5 counts.
3. Repeat 5-10 times.

Brow Firming

1. Place fingers on the inside edge of brows toward the center of the forehead. Firmly pull brows away from each other.
2. At the same time, try pushing brows together using forehead muscles. Hold for 5 seconds.
3. Repeat 5-10 times.