To tone the body, we’re told to build stronger muscles. The act of pulsing the muscles through repetition of movement, whether through cardio, strength training or barre classes, is the only way to achieve results. Yet, to tone and lift the skin, we turn to topical treatments. Would you ever trust a topical cream that claims to help you lose weight? Not a chance! So what about facial exercises that claim to tone and tighten the face?
The idea of “facial exercises” has become really popular lately, although the trend has been disputed by many doctors and surgeons. “Working the muscles out on the face is not likely to yield results,” says Dr. Omar Ibrahimi, the medical director of Connecticut Skin Institute. “Repeated use of the muscles on the upper half of your face might actually hasten the appearance of deeper wrinkles, such as frown lines, crow’s feet and bunny lines.”
Not so, according to Cynthia Rowland, founder of Facial Magic. She claims that the key is to contract the facial muscles. When she first started her program, many doctors didn’t believe the results could possibly be from manual movements. “They were accustomed to just seeing these twists and puckers [that actually cause wrinkles]—funny faces that people would make and call it facial exercise. I teach isometric techniques that anchor the muscles, to create a contraction to lift the face. When you do that, the muscle lifts up and pulls back into the hairline, taking the skin with it.”
This is because facial muscles are attached to skin, not bone. “Because the muscles are attached directly to the skin, that oxygenated blood is forced into the tissue of the skin and all of a sudden it looks plump and juicy again. Your skin is thicker and more vibrant looking.”
Rowland’s program consists of nine progressive weeks where you add two new 35-second exercises each week, totaling 18 movements at the end of the program. Your thumbs and fingers are the only tools you need to work different muscles—the forehead, upper cheeks, the neck and chin. Rowland herself teaches each movement on a 1-hour DVD with complete instructions.
“To maintain the lift, you need to devote yourself to the program,” says Rowland. Maintenance includes performing the full set of 18 exercises 2-3 times a week.
A full commitment with manual exercises isn’t the only answer. For those who want faster results (without the homework), try a microcurrent facial. New York-based esthetician Ildi Pekar uses the $250 facial as her go-to when she’s prepping her celeb clients, like Miranda Kerr, for the red carpet.
“Microcurrent is a form of electricity,” says Pekar. “This method works with our body to stimulate over 35 different muscles in your face, helping to tone and strengthen your skin. This will eliminate excess water, toxins, and fat, leaving your skin firmer, smoother, tighter and vibrant.” The treatment also helps to rejuvenate muscle tissue, promote cell metabolism and the skin’s natural production of collagen and elastin. However, the results only last up to two days.
To get the most out of microcurrent, aesthetician Shellie Goldstein incorporates acupuncture in her trademarked AcuFacial, available in New York. “Acupuncture on its own tightens the muscles,” claims Goldstein. “With the acupuncture we are treating internally by regulating the body, helping to relax the body and strengthening different systems like digestion or hormones.” This regulation, of course, prevents more pronounced aging and dulling of the skin. “Then when we use the microcurrent, we exercise each muscle of expression [ex: puckering of the lips, squinting of the eyebrows—habitual movements]. Muscles that you want to tighten, you use the microcurrent one way, muscles that you want to relax, you use it another way. With the microcurrent and acupuncture, we can manually change the muscles of expression. We call it taking your face to the gym.” Results can last up to a few weeks.
However, it’s important to note that muscle isn’t the only factor to consider. “Studies using CT and MRI imaging conclude that we lose some volume (both bone and fat) and that the fat we keep tends to descend down our face, such that a triangular shaped face with high cheek bones becomes more of a pyramid over time,” says Dr. Thomas Sterry, a NYC board certified plastic surgeon. While muscle sculpting will help with toning the face, it won’t restore fat or volume. Fillers are, at this moment, the only solution.