We’ve all probably heard this sage advice before: Instead of rubbing or smearing (I know, ew) skin-care products like moisturizers and serums onto your face, gently press them into your skin à la Clarins for the best results. And if my hyaluronic acid’s packaging and two separate estheticians are to be believed, the motion is supposed to promote lymphatic drainage and cut down on tugging, making gravity the only downward force wreaking havoc on your youthful appearance. Ok, sure.
Maybe you heard that advice and it went in one ear and out the other, or maybe you took it to heart and have spent every night of your life carefully pushing said products into your face while you stare at your reflection in the mirror, smug with self-satisfaction. But one thing’s for sure: We kind of have no idea if it actually works. To find out, we turned to dermatologist and all-around awesome person Dr. Annie Chiu, who’s based out of Los Angeles.
“This has to do with occlusion more—not drainage,” she tells me, throwing the idea that pushing molecules into your face will help drain your lymphatic system any better than a regular ol’ face massage right out the window. “In theory, occlusion of any type can drive active ingredients into the skin more. For example, when treating severe eczema, some dermatologists recommend Saran-wrapping your skin after using medications to drive them in more effectively.”
And even though pressing or rubbing can create a temporary flush—thereby making you look a few years younger for about 10 minutes or so—vigorous rubbing will only upset your skin, possibly damaging the barrier function depending on what you’re rubbing with, and it can exacerbate problems like rosacea.
But what about for those of us that don’t have any major skin issues? Does all that extra time spent physically pushing our skin-care products into our faces actually do anything, or is it just a way for brands to force customers to slow down while we use their products, creating a more spa-like experience—and therefore, a more positive connection—to the product.
“Using our hands and the heat of our hands to ‘press’ [on the skin] can possibly improve delivery of actives such as vitamin C or retinol, pushing them deeper into the skin slightly. It’s more important for small molecules that act by penetrating the skin, rather than large molecules that hydrate the skin, such as hyaluronic acids.”
So sure, pressing could possibly, in theory, maybe help your skin—and if it makes you slow down at night, so be it—but it’s more so about the experience. Here’s your pass to skip the pressing on anything that isn’t vitamin A- or C-based.