The Effects of Facial Exercises on Your Facial Skin

Episode #82 / Sep 9, 2009
It was once claimed that facial exercises (in other words, making funny faces in repetition) would do wonders for toning and shaping your facial skin. However, this isn't the case. Dr. Schultz will explain why it's quite the opposite.
Joan Clevenger on September 9, 2009 at 6:59pm

What about myotonology....a muscle toning system using electrical current?

Brenda on September 13, 2009 at 5:42am

I heard that doing facial massages help tone your skin. In addition, it is recommended to apply your moisturizer with upward strokes. Is there any truths to these?

Neal Schultz, M.D. on September 18, 2009 at 6:38pm

@Joan: A muscle toning system using electrical current will not harm the skin and may slightly tighten it but would need to be repeated on an ongoing basis to maintain any improvements.

Neal Schultz, M.D. on September 25, 2009 at 4:14am

@Brenda: I believe that facial exercises neither tone facial muscles nor the facial skin. And it doesn't matter what direction you apply moisturizer as long as you are gentle and don't rub or stretch the skin unnecessarily when doing so.

Anonymous on October 30, 2009 at 1:17am

I'm not convinced, partly based on anecdotal (personal) experience and partly from what I've heard from other dermatologists. I know I'm taking a risk but I'll keep doing my smiling exercises since they seem to be working.

helen on November 20, 2009 at 11:22pm

Dr. Schultz,

I have applied "Frownies" for a little time, and it appears to decrease frown and mouth lines. Is it possible to rejuvenate the underlying collagen by giving it a break from stretching?

Neal Schultz, M.D. on December 10, 2009 at 6:31pm

@Helen: The decrease in frown and mouth lines is great but temporary as when you stop the frownies they will probably return to the way they were, or be even worse. Unfortunately, you can't rejuvenate the underlying collagen by giving it a break from your stretching but giving it a break from stretching will delay further breakdown of collagen and elastic fibers and thereby delay new lines and worsening of old ones. (As you can tell from this episode, I believe that facial exercises do a lot more harm than help.)

Theresa on January 5, 2010 at 5:17pm

All elastic fibers, whether they are in your skin or in your clothing, have a finite number of stretches in their life and after which they stop contracting again.

Where does this come from? I've not found it in my medical books - Dr Schultz please enlighten me.

Neal Schultz, M.D. on February 9, 2010 at 2:39am

@Theresa: In response to your question, I'd like to cite a study detailed in an article published in 1989 in the American Journal of Pathology by Imayama and Braverman entitled, "A Hypothetical Explanation for the Aging of Skin: Chronologic Alteration of the 3 Dimensional Arrangement of Collagen and Elastic Fibers in Connective Tissue." While the article is a little heavy, the easiest quote I can extract is, "The tortuosity of the elastic fibers shows that they have been stretched and when fixed in this pattern (as they were), have lost a considerable amount of their original elasticity." Reviewing the article will better put this quotation in context, but it refers to the study's finding that premature elastic fiber failure is caused by excessive repetitive stretching. One thing to note is that testing of the biomechanics of elastic fiber is done in lab animals because invivo research in human subjects would have difficulty passing muster with the IRB (investigational review board) approval process. However, it was accepted that this study demonstrated that excessive stretching of elastic fibers does cause premature failure and weakening, which is congruous with what I have seen in my thirty years of clinical practice and experience.

Bernard on April 26, 2010 at 10:43am

Dear Doctor Shultz,
In addition to facial exercise, I practice vigorous facial massage (a combination of slapping, chopping and fingering motions) and take collagen and glucosamine supplements (Genacol). My thinking runs as follows. Irritated skin thickens. Hence, by irritating the skin (not stretching it, but slapping and chopping it), I force it to thicken. The collagen supplement I take provides it with the wherewithall to renew itself and thicken. I complete this with gentle facial massage. What is your professional opinion of my routine. It has worked astonishingly well! But maybe I'm seeing things!

Emily on May 10, 2010 at 5:43pm

I respectfully disagree. I am 45, and I have been doing aggressive facial exercise for the last 3 years (pulling stretching etc.--you name it!). Facial exercise has been phenomenal in toning and lifting my face. I now look a lot younger than I did three years ago--and a lot younger than my biological age, too. For me, the proof is in the pudding.

Neal Schultz, M.D. on June 1, 2010 at 12:07am

@Emily: Thank you for sharing your success from your facial exercise program with us. This subject always generates a lot of passionate views, and I value your respectful approach. My concern is that as a result of your exercises, that you may develop premature wrinkling in the future on the basis of accumulated elastic tissue damage. All that being said, I'm happy to hear that you're happy with your skin now.

Neal Schultz, M.D. on June 1, 2010 at 12:39am

@Bernard: I'm not aware of ingesting supplemental collagen and glucosamine being beneficial since your digestive enzymes reduces collagen to individual amino acids and the glucosamine gets split into sugars and amino acids, in which condition it is all absorbed. The slapping/chopping/etc. of your skin may induce some swelling which is a time proven short-term remedy for improving the appearance of skin, but shouldn't have any sustained effect. You clearly know my opinion on facial exercises. The bottom line is if despite these caveats you are pleased with the appearance of your skin, then I am very happy for you because when we look better we feel better.

Alex on July 5, 2010 at 4:22am

Doctor Schultz, I'm 25 and noticed some facial sagging in my buccolabial fold. I believe this has been caused by my penchant for constantly jutting my jaw forward to compensate for an overbite, although maybe I'm being paranoid and its just normal aging, but nobody else my age seems to have sagging at my age.

I did some research and found that many people have your view regarding facial exercises on the skin, but then there are hundreds of testimonials online claiming they have found them beneficial for facial sagging, how can so many people be wrong? My question is if you do the exercises that do not require you to pull or wrinkle your skin will it cause premature wrinkles? Dr Oz on oprah said they are beneficial for facial sagging. Any help would be greatly appreciated and put my mind at rest, By the way I love your videos.

Thank You.

Nelson on July 13, 2010 at 9:53am

Dr. Schultz

If facial massage is not a good way to lift up your face. What would be the best way to do it. And I'm really hoping the answer isn't any sort of surgery.

Carol on July 15, 2010 at 4:06pm

Interesting comments. I think I may be a good test subject. I have an identical twin and she has been doing facial exercises for the past 15 years...she is now 65 and honestly looks 15 years younger than I do and has fewer wrinkles. Her cheeks are far more filled out than mine and she has no forehead wrinkles like i do. I dont get to see my sister often but after my last visit, I am convinced this works. She has told me about the positive effects for years. I think I may just give this a try. We both still have the crows feet around our eyes but hers are less obvious.

Neal Schultz, M.D. on July 16, 2010 at 4:28pm

@Nelson: When you say "lift up your face" that suggests sagging or drooping skin to me which is caused by loss of fat, collagen and elastic tissue. The fat loss is strictly from the natural unavoidable loss of facial fat tissue that occurs simply from aging. Fat is sometimes also in part lost from weight loss (> 5 pounds). The loss of collagen is mostly from photoaging (unprotected sun exposure), and also from natural aging and repetitive motions. The loss of elastic tissue is mostly from photoaging and repetitive motions. The most natural looking way to improve sagging or drooping (but not necessarily the most effective way) is with deep fillers (sculptra or fat injections) to restore the volume of lost fat and with lasers to tighten the skin by shrinking the over stretched skin and rebuilding collagen. Collagen rebuilding is supplemented with topical skincare products including peptides and exfoliants. Unfortunately, there is no way in adult life to manufacture working, functional elastic tissue... the elastic fibers made naturally or in response to skin injury are shortened and thicker than normal elastic fibers and just don't work. Alternatively, while I know you don't want to hear this, the most effective way to fix this is with plastic surgery.

Neal Schultz, M.D. on August 2, 2010 at 9:37pm

@Alex: Thank you so much for your kind remarks. Facial exercises has generated a lot of discussion because of the many testimonials online, none of which I've seen are from real scientific studies. Facial exercises that move muscles that causes creases in the skin are the exercises that will cause premature lines and wrinkles to form. If you can find a facial exercise that will not pull or wrinkle the skin, it will not affect the collagen or elastic tissue and therefore will not cause premature aging, but every facial muscle pulls on the skin in some form.

Neal Schultz, M.D. on August 2, 2010 at 9:44pm

@Carol: Thank you so much for your comment. Have either of you smoked and have both of you had the same or different sun exposure with or without sunscreen? Both of these variables are very important in assessing the true effects of her facial exercise.