If you have been paying attention to beauty influencers on any one of the popular social media outlets for the past few years, you will have probably come across someone telling you to make funny faces in the name of “facial exercises” to prevent or reduce wrinkles or eliminate fat. Some call it “facial yoga” and some call it “facial exercises” but, whatever name you attach to it, the idea is the same. This beauty trend is based on the presumption that, like the muscles in the rest of your body, you can improve the appearance of your facial muscles, as well as your face in general, by performing regular, intentional, strenuous movements.  In other words, “toning” your cheek and forehead muscles will make your face appear more beautiful and youthful in the same way the bicep curls will make your arms appear more toned and youthful. However, experts are divided on whether these practices are helpful, harmful or neutral. Here we will explore the various aspects of facial exercise and the truth is regarding each specific aspect.


One facial exercise misconception, which is similarly incorrect when it comes to things like abdominal exercises aimed at spot reducing belly fat, is that one can perform facial exercises to remove, for instance, cheek fat. This concept is faulty because, in order to reduce fat in any part of the body, you have to reduce overall fat. You can tone individual muscles but, until you reduce your overall body fat percentage with diet and exercise, those newly toned facial muscles will still be covered by fat. You can not instruct your body to remove fat just from your cheeks or your jawline. Bodies distribute fat naturally according to a genetically (and hormonally) predetermined plan, and you have no control or ability to “spot reduce”


With regards to facial exercises to increase firmness and youthfulness, there is some (limited) evidence which shows that these things can be achieved with facial exercises. According to a short study at Northwestern University, women between the ages of 40 and 65 were given a facial exercises routine to perform 30 minutes a day for the first 8 weeks of the study and then every other day after that point. At the end of the study, when the participants were asked to judge their progress (or lack thereof), the women believed they appeared 1 to 3 years younger. When dermatologists were asked to examine the same women, they noticed a “slight but significant” increase in cheek fullness. Other dermatologists have actually recommended doing these facial exercises every day. At the very least, it does not seem like it will hurt.


Unfortunately, facial exercises do not appear to help wrinkles and may actually make certain wrinkles, like laugh lines and crow’s feet, worse. Wrinkles, in general, are caused by excessive use of facial muscles combined with the loss of collagen we experience in the skin as we get older. For this reason, Botox is a popular wrinkle treatment as it temporarily freezes the underlying muscle which, in turn, improves wrinkles. Therefore, if wrinkle reduction is your goal, you may want to steer clear of facial exercises; especially facial exercises which involve muscles in the corners of the mouth or eyes as these areas are generally more prone to wrinkles.   


While it is certainly nice to imagine that a few facial exercises is all you need to restore your youthful appearance, it is more fad than truth. Facial exercises, according to the one reputable study which has been done, may be able to improve form and muscle firmness in the face, as is the case with any skeletal muscle which you work out, but they will not spot reduce fat or prevent or reduce wrinkles. Because of this, if wrinkles or superficial fat are your main concerns, there are certainly better options which exist.