Facial exercises - myth or magic?
- Credit: Tatyana Dzemileva
We all know about the benefits of toning our bodies, but what about our faces? Jane Mann extols the virtues of facial exercises
What are facial exercises?
Just as they sound, facial exercises are specific movements made with the muscles of the face to tone the contours, firm the skin and ‘lift’ the face. Some people say that they don’t work, but others swear they do. You’d better make up your own mind, then.
Think about your face, though: it is exposed to the environment far more than the rest of your body, so the sun, extremes of temperature, wind and pollution all take their toll on it, in a way that doesn’t happen elsewhere. Hormones also affect the skin, as does the slowing down of collagen production. Diet, of course, plays a huge part in attaining radiant skin, but facial exercises, when performed well and regularly, can help firm the facial contours and smooth the surface.
You exercise your body, so why not your face?
So many people spend a lot of time exercising their bodies and forget all about their faces. It’s a modern day phenomenon to go past a gym and see rows of people pounding away, with frowns of concentration on their faces. Yet, the face has muscles, just like the body. Surely they also need some exercise? Even if you can’t be bothered to add them to your daily skin care regime, it is worth being aware of your facial expressions, particularly when exercising, because there is little point in building the body of an Adonis or Aphrodite, if this glorious shape is surmounted by a frowning, wrinkled mask! Carve muscles, not frowns…
A short history of facial exercises
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Facial exercises have been around for over 2,000 years. In Ancient China, the Empress of the Imperial Court practiced them to maintain a youthful appearance, and they are still popular in China today. Some historians suggest that the lovely Cleopatra did them, but as she died at 39, she might have been better advised to stay away from snakes (the reptiles, and the two-legged variety.)
The French, never ones to slouch in the beauty stakes, have known about them since the era of Ninon de L’Enclos. She was a famous French courtesan (there weren’t that many career options for women in those days) and used to practice them, when she had the time presumably; she was a beauty and immensely popular! Her maid, Jeanne Sauval, published a book of exercises which also included cosmetic recipes in 1710.
Interestingly, when Ninon had been imprisoned for “loose living” (you’ll notice that her lovers got off scot free – plus ça change) she was released after a plea from the Queen of Sweden, who was probably after those exercises!
Exercising in bed!
In the 1900s, a bizarrely named book called ‘Exercising in Bed’ was written by a chap named Sanford Bennett. He claimed that using his exercises would help you to uncover “the secret of health, strength, elasticity of body and longevity of life.” Who doesn’t want that? No wonder it was a best-seller! There were several facial exercises in this publication, and the trend continued and become widely known.
Film stars and actresses were super keen on them, and so were the average woman and man. Lillian Russell and Elinor Glyn were two who practiced them .The latter was renowned for her glowing complexion and wrinkle-free skin, and wrote her own book on Facial exercise called ‘The Wrinkle Book’.
Another advocate was Jack LaLanne, a healthy living guru and the ‘Godfather of Fitness’. From an unhealthy childhood, he turned his life around by eating well and exercising. Arnold Schwarzenegger, as a young body builder of 21, was once beaten in an informal contest by Jack, who was 54 at the time. He (Jack, not Arnie) was the first person to encourage women to use weights as part of a healthy lifestyle, although he was roundly condemned by the medical profession at the time. He certainly walked the talk, as he died at the age of 95! You can still see his facial fitness videos online.
Senta Maria Runge worte a book in the 1950s: ‘Face Lifting by Exercise’. She was exceptionally popular with film stars and television personalities, and had the framed testimonials to prove it. Her book is a period piece because of the hair styles and fashion in the photos, but her exercises still work, even if production of her creams has stopped.
In the 1970s, Elisabeth Sigmund, creator of the Dr Hauschka skin care products, developed her own style of exercise, in conjunction with Dr Rudolf Drobil of Vienna. (These are the exercises that I use and teach.)
During the ’80s, we had Eva Fraser and her books, videos and television appearances. I went to see her, to experience her training and how it differed from the exercises I teach, and I was amazed by her and her face – she is real proof that there is a lot of value in the exercises, as long as you do them! Nowadays, facial yoga exercises are very popular as well, and there are various books and teachers available.
So, how do they work?
I know they have worked for me. When I first went to learn them, in order to teach them, I told my husband what the course was about, before I went. As you do. When he picked me up a few days later, he’d forgotten what I had been doing, and was amazed at the change in my skin tone and facial contours. He even asked what I’d been up to!
There are over 40 muscles in the face, and all muscles respond to exercise, by increasing in volume; the facial ones are no different. This increase in volume/size can then help to plump up the facial skin, which may have started to slacken. Regularly exercised muscles also have a shorter and more compact shape. In your face, this can help to firm the contours, reduce sagging and improve skin tone too, because of the increased blood flow, bringing oxygen and other nutrients which encourage better quality skin cell production.
Nowadays, we all want to look as good as we can for as long as possible, and by gently exercising the facial muscles, we can firm the facial and neck contours and prevent or solve sagging. Because of the way the facial muscles are attached directly to the skin, rather than with sinew to bone, strengthening, and so tightening, sagging muscles can actually lift the skin, giving the face a lifted and more youthful appearance.
Because of the way in which some facial muscles are attached directly to the skin, care should be taken when doing them in order not to cause wrinkles, rather than soften them. You don’t want to make them worse. Each group of muscles needs to be located and isolated for best results. So it is best to learn from a qualified teacher.
Ideally, the exercises should be done in front of a mirror with a lubricated face but I, and many of my clients, tend to do them at traffic lights. (Not the eye ones, though. The eye area is the thinnest skin on the face and that should always be respected. Do those when you put on your eye cream in the morning.)
Jowls and drooping skin at the jaw and neck make the face look older than any amount of lines. If they’ve got quite noticeable, it can take some effort to sort them out, but it can be vastly improved. So an easy exercise to start with is one to firm the jawline.
Firming the chin and jowls
Lift up your chin, and point it at the ceiling. Can you feel a pull? Increase that pull by sticking your chin out. Remember to breathe while you do this! (It’s amazing how many people stop breathing regularly when they are concentrating.)
Now, you are going to increase that pulling sensation, by drawing your tongue along the roof of your mouth, until it curls back on itself. At that point, try to swallow. Don’t worry if you can’t, just keep trying. This exercise can be done three to five times daily.