Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 30 March 2020

Face value: Are facial massages and facial yoga the key to looking young for longer?

A range of all-natural therapies for your visage promise to make you look younger, healthier and fitter

Isidora Peric, founder of Fit Face, discovered facial massage and yoga after undergoing surgery. Instagram
Isidora Peric, founder of Fit Face, discovered facial massage and yoga after undergoing surgery. Instagram

Face yoga first came into Isidora Peric’s life after an unexpected infection that resulted in invasive face surgery. Chunks of bone and tissue were removed. The resulting damage, she says, wasn’t just physically challenging – it was a mental battle. So Peric, who lives in Dubai, took action.

“I started researching natural ways to rebuild the face, and ended up getting trained in face yoga and face massage,” she says. Face yoga focuses on strengthening and relaxing muscles to create an overall balance, much like yoga does to the body. One “pose” involves widening your eyes as much as possible and holding the posture until your eyes tear up. It’s designed to help battle the effects of constantly scowling at your screen. Another asks you to puff air between your cheeks with your mouth tightly shut, all in an effort to keep your cheek muscles strong and prevent facial hollowing.

For Peric, the results were undeniable: “My face looked more rested and balanced, and my cheekbones shot up instantly.” So she launched Fit Face, a UAE company that offers facial workouts, combining face exercise, massage and non-invasive beauty tools to shape and tone visages across the country. “Our techniques stimulate and build the 40-plus face muscles, resulting in tighter and more lifted skin.”

This was back in 2014, when facial exercises and face yoga were still emerging. “People thought I had made it up,” she adds. Now, facial yoga is being joined by a range of other workout and recovery options that aim to heal, tone and refresh your face – all without setting foot inside a gym.

Iridium Spa at St Regis Saadiyat Resort Abu Dhabi offers a face massage and lymphatic draining treatment. Supplied
Iridium Spa at St Regis Saadiyat Resort Abu Dhabi offers a face massage and lymphatic draining treatment. Supplied

Buccal massage is one such treatment. Acting like a deep tissue sports massage, this therapy shot to popularity in 2018 as Meghan, Duchess of Sussex’s favourite facial. The treatment involves a technician placing fingers both outside and inside the mouth, providing vigorous massage of the muscles all around the jaw and face. It’s particularly useful for things like jowls and laugh lines, although the fingers-inside-mouth thing can be a bit intense, experts note. “The first time doesn’t feel very relaxing, that’s for sure,” says Sylvia Pilcher, a laser therapist who works with Simply Skin Medical Spa in Dubai’s Al Ghazal Mall and is known for her buccal massage. “It’s really deep. If we had a scale from one to 10, it’s around an eight with pressure.”

The initial treatment is usually the worst, she adds. “We are unblocking knots in your skin. It’s just like what you have on your back, these small knots, and it’s the same on the face. The moment you move it, you feel better next time.”

There are numerous benefits, she says. These include tighter skin, lifted cheeks, brighter eyes and better circulation. Treatment costs between Dh500 and Dh1,000 per session, and around six sessions, once a week, is recommended initially. Then general maintenance is required.

“I think it’s pretty addictive,” says Pilcher. “Once you try, you want more. You notice your skin glowing, you don’t need make-up, you look better, brighter.” And the benefits aren’t only aesthetic. “It helps lessen headaches. Some people struggle with those and teeth-grinding, and buccal relaxes tension in the jaw line.

“I started because I was tired of machines … I wanted more natural methods. And this is long-lasting. I saw a difference from the first treatment, and it’s really amazing.”

Elsewhere, yogi Sam Saunders, who also lives in Dubai, offers the softer “fingertip facelift”. This treatment involves very gentle massage to reach the 91 muscles of the face, neck, shoulders and skull. Focus is on gently reaching and relaxing the dermis, the layer of connective tissue just below your skin. Through soft touch, the 75-minute treatments are meant to stimulate collagen and circulation, resulting in younger-looking skin.

Blogger Cat Strachan has found this method useful. “As I am very anti-surgery and scary needles, this was the perfect way to plump and freshen my somewhat sagging face.” She could easily see herself becoming addicted, she says.

Iridium Spa at The St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort in Abu Dhabi now offers something similar, in a more luxurious and decadent setting. There, you can book a 90-minute Diamond Facial for face massage and lymphatic draining, all combined with several Natura Bisse serums, masks, lotions and scrubs. Unlike typical facials, massage takes priority here, says Ni Ketut Candra, the spa’s manager. “The massage is to stimulate circulation, reduce stress lines and help the product penetrate deeper. But there’s a more practical reason behind boosting the blood flow through manual massage. “It also gets more immediate results,” she says.

Happy man relaxing at the spa
Facial massage can make skin look brighter and tighter. Getty Images

Although face workout and facial recovery treatments are increasingly popular, they’re only just being researched by scientists. In 2018, a study by Northwestern University in Illinois revealed that facial yoga can lift and tighten cheeks in just 20 weeks, but the sample size was particularly small. Professionals note more studies are needed.

Other experts think the workouts have it all wrong. “You don’t get wrinkles from loss of elasticity in your muscles, you get wrinkles in your skin,” says surgeon Jeffrey Spiegel. “And repetitive movement creates creases in the skin. It’s like folding a piece of paper.” This means when it comes to something like facial yoga, the repetition may actually create the problem rather than heal it. “It’s like saying ‘stop drinking water if you’re thirsty’,” Spiegel adds. “The opposite works.”

While the exact long-lasting benefits are still being studied, Peric has found inner peace through facial workouts – and she hopes to help other women find it, too. “We have a huge emphasis on mental health,” she says. “Our main aim is for women to feel empowered and happy after our sessions.” And that’s definitely something worth smiling about.

Updated: February 9, 2020 11:00 AM

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