Practicing yoga comes with a slew of health benefits, including increased flexibility, stress relief, chronic disease management, and even smoking cessation—but can yoga specifically geared toward your face provide some more focused benefits?1
Though there’s very little research face yoga, or specific movements that target the facial muscles, the practice is being touted on social media as a way to change the shape of your face or make you look younger through plumping cheeks, erasing wrinkles, and making skin glow.
On TikTok alone, the hashtag #faceyoga has more than 1.7 billion views—but is there any truth to the anti-aging promises of facial exercise? As it turns out, it’s more complex than a yes-or-no answer.
”It can be helpful,” Murad Alam, MD, a professor and vice chair of the department of dermatology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, told Health. “But it does require people to accept a couple things: modest improvement and a fair bit of work.”
Here’s what to know about face yoga, including how it works and what—if any—benefits you can expect from it.
What Is Face Yoga?
The face is made up of three different layers that sit on top of the skull: The outermost layer is the skin; under that lie two layers of fat—subcutaneous fat, which sits right below the skin layer, and then deep fat, which sits below the subcutaneous fat.
These pockets of fat fit together and are what give your face shape and fullness. Under the fat are the facial muscles, most of which are quite small.
As a person ages, gravity pulls their skin downwards, which can create sagging on the face. At the same time, the face loses the layer of fat that creates plumpness in younger faces, creating a more hollow look. The skin and bones also begin to thin.
“That’s what creates the aging face; a less youthful look,” Ronda Farah, MD, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, told Health.
Face yoga works by targeting individual muscles in the face, either through certain facial movements or massaging your face with your hands and fingers. (Those face exercises, however, are unlikely to work on the smaller muscles in the forehead.)
Though these exercise won’t grow back lost fat in the face—only injections or cosmetic surgery can do that—they may help to bulk up some of the muscles. “It won’t grow the fat pads,” Dr. Alam said, “but it can grow the muscles, which [may] make your skin look smoother.”
Does Face Yoga Work?
While TikTok creators swear by face yoga for helping to tone, lift, and smooth their faces, research on the benefits of face yoga is lacking. Dr. Alam was part of a team of researchers that conducted one of the only studies on facial exercise for aging appearance in recent years.
The study, published in 2018 in the journal JAMA Dermatology, was a small clinical trial that included 16 people who did 30 minutes of specific facial exercises for 20 weeks.2
The study exclusively included middle-aged women who, on average, were about 50 years old. Each person received instruction on 32 facial exercises and attended two 90-minute sessions with a certified facial exercise instructor. For the first eight weeks, they did the exercises every day. After that, they switched to every other day.
The regime did seem to improve fullness around the cheeks and in the lower face, though minimally, and didn’t seem to have an effect on other parts of the face. In the study, people maintained the initial results with fewer days of exercises a week, but it’s unclear how frequently people would need to keep it up to maintain results.
“What we don’t know is how long the effects of the exercise last,” Dr. Alam said.
Though some people may notice modest benefits of face yoga, others may find that contorting the skin may actually increase the risk of wrinkles—something that many practicing face yoga may be hoping to avoid.
“The reason things like Botox make you look younger is because they freeze the muscles in the skin,” Dr. Farah said. “Moving the skin and wrinkling it more is the opposite of doing botox.” This is why Dr. Farah does not recommend face yoga for any anti-aging purposes. “I personally would not move my face more than I needed to if I did not want wrinkles.” she said.
As far as creating more fullness in the face, that’s something that’s largely dependent on genetics and body weight. “Weight gain is helpful to making a face [have] more volume, but it does come with other risks to the rest of the body,” Dr. Farah said.
Should You Try Face Yoga?
If you want to try face yoga, Dr. Alam suggests focusing on the bigger muscles in the face, mostly the cheeks, which are the largest. The thinner muscles that cover the forehead likely will never be able to get large enough to make a difference when it comes to wrinkles or face shape––though again, any changes in face shape that do happen will be very small.
Outside of that, it’s difficult to recommend specific movements. “Many regimens exist and none have really been compared to each other,” Dr. Alam said.
One recommendation he does have is to do facial exercises in front of the mirror. “It’s hard to imagine what your face looks like doing it and looking at it can help make sure you’re doing it right,” he said.
If you want more noticeable results, Dr. Farah said facial movements won’t do the trick. She recommends filler, skin resurfacing, or cosmetic surgery for people who want definite results.
But according to Dr. Alam, trying face yoga is pretty low-stakes and could be a better fit for some than having any procedures done.
“If somebody prefers to not get a minimally invasive cosmetic procedure, this might be a good thing for them,” Dr. Alam said. “It is also better for somebody who is patient and willing to commit to doing something on a repeated basis. It takes time, effort, and commitment, but nothing is going into your body and it’s free.”