Secrets of Facial Massage
Experts share age-defying tips and techniques
It’s our favorite part of a facial: those blissful few minutes when the aesthetician massages a serum or moisturizer into the face, gently releasing the tension from the temples, cheeks, jaw and neck. But while they might induce a few z’s, those deliberate massage strokes are designed to do more than just help us relax.
“As with the rest of our bodies, there are muscles under our facial skin, and if they are not exercised, they lengthen and atrophy, making skin appear soft and saggy,” explains Cynthia Rowland, creator of the 18-step “Facial Magic” facial exercise system and author of a new book by the same name. Weakened muscles can also make us “look tired, drawn or angry,” she adds, and can cause eyebrows to droop with age, wrinkles to appear, and folds to develop between the nose and cheeks. “By the time a person has reached age 55, the muscles in the face may have lengthened about half an inch from disuse,” she warns.
Most spa facials incorporate some targeted massage to strengthen these muscles and encourage circulation, which in turn can help improve skin tone and texture, combat wrinkles, stimulate collagen production and even alleviate issues like sinus congestion or TMJ. We asked experts to break down the basics of facial massage and offer tips for at-home care—so you can keep that blissful feeling going in-between spa visits.
How Does Facial Massage Work?
Facial massage “is the practice of manually stimulating the face to help stimulate blood flow, which will help feed skin cells,” explains Julie Clark, holistic health practitioner and facialist, founder/owner of Toronto’s Province Apothecary, and creator of the two-minute Natural Face Lift Ritual for at-home care. “It’s like an exercise session for the face, causing facial muscles to tighten and tone as a result of the stimulation.”
Typical facial massage techniques include the Traditional Chinese Medicine-based acupressure and Ayurveda-based marma point, both of which work to invigorate and improve energy flow in the body; and gentle, rhythmic lymphatic drainage, which stimulates the lymph nodes and helps move fluid away from inflamed areas. To lift and contour the skin (and help clients apply products in a purposeful way), Clark combined manual massage strokes with acupressure to create her Natural Face Lift Ritual, while Rowland’s Facial Magic system uses “isometric contraction with resistance”—gentle facial exercises performed using our fingers and thumbs as “weights”—to strengthen muscles and increase oxygenated blood flow to the face, leading to a more toned and youthful appearance.
What are the Benefits of Facial Massage?
Many. Clark notes that facial massage can help “encourage collagen production, smooth and improve texture, bring color to the complexion, and stimulate the lymphatic system to drain fluids and toxins, resulting in reduced puffiness in the eyes and face, and improved contours.” It’s also great for anti-aging, as targeted massage can “break up the muscle tissue that causes wrinkles, making surface wrinkles less visible and slowing down the formation of new ones.” And, of course, it can also ease tension, help products absorb better, and leave the face fresh and glowing.
Try This at Home Facial Massage
Clark’s easy, two-minute Natural Face Lift Ritual incorporates both acupressure point stimulation and simple massage strokes, and can be done both morning and night for visible results (follow along with the video at provinceapothecary.com).
In Rowland’s Facial Magic system, the face is divided into 15 regions, each with a targeted, 35-second exercise to lift and tighten an isolated muscle. The entire system is detailed in her book, but here, she reveals two of her favorites exercises:
For the Upper Eye
This exercise lifts the brows and begins to tighten lax forehead muscles, and can also provide sinus relief, as it “de-puffs” sinus swelling.
- Place the three middle fingers of each hand underneath your eyebrows, and drop the palms of your hands to your face. Keep your forehead and face relaxed.
- Push your eyebrows straight up and anchor (hold). Keep your eyes open, look straight ahead.
- Use your forehead muscle to push down into your fingertips. Count to five. Release the contraction, remove your hands, take a deep breath.
- Begin the exercise again, this time counting to 10. At the seventh second, close your eyes while you keep pushing up with your fingertips and down into your fingertips with your forehead. Repeat two more times.
For the Jawline
The dreaded wattle can appear along with jowls and pouches as the lower part of the face loses its youthful contours. To help:
- Lift your chin to form a taut line between your clavicle and your jaw.
- Turn your face to the right, look over your right shoulder, and keep your eyes on the ceiling while you jut your bottom jaw forward.
- Hold that contraction for 5 seconds. Release your face and slowly bring your face back to the starting position.
- Take a cleansing breath and begin the second rep; this time hold the contraction for 10 seconds.
- Repeat two more times for a total of 35 seconds. Switch to exercise the other side of your face for an equal 35 seconds.
Try it at the Spa
These standout facials put massage front and center.
Nature's Indulgence Facial
Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont
In addition to featuring lots of results-oriented Tata Harper products (including four different targeted masks), this exclusive 90-minute facial indulges skin with three types of massage: traditional Swedish strokes to increase circulation and relax the client; acupressure eye massage to relieve headaches and relax the eye muscles and nervous system; and lifting techniques to firm and tone the muscles that cause expression lines.
LaGaia Precious Element Facial
Osprey Spa at Element of Byron Bay
Healing elements—including crystals of amethyst, rose quartz and lapis lazuli—work in concert with active, antioxidant-rich LaGaia products in this 90-minute anti-aging facial. There’s also lots of targeted massage: lymphatic drainage to decongest; pressure point relief for the head, neck and shoulders; and specialized acupressure around the eyes to brighten and ease lines. The face is also massaged with a roller made of jade stones—one stroke of which is equivalent to seven hand strokes, and is powerful in decongesting and encouraging lymphatic flow.
The Spa at Mandarin Oriental
Recommended for mature and dehydrated skin, this 80-minute treatment works to lift, tone and refine the skin’s texture, as well as tighten pores, using the appropriate Biologique Recherche products for your skin type, including a mask, contouring cream and two serums. Thirty minutes is also spent on smoothing, modeling and massaging the face using quick, uplifting strokes, resulting in skin that is tighter, more radiant and more youthful-looking.