Facial exercises have been promoted for years as an anti-aging alternative to surgery or injections, but a new study has given the subject renewed interest. I have been a critic of the notion because the logic behind it is faulty; overdeveloped facial muscles cause wrinkles, which is why relaxing them with Botox is so effective. I also believe that progress requires being open-minded and occasionally challenging assumptions. This latest widely reported study is interesting because it was actually conducted according to the guidelines of a clinical trial, though it doesn’t entirely prove or disprove the idea.
First the details: The Department of Dermatology at Northwestern University recruited 33 women ages 40-65, of whom 6 declined to participate. Standardized photographs were taken and then rated for apparent age by physicians blinded to the patients’ identities. The patients then underwent instruction in a facial yoga exercise regimen, continuing 30-minute sessions every other day for 20 weeks after the initial training. This consisted of two 90-minute classes in 32 separate exercises followed by daily practice for the first 8 weeks. Evaluation of the photos showed a reduction in apparent age from an average of 50.8 years to 48.1 years. (Interestingly the actual average age was 53.7 at enrollment.) The improvement was related to increasing in cheek fullness.
What’s good about the study: The treatments were standardized and the independent evaluation lends credibility to the results.
Why I don't believe facial yoga will work for most people
The study authors admit that the study has “limitations that may reduce its external validity.” The program requires a major investment of time and effort; nearly half of the participants dropped out. Presumably, the program would have to be continued in order to maintain the effect, which the authors characterized as a modest benefit. Further, the results were based on fullness in the cheeks, not reduction of wrinkles. And finally, there was no control group for comparison.
It isn’t an either/or choice anyway; plastic surgeons have never promoted surgery or injections as an alternative to exercise or healthy living. So even if you honestly believe you could faithfully do 32 specific facial exercises for 4 months and then indefinitely, it isn’t going to do what a facelift or Botox does.