A facial exercise regimen may help turn back the hands of time. New research shows that women who performed 30-minute daily or alternate-day facial exercises for 20 weeks looked an average of three years younger.

When the face ages, the skin loses elasticity and the fat pads between the muscle and skin grow thinner. As skin sags, the fat pads can atrophy and slide, causing the face to fall. In general, facial exercises enlarge and strengthen the facial muscles so the face becomes firmer and more toned, qualities associated with youth.

The study appears in JAMA Dermatology.

Study participants took part in two sets of face-to-face 90-minute training sessions from a facial exercise instructor. They learned 32 exercises and continued to do these exercises at home for 20 weeks. For the first eight weeks, they did the exercises daily for 30 minutes. From week nine to 20, they did the same exercises every other day for 30 minutes. (The facial exercises were developed by Gary Sikorski of Happy Face Yoga, who is a coauthor on the study.)

One exercise, the Happy Cheeks Sculpting, involves smiling without showing teeth. Participants purse lips together and smile forcing the cheek muscles up, while placing fingers on the corners of the mouth and sliding them up to the top of the cheeks, holding for 20 seconds.

And these exercises actually made a difference, according to the study. Doctors who rated before and after photographs of participants found that upper cheek and lower cheek fullness, in particular, was enhanced. In addition, the raters estimated that average patient age decreased over the course of the study. It started at 50.8 years, dropped to 49.6 years at eight weeks and then to 48.1 years at 20 weeks. What’s more, study participants also reported being highly satisfied with the results and noticed improvements on nearly all the facial areas that were rated.

Dr. Rizk responds:

Facial exercises – sometimes called facial yoga – have been around for years, but they have not been studied in a scientific fashion until now, to my knowledge. That said, more research is needed to validate these findings and to help determine where such exercises fit in our anti-facial aging armamentarium. On the plus side, facial exercises are affordable and safe.

The study looked at middle aged women only. I treat a wide variety of patients – both younger and older women as well as men. We don’t know how effective these exercises would be for different populations.

The good news is that we have many options for reducing wrinkles and improving skin tone and laxity to help all comers appear younger. Facial exercises may augment what we can do with fillers, surgery and lasers, but the stand-alone benefits would not to the compare to the results that can be achieved these techniques and technologies.

The No. 1 thing that everyone can, and should, do to stay looking as young as possible is to always use sunscreen. The sun is the most significant cause of premature aging and skin cancer. It is skin’s main enemy, right up there with excessive alcohol intake and smoking.

Facial yoga would not top my list of must-do’s, but it may prove advantageous in some cases. If you are concerned about signs of facial aging, schedule a consultation with a board certified facial plastic surgeon to discuss all of your treatment options.