There’s an immediate satisfaction when you compliment someone on their skin and they list off a lineup of under-the-radar products. But there’s something deeply gratifying and curiosity-inducing when that same person mentions a technique, especially when it’s free. When I watched a makeup artist spend ten minutes massaging the face of a model at my first fashion shoot, I felt that exact feeling. That moment of intentional attention and care shifted my idea of “good skin” forever. What if smooth, plump skin wasn’t a shortcut through Sephora, but a practice that took time and energy?
There’s no shortage of facial tools on the market, many of which I’ve experimented with and adore. But this week, I wondered what would happen if it was just my face muscles, some oil, and my hands. I had high hopes, but more than that, I genuinely looked forward to giving my skin the undivided attention of a facial massage every single day. Read on for my transformative experience of incorporating facial massage into my daily routine for a week.
What Is Facial Massage?
Recent popularity in the Western world has many skincare enthusiasts seeking facial massage, an art that has existed for centuries in countries like China, Mexico, and Sweden. Dr. Shari Auth describes facial massage as a centuries-long practice in Asia, going on to explain that “these techniques were popularized by the aristocracy of China and heralded for their anti-aging benefits.” Its modern popularity comes in part from Elaine Huntzinger’s wait-listed facials in Paris and Meghan Markle’s affinity for the buccal method.
By definition, facial massage is a practice from ancient Chinese medicine meant to stimulate circulation in the skin by manipulating and rubbing skin on the face to drain the lymphatic system. David Peters, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, explains that “the points and techniques used represent the combined knowledge passed down to each generation. While people did not know anything about the lymphatic system, the collagen matrix, or our other modern understandings of the face—they intuitively developed techniques as part of a ritual or meditative practice.” Practitioners claim that with consistent practice, muscle memory can form, and sagging skin in areas such as nasolabial folds and around the jaw can tighten over time.
Many traditional facials include facial massage, but companies like Anastasia Gornon’s All You Can Face and entrepreneur and journalist Inge Theron’s Face Gym preach that a more symmetrical and sculpted face is possible with consistent, guided practice—no Botox required.
Benefits of Facial Massage
- Increases circulation
- Improves elasticity and stimulates collagen production, reducing fine lines and wrinkles1
- Releases muscle tension in the face
- Stimulates the lymphatic system2
- Temporarily lifts skin3
There’s a host of reasons why taking time to massage your face is worth it for your mental health, not only your skin. Studies have suggested that facial massage has strong effects on stress alleviation, or psychological relaxation.4 For other potential benefits, like collagen production, I needed some help from an expert understanding.
“Collagen helps to reduce wrinkles and elastin helps to firm and tone the face,” explains Auth. “This increased circulation also increases the body’s natural detoxification process for a clearer complexion.” All great news, and as far as my skin post-massage, I did find that my makeup went on smoother, especially under my eyes.
Cecily Braden, a spa educator, explained one of her favorite benefits was “dependency and use of less product. You’re able to rely on your body for the vitality of your skin.” She also explained that frequency of massage would be regulated according to my skin’s adaptation to the practice, but to start with two treatments per week, three days apart. After my week-long experiment, I planned to schedule my massages in my calendar.
Hands vs. Tools
“While trendy beauty tools can evoke a luxurious or fun experience when using them, we all have the best and most effective facial tools already at home—namely, our hands,” states Gornon. It’s nearly impossible for me to scroll Instagram without seeing one of these riffs on the traditional gua sha (meaning “to scrape away illness”) or a targeted ad for a contraption that looks more torturous than tightening.
“Using our hands while doing facial exercises or massages will not only give you the best results when it comes to lymphatic drainage or enhancing circulation, but it develops a dialogue between you and the skin,” Gornon explains further. “Touching and feeling your skin regularly will foster the ability to understand yourself better.” It’s hard to argue with the power of human touch, especially when it costs $0.
It felt good to make time in my routine to relax, set realistic expectations, and massage out tension from the day. The results—overall luminance and a sharper jawline—felt like an added bonus.
How to Prepare for Facial Massage
Starting with a clean, well-oiled canvas is key for facial massage. Pulling back your hair with a cloth headband is not mandatory, but does increase the spa-like feel instantly. Not enough oil leads to tugging, which might have reverse effects. Psychologically, managing expectations is also key. By nature, a face massage is a short-term fix. If you don’t have ’90s supermodel cheekbones to begin with, no amount of pulling is going to unearth them, so instead think of the practice as a time to connect with your skin and release tension. Keeping water close by is smart, too.
The only other “tool” needed is a face oil of choice, to keep fingers and knuckles easily gliding across the skin. Eden’s creative brand strategist Torri Myers recommends “2-3 drops of Mara’s Universal Face Oil across the brow bone or where I feel jaw tension.” I opted for oil I had on hand, eventually supplementing with Face Gym’s Detox Signature Face Oil. It seems the only requirement is something to lubricate the tools you’re forming with your own two hands. Bonus points if that’s already in your medicine cabinet.
What to Expect During a Facial Massage
Before embarking on my weeklong facial massage intensive, I’d saved a few Instagram Reels and referenced them the morning after one too many tequilas, but I’d never imagined the amount of educators dedicated to the craft. Overwhelmed, I sought structure in Face Gym’s 30-minute online classes. I logged on to the Zoom link, oil to my left and water to my right, then kept my camera off as I rolled, lifted, and exhaled with a cast of glowing, enthusiastic trainers. Like an exercise class, we stretched, warmed up, got into cardio (cheek squats, baby), and cooled down. One instructor reminded me to “always finish higher than you started” when massaging, which I immediately interpreted as a metaphysical ethos. Another explained that the lymphatic system was “slow-moving” and had to be woken up.
On nights when I really couldn’t face the screen, I practiced moves from class, setting a timer on my phone and lighting a candle in my bathroom. Learning more about where I carry tension and how to soften those areas felt empowering and like the ultimate self-care. Stimulating my skin, bringing oxygen to the surface, and all of that was great, but it was the time spent off-screen, all to myself, that really felt divine.
At-Home vs. By a Professional
One tenet of facial massage I was pleased to discover was a focus on intrapersonal consciousness. “Facial massage not only helps you to become aware of where you hold your stress, but gives you an opportunity to release it,” Huntzinger explains. “It’s empowering to take responsibility for your health.” Instructors and educators encouraged me to check in with my own body, to find the tension I carry and focus on those areas.
While I dream of a salon experience in the 3rd arrondissement, that’s not really the purpose of this experiment. “The same way you have a daily cleansing and moisturizing routine, you should have a facial massage routine,” explains Auth. I stuck with the recommended ten minutes a day or Face Gym’s 2-4 times a week and saved on a lot of commute time.
If you have recently had any sort of injection, facialists recommend avoiding that area during massage. Being injectable-free, I adhered to every video and training manual I received with eagerness. Immediately after my massages, redness occurred, but it all went down after 20 minutes and a Mason jar of water. Other than that, I experienced no side effects.
Like working out, Rome, and breaking bad habits, nothing is built in a day—the practice of facial massage has a cumulative effect. Also similar to working out, facial massage releases endorphins, according to JE’DERM Skin Atelier’s Judit Galambosi and Eliana Restrepo, who both encourage adding time post-massage to remain in your relaxed state. This was difficult for me, someone with two to three to-do lists at any given time, but a few minutes of 7-11 breathing never hurt anyone.
Goron recommends ten minutes of facial massage daily, but understands that may not always be possible. “It’s more important to stay consistent and do a couple of minutes daily rather than doing it once in a while for a longer period of time,” she notes. I’ve been opting for ten minutes after my skincare routine at night. I light a candle, wrap up a podcast episode, and work to undo some of the day’s tension before bed.
The Results: De-puffing and definition
Just before massaging, I had moisturized my skin. Maybe the Sunday dinner I ate the night before wasn’t working totally in my favor, but you can see a general puffiness, especially around the cheek area. And while measuring results is all about perspective and knowing your own bone structure, I could definitely notice a visible difference from my new practice. My eyes appeared more vibrant and less puffy, and I looked better rested overall, with my jawline a little sharper than normal.
While the actual effectiveness of facial massage is still partly unclear and hinges almost entirely on my willingness to make it a habit, I count this past week a total success. What matters is that the dedicated time I spent massaging, “never dragging” as my Face Gym instructor commanded, meant something to me. It felt good to make time in my routine to relax, set realistic expectations, and massage out tension from the day. The results—overall luminance and a sharper jawline—felt like an added bonus.