Want to look younger? Facial yoga could help, researchers say

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Thirty minutes of facial exercises a day could make your face look visibly younger in just 20 weeks.

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That’s according to new research from Northwestern University in Illinois, where scientists found facial yoga tightened and lifted the cheeks of their study participants and resulted in more youthful appearances.

"The exercises enlarge and strengthen the facial muscles, so the face becomes firmer and more toned and shaped like a younger face," lead author Murad Alam, a Northwestern dermatologist, said in a university article.

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The very small study, published in the journal JAMA Dermatology Wednesday, involved 16 women between ages 40-65 who completed a 20-week facial yoga program.

Before the program, each participant went through 90-minute training sessions with a facial exercise instructor, who taught them 32 different facial expressions. The participants were trained to hold each facial pose for a minute each.

Over the next 20 weeks, they continued the exercises at home. For the first eight weeks, they spent 30 minutes a day on them and after that, they performed the exercises every other day.

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Before the program, dermatologists rated the participants to be 50.8 years on average based on how their face looked.

After eight weeks, dermatologists rated them 49.6 years on average. And after the program, the average dropped to 48.1 years old.

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"That's almost a three-year decrease in age appearance over a 20-week period," Alam said.

Scientists noticed the greatest differences around the upper and lower cheek, which became increasingly fuller and more rounded throughout the study.

Sample facial yoga exercises, according to the study:

The Cheek Lifter:

- Open mouth and form “O”

- Position upper lip over teeth

- Smile to lift cheek muscles up

- Put fingers lightly on top part of cheek

- Release cheek muscles to lower them, lift back up

- Repeat by lowering and lifting the cheeks

The Happy Cheeks Sculpting:

- Smile without showing teeth

- Purse lips together

- Smile forcing cheek muscles up

- Place fingers on corners of the mouth

- Slide fingers up to the top of the cheeks

- Hold for 20 seconds

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How does it work?

Essentially, facial yoga strengthens the muscles underneath the skin and, if the muscles become bigger, the skin has more “stuffing,” making the shape of the face appear fuller, senior author Emily Poon said.

"Muscle growth is increasing the facial volume and counteracting the effects of age-related fat thinning and skin loosening,” she said.

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Study limitations:

In addition to the incredibly small sample size, the study only examined middle-aged women and didn’t make note of what else the women may have been doing to their faces throughout the program.

Future research should include a much larger sample with diverse demographics.

“Assuming the findings are confirmed in a larger study, individuals now have a low-cost, non-toxic way for looking younger or to augment other cosmetic or anti-aging treatments they may be seeking,” Alam said.

Read the full school article at news.northwestern.edu.

Read the full study at jamanetwork.com.