Blog Post

What Is Face Yoga?

woman's face close upFC asks: “Do you know anything about face yoga?”

Face yoga is a new invention no doubt inspired by a combination of our country's fixation on yoga and our rapidly aging population. From what I have found, there is little or no connection to the Hindu practice of yoga for most of these exercises with the exception of the “lion face” which is derived from the yoga lion pose.

According to one of the alleged inventors, Annelise Hagen, a New York yoga instructor who appeared on Good Morning America (GMA), facial yoga is designed to be “a natural, non-invasive alternative to Botox, fillers and plastic surgery” and consists of a series of facial exercises designed to tighten the muscles of the face. 

Hagen is the author of the bestselling Yoga Face and claims to be “deeply interested in the connection between the spirit and the body, especially with regard to fertility, aging, and beauty.” She calls Yoga Face the “ultimate facelift” and says the exercises tone and lift the muscles of the face.

In order to accomplish this, Hagen recommends daily practice of the "fish face" which firms the cheeks and lips; the "bumblebee" which affects the cheeks, lips and jaw; the "satchmo" which targets the cheeks; and the “lion face” which supposedly stretches all the facial muscles and releases tension.

“It's been scientifically proven that the muscular activity helps to prolong the production of collagen and elastin, which makes your face firm and springy,” Hagen claims.

One of the best parts about my job is that I have plenty of dermatologists on speed dial. Since I’m always researching and writing about skin, I love having free reign to pick their brains. My fave topic to talk about? Acne. Their favorite responses to nix it? Spot treatments, light therapy, and skin-care products to squelch the situation. Then, one of the derms I spoke to said something a little different: The best way to treat acne is to stop it from happening in the first place. Find out the best acne supplements for both prevention and treatment.

Why prevention is the name of the game

“People spot treat, and that is completely off of the course—you want to prevent that,” says Dennis Gross, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare. “Spot treating is fine, but you’ve already lost the battle. The important thing is to use something all over your face on a regular basis, at least in the zones where you’re prone to acne in the first place—that’s the key thing.”

That’s because pimples don’t end once you kill them—their ghost remains to haunt your face in the form of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or acne scars. “Pigmentation, if you look under a microscope, looks like globules—like balls of discoloration,” says Dr. Gross. “It can be really, really hard to break them up, to disintegrate them.” The hard thing to swallow about the spots that are left post-breakout is that topical skin-care products can only do so much—Dr. Gross says you can get rid of about 50 percent of them. “The rest is a challenge,” he admits. “At least you can get that much, and if you stay on it, you’ll get rid of it. But the next step would be laser, because it’s a high-energy, deeply-penetrating treatment.”

California-based dermatologist Shirley Chi, MD, agrees: “If you allow acne to flare, then you have a risk of scarring, which is very difficult to treat. Also, everyone knows that once a pimple starts, it takes a while to go away,” she says. (Have any truer words been spoken?) So, if you can, be diligent to prevent acne from happening in the first place.

How—exactly—you can prevent acne

Now for the nitty gritty. According to the derms I spoke with, preventing acne is all about keeping your pores clear. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s hormonal acne, T-zone acne, the acne that runs in families, cystic acne—it doesn’t matter because they all start because of a blockage in the pore,” says Dr. Gross. “The reason the pore is blocked is because the gland has something wrong with it—they’re producing oils that are too heavy to flow. Normally, human oils should be a little bit heavier than water. But where you get broken out is when those glands are regularly producing oils that are too heavy for its own good—so it’s an oil chemistry problem.” This pretty much just means that you want to normalize your oil production.

The most effective way to keep your pores drama free? Exfoliation. “Cleansing a few times a week with salicylic acid cleansers unclogs pores and diminishes the size of oil glands,” says Robert Anolik, MD, a New York-based dermatologist. “This type of peel ingredient is particularly helpful for acne prevention because it is lipophilic, meaning it is drawn toward the oil in the glands, unclogging what’s in its path.”

Dr. Gross also recommends using a blend of exfoliating acids in your regimen—AHAs and BHAs. “For alpha, I like glycolic, citric, lactic, mandelic, and then for beta I use salicylic acid,” he says. “I like a mix of alpha and beta because they all do something a little different. And also, I’m a believer in getting multiple acids that combine to a high concentration, rather than just using one single acid at a high concentration. Like five acids at three percent rather than one asset at 15—if you do it that way, it’s more effective and there’s no downtime, no redness, and no irritation. It’s the funny thing about skin.”

Then, there’s retinol. “Nightly retinol is another important prevention strategy because it helps pores grow normally, limiting the buildup of dead skin cells which contribute to the clogging of pores,” says Dr. Anolik. “It’s why you see far fewer whiteheads and blackheads when someone uses retinols routinely.” Also key? Being diligent about facial cleansing. “Make sure to wash your face twice daily to remove makeup, dirt, oils, and pollution that we’re exposed to,” says Dr. Chi. There’s the derm-approved prevention plan.

GMA managed to find a doctor who (sort of) supported her claims. Dr. Neil Sadick, a dermatologist popular with the stars of The Real Housewives of New York, says face yoga promotes collagen stimulation.

“Although there's not great science around it compared to other technologies like chemical peels or Botox, we know that by stimulating any component of your face like your muscles you're going to have a beneficial effect in terms of your overall appearance,” Sadick says.

In other words, it doesn’t have to be “Yoga Face” – it can be any kind of stimulation for your facial muscles, including massage, I make sure to follow this tip every night before bed, but of course, this doesn't mean I skip my skin care routine, I still use all the options at as part of my beauty routine.

But there are plenty of dermatologists who don’t agree.

Dr. Francis Papay, Chairman of the Dermatology and Plastic Surgery Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, told the LA Times in 2011 that there have never been any studies showing that facial exercises work.

He also argues that the premise behind the exercises is fundamentally flawed because heavily used facial muscles are the cause of wrinkles, not the remedy.

As an example, he refers to people who have suffered a stroke that left half of their face paralyzed. Over time, it becomes clear that the paralyzed side becomes smoother and less wrinkled than the active side. In fact, Botox injections actually mimic this reaction by paralyzing the muscles that cause wrinkles.

So exercising the face could have the exact opposite effect, he say, and claims that the only exercises that work are those that tone the muscles of the neck.

But that doesn't stop other so-called "face yoga" founders from hawking their wares, including Fumiko Takatsu, creator of the Face Yoga Method, who offers a $120 course on the practice.

Danielle Collins is the founder of the Danielle Collins Face Yoga Method which includes derivatives of several animal yoga poses such as the Owl and the Giraffe.

An International facial yoga expert named Ruchika Sharma, aka Mrs. South Asia International, earned a spot in the Guiness Book of World Records last year for hosting the largest face yoga gathering in history.

Although many of these programs are using the name “yoga” in order to appeal to our yoga-crazy market, only some are actually using poses associated with the Hindu practice.

Because the majority of dermatologists believe these exercises may actually exacerbate rather than improve aging skin, we recommend sticking to neck toning exercises. A Google search of “neck toning exercises” turned up nearly a half million hits. Simply avoid those that claim to be “yoga”.