Anti-aging face massage is a popular offering in many salons and spas. Advocates of the technique say it temporarily plumps the skin or that it can produce long-term changes in appearance.
However, studies on the topic have significant shortcomings, such as a low number of participants and no long-term follow-up. As a result, there is no conclusive scientific proof that facial massage works to significantly change the visible signs of aging on the skin.
Read on to learn more about anti-aging face massage, including types and techniques.
Some facial massage practitioners claim that massage may help reduce the signs of aging, either immediately or over time, with regular treatments. There is some evidence to support this claim, but it is weak.
For example, a 2018 study assessed the effects of massage rollers on the skin over 5 weeks. Researchers performed massage on the right cheek of 12 study participants. At the end of 5 weeks, there was greater vasodilation — a measure of blood flow — in only the right cheek.
This suggests that massage might help improve circulation. This could, in theory, promote the delivery of healthy nutrients to the skin, improve skin plumpness, or promote skin healing. However, the study was very small, so more research is necessary to confirm this.
A 2021 pilot study suggests that facial massage might offer the appearance of lifting in the cheeks. Drawing on CT scans of a cadaver and six volunteers, researchers concluded that massage could help improve facial mobility, potentially making the skin look younger or more lifted.
A 2022 study by some of the same authors used a similar CT scanning technique in five volunteers, who massaged their cheeks for 2 weeks. Researchers found that massage thinned the skin, helped lift the skin, and subjectively improved the skin’s appearance. Again, though, this was a very small study.
A 2017 study that used skin samples in a laboratory setting found that skin massage increased the expression of the decorin, fibrillin, tropoelastin, and procollagen-1 in the skin. These substances give skin structure and elasticity.
In the same study, researchers also tested an anti-aging cream along with massage on the skin of 20 white women aged 65–75 years. They also tested the cream alone in a similar group of 22 others.
After 8 weeks, an evaluator who did not know which treatment each person had received rated their skin on various measures of aging and elasticity. The group that used the massage and cream had better results.
No single type of face massage is proven to work better than others when it comes to reducing the visible signs of aging. There are various approaches, including:
- Swedish: This type uses light, long strokes to ease muscle tension.
- Shiatsu: This form of massage originates from Japan and involves applying pressure to specific points on the body. People can also get this type of massage on the face.
- Gua sha: This method of facial massage involves using a flat crystal tool to massage the contours of the face. It originates in East Asian medicine.
- Lymphatic drainage: This type of massage moves lymph, which is a type of bodily fluid, beneath the skin. Some people use it to reduce puffiness.
The only vital tools for a facial massage are a person’s hands and a lotion or oil to reduce friction on the skin.
It is a good idea to choose oils that suit a person’s skin type. For example, people who are concerned about acne can opt for noncomedogenic oils, such as jojoba oil. These are less likely to block pores.
People can use their fingers, thumbs, the heel of their hands, or a tool to massage the face. Some tools people may find helpful include:
- Face rollers: These devices apply even, gentle pressure to the skin. They come in a range of sizes and materials, including metal, wood, glass, and crystal. Some manufacturers claim that certain types of face rollers, such as jade rollers, offer additional benefits. There is no scientific evidence to support these claims.
- Heated massagers: Some companies make face massagers that heat up. This may help soothe aches and pains or help a person feel relaxed.
- Chilled massagers: Cold massagers may contain a liquid that keeps the tool cold, or they may require a person to store them in the refrigerator. They provide a refreshing sensation and may temporarily tighten the skin.
- Vibrating massagers: Some face massagers also vibrate. Manufacturers claim this gives a more intense massage, although no studies have yet to investigate this.
There are many ways to massage the face. For beginners trying it at home, here are some steps to try:
- Pour a dime-sized amount of oil into the hands and rub them together to warm it up. Apply evenly to the face and neck using light upward strokes. This is known as effleurage.
- Start at the neck, gently moving the fingers upward from the collarbones toward the jaw. Repeat several times.
- Move the fingers to the sides of the chin, pressing them with light-but-firm pressure outward and upward, gliding over the jawbone toward the ears. Repeat several times.
- Move upward to the sides of the nose and repeat a similar motion, but this time move the fingers upward and outward over the cheekbones. Repeat several times.
- Place the tips of the fingers between the brows and slide them outward across the brow bone toward the temples. Repeat several times.
- Bring the fingers back to the brows, but this time move vertically, sweeping the fingers from the brows up toward the hairline.
People can finish their message with effleurage. If they wish, they can leave the oil on the skin to sink in or wash it off with a cleanser.
The risks of facial massage are very minimal. In some cases, a person may experience the following:
- Reactions to skin care products: Using skin products along with facial massage may cause irritation, especially with the use of strong actives, such as retinoids or chemical exfoliants.
- Irritation: Excessive or intense massage could irritate the skin. Using too much pressure or friction can cause microtears.
- Pain: Massaging the skin very roughly may hurt. Aggressive massage may also irritate injured or inflamed muscles.
Other minimally-invasive treatments that may increase circulation and plump the skin include:
- Face exercises and face yoga: Some people report that exercises help keep the skin taut by working out muscles in the face. A 2018 article notes that exercises increase collagen and elastin in the skin, but that few studies have looked at how effective face yoga is for changing one’s appearance.
- Microcurrent facials: These facials involve using a handheld device to deliver small electrical currents to the skin and muscles. People can use at-home devices or receive the treatment from a qualified professional.
- High intensity focused ultrasound facial: This type of facial treatment involves an esthetician using ultrasound waves to create heat in the deeper layers of the skin. This damages skin cells, prompting the body to repair them.
- Microneedling: This involves using a roller with tiny needles on it. The needles create tiny punctures in the skin, which may stimulate collagen production.
Anti-aging face massage may help promote better circulation, temporarily plump the skin, and offer a relaxing experience. However, scientific evidence for this so far is limited, and there are no long-term studies showing it creates significant changes to the appearance of the skin over time.
If people want to try an anti-aging face massage, they can use a noncomedogenic oil and their hands to gently manipulate the skin. Alternatively, there are various massage tools to choose from.
Facial massages are unlikely to be harmful, painful, or cause side effects, as long as a person does not apply too much pressure.