Imagine a world without pillow cheeks, trout pouts and wind tunnel faces, where our eternal quest for youth is achieved simply by adding 30 minutes on to a daily gym session to concentrate on our faces. Exercising, them, that is.
Sound like another flaky fad? Well it’s a no-brainer according to a new wave of therapists across the globe who are dedicated to helping us regain (or maintain) the youthful, plumped-up face we once owned by controversially shunning the popular face-freezing, or invasive approaches of Botox or fillers in favour of a more natural approach – and result – by focusing underneath the skin on the 50 or so muscles that sculpt the face.
Based on the concept that just as we have to work out regularly to maintain a lean, toned physique by keeping our muscles active, the same should apply to the muscles in our face. “We know that when we go to the gym our muscles tone and tighten and the skin pulls tight around them, lifting and smoothing. Apply this method to the face and the same happens. It’s not rocket science,” says Inge Theron, founder of Face Gym, which launched at London’s Selfridges department store in May this year.
During her time spent travelling the globe writing the Financial Times’s Spa Junkie beauty column, reviewing therapies from Botox to placenta facials, Inge experienced some distressing treatments that had less than desirable results and was inspired to look for alternative options in the fight against ageing that didn’t involve needles or anything invasive.
“I was going to get older, I was put off injectables and I didn’t want another needle near my face. Even with all the beauty creams in the world with dragon’s blood, lamb placenta, snake venom – your skin can only do so much. You can heal brown spots with cream, but when it comes to the actual facelifting there’s little you can do,” she says.
“If you don’t want to do Botox, what else is there?” So she decided to do some research.
By spending time with some of the world’s top holistic therapists such as Joëlle Ciocco, a biochemist in Paris devoted to the study of the skin’s ecosystem, Dr Robert Klein, an acupuncturist who wrote the book The Empress’s Secret(www.theempressssecret.com) and Yamuna Zake whose Body Rolling and Body Logic practices are popular with high-profile celebrities, Inge combined what she learnt to develop the treatments at Face Gym.
“I distilled the very best of a hundred different facials and massages, focusing on lengthening, toning and tightening. It’s simple, and it’s just like the gym.”
The basis of Face Gym is a 30-minute programme that consists of a warm-up (cleansing), cardio (sweating the skin with pummelling), strength (focusing on problem areas) and a cool down (a cold roller is applied). Her ‘trainers’ use techniques such as pummelling and facial flicking to lift cheeks, drain excess fluid and tone problem areas such as jowls, stimulating the muscles and boosting collagen and cell renewal – essentially waking up the face.
After a basic workout, there are more intense options with a machine that’s similar to a Slendertone but for your face, called the Pure Lift, which “strengthens the muscles, like when you do a tummy crunch”.
So, why exercise our faces? As we age, we lose the plump roundness known as convexities. “Convexities are what make you youthful,” says celebrity dermatologist Nicholas Perricone, MD. “That is critical. If you look at the cheekbones, the forehead, the temples and the jawline of someone young, they come out in an arc away from the face. They bulge out. Around the age of 40 to the mid-50s, the convexities go flat. From 60 up, they can go concave.”
By stimulating the muscles, they begin to rebuild and plump up, thereby regaining the fullness that is associated with youth. And where we typically assume by freezing facial muscles we’ll look younger, all we can really be sure of is that we’ll have less movement, which creates wrinkles.
In fact choosing Botox on its own is almost certainly not going to make you look younger, as if the muscles aren’t able to move, they aren’t being exercised. Just as when we don’t exercise our biceps, we lose muscle.
Like Inge says, it’s not rocket science, but it does make sense. In fact, while Face Gym may be the first dedicated ‘clinic’ of its kind, the concept of working on facial muscles isn’t new at all. There are many therapists who are dedicated to this type of rejuvenation, and facial healing has been documented in ancient cultures for centuries, with similar techniques being used in ancient China by the Royal Court, upon which the bestselling book The Empress’s Secret is based.
Dr Klein, a former director of the National Acupuncture Association, developed an ‘acupressure facelift’ programme after studying acupuncture with Chinese Taoist masters, translating ancient Chinese texts that documented the beauty rituals of the empresses. The ‘secret’ itself is a type of facial massage that stimulates pressure points on the face to allow the chi (the body’s energy) to flow freely, boosting circulation and the production of collagen and elastin that firm the skin and maintain its youthful appearance.
On his website, Klein says that it’s never too late to start and insists that when comparing someone who has had ‘face work’ to devotees of The Empress’s Secret, his followers look healthier and more natural. “Our bodies are preprogrammed for natural healing and health – essentially, we are designed for self-healing and self-rejuvenation; we just have to know the proper techniques to activate this very rich resource.”
Yamuna Zake is another therapist who’s dedicated her life to this type of self-healing. A body therapist for 35 years, initially she developed Yamuna Body Rolling, a form of massage using a medicine ball, so that people could apply her practices at home. She developed Yamuna Save Face (www.yamunabodyrolling.com), taking the principles she uses on the body – even specially designing a smaller medicine ball – and applying the technique on the face.
She is of the belief that while it is most definitely muscle mass that creates fullness, to really achieve long-lasting effects we should begin with the bone itself. “There have been lots of studies about bone loss in the face and that this is the main reason for wrinkles,” she says. “I decided to develop Yamuna Save Face when I saw so many women my age choosing Botox. Most other approaches to the face focus on muscle stimulation. Yamuna Save Face focuses on direct bone stimulation and aligning the bones of the face first. Once the bones are lifted and aligned the muscles begin to function again. If bones are narrowed in and drooping, it is hard to stimulate muscles and have them take their full form and function.”
Marja Putkisto has successfully developed a type of face school called Method Putkisto (www.methodputkisto.com) that has around 17 schools across her native Finland, as well as a clinic in London and instructors who host workshops around the globe.
At 54 she looks fresh, which she believes is better than trying to stop the ageing process all together. “The anti-ageing thing is very much related to making yourself fresh. It’s cool when you look good for your age but it’s not so cool to try to look another age,” she explains.
Her method is about retraining the facial muscles altogether, even down to mannerisms picked up from your parents as a child that are causing the same ageing patterns as, say, your mother. “It’s more of an exercise programme for not only muscles to get stronger but also to stop them doing something, like a mannerism.” You may have learnt the mannerism over time or through a stressful period. “So you get used to keeping your face a certain way,” she says.
Where Inge Theron’s Face Gym concept is about speedy treatments administered by someone else for the ‘lazy’ ones among us, the general consensus is that the more dedication you have to learn it yourself, the better you can look. After all, a therapist’s time is money, so say goodbye to Botox and hit the Face Gym.