'I tried 3 different facial workout treatments to see if they could sculpt and tone my face'

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Does facial massage actually do anything?Emma Gritt

When it comes to a snatched jawline, defined cheekbones and that elusive glow, there are countless injectables, gadgets and surgical options - from fillers to micro-needling and thread lifts to face lifts - that promise to do the job.

Yet now, a new wave of intensive massage-based facials, billed as cardio for your face, are designed to give your facial muscles and fascia a full workout, using targeted movements such as facial yoga techniques, cupping and deep lymphatic massage to drain facial puffiness and give definition without going near a needle. Celebrity fans include Kim Kardashian and Gywneth Paltrow while devotees claim the results can gives a defined, sculpted look in as little as an hour that last for days.

Unlike traditional facials which largely focus on skincare and relaxation, some face workouts are not for the faint-hearted - the Buccal facial massage technique, which has over 96 million views on TikTok, involves the therapist vigorously massaging inside your cheeks with gloved hands from inside your mouth to reach your buccal muscles. It’s designed to release tension in the jaw whilst sculpting and lifting the jawline and cheekbones.

Less invasive workouts like facial lymphatic drainage incorporate stretching and facial yoga movements to actively drain the lymphatic system in the face and neck, decreasing puffiness caused by excess lymphatic fluid build up, to help jowly skin look more toned. Then there's facial cupping which uses tiny silicone suction cups to suck up and lift the skin and stimulate blood flow, leaving it looking plump, glowing and contoured.

Alternative Facialist Justine Masters, who specialises in this technique says; 'Many of my clients have had Botox or fillers in the past but are now seeking more natural treatments. Facial cupping actively stimulates the lymph glands to disperse puffiness and eliminate toxins, it encourages blood flow to the skin to promote glow and soften the look of fine lines – results can last a week with zero downtime.'

Facial Massage Therapist Charlotte Habibi, who specialises in facial lymphatic massage and counts Billie Piper and Nadine Coyle among her clients, says many of have her signature facial massage an hour or two before the red carpet or going on stage.

'I use a combination of lymphatic drainage, face yoga, facial cupping, gua sha and a kansa wand to help lift and contour the muscles, plump fine lines and boost the blood circulation,' she explains, 'Skin is left glowing, muscles are free from tension, and results can last a few days,' she says.

But how do face workouts measure-up when it comes to more traditional aesthetic treatments like Botox or fillers? Dr Derrick Phillips, Consultant Dermatologist at OneWelbeck Skin Health & Allergy, and Skin55 Harley Street, explains:

'Intense facial massage techniques are thought to induce lifting and tightening effects by stimulating the contraction of facial muscles, improving the contour and shape of the face. In addition, they can help with lymphatic drainage, removing swelling and reducing puffiness in facial areas. Anecdotally, these techniques have been reported to improve definition and glow, but more in-depth scientific research is required,' he says.

One recent study using CT scans detected lifting and tightening effects in five participants who had regular facial massages for two weeks.

'But it’s important to note this is a very small study, more research is needed. A limitation of facial massage is that results are temporary, unlike Botox, fillers and chemical peels that produce long-term improvements,' says Dr Phillips.

Here, I tried three of the top facial workouts to if they live up to the hype and whether it’s possible to get a snatched jawline…

Buccal Massage

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Emma Gritt

I’ve seen enough TikToks of buccal massage to know this intraoral massage technique doesn’t look particularly relaxing, but given I hold a lot of tension in my jaw, I was interested to see if I’d leave Face Gym in St John’s Wood, London, feeling less tension in that area – and sculpted cheekbones would be an added bonus.

At Face Gym, the vibe is definitely more workout than chill out – therapists are known as trainers and facials take place in reclining chairs, not treatment rooms. I was booked in for their Signature Hands treatment, £80 for members, £100 for non-members, followed by a Buccal Tension Release massage, an add-on for an extra £50.

The Treatment: 'It’s time to say bye-bye to spa-hands and hello to cardio,' explains my Face Gym trainer Paola Andrea Londono, 'After a warm-up using knuckling massage techniques, we use upwards whipping strokes to stimulate collagen and blood flow to the face followed by gua sha to help sculpt contours and de-puff.' Finally, the buccal massage would help release tension and create definition in the lower jaw.

The Verdict: I’m not going to lie, the buccal massage was intense. Wearing latex gloves, Paola performed vigorous circular and kneading movements right up inside my cheeks to behind my teeth, reaching deep into the facial tissue and masseter (jaw) muscles.

After the treatment, my jawline looked significantly contoured, yet it felt so much more relaxed – like my jaw was back where it should be and I wasn’t clenching it. My facial muscles felt a little tender the next day - like I’d had a workout - I loved the light lifting and contouring look the technique achieved. I’ll definitely be booking in again when I feel the tension creeping back.

Best for: Facial tension release and jawline sculpting

Facial Lymphatic Drainage

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Emma Gritt

Facial Therapist Charlotte Habibi developed her technique, incorporating face yoga, gua sha, facial cupping and a Kansa wand (an Ayurvedic massage tool), several years ago after noticing that her clients would say they enjoyed the massage element of her facials the most. 'Many facials focus primarily on skincare, but my treatment’s solely massage based,' she explains.

'It’s designed to relax overused muscles and stimulate the weaker ones. Each movement is specific to how a particular muscle is situated in the face. I also take into account the fascia and the facial ligaments too. Results can last up to three days. I recommend initially having four treatments two weeks apart and I also encourage my clients to incorporate a few of the techniques I teach them at home for longer lasting results'.

The treatment: During the facial massage, it felt like the muscles in my face were being gently stretched and manipulated upwards. Charlotte also showed me how to massage my own face and guide the lymphatic fluid that was causing my facial puffiness from my face to my collarbones, to help it naturally disperse through my lymphatic system. The gua sha part of the treatment brought cooling to my skin and I nearly drifted off as the Kansa wand was guided over my face.

The Verdict: I’ve never had a facial like it in my life - blissfully relaxing but intensive at the same time. I was stunned by the sculpted look when I checked my before and after photos. In a word, I looked ‘snatched’. There was a sharp definition under my chin and jawline that I haven’t seen since my twenties and likewise in my cheekbones. A week later I was still noticing the difference.

Best for: Defined cheekbones and jawline.

Facial Cupping

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Emma Gritt

Taking one look at my face, alternative facialist Justine Masters, explained why cupping was the right treatment for me as part of her CoolJet Pro-Age facial, from £150. 'You’re showings signs of cortisol face,' she explains. 'This means the stress hormone’s causing a visible build-up of lymphatic fluid in a band beneath your chin, this is all due to cortisol flooding your lymphatic system causing puffiness and water retention'.

She tells me that facial cupping, using soft silicone suction cups to gently lift and manipulate my skin and muscles will drain lymphatic fluid and stimulate the blood flow to my face, helping improve my skintone and jowl area for a lifted result. She explains the treatment ends using the CoolJet Plasma Pen, a handheld device which helps to stimulate collagen production for a further skin-tightening effect.

The treatment: After a manual massage to help release tension in my face, Justine swept a variety of different-sized suction cups along my cheek bones, jawline, around my eyes, down from my nose to my chin and across my forehead to get my circulation going. It felt incredibly soothing, the suction cups are very gentle and felt really smooth gliding across my skin. Justine also said she encourages her clients to use suction cups at home between appointments too, to keep promoting lymphatic drainage.

The Verdict: The biggest different I noticed was in the marionette lines (the lines that run from the nose to the corners of the mouth) looking softened and less noticeable. I’d been really self-conscious of them before since I felt like they made me look quite jowly so it was a boost to see they were less obvious for a few days afterwards. My skin also looked much plumper and glowier too.

Best for: Softening fine lines and glow.

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