Would you want a stranger’s fingers in your mouth? I find out why celebrities love buccal massage
‘I’m always grateful that people put their trust in me to come and have such a weird treatment,” says Lynn Rae, a remedial face and jaw therapist. The treatment in question? Intra-oral, or buccal, massage. This involves having someone massage your facial muscles – but from inside your mouth. All things considered, it is a bit weird. But the beauty industry rarely shies away from the bizarre – especially once celebrities get on board.
Jennifer Lopez, Kristen Bell and the Duchess of Sussex are all said to be fans of buccal massage, which the celebrity “facialist” Nichola Joss calls “the inner facial”. Its mainstream popularity appears to be on the rise, too.
“We were not expecting it to be as popular as it is,” says Tarryn Warren, the founder of Tarryn Warren Bespoke Skincare in London, which has offered “mouth massage treatment” for about five months. “On social media, we have the highest number of likes and reactions to buccal massage videos.”
Buccal massage is not new: it has long been used to help treat bruxism (teeth grinding) and Bell’s palsy. Many practitioners receive referrals from dentists and other medical professionals for conditions including migraines, tension headaches and the jaw condition temporomandibular disorder.
Recently, however, a number of A-listers appear to have had buccal fat removed surgically, leading CNN to ask whether the procedure is “the new Brazilian butt lift”. Buccal massage, then, offers a nonsurgical alternative for those who want a more sculpted look.
“By releasing the tension of the biting muscles, which pull the face inwards and downwards, you offer the face an instant lift,” says Rae, which explains why buccal massage is said to be a favourite of red-carpet regulars. “One session is not going to take away wrinkles and lines, but it can soften them. It can also keep people from having Botox and fillers. I work on very specific muscles: the masseter, which is the big jaw muscle at the side of the face, but also the cheeks and lips as well. I work under the cheekbones, into muscles called the pterygoids. I work on the tendons of the temporalis, the upper palate and underneath the tongue.”
It is a thorough treatment – and not one that will appeal to those who prefer a more pampering, cleanse-tone-and-moisturise facial. But at the Cornish beauty salon Alto Senso, which specialises in nonsurgical sculpting face massage, 85% of clients now add buccal massage to their facial treatments after trying it once.
“Facial muscles don’t attach directly to the bone like they do on the rest of the body – on the face, they create what I like to call a muscular spaghetti,” says the salon’s founder, Eva Moskal, who introduced the treatment 18 months ago. “This allows us to contract our facial muscles, but it also means that tension in one area will have a direct impact on another. I warm the fascia, tissue and ligaments outside the mouth first, so it’s very comfortable once I go into the oral cavity.”
Comfortable is not how I would describe my buccal massage experience. As I lie on the table at Tarryn Warren, an aesthetician, Melinda McKee, dons latex gloves and promises she will stop if it gets painful, which is alarming: I wasn’t expecting pain. “It’s like assisted stretching by a personal trainer, but for the face,” she tells me as she starts by hooking a thumb inside my cheek.
By releasing the tension of the biting muscles, you offer the face an instant lift
She is right about the stretching. Using repetitive, often circular, motions, she lifts my cheeks up and away from my teeth and gums, leaving them feeling soft and roomy – and, to my surprise, relaxed. Halfway through, the thumb is replaced by a finger and the double-sided manipulation continues, reaching crevices only usually explored by rogue spinach.
Should I keep my eyes open or closed? Should I have brushed my teeth beforehand? It takes some time for my mind to quiet and to succumb to the peculiar sensation. I don’t tend to grind my teeth or knowingly clench my jaw – and yet, by the end, I feel as if a long-held tension has been eased. Any glass-cutting abilities acquired by my newly sculpted cheekbones are wasted on the Central line, but, even the next day, my face appears a little more … angular.
“People find it a strange sensation, but I don’t think they find it as strange as they expect,” says Rae. “Occasionally, someone is very tired and falls asleep and snores – even with my fingers in their mouth.” Warryn agrees: “It can be uncomfortable, but also deeply relieving – that good-pain feeling.”
And while it has been suggested that surgically chiselled cheeks may cause the face to look more sunken or hollow over time, buccal massage carries few risks. “I can even give clients an eyelift by working within the oral cavity,” says Moskal. “It’s a fantastic treatment.”