Now that I’m approaching my mid-30s, I’ve started to notice the subtle signs of aging: wrinkles are creeping in around my eyes, and my skin is certainly not as firm as it once was. So, like most women who want to hold on to their youthful appearance, I turn to anti-aging creams and facials. But according to new research, facial exercises might be worth a try, too.

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Researchers say that facial exercises could knock years off our appearance.

A new study suggests that exercising our faces for 30 minutes at least every other day can tone up facial muscles and lead to a reduction in the visible signs of aging.

The findings — by Dr. Murad Alam, a professor of dermatology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, IL, and colleagues — were recently published in JAMA Dermatology.

Aging is an inevitable part of life. No matter how much we want to, we can’t stop the clock. When it comes to our appearance, however, we certainly try.

The global anti-aging market was worth a whopping $250 billion in 2016. By 2021, this number is expected to reach $331.41 billion.

These numbers incorporate a wealth of cosmetic treatments and products designed to delay or halt signs of aging, including anti-wrinkle creams, Botox, chemical peels, and anti-pigmentation therapies.

To be honest, the thought of using any anti-aging treatment that doesn’t come out of a tub sends shivers down my spine, which is why the new study caught my eye.

Facial exercises sound simple and cost-effective, and — most importantly — they don’t require going under the knife. But can they really help us to look younger? Dr. Alam and colleagues investigated.

For their study, the researchers enrolled 27 women aged 40–65 years. During two face-to-face, 90-minute sessions, the women were taught 32 facial exercises that were developed by study co-author Gary Sikorski, of Happy Face Yoga in Providence, RI.

Exercises included The Cheek Lifter, wherein you open your mouth to form an “O” shape, position your upper lip over your teeth, smile to elevate the cheek muscles, then lightly place your fingers on the top section of your cheeks. Then, repeatedly lower and lift your cheeks.

The Happy Cheeks Sculpting is another, involving smiling with your lips pursed together in order to lift the cheek muscles. Next, place your fingers at the corners of your mouth and slide them to the top of your cheeks. This position should be held for 20 seconds.

The participants performed the facial exercises at home for 20 weeks, completing them for 30 minutes daily for the first 8 weeks, and 30 minutes every other day for the remaining 12 weeks.

They had photos taken before the study, and at 8 weeks and 20 weeks. These photos were analyzed by dermatologists at the three time points, to determine whether or not the facial exercises had any impact on the women’s appearance.

The dermatologists were blinded to the experiment, in order to avoid potential bias.

The Merz-Carruthers Facial Aging Photo Scales were used to assess the participants’ facial aging, with the dermatologists assessing 19 specific facial features. They were also asked to guess the age of each woman before the study, and at weeks 8 and 20.

So, can facial exercises help us to combat the visible signs of aging?

From the photos of the women after completion of the facial exercises, the dermatologists noted a significant increase in the fullness of their upper and lower cheeks.

Dr. Alam and his colleagues explain that as we age, the “fat pads” between the muscle and skin — which help to form the shape of the face — begin to get thinner, causing the face to droop.

“But if muscle underneath becomes bigger,” says senior study author Emily Poon, of the Feinberg School of Medicine, “the skin has more stuffing underneath it and the firmer muscle appears to make the shape of the face more full. Muscle growth is increasing the facial volume and counteracting the effects of age-related fat thinning and skin loosening.”

It seems that this increase in facial volume has an effect on how young we look; dermatologists rated the average age of participants as 50.8 years before the facial exercises. This fell to 49.6 years at week 8, and to 48.1 years at week 20.

“That’s almost a 3-year decrease in age appearance over a 20-week period,” notes Dr. Alam. The women themselves also reported a noticeable difference in their facial appearance and said that they were very satisfied with the results.

Does this mean that I should be opting for facial exercises over anti-aging cream? Not necessarily, but they’re certainly worth a try.

“The exercises enlarge and strengthen the facial muscles, so the face becomes firmer and more toned and shaped like a younger face,” says Dr. Alam.

Assuming the findings are confirmed in a larger study, individuals now have a low-cost, non-toxic way for looking younger or to augment other cosmetic or anti-aging treatments they may be seeking.”

Dr. Murad Alam