Put On Your Happy Face

Facial massage not only feels good but can also give your skin a healthy glow.

by Lisa James

April 2014

As you lie comfortably in a dimly lit room, a therapist starts to gently stroke your jaw and cheeks. You had a thousand things on your mind before you entered here, but all those tasks and chores slip away as you feel yourself relaxing into the moment. Eventually the hands move to your forehead; you drift along with the soothing music in the background.

Once the session ends, you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. The lines of concern have become less noticeable, and your skin looks brighter, healthier, more youthful.

To Cornelia Zicu, global chief creative officer for Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa (reddoorspas.com), it’s no surprise that facial massage can improve one’s appearance. “In the end, beauty is happiness and happiness comes with being relaxed,” she says.

Nourish and Detoxify

Stress and aging aren’t the only reasons your skin doesn’t always look its best. Poor diet, short sleep and pollution all harm the skin, leaving it looking wrinkled and sallow.
The fact that so many different types of tissue are concentrated in the head and neck area helps make facial massage useful as both a beauty aid and an overall health practice. For one thing, the face is richly supplied with arteries and veins, which brings nutrients and oxygen to the skin and other facial structures while taking waste products away. Cellular waste (along with accumulations of excess fluid) also drains away through channels that carry lymph, the fluid that bathes the individual cells.

“Massage increases blood circulation to bring nutrients to the surface,” Zicu says. “Increasing lymphatic drainage means more toxins are eliminated from the body. This leaves skin more glowing and healthy looking.” Going for regular massages can also help reduce skin puffiness. All of these factors help explain why a number of beauty experts promote massage as a facial cleansing technique, especially for older women.

Better blood circulation boosts the quality of collagen and elastin, crucial proteins that give skin its structure and flexibility. As a result, “the color and texture of the skin are improved, creating a healthy and smooth complextion,” says holistic therapist and workshop director Rosemary Patten, author of Japanese Holistic Face Massage (Singing Dragon).

Like all types of massage, facial massage helps to lower levels of stress hormones, which—in addition to harming your overall well-being—can damage the skin’s natural barrier against moisture loss.

Massage also relaxes the complex system of interrelated muscles that allow you to chew, talk and express emotions through your face.

“Facial muscles become tensed and tight just like other muscles of the body,” says Leena Kiviluoma, physiotherapist, beauty consultant and author of Vital Face: Facial Exercises and Massage for Health and Beauty (Singing Dragon). “Prolonged unfavorable, usually unconscious habitual expressions can lead to headache and facial pain and will in time be seen in permanent facial lines.” Likewise, tensed chewing muscles in the jaw and outer cheeks can create pain in the face and jaw joint, headaches and even ringing in the ears.

“Applying massage to the muscles helps prevent muscle fatigue and works deep into the muscle fibers to stimulate the dermis, the deeper layers of skin,” explains Patten. “This also renews the elasticity in the top layer, or epidermis, leaving the skin smooth and firm.” Many people find that regular facial massages help alleviate sagging and dullness.

In addition, facial massage can affect the same energy points that are activated by acupuncture. These points lie along energy channels, known as meridians in Traditional Chinese Medicine, that not only affect organs throughout the body but also have specific effects on the face itself. For example Patten says that manipulating meridian 23, which connects to the lungs and large intestine, improves the appearance of the skin around the nose and at the side of the mouth. What’s more, working with this meridian “encourages digestion, preventing blemishes, blocked pores and dull gray complexion or red mottled tone.” Working with other meridians improves the condition of facial muscles and skin.

Boosting Benefits

The best way to get the most out of a facial massage is to consult with someone who is specially trained for this work. “An esthetician should know how to diagnose the skin then choose the technique that’s most suitable for that guest,” says Zicu, noting that Red Door Spa conducts continuing education on a regular basis for its employees.

A good esthetician or therapist should know which pre-existing conditions may require special precautions. “If the guest has breakouts or acne you don’t activate the circulation because that moves the bacteria around,” Zicu says. “So you work more with the energy points.” And fair or sensitive skin requires a lighter touch.

Patten says a therapist should also be aware of any allergies the client may have as well as recent dental work or facial injuries and disorders that include inflammatory skin conditions, severe upper respiratory infections and rosacea. The face should be thoroughly cleansed of dirt and makeup before the massage begins.

Effective Plant Essences

There are two basic types of oil used in all kinds of massage, including facial. The first, called carrier oils because they carry plant essences known as essential oils into the skin, have no aromas of their own but are soothing and beneficial to the skin. Examples include sweet almond, a good all-around oil popular with many massage therapists, olive, which is very nourishing, and apricot kernel, which Patten says is good for sensitive skin. Essential oils include sandalwood for mature, dry skin, astringent sage clary for oily skin, calming lavender, rejuvenating jasmine and chamomile for skin that is red and congested.

Like any beauty routine, facial massage is only effective when supported by a healthy lifestyle. “A nutrient-rich diet, sleep, exercise and positive emotions are the pillars of good health and good looks,” says Kiviluoma. She recommends a diet of healthy protein, a wide range of produce to supply vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, and essential fatty acids to promote top-notch cell function. To avoid excessive ultraviolet exposure, Kiviluoma recommends using sunscreen, sunglasses and protective clothing.

Facial massage is more than a mere self-indulgence. It helps you look and feel your very best.

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