Does Facial Massage Really Work? Here Are The Benefits And Limitations

Jade rollers and other skin tools claim to sculpt your face and smooth wrinkles. Dermatologists weigh in on just how effective they are.
“You won't carve your face into Bella Hadid's if you don't already have her bone structure,” said medical aesthetician Candace Marino, but facial massage does have some benefits.
“You won't carve your face into Bella Hadid's if you don't already have her bone structure,” said medical aesthetician Candace Marino, but facial massage does have some benefits.

Like celebs who claim their glowing skin is the result of adequate hydration and a little SPF, the idea that model-worthy bone structure can be achieved through face massage feels a little hard to believe — even if it’s Meghan Markle who’s touting it.

It turns out that facial massage does have some noticeable benefits that can appear to do a bit of sculpting, but first you need to manage your expectations and understand that it might not work the way you think.

Companies like FACEGYM are built on the premise that face manipulation can sculpt a higher, tighter and smoother face, and many facials include some sort of facial massage (from the light and superficial to the literally in-your-mouth buccal massage). And the rise of beauty tools like gua sha and jade rollers in the Western world promise similar benefits. But it’s not so much changing the shape of your face as removing what’s in the way.

Jade rollers and gua sha tools have risen in popularity over the past several years, claiming to help sculpt your face.
Jade rollers and gua sha tools have risen in popularity over the past several years, claiming to help sculpt your face.

“With the right technique, a facial massage may improve lymphatic drainage, aka ‘de-puff’ the skin,” said Dr. Emily Wise, board-certified dermatologist and founder of DermWellesley in Massachusetts. “Massage in general can also help to improve circulation and stimulate blood flow and may lead to a temporary more volumized and ‘glowy’ appearance.” But these results are just temporary, she said, and there’s no data that says you can expect long-lasting contour or for wrinkles to completely disappear.

Dr. Joshua Zeichner, board-certified dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Department of Dermatology, echoes much of what Wise shared. “Facial massage may give a minimal, temporary improvement and facial contour by helping to eliminate excess fluid,” Zeichner said, but he notes that it won’t truly strengthen muscles or lift the face. “The only way to truly contour the face is with the use of cosmetic products for through procedures like injectables or surgeries,” he said.

But outside the medical world, devotees of facial massage swear by its benefits. Candace Marino, medical aesthetician and founder of The LA Facialist, is of course a big fan of facial massage and goes so far to say that a facial that doesn’t incorporate massage is a waste of time. “I have several clients well into their 60s who have never undergone Botox, fillers or surgery and swear that a good skin care routine and their monthly facials with a deep tissue massage that they continue at home is their fountain of youth,” Marino said, adding that genetics and liberal sunscreen use are probably also at play.

“Certain techniques can be used to sculpt the face by stimulating the muscles, ligaments and underlying tissues, which activates collagen production,” Marino said. (It’s worth noting that some dermatologists say there isn’t enough data to know how much massage can stimulate collagen, if at all). “Other techniques will remove lymphatic fluid from the tissues, which will detoxify the skin, reduce inflammation and improve facial contours.”

She believes massaging can better define facial contours, especially in those who wake up puffy from excess fluids. And for those of us who discovered just how asymmetrical our faces are (thanks, TikTok), she thinks facial massage can be helpful there, too.

Marino cautions that facial massage doesn’t replace a face lift, “however, it is an alternative for those who are not interested in going under the knife,” she said.

Below, see an example of the type of massage Marino does.

The good news is you don’t need to book an appointment to experiment with facial massage, and while you can invest in jade rollers or gua sha stones, there’s no need to spend any money at all.

“When it comes to massage, there is no better tool than your own two hands,” Zeichner said. “But there are a variety of devices on the market that do more than just massage the skin. Tools like gua sha are designed specifically to help remove excess fluid, and rollers give the cooling effect of the stone against the skin to constrict blood vessels.” As for those vibrating gold bars that Goop loves? “There is limited data showing that vibration may help enhance activity of skin cells themselves to strengthen the skin,” Zeichner said.

You only need about five to 10 minutes a day, but since sculpting results don’t last forever, consistency is key. Two exercises that Marino suggests are jaw sculpting and pinching.

To sculpt your jaw, you can use your pointer and middle fingers on either side of your jaw bone, and move with firm pressure and an upward motion from your chin to behind your ear (there are plenty of resources online if you need a visual). “You can also sculpt the chin/jawline by keeping the bone between the knuckle of the thumb and pointer fingers. There’s really no right or wrong, just find what’s comfortable for you and give some good pressure,” Marino said.

“Pinching techniques are great to enhance circulation and bring life to the skin—you’ll literally glow,” Marino said. You can do these by pinching and tapping your skin with firm pressure, and it’s especially effective on the lips and cheeks. “Every time I do this before going out people ask me if I just had lip injections,” she said.

Gua sha facial massage can either be done at home yourself, or professionally at a spa.
Gua sha facial massage can either be done at home yourself, or professionally at a spa.

It’s important to set realistic expectations, however. “You won’t carve your face into Bella Hadid’s if you don’t already have her bone structure,” Marino said, but you can make some improvements with regular practice. And regular practice is key, since facial massage has a cumulative effect ― it’s not just one and done.

“One massage isn’t going to keep you sculpted for weeks. That’s why celebrities come in the day before or day of a red carpet event for a lift, contour and glow. But they keep themselves on point by massaging themselves in between their visits with me,” Marino said.

For serious and more long-lasting results, you’ll have to try something stronger than massage — and realize that those picture-perfect face structures are the result of a lot more than good DNA.

“For facial contouring, I would recommend exploring facial fillers for a more permanent result,” Wise said. “When performed by a board-certified specialist, these fillers can be injected with extreme precision and can contour and sculpt the face quite nicely. This, coupled with makeup and the right lighting, is likely responsible for most of the gorgeous facial contouring that has become the norm on social media and with influencers/celebrities,” she shared.

If you prefer at-home treatments, Marino suggests NuFace, a microcurrent device. “You see instant results and with regular use, you will keep the skin in great condition, support the tissue and delay the signs of aging,” she said. It can be paired with face massage to give results a boost. “The addition of microcurrent gives the skin an electrical workout, it stimulates both the tissues and the muscles and energizes the face. You will literally see a lift on the face when completing one side before moving to the other,” Marino said.

At the very least, taking a moment with your skin can be a time for relaxation, and with some realistic expectations, your hands and a firm even pressure, you might even see your jawline in a sharper light.