If you’ve ever had a facial, you’re probably familiar with the aesthetician massaging the outside of your cheeks. But have you ever had them massage the inside of your cheeks? It sounds strange, but that’s what a buccal facial massage is all about.
While these massages have been around for some time, social media and TikTok especially have brought this unusual practice back into the spotlight.
“Buccal face massage is a technique that involves massaging the face from inside of the mouth, stretching the cheeks and accessing deeper muscles,” said Dr. Jaimie DeRosa, a plastic surgeon and the founder of DeRosa Center Plastic Surgery and Med Spa in Boston. “One thing to know is that it can be uncomfortable, and some people actually say that it’s quite painful.”
So why is anyone paying for this awkward experience? Because of all the alleged benefits, which vary depending on who you ask. Some salons advertise cosmetic improvements, saying this expert massage can sculpt the muscles of your face, tone your jawline and contour your cheeks. Others claim it can train your muscles to lie in a certain way, lifting them and decreasing your skin’s sagginess.
Since the massage technique targets areas of the lymphatic system, it is said to encourage fluid drainage and in turn reduce puffiness or even decrease dark under-eye circles. But science around the lymphatic system is still emerging, and these purported benefits are questionable. While lymphatic massage may be helpful for lymphedema and breast cancer-related lymphedema patients in particular, there is almost zero research to support the claims that otherwise healthy individuals can benefit.
But your appearance isn’t all that these buccal massages purportedly improve. Stressed out and clenching your teeth? Dealing with temporomandibular joint disorders (also known as TMJ)? Having headaches from all the tension in your jawline? A buccal massage can supposedly treat these ailments as well.
These benefits sound great, but they also sound a bit too good to be true. So will you actually see an improvement after having your inner cheeks massaged?
“I think it depends on what type of results the patient is seeking,” said Dr. Gary Motykie, a celebrity plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, California. “If they’re seeking facial contour, they may temporarily achieve that.”
For permanent facial sculpting, or at least longer-lasting results, injections and surgeries may be a better use of your money. However, the outcomes of a buccal massage may be more promising for those dealing with tight muscles in areas of the face.
“I believe that buccal massages can indeed help jaw tension,” said Dr. Oren Tepper, a plastic surgeon and co-founder of New York’s Tribeca Institute of Plastic Surgery. “In fact, many people with jaw tension have enlargement of the muscles (hypertrophy) due to clenching and repetitive movements.”
Frequent massage of these jaw muscles could help relax and potentially shrink them over time. While there are no studies supporting this treatment for tight muscles, some people with TMJ and headaches say they rely on the technique for relief.
If you’re dealing with jaw tightness but uncomfortable with visiting a local medispa, you can try this massage at home. After washing your hands, simply slide your index fingers inside each cheek, slowly massaging and stretching. Start at the lips before moving to the cheeks and then back toward the jaw muscles.
If this doesn’t relieve your muscle tightness, a medispa may still be able to help, as jawline tension can be reduced by using Botox in the masseter muscles, which lower the jaw open.
While the experts weren’t sold on all the benefits of buccal massage, there were no major concerns, either. But DeRosa, the Boston plastic surgeon, did have one thought you may not have considered: “I always wince to see how the cheek is stretched with buccal face massage ― wondering if this may actually pull the skin loose and actually advance facial aging more quickly.”
Regardless, a buccal facial massage won’t hurt you. Sticking with your standard facials is a safe bet if you want improved skin appearance. For those who have jaw tension, it’s a good first step before trying more serious treatments.