An expert’s guide to facial massage techniques
From face yoga to gua sha tools, you’ve probably seen the benefits of facial massage touted all over Tiktok and Instagram. But what’s it actually all about?
To dive deeper, we spoke to Urban facial pro Alice Croeser. She told us all about different facial massage techniques and their benefits and strangest facial massage trends she’s heard of.
What is facial massage and how does it work?
Face massage or facial massage involves stimulating skin and certain pressure points on the face, neck, and shoulders. You can try a facial massage with oil or your usual face cream, or use the techniques as part of your cleansing routine. It can be done by a massage therapist with their fingers, knuckles, cupped hands or palm. There are also many facial massage tools such as traditional jade gua sha, face rollers and many others.
Face massages work similarly to body massages by boosting blood flow, flushing toxins and releasing tension around the face and jaw. They also boost collagen production for less puffy, firmer and healthier feeling skin.
What are the benefits of facial massage?
“As circulation supports the skin’s structural elements like collagen and elastin, boosting circulation can make your face appear more defined, soft and supple.” says Alice.
Other reported face massage benefits include:
Reduced swelling and puffiness
Improved skin elasticity
Skin glow and vitality
Relieved facial tension and jaw tightness
Increased wellbeing and relaxation
What are the different facial massage techniques?
As with body massage, there are all sorts of different types used all over the world, from classic facial massage (the most widely used) to lymphatic drainage, reflexology, shiatsu, kobid, gua sha, remedial massage and acupressure.
Classic facial massage
Classic facial massage is the most widely used and taught in beauty schools. Techniques include soft and deep effleurage, friction, pinches, kneading and tapotement to relax and stimulate the dermis and promote collagen (an important component of your skin's support matrix).
Reflexology uses pressure points on the face as well as the body to treat specific face and body concerns. It relies on the idea that certain points on the face correspond to tension in certain areas on the body.
Shiatsu facial massage
Shiatsu originated in China and is performed through acupressure points, located at key points along energy meridians. Practitioners incorporate special devices, fingers, palms, etc. The technique increases circulation, improving muscle tone and connective tissue, eventually diminishing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles if received frequently.
Kobid facial massage
Kobid meaning ‘ancient path of beauty’ is the oldest form of eastern facial massage and is well known in Japan as a face lifting method. It uses 47 different manoeuvres on the face, neck and scalp, offering pain relief, relaxation and an improved skin tone.
Gua sha facial massage
Used in traditional Chinese medicine, gua sha incorporates a work medium (face oil, vaseline or water) and a smooth material (jade plates, metal plates and even spoons) to stimulate the facial muscles and skin. The idea is to purge non-circulating blood and toxins from the body. Visual signifiers of this purging can be anything from redness to slight bruising.
People note various results including increased circulation, lymphatic drainage, improvement in fine lines and wrinkles, and relief from muscular tension.
Remedial facial massage
This face massage goes a little deeper. It includes a firm trigger point release along a tight jaw, neck and shoulders. It releases muscles in key areas that play into the structure and contouring of your face.
Acupressure facial massage
Acupressure uses firm but not uncomfortable pressure on certain pressure points on your body. In face massage, it can help relieve symptoms of TMJ (pain or tightness in your jaw). This can be especially effective when combined with jaw exercises.
Lymphatic facial massage
Your lymphatic system is a network of hundreds of lymph nodes. It drains fluid called lymph to be transported back into your bloodstream. It also removes bodily waste and carries white blood cells that help prevent infection. When there’s any kind of obstruction in your lymphatic system, fluid can start to build up. That’s where lymphatic facial massage — a specialised massage designed to aid drainage – can really help.
Lymphatic facial massage seems to be in at the moment and is often touted as a weapon against a puffy, dull complexion and skin irritation. But Alice warns that “unless you have a specific skin condition such as acne, eczema, and digestive disorders, you won’t benefit more than the relaxation feeling.”
While the Vodder method (recognized at the academic level) is more targeted at the body, claims about lymphatic facial massage improving facial skin appearance are controversial and not accepted by all experts. Although it is worth noting, the ageing process, coupled with sun damage, can result in fewer lymphatic vessels and a deterioration of lymphatic function.
Depending on your preferences and treatment goals, your therapist will determine the best facial massage techniques for you.
How long do results last?
Don’t expect results to be long lasting, but know that as with gym, frequency is key. "The more often you incorporate facial massage techniques into your daily skin care routine," says Urban facialist Alice, "the more you’ll see an improvement in your skin and muscle tone"
Who should get a facial massage?
Many people use face massage for wrinkles, to give their skin a rejuvenating glow or if they have more specific skin concerns. Different face massage techniques may be worth trying if you are struggling with any of the following:
Facial massage for sinus pressure
There are specific facial massage techniques that can relieve sinus pressure, discomfort, and congestion. (Though sinus massage can help drainage of mucus, alleviate headaches, and boost circulation, it shouldn’t be used when you are infectious or have an acute case of sinusitis.)
Facial massage for TMJ
TMJ or temporomandibular disorder is characterised by pain and tightness around the jaw. TMJ and associated symptoms like headache, earache, or lockjaw can be relieved with particular facial massage techniques like acupressure.
Facial massage for acne
Though research into whether facial massage is good for acne is limited, some people swear by it. The idea is that by promoting blood circulation and boosting the flow of lymph, toxins and waste will be better flushed from your system.
Facial massage for puffiness or fine lines
Not all experts agree but there’s enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that various facial massage techniques can help tighten skin, relieve tight muscles, and boost circulation - all giving you a glow. Try a massaging facial roller for puffiness or smoothing stimulating techniques for wrinkles.
What is the strangest facial massage trend?
“Thai face slapping massage, snake massage and hard boiled egg massage, are the strangest types I've come across,” says Alice.
"There's also the trend for intra oral (or buccal) face massage which combines deep lymphatic drainage movements on the face, and inner buccal sculpting from the inside of the mouth. . It’s somewhat like being at the dentist with someone’s gloved hands inside your mouth. However, if you carry a lot of tension in your jaw the release is amazing!”
So, is facial massage really worth the hype?
“According to Yakov Gershkovich who teaches sculptural face lifting techniques and facial massage, regular treatments can give you botox-like effects," Alice says. “More realistically, emotional blockages can be released through facial and muscle manipulation.”
Facial massages are a wonderful way to give yourself some healing and rejuvenating TLC while treating specific concerns. According to Alice, “Regular facial massage won’t necessarily get rid of fine lines and wrinkles but it will definitely help your skin glow and make you feel more relaxed.”
Enjoy a facial massage at home in London
At Urban, we offer a whole range of at-home facials, from our Youth boost facial to Deep Cleansing and more. Browse individual therapist bios to see what products and techniques they use. You can ask your therapist in person or send them a message before you book if you’d like to try a specific type of facial massage.