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Bodywork Is Becoming The New Focus For Healthy Aging Skin Care

Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director
By Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director
Alexandra Engler is the Beauty Director. Previously she worked at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com.
Image by mbg Creative
December 6, 2021

The skin care industry is an overwhelmingly face-centric one: Scores of products, procedures, miracle elixirs, treatments, and rejuvenating tools target the facial area. On some level, of course, this makes sense. Your face is the most visible part of your skin and thus where much of our attention goes naturally. Additionally, the skin on your face is thinner and more vulnerable than other parts of the body—so it does warrant some extra care. 

But when we only look to one modality to achieve results, we often find ourselves coming up short. This is the case with all areas of well-being: Mental resilience requires physical and emotional work, gut health means you need to look at what you're eating as well as your lifestyle choices, sleep hygiene comes in the form of stress management and even things like controlling your atmosphere. So of course, the same is true for how we treat the skin on our face: We've long talked about the roles of sleep, nutrition, mental health, and movement play in skin quality—the skin is a reflection of all of these and can be deeply influenced by changes in any of them. 

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But lately, we are seeing a resurgence in one area of well-being that typically gets left out of the modern skin care conversation: bodywork. More and more, beauty folks are looking to practitioners whose modalities are focused south of the neck with the intention of seeing changes in their face. 

The body-face connection.

Our bodies are all interconnected—through our fascia, our lymph, our circulatory system, our chi, our hormones, our skeletal structure, our life force. This we know to be true. But for some reason in mainstream skin care culture, we forget this simple fact; instead, the face is treated like its own entirety, divorced from the rest of us. 

Well, not all practitioners see it this way. Debbie Kung, DAOM, L.Ac. is known for her facial work—her New York– and Austin-based acupuncturing practice has gained a following thanks to her ability to rejuvenate the skin, naturally and holistically. But Kung says that for some patients who walk through her door, she won't even begin to focus on skin or facial work for upward of five sessions. Instead, she tends to the body. 

"When someone comes to me and wants to get their face worked on, and I realize through my consultation that they have work that needs to be done on the body, I have them come in for several sessions of body constitutional acupuncture until they are ready," she says. "Rejuvenating your face is an added bonus of being healthy already because your face reflects your entire body. However, if there's a lot of other stuff happening in the body that hasn't been addressed, facial rejuvenation acupuncture won't be as effective. Your chi can't get to the face if it's more needed in the hips, back, or for mental health." 

We see this with other bodywork practices, like those who specialize in the fascia or lymph. Shalini Bhat, D.C., IFMCP, CFMP, explains how fascia is a deeply intertwined, connective tissue that runs through the entirety of our body—it spans in sheets and wraps our muscles, our organs, and just under our skin. "Think of it like a spiderweb, interlinking and crossing in a star shape; if you pull one end, it changes the shape of the entire spiderweb," she says. "You cannot disconnect fascia—it spans the longest channels of the body." 

When our fascia is healthy, hydrated, and flexible, it's more resilient to these changes: So if you experience tension—like say around your jawline or scalp, two common areas people hold stress—it's able to recover easier. Whereas when the fascia loses that very important elasticity, you're more likely to experience fine lines and sagging. 

Another interesting area is correcting facial asymmetry and uneven aging through alignment. As triple-board certified and integrative dermatologist Mamina Turegano, M.D., FAAD, notes, studies have shown that as we get older our faces become increasingly asymmetrical. "I see patients all the time who are trying to use things like filler or injectables to correct asymmetry as they get older," she says. 

This makes sense: If your body alignment is off-kilter, it's going to influence your face as well, says skin care expert Fumiko Takatsu, face yoga instructor and founder of the Face Yoga Method

"Body alignment refers to how the head, shoulders, spine, hips, knees, and ankles relate and line up with one another. If your body alignment is out of balance, this will have an impact on the entire body—also the face," she explains. "If we have a hip injury for example, and we are in pain for a long period of time, we will develop a specific movement pattern, simply to be able to move pain-free or with as little pain as possible. Of course, this will cause the body to be out of alignment; yes mainly the hip, but as kind of a domino effect, it can also be shown in our face as a facial asymmetry."

What you need to know about facial care & bodywork.

In holistic practices, experts often use the skin, and more specifically the facial skin, as a way to see what's happening internally. Our skin and faces can tell us a lot about ourselves. Puffiness can show us our lymph and circulation is stagnant. New asymmetries can show us that the body is out of alignment. Tension and inflammation around the jawbone can be an indication our fascia is tight. Instead of looking at these as flaws, "signs of aging," or inevitable realities of life, you can view them as cues from your own body. And ultimately, by addressing the root cause you can bring balance back to the face. 

Take acupuncture. It has always been about the whole-body experience: "just like any acupuncture it's about the circulation of chi and blood," says Kung, "anytime we see skin issues it's because that chi isn't properly nourishing those tissues." But what's fascinating is that people are turning to these practices in place of mainstream "anti-aging" treatments. "Injectables, like botulinum toxin, desensitize things and are about freezing your muscles. That's stagnation," she says. "Acupuncture is about flow." 

Given the uptick in injectable treatments, it's giving some researchers and experts pause on how it may affect our emotional health. The research is still inconclusive on what exactly regular botulinum toxin sessions will do to your mood—some studies say it can dampen our ability to feel emotions but only for mild experiences (for stronger emotions, no changes were reported). Other reports say it may affect how we experience empathy. (The thought is that because you weaken the facial muscles' ability to move—and smile, frown, act excited, show sadness—you may be influencing the way you actually experience those emotions.) However, other studies have suggested that botulinum toxins actually help people with signs of depression, as they may stop a negative feedback loop or ease muscle pain in areas like the neck, jaw, upper back, and scalp. Across the board, researchers think that more studies need to be done before any conclusions can be drawn.

In the case of lymph and fascia, massages and physical manipulation have become much more common and accessible—and right alongside standard spa treatments. It's an element that's already a mainstay in other parts of the world, and now it is becoming mainstream here. At Joanna Vargas in New York City, you can wear lymphatic drainage boots (which work the lymphatic fluid through pressure and release) while an esthetician tends to your face. Holistic esthetician Britta Plug of Studio Britta notes that she addresses lymphatic drainage in every single one of her facial treatments (the extent of which varies from person to person). In Los Angeles, Tonic Wellness Boutique founded by Posetta Koujou offers pressotherapy. And countless practitioners around the country practice lymphatic techniques, if you just know where to look and ask for it. 

But you can also do at-home work. That's what's so great about these modalities: There are low-cost ways to do it yourself. What's more is that most practitioners encourage you to practice regularly and on your own, so the overall results progress and flow, rather than being stagnant between sessions. In fact, Bhat recommends adopting a simple self-massage practice. The only requirement of said practice is that it fits into your life with ease and you do it consistently. 

"I oftentimes find that people are pretty intuitive when it comes to working on their own face and bodies," she says." For me, I just like to do it at night with clean hands, clean skin, and my face oil. It doesn't have to be 30 minutes or with tools. Some nights I only do it for 20 seconds. But if you do it regularly, it can make the biggest difference."

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The beauty of bodywork & why we want it now. 

The face is how we present ourselves to the world and those around us, so it makes sense that we would place more emphasis on it. But after almost two years of forced stagnation and isolation, cycles of grief and joy, and collectively felt trauma, it's bodywork that speaks to some of our most earnest and fundamental wants: to move and flow with ease, to be felt, to find balance, and to mend what hurts.

But make no mistake—bodywork is, well, work. A quick trip to the med-spa this is not. "The face holds tension and trauma. We store issues in our tissues," says Kung. "When we release stuff in the face, it can also affect us emotionally. For some people, who may not be ready for it or have been repressing things, it can be a very profound experience. It can be powerful for people in a great way, but it also can be something that's challenging to handle—a healing crisis."

In the process of undoing physical and facial tension, you may find that there is more inside you that needs to be freed. "I've noticed with some people who want to come in and get their face worked on, maybe they have those 11s or 'lost love lines,' and they tell me later that they went home and cried—after not having had cried for years prior," she says.

Takatsu agrees: "Our face is part of our body, we can not separate it. Everything that happens in our body or mind can have an impact on our face, the way our face ages, and also our facial symmetry," she says. "When we hold on to stress, it's seen in our face—we're not able to relax anymore, and your facial muscles won't be able to either." 

The way your body holds on to pain, stress, and trauma affects every aspect of you. Some people just notice the wrinkles, dullness, or sallowness in the mirror before they notice what's just below the surface. And addressing those superficial signs becomes decidedly unsuperficial in the process. "Yes, we start out on the skin level," says Kung. "But eventually we have to get to the root cause, which can be physical imbalances in the body or for many people can be emotional issues." 

In the pursuit of beauty through bodywork, you may find something far more worthwhile: release.   

This is just one of the trends mbg is predicting for 2022. Check out our full list of the latest health & wellness trends.
Alexandra Engler
Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director

Alexandra Engler is the Beauty Director at mindbodygreen. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She has worked at many top publications and brands including Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends and updates in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as travel, financial wellness, and parenting. She has reported on the intricacies of product formulations, the diversification of the beauty industry, and and in-depth look on how to treat acne from the inside, out (after a decade-long struggle with the skin condition herself). She lives in Brooklyn, New York.