5 Facial Massage Techniques That Help Relieve Built-Up Stress and Anxiety

Phot: Stocksy/Ohlamor Studio
Is your face one of the first places you feel tension building when you’re stressed or anxious? You’re not alone. "We hold stress in our face because this is where we show our emotions," says Liz Aigner, a licensed massage therapist and esthetician.

It's not just stress and anxiety that appear on our faces, though. If you're happy, surprised, or frustrated, the muscles in your face will also work to express those emotions—all day, every day. That's a lot of work, and that repetition can cause strain and headaches over time, Aigner says. Utilizing facial massage techniques can help with those issues because, like the rest of our bodies, our faces can benefit from therapeutic touch.

Experts In This Article
  • Cecily Braden, founder of Cecily Braden Spa & Wellness
  • Liz Aigner, licensed massage therapist and esthetician
  • Vanessa Chu, director of Face*ssage Programming and co-founder of Stretch*d

The benefits of facial massages

If done consistently, there are numerous benefits that can come from giving yourself a facial massage. According to Cecily Braden, the founder of Cecily Braden Spa & Wellness, one of the most powerful is its ability to help with facial tension. When utilizing facial massage techniques, you're providing tension relief “in the connective tissue and underlying muscle, increasing circulation and supporting the skin's natural filtration system to remove excess fluid and cellular waste”—things that help you look and feel your best.

Vanessa Chu, director of Face*ssage Programming and co-founder of Stretch*d, says that this tension release can even address pain. "Facial massage can reduce jaw tension (TMJ pain) and tension headaches by releasing acupressure points and tight muscles," she says.

The list of benefits goes on. Facial massages can be a great relaxation method, providing both stress management and anxiety reduction. "It’s often discounted, but one of the most important physical and mental benefits of a facial is relaxation," Braden says. Chu agrees, saying "like any massage, facial massage creates endorphins and promotes relaxation through the act of human touch."

Chu says facial massages can also help improve skin tone, reduce wrinkles, boost collagen production, improve acne, and "cause a more sculpted, contoured, and lifted look by reducing facial puffiness through lymphatic drainage." Basically, with a list this long, why wouldn't you want to give it a try?

Types of facial massage

Each facial massage technique has its own benefits, from stress relief to a reduction in facial tension. Here are the expert-approved options you should know about.

General facial massage

If you’ve watched YouTube videos of people getting a facial massage at a spa, there’s a good chance this was the type. “A more general facial massage uses techniques that most estheticians learn in school, including lighter, faster strokes (like effleurage), as well as kneading and light tapping (tapotement),” Chu says. Tapping in particular is a prime relaxation method—not just for facial relaxation, but for your entire body. The calming practice is known to help with stress management and anxiety relief due to its ability to lower cortisol levels.

Acupressure facial massage

Acupressure massage has been around for a long time. “[It’s] based on traditional Chinese medicine,” Chu says. “This ancient technique references specific acupressure points, or energy centers. Releasing these acupressure points can relieve tension in the face, as well as other parts of the body.”

Lymphatic drainage massage

If you're looking for some facial self-care that also reduces puffiness, look no further than a lymphatic drainage massage. “Lymphatic drainage massage uses gentle strokes toward the lymph nodes to help release lymphatic fluid,” Chu says. “A build-up of lymphatic fluid can result in facial puffiness and overall feelings of fatigue.” (Pro tip: Another way to get rid of puffiness is through an ice water facial. AKA dunking your face in ice water.)

Deep tissue facial massage

According to Chu, a deep tissue facial massage uses firm pressure to lift and tone your facial muscles. “Working specifically with the structure of your face, all movements are done in an upward and outward motion to encourage lifting of the muscles,” she says. “Plus, it feels great.” The tension release this method provides is hard to beat.

Gua sha facials

You’ve likely seen a gua sha tool and have been curious about what it does. According to Chu, adding the stone—which was originally used in Chinese medicine—to your skin-care routine can bring on numerous benefits. “The gua sha tool is used to relieve tension, increase blood flow, and encourage lymphatic drainage,” she says. “It can often lead to a sculpted and defined look.”

Face yoga

You know how beneficial yoga can be for your body... but how about as a facial exercise? Face yoga involves using your fingers to apply gentle pressure to your skin in order to improve blood flow and release tension from the area. While vigorous studies have yet to be conducted, a small 2018 study published in JAMA Dermatology found doing 30 minutes of face yoga every day or every other day may show improvements in facial fullness1 in as little as five months. “The exercises enlarge and strengthen the facial muscles so the face becomes firmer and more toned,” said lead author and dermatologist Murad Alam, MD, professor of dermatology at Northwestern University, in a press release.

Want to give some facial massage techniques a try? Bring on the benefits by utilizing one of the calming practices below.

What are the 5 basic facial massage techniques?

If you’re looking to make massage therapy part of your daily routine, start with these five easy facial massage techniques that can provide stress relief, anxiety reduction, and a glowing complexion.

1. Brow squeeze and release

If you want some tension release in your brows specifically, add this face massage technique to your rotation ASAP. Here's how to do it: "Using your pointer finger and thumb, pinch the brows starting from the center out to the temples," Aigner says. "Lift and squeeze along the brows two to three times, squeezing gently and longer in areas you feel tension. Sweep along the brows three times after your last manipulation to release any lingering negative energies."

2. Acupressure tension tamer

Don't forget to give the spot between your brows some love, too. To do so, Aigner says to take your pointer finger and place it where your brows and nose meet. You should feel a small divot. Circle your finger three times clockwise, then three times counterclockwise. Lastly, press the spot three times. "Move slowly and intentionally," she says. Aigner says this acupressure point is excellent for stress management, headache relief, and getting rid of sinus pressure. You can use this same technique on the third eye at the center of the forehead to stimulate a sense of calm and awaken your third eye capabilities.

3. Facial tapping

If rhythmic tapping makes you feel calm, you’ll love this face massage technique. Use the pads of all your fingers, except for your thumbs. Place them at the top of the cheekbones and start to lightly tap, moving outward toward the ears. "This technique is lovely for balancing the central nervous system and uplifting your energy when feeling sluggish," Aigner says. Repeat three to six times for relief.

4. Skin rolling

For this facial massage technique, ensure you don't have any products or oils on your face. (You'll need to lift and grab the skin and products will make the skin too slippery.) Start at the jaw and use your thumb and pointer finger to gently pinch and lift the skin while simultaneously rolling upward on the cheek up to the eye or temple, which releases tension and increases circulation. Then repeat on the other side. “As you roll, you're pushing and pulling to create that 'roll' or 'wave' effect on the cheek," Aigner says.

5. Grounded friction

As with a cup of tea or a cozy blanket, there’s just something about warmth that is so, so soothing. This facial massage technique puts this concept into practice and you can do it anywhere, anytime. Start by rubbing your hands together for about 10 seconds to create heat and friction. Once your hands are warmed up, place them over your eyes, forehead, the back of your neck, or wherever else you feel tension. Gently press heat into the area. "This technique helps with increasing blood flow to stagnant areas, stimulates a sense of well-being, and grounds energy when it feels chaotic," Aigner says. Repeat as many times as you'd like.

Frequently asked questions about facial massage techniques

How long should a facial massage be performed for the best results?

Even a quick daily facial self-care routine can become a go-to relaxation method, as these techniques are beneficial for both stress relief and anxiety reduction. With that being said, Chu says you’ll see the best results if you’re able to set aside 25 to 35 minutes for the massage therapy.

“There are over 40 facial muscles, so there's plenty to work with,” Chu says. “You can also incorporate head, neck, and shoulder massage, as all of these areas contribute to tension in the face. However, even 10 minutes of facial massage can still be highly beneficial to help bring blood flow and reduce tension.”

How often can you get a facial massage?

Curious about which massage frequency is best for reaping the benefits? Experts say facial massages can be part of your daily routine. Look at it as a treat—a calming practice that will keep you feeling (and looking) amazing. While longer facial massages can bring on the best results, Chu says even five to 10 minutes a day can make a difference. “Muscles have memory, so it's important to be consistent,” she says.

How can you add massage to your skin-care routine?

There are many ways to add a facial massage to your daily skin-care routine. If you have 30 minutes to spare, grab your favorite facial tools and kick off your routine with a longer facial massage after washing your face and before applying your regular line-up of products. If you don’t have a lot of time to spare and would rather multitask, that’s an option, too. “It doesn’t have to be a long or complicated routine,” Braden says. “It can be incorporated into your cleansing routine using your hands or when applying your moisturizer.” Any time spent utilizing facial massage techniques makes a difference.

What are the disadvantages of facial massage?

So long as you’re being gentle with your skin and using the right techniques and tools, there aren’t many side effects to facial massage. Always wash your hands before touching your face, which keeps dirt and germs—and breakouts—at bay. If you have sensitive skin, carefully select the face oils you use so you don’t wind up with ingredients that may irritate your skin.

Also avoid intensely massaging your face, which could result in redness or inflammation. “To avoid any discomfort, it’s important to remember that deeper isn’t better,” Braden says. “The goal isn’t to massage out the wrinkles, it’s to support the skin’s natural ability to heal and create space within the tissue for it to regenerate and function at an optimal level.”

If a certain facial massage technique doesn’t feel good, try another one. It may take some time to find the best option for you. “Not every tool and technique is for everyone,” she adds. “Your facial massage routine—and the needs of your skin—will change as it improves, as will the intention behind your massage.”

What do you put on your face when massaging?

What you put on your face—or don’t—entirely depends on the type of facial massage you’re giving yourself. “To achieve the best results, you need to be able to ‘engage the tissue,’” says Braden. “Whether it’s superficial or deep, if you want to create fundamental shifts in the skin, you need to be able to manipulate it in specific ways.”

For lymphatic drainage massages, Braden says the superficial manipulation requires no face oils. “It’s best done on freshly-cleansed and dry skin, or once products are absorbed,” she says. For gua sha or manual manipulation, she recommends a little glide. In those cases, she says to choose an oil or balm that has the perfect balance between grip and glide: “You want to be able to engage the tissue without it being too slippery, but it needs enough glide that you’re not pulling or stretching the skin as you work,” she says.

Chu says one to two drops of oil is more than enough. Any more than that and you’re gliding over the muscles superficially as opposed to effectively targeting them. Chu recommends looking for a facial oil that’s clean and preservative-free, with her top picks being options from Soprano Labs and Odacité. Braden utilizes two of her namesake products, Dewy Skin Oil ($48) and Raw Face Balm ($58).

Can using facial massage tools add to the experience?

Using tools during your facial massages can take facial relaxation and facial tension relief to the next level. “There is a wide range of facial massage tools with varying angles and edges that are designed to support an extensive scope of techniques,” Braden says. Paired with the right facial massage technique, these tools allow you to engage the tissue in just the right way.

You can utilize gua sha tools, a facial massager, face rollers, or Braden’s go-to—a lymphatic brush ($58) made specifically for your face. You can even give your head some attention with a scalp massager. But remember—your fingers are powerful. You can get a lot out of utilizing your own hands, no special tools required.

When should you see a pro?

While you can do some DIY massage therapy at home for daily facial relaxation, there are perks to seeing a pro. According to Braden, a skincare professional is like a personal trainer for your skin: “Although you can work out on your own or learn routines online, a fitness pro will help you understand what is best for your body and can provide recommendations as it improves and changes. This is the same for skincare,” she says.

Chu says seeing a professional is also beneficial if you’re working toward a specific goal, like reducing jaw/TMJ tension or relieving sinus pressure. Plus, when someone else is giving you a massage, you're able to fully unwind and take it all in. Consider it facial self-care at its finest.

“You simply will not be able to relax all your muscles [on your own]; you will have to involve your shoulders, neck, hands, and even eye muscles if you're watching yourself in the mirror,” Chu says. “A well-trained face massage expert also uses very specific techniques to lift, tone, sculpt, and contour your face while leaving you feeling relaxed.”

After you learn tips and tricks from the pros, you can bring your learnings home with you for maintenance—or what Chu likes to call “homework assignments.” (Homework that’s actually fun, that is.) “We encourage clients to have a regular maintenance routine,” she says. “Like all muscles, facial muscles need frequent ‘training’ to achieve goals and to remember how to tighten or relax. The simple act of touching your own face encourages blood flow and endorphins, which is important for youthful and healthy skin.”

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Alam, Murad et al. “Association of Facial Exercise With the Appearance of Aging.” JAMA dermatology vol. 154,3 (2018): 365-367. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2017.5142

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