Facial massage is a very popular Western beauty treatment to slow down the aging process and achieve younger looking and healthier skin. It is also used to relieve stress, migraine headache, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and sinus congestion. It may involve a whole massage session, a portion of a whole-body massage or a part of a facial treatment. Facial massage can be done by a professional massage therapist, an esthetician, or a cosmetologist. Simple massage can also be done at home. Massage of the face is usually done with the hands; however, mechanical massaging devices are also used in beauty salons or spas. A small amount of oil or lotion is often applied to facilitate movement over the delicate facial areas.
In Eastern therapies, facial massage is part of a full-body treatment in which pressure points on the face and neck are stimulated in order to release blockages in the flow of qi, or vital energy. Lotions or oils are not used on the face in acupressure, shiatsu , or yoga techniques of facial massage.
Massage has been used for pain relief, healing and cosmetic improvement by people of all cultures since ancient times. The first written record of massage therapy is a Chinese medical text dating from the third century b.c. The ancient Greeks, Persians, Japanese, and Indians also recorded the use of massage treatment in great detail in their early medical literature.
The Western version of facial massage as a cosmetic treatment is a relatively recent twentieth-century innovation. It has become especially popular in Europe. Many of the best-known European practitioners have set up shop in the United States and taught others. This form of facial massage has generally been regarded as belonging more to estheticians and makeup artists than to massage therapists.
Western-style facial massage may offer the following potential benefits:
- improvement of facial skin and muscle tone.
- relaxation of facial and eye muscles
- relief from tension headaches and facial pain
- alleviation of stress and anxiety
- overall physical and mental relaxation
Facial massage as part of Eastern therapies may offer the following potential benefits:
- stimulation of meridian points on the face
- relief from eyestrain
- correction of liver and gall bladder imbalances
- relief of neck tension
- alleviation of nervous disorders
- relief of premenstrual water retention
Western-style facial massage
In Western massage, a facial massage as part of a full-body treatment is different from a full facial treatment, which includes masks, steaming, and similar techniques. A regular massage simply includes massage of the face, usually at the beginning or the end of the massage session.
For a Western facial massage, a gentle effleurage (gliding) movement is most often used. To perform the facial massage, the strokes must be gentle as well as stimulating, in order not to stretch the skin. Pressure strokes should move upward to give the muscles of the face a lift rather than dragging them down. A typical facial massage includes the following steps:
- Before the massage, wash hands with soap and clean water. If the person to be massaged wears contact lens, ask her or him to remove them.
- Position: The most comfortable position has the client lying down on a massage table or sitting in a chair. Facial massage can be done, however, on any flat surface like a clean floor.
- Using a small amount of cleanser, gently wash the client's face. Wet cotton pads or facial sponges or wedges can be used to apply the cleanser. Then remove the cleanser, using fresh damp cotton pads.
- Apply the massage cream or lotion and begin massaging the face and neck areas in small symmetrical circles. The strokes should move up the neck and along the contour of the face. Do not leave out any facial muscles.
- Next, gently glide the back of the hands across the fore-head with light pressure. Placing the thumbs side by side on the center of the forehead with the hands cradling the face, draw the thumbs outward towards the temples and make a gentle sweeping movement around the temple. Repeat the movement several times to relieve tension in the temples.
- Apply pressure in the hollow areas under the eyebrows by placing the hands along the sides of the face; use the thumb to press gently under the ridge one spot at a time. Move the pressure point from the inner to the outer edge of the brows and repeat the thumb pressure. This technique can help relieve tension headache .
- Position the thumbs alongside the nose bridge with hands cupping the face. Firmly slide the thumbs downward to the nostrils and outwards along the contour of the cheeks applying pressure along the way. Gently release the pressure when the thumbs reach the hairline. Then pull both hands up alongside the face towards the top of the head and away from the face. Repeat this motion two more times.
- Position fingertips in the cheek muscles and gently make circling movements counter-clockwise for a few times moving along the cheek muscles. This motion alleviates tension in the cheek area.
- Gently stroke the ears with the index fingers and thumbs while moving along the rims of the ears. This technique is very relaxing and enjoyable.
- Position the fingers just behind the neck while pressing with a thumb pad on a spot in the jaw area and circling this spot before moving to the next one. Holding the chin with the fingers, stroke the chin with the thumbs using circular motions downward. Finish the jaw massage with gentle strokes alongside the chin. This movement releases tension in the mouth and jaw.
- Make circular motions on the scalp and comb the fingers through the hair to release tension from the face and the head and to stimulate the scalp.
- Finally, remove the massage cream or lotion with fresh and damp cotton pads. Most facials end with a special lotion applied to the face.
Facial massage in Eastern therapies
In shiatsu, acupressure, and similar Eastern therapies, pressure is applied to points on the face in order to stimulate or unblock the flow of vital energy in specific meridians. The pressure points located on the face, along with the conditions that they are used to treat, are as follows:
- Stomach 1, under the center of the eye along the nasal bone: Tension and eyestrain.
- Stomach 3, about 4 cm below stomach 1 at the level of the base of the nose: Sinus and nasal congestion.
- Stomach 4, at the corners of the mouth: General stress and tension.
- Stomach 6, about 2 cm in front of the base of the ear lobe: Toothache.
- Conception vessel (end), between the lower lip and chin: Tension in the face and mouth.
- Bladder 1, at the inside corner of the eye: Headache and eyestrain.
- Gall bladder 1, a hollow about 2 cm from the outside corner of the eye: Headaches.
- Gall bladder 2, the hollow directly above and in front of the ear lobe: Ringing in the ears, swollen eyes, and dizziness.
Some yoga techniques include self-treatment for eye problems or tension by pressing the palms or knuckles against the pressure points surrounding the eyes.
Western-style facial massage may require the following items:
- Towel to drape over the shoulders of the person to be massaged.
- Mild cleansing lotion to cleanse the face before massage.
- Moistened cotton pads, cotton-tipped swaps and facial tissues to remove cosmetics, cleansers and massage cream.
- Facial lotion or cream to facilitate the massage.
Facial massage as part of Eastern therapies does not require any specific preparation.
Facial massage should not be done if any of the following conditions are present:
- Wearing contact lenses. The client should remove contact lenses before the procedure.
- Open sores, boils or cuts on the face.
- Inflamed or bruised skin.
- Recent scar tissue.
- Acne, psoriasis or eczema . Facial massage can worsen these conditions.
Facial massage may irritate and worsen such skin conditions as acne, psoriasis or eczema.
Research & general acceptance
Western-style facial massage is a popular cosmetic procedure for many women and some men to improve the way the skin looks and feels. There is also evidence that massage can reduce stress, headache and facial pain.
Training & certification
Training requirements for cosmetologists and estheticians vary from state to state, ranging from a hair-care license to passing a required licensing examination. In addition to the techniques of facial massage, these beauticians may also be knowledgeable regarding clinical cosmetology and skin care.
Facial massage can also be performed by massage therapists as part of a full-body massage. Certified therapists are graduates of accredited massage programs who have passed the national certification examination in therapeutic massage. They are also required to participate in continuing education programs to keep their skills current.
Practitioners of shiatsu, acupressure, and similar Eastern therapies may be certified or licensed by institutions in the United States and abroad that offer instruction in these forms of treatment.
Beck, Mark F. Milady's Theory and Practice of Therapeutic Massage, 3rd ed. Albany, NY: Milady Publishing.
Gach, Michael Reed, with Carolyn Marco. Acu-Yoga: Self-Help Techniques to Relieve Tension. New York: Japan Publications, Inc., 1998.
Price, Shirley. Practical Aromatherapy, Chapter Four, "Yin, Yang, and Shiatsu." London: Thorsons, 1994.
Tourles, Stephanie. Naturally Healthy Skin. Pownal, VT: Schoolhouse Road, 1999.
National Association of Nurse Massage Therapists. 1710 East Linden St. Tucson, AZ 85719.
National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. 8201 Greensboro Dr., Suite 300. McLean, VA 22102. (703) 610-9015 or (800) 296-0664.