Raise your hand if you’ve ever pulled your skin taut across your face after glancing at yourself in a mirror — or worse, in the little Zoom box — just to see what you’d look like. Congratulations: You just got an at-home face-lift. For a few seconds, anyway.
According to a report from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, people in the United States spent $16.7 billion on cosmetic procedures in 2020, almost $1.9 billion of it on face-lifts. Second only to nose reshaping and eyelid surgery, face-lifts were the third most popular cosmetic surgical procedure, with 234,374 performed in 2020 — a 75-percent increase from 20 years prior.
But what if you could skip the cosmetic surgery — which costs, on average, $8,005 — and sculpt your face from the sofa instead? Social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram are rife with beauty tutorials offering ways to achieve a more lifted look through facial massage, at-home micro-current devices and even face tape. (Yep, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Tape. On your face.)
Can anything provide face-lift-level results at home?
To put it bluntly: No. “The ‘at-home face lift’ is a great marketing term,” said Dr. Jacob D. Steiger, a facial plastic surgeon in Boca Raton, Fla. “But anything you do at home is only going to be treating the skin. You will never get deep enough to be able to fix the ligaments of the face.”
Our faces contain ligaments, which hold up the cheek, jawline and neck structures. As people age — usually around their late 40s and early 50s — those ligaments can start to sag, resulting in droopy cheeks, hanging jowls and the glamorous-sounding “turkey neck,” a fleshy pouch of loose skin and fat under the chin.
A face-lift, or rhytidectomy, is a surgical procedure “that lifts those structures in the face” that were causing the droopy appearance, “and restores them back to their original position,” Dr. Steiger said. This results in a tighter, more contoured face that can make you look more youthful.
Sure, you can improve skin texture through laser resurfacing at a dermatologist’s office, or create the illusion of a lift with injectable fillers. You can even tighten trouble spots with radio-frequency therapy, a nonsurgical skin tightening procedure that heats the deeper layers of skin to encourage production of collagen and elastin, proteins that make skin firm and plump.
But even that procedure only gets you so far, said Dr. Debra Jaliman, a dermatologist in New York City. “We always say to patients, ‘Yes, it’s going to tighten your skin, but remember: It’s not a face-lift.’”
As for taping your skin to keep features in place and stop facial muscles moving? “Old-time actresses used to use this trick a lot,” said Dr. Michele Green, a dermatologist in New York City. Alas, she said, while you may briefly look tauter, “when you remove the tape, it all goes back to your previous state like a house of cards.”
What about at-home micro-current devices?
Micro-current facial-toning devices, like those made by NuFace and Ziip, claim to lift and tighten skin by using a low-voltage electric current to stimulate facial muscles and encourage collagen and elastin production. But experts are lukewarm on their effectiveness.
“There’s not a lot of substantial data or any well-conducted studies showing strong evidence that these devices actually promote skin tightening,” said Dr. Rina Allawh, a dermatologist practicing in a suburb of Philadelphia.
While Dr. Allawh has patients who claim to see results, she said it’s possible that some of the improvement may actually come from the serum they’re pairing it with. “A lot of these devices come with gel primers that contain hyaluronic acid, which is an ingredient we use in fillers to help plump the skin,” she said.
Because at-home devices use a low level of power — the NuFace runs on a 9-volt battery, while most physician-grade devices typically need around 110 volts — “they’re required to be used frequently and often” in order to see any kind of results, said Dr. Kenneth Rothaus, a plastic surgeon in New York City and partner at Modrn Sanctuary medspa. (NuFace, which touts “the 5-minute facial lift,” recommends using it five times a week for five to 20 minutes at a time for the first 60 days, then two to three times a week thereafter.)
“Not many people are really going to be compliant with that,” Dr. Rothaus said. “The reality is going to be like that treadmill that functions as a coat rack.”
Dr. Green said that strict usage may “temporarily make you look better — but just temporarily.” Any effects will tend to last only a few days, she said. An at-home micro-current device “is certainly not going to replace Botox or laser resurfacing or an actual face-lift,” she added. “I don’t really see that this could have long-term benefits.”
If you do decide to try it, don’t overdo it — and consider what you know about your skin before you start. If you’re prone to sensitivity and irritation, Dr. Jaliman said, an at-home experiment may not be worth the gamble.
Can facial massage help?
Massaging your face with a piece of jade or rose quartz may be having a moment on social media, but gua sha and jade rolling have been used in Chinese medicine for centuries to move the body’s flow of “chi” (or energy) and relieve muscle pain and tension, said Giselle Wasfie, a doctor of Chinese medicine and founder of Chicago-based REMIX Acupuncture and Integrative Health.
Though it was traditionally done on the shoulders and neck, facial gua sha — in which you glide a contoured stone tool across your skin — has grown in popularity as a beauty treatment in the United States over the last few years, Dr. Wasfie said.
Along with pushing topical products into the skin for better absorption, both gua sha and jade rolling can increase blood flow, improve lymphatic drainage and reduce inflammation and puffiness, she said. Since the gua sha tool is more precise than a jade roller, Dr. Wasfie added that she has noticed that it gives her clients a little more of a “lifted” look than a jade roller does. The massaging motion of both techniques can also help relieve tight muscles in the face and jaw. “You can get a soothing benefit from the stone on your skin,” she said. “It’s almost like a little meditation.”
What gua sha and jade rolling won’t do is promote collagen production or erase wrinkles, Dr. Allawh said. “To date, there is little evidence to support this.”
What can I do at home to get a more youthful look?
With the budget you’d use for an at-home micro-current device — the NuFace Trinity costs $339, the Ziip GX is $495 — Dr. Jaliman advised investing in skin care products instead. A retinol, glycolic acid toner, vitamin-C serum and a cream with niacinamide can “really make your skin look great at home,” she said. You can also try a product with hyaluronic acid for hydration and an eye cream with peptides to stimulate collagen production.
“I think you’d see more bang for the buck in the end,” she said.
And of course, sun protection is key. “A lot of the time, the reason we see that drooping of the face or sagging is sun damage,” Dr. Allawh said. “Prolonged sun exposure actually accelerates the loss of collagen in our skin.” That means (you guessed it) that you should be relentlessly dedicated to SPF.
“I tell people the three most important things are sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen,” Dr. Green said. “Nothing you’re going to use is going to replicate just avoiding sun damage.”
For a quick fix, take a page from beauty influencers and fake it with makeup. “It’s all about the play of light and shadow,” said Danielle Vincent, a celebrity makeup artist and founder of the beauty brand Kimiko. “You can trick the eye into seeing something three-dimensional that isn’t there.”
To create the illusion of a more lifted cheek, blend highlighter along the very top of your cheekbone, then add blush right below it, on the outer section of the cheekbone, Ms. Vincent said. Finish with a matte contour makeup slightly above the natural hollow of your cheek. You can blend contour makeup along the jawbone to mask sagging, “or even slightly above, so that you’re receding something that might be catching light,” she said.
Whatever you try, make sure to manage your expectations. And reserve a healthy dose of skepticism toward the idea of an at-home face-lift. “It’s like a pipe dream,” Dr. Green said. “It’s a sexy term that has mass appeal. Who wouldn’t want to get a face-lift at home — without needles, without anesthesia, without any recovery?”
Unfortunately, she said, “It’s just a medical impossibility.”
Holly Burns is a writer in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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