Roll with it: time to hit the face gym

It was the hero beauty tool of the past decade, but does the jade roller go deep enough? Bella Blissett gets to grips with the latest innovations in facial firming

The jade roller isn’t the only route to a naturally glowing complexion
The jade roller isn’t the only route to a naturally glowing complexion | Image: Andy Barter

None of us needs to be told that beauty is more than skin deep. But determining just how deep has always been a little contentious. That is, until now, when the answer may well be about 2mm beneath the surface of the skin. Beauty’s latest preoccupation? The fascia. 

Often referred to as a kind of three-dimensional matrix, fascia is the sheet of fibrous connective tissue that runs throughout the entire body, linking muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels. Rather like a body-hugging suit, it holds all the organs in place and generally keeps everything where it should be. 

Yet while it has frequently been overlooked in favour of its bodily cousin, muscle, fascia is finally becoming the focus of expert attention thanks to the belief that it’s the gateway to stimulating lymphatic drainage – as well as lifting, firming, toning and giving skin a glow from within. And in an industry fixated on finding the next “miracle” product, it seems that it’s no longer just what you apply but how you apply it. “For a few years now we’ve seen beauty breaking free from being purely about cosmetics and skincare, and instead taking its cue from fitness philosophies that deliver the desired ‘healthy glow’ without more invasive approaches like fillers,” says Rhiannon McGregor, senior foresight writer at The Future Laboratory.

Not for nothing have a wave of fascia-focused treatments been given the moniker “foam rolling for your face”. In fact, they’re the latest incarnation of the estimated $4.2tn global wellness industry, which has fuelled an ever-growing cross-fertilisation between health, fitness, mental wellbeing and beauty. It makes sense, then, that the 2020 evolution is about targeted beauty treatments that draw upon the biomechanical know-how of fitness classes involving stretches and positions that are held for up to six minutes. “The ageing process, as well as our sedentary, desk-bound lifestyles, can cause fascia to change from a healthy ‘fluid’ structure to one that’s stiff or even ‘sticky’. As a result, our bodies become more prone to injury and pain,” explains Heartcore Pilates founder Jess Schuring. 

So, just as you might use the Nike 33cm Foam Roller  to perform what’s known in the fitness industry as “self-myofascial release” to improve blood circulation and alleviate fascial tension, treatments such as FaceGym’s workout-inspired facials seek to work on what lies beneath in order to deliver tangible results.

Delivered by “trainers” (rather than therapists), the Signature workout (£50 for a 30-minute treatment, plus a 15-minute consultation) includes a warm-up (circular “knuckling” to bring heat into the muscles and tissues); cardio (the pace quickens as fingertips are used to create a lifting effect known as “whipping”); and sculpting (deep-pressure sweeping motions to release tension in the four key areas around the jaw, forehead, temples and beneath the brows). Finally, there’s the cool-down, as skin is refreshed using products such as Pestle & Mortar Balance Facial Spritz (£28). Movements are complemented by the brand’s products, like the Signature Training Serum (£50), which contains coffee bean oil and L-carnitine – an ingredient typically used in fitness supplements to aid muscle repair that, when applied topically, is said to increase skin-cell metabolism.

It sounds like the facial equivalent of an agonisingly sweaty session in Barry’s Bootcamp, but releasing fascia on the face shouldn’t – in theory – be painful. “Body fascia is super-strong and wrapped around muscles that are connected, end-to-end, to joints like the elbow, shoulder, knee and ankle. This can make it quite painful to release,” says Abigail James, a leading skincare and wellbeing expert who is trained in fascial therapy. “However, on the face, muscles are not all connected to bones, which is why we’re able to make different expressions. It also means that generally, facial fascia release is less painful. By stimulating blood flow to the face and reducing tension in the muscles and tissues, we can soften lines and bring a natural radiance to the skin.”

As for technique, James recommends cleansing the face before massaging in Clarins’ new Plant Gold Nutri-Revitalising Oil-Emulsion (£48), which is rich in plumping fatty acids, thanks to the presence of grape-seed oil, sweet almond and macadamia, and tones and brightens the skin with blue orchid and patchouli. On her own skin, she’ll perform a “pinch and roll” movement, using her thumb and forefingers, then sweep the White Lotus Jade Gua Sha tool (£28.99) around the contours of her face to increase blood circulation, smooth the skin and release underlying tension.

Likewise aromatherapist and facialist Alexandra Soveral uses Marble Facial Stones (£75 for two) to mobilise lymph. Using deep-tissue manipulation massage movements that release tension, decongest sinuses and tone the muscles beneath the skin, her Soveral Signature Facial Treatment has been dubbed the “non-surgical facelift” (£275 for 90 minutes). Her method has become so renowned that she now even teaches workshops for those wanting to replicate it at home (£180 for two hours).


But fascial fitness doesn’t stop there. An essential element of any fascial “workout” involves mobilising the lymphatic system to remove excess fluid and waste from the tissues – crucial in detoxification. Unlike the circulatory system, which relies on the heart as its pump, the lymphatic system requires motion of the muscles to function – and can also be stimulated by mechanical massage. “When the detoxifying lymphatic system doesn’t move freely, our skin can become dull and prone to blackheads or milia [small white bumps that form just beneath the skin],” explains Svetlana Afanaseva, a remedial gymnastics therapist.

By way of a solution, Afanaseva developed the Fascia Facial (£175 for 90 minutes) for Cloud Twelve, a family-oriented club designed by wellbeing experts Melt Design Hub. The treatment is based on the fact that, as fascia is both highly flexible and resistant to mechanical pressure, it’s what is known as “thixotropic” – meaning that it can elongate and reset in a more favourable position when manipulated correctly. “As we age, fascia moves from its original position, pulling the skin with it and creating wrinkles. By using precise movements we can lift the fascia close to its former position. Do this regularly, and you begin to train your face into sustaining a more contoured look,” adds Afanaseva, who prepares skin using Comfort Zone’s Sublime Skin cream (£78) for its hydrating hyaluronic acid and plumping palmitoyl glycine. The movements she uses are a mixture of long holds beneath the pressure of the index and middle fingers to soften the extra-tough tissue areas, and powerful sweeping motions that go upwards and outwards from the centre of the face along the bone-connected muscle and tissue.

Skincare expert Nichola Joss has gone one fascial step further. Her Bespoke Sculpting Inner Facial (from £200 for 60 minutes) involves massaging and lifting from inside the mouth to get results. Which – if supermodel Gisele, Gwyneth Paltrow and Meghan Markle are to be believed – it does. “We spend all day, every day, talking, eating, squinting at screens, and reacting to what’s going on in our lives. Even when we’re resting or asleep, our facial muscles never really get the release they need to recover, which is why we need to release them manually,” says Joss. “Working from inside the mouth allows me to reach a deeper level of muscle and fascia, to really amplify the results. Whereas needle-based fillers pad the face with artificial substances, over time fascial massage can increase natural muscle volume. This means that we can lift and tone ‘heavy’ muscles as well as boosting radiance, thanks to the increased supply of oxygenated blood reaching the skin.”

Joss encourages clients to maintain a daily home-massage routine. Using Susanne Kaufmann’s softening and hydrating Antioxidant Oil (£54) on wet skin, she advises pressing the heels of the hands firmly beneath the cheekbones, then using the knuckles of the middle and index fingers to create firm sweeping movements along the jaw from the chin and up to the hairline.

It’s not just the face that benefits from mechanical fascia manipulation, either. BNP Paribas banker-turned-yoga teacher Pauline de Jessey worked with osteopaths and dietitians before developing her own Remodelling Method. Focusing on fascia release of the stomach, hips and thighs, she aims to stimulate digestion, reduce water retention and cellulite – then streamline the overall silhouette (£160 for 60 minutes). By creating continuous “wave-like” movements with her fingers and thumbs, de Jessey says her method stretches the fascia to increase blood circulation and lymph flow, which in turn can mobilise the fat, water and toxins that build up to form pockets of cellulite. By topping up treatments using REN’s Guerande Salt Exfoliating Body Balm (£25) once or twice a week, regular clients soon begin to see a visible transformation of their skin texture. 

For de Jessey though, fascia’s full potential lies well beyond the superficial. She likens it to a kind of “physical and emotional protection” that, when released, empowers clients with a newfound mobility and flexibility – as well as a feeling of lightness and wellbeing. This sensation might, in part, be explained by the “spider’s web” effect of fascia. Like a web, when you stretch one strand, the whole fascial network moves. As fascia also contains 10 times as many sensory receptors as muscles, it’s also deeply connected to our bodily – and emotional – experience of life.

Certainly, recipients of fascia treatments anecdotally report a sense of freedom – as if the physical release of blood and lymph has unlocked an emotional and energetic free-flow that helps redress pent-up stress and anxiety. This synergy not only accentuates the link between exercise, beauty and inner wellbeing, but is something registered Yin yoga teacher Jaime Hepburn sees regularly when teaching classes that involve holding long stretches for an extended period of three to six minutes. “Yin encourages us to slow down with ‘passive stretches’ that invite the body to ‘melt’ into them over the course of several minutes, to get into the fascia,” says Hepburn. “Physically, it’s restorative and helps us move with ease and grace. Emotionally, it’s like a meditation practice that reduces anxiety, increases focus and improves the quality of our sleep. Essentially, when you move at ease, you feel at ease.”

Firmer skin, a more graceful body – and a more focused, happy mind? It really could be time for you to put your fascial fitness through its paces.

This story was originally posted on 18 February


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