What Is It: FaceXercise, a workout for the face that combines deep tissue massage and facial cupping.
Who Tried It: Sheila Cosgrove Baylis, PEOPLE Bodies Editor
Level of Discomfort (on a scale of 1-10): This was really a zero — the 80-minute facial workout was entirely pleasant.
When I arrived at Thuyen Nguyen’s FaceXercise spa in The Hamptons, I was not in a good mood. The traffic had been terrible and I’d gotten totally lost thanks to a map app that shall go unnamed. But I started to relax a little when I entered the lovely space and met Nguyen, who was unpretentious and kind.
My skin is sensitive and my pain threshold low, so my shoulders tightened again when I got on the massage table, unsure what to expect from the 80- (yes, 80!) minute procedure.
“It’s not just a face massage, it’s exercise,” explained Nguyen, who also has a spa in New York City. “It’s a workout for your face. It works the lymphatic system and tones the muscles and increases circulation.”
But it sure felt like a massage — a wonderful, masterful massage. I completely relaxed and didn’t even feel self-conscious, although Nguyen is used to working with the World’s Most Beautiful faces like Jennifer Aniston, Natalie Portman and Eva Mendes, and has regular sessions with the ageless Cindy Crawford and Uma Thurman. (Uma has him come over to her house before big events like the Met Gala.)
“Working with people who are in demand, Cindy has to look amazing. So does Jen. If I don’t do well, they suffer,” he said. “Because of that challenge I have to deliver, and they don’t have a lot of time. That pressure created this desire to give people everything they need in an 80-minute process.”
But after the initial “workout,” Nguyen said clients come in for tune-ups of 50, 25, or even 15 minutes. “The initial 80 minutes creates muscle memory. And then if you come back every two to three weeks for at least 15 minutes, it will help maintain your muscle tone. Once you create that muscle memory, the muscle will bounce back.”
“Like with exercise, I alternate and do reps,” Nguyen said, switching from massage to cupping, using a small cup designed for the face. “The tiniest little muscles in the face that haven’t been worked, will get worked with this technique,” he said, gently pulling at the tissue on my face using the suction of the cup.
“Beautiful skin is fit skin. We work out to stay younger,” Nguyen continued. “You do it for the body but you don’t do it with the face. I’ve had many clients come start with me and they get off the Botox injections.”
The cupping and massage definitely relieved tension from my face (that perma-knot between the eyebrows) and worked muscles I rarely use. Afterwards, my face felt a bit tender, particularly around my jaw, but not painfully so. The sensation reminded me of how it feels after trying to speak a foreign language for several hours — you feel sore from using the muscles around your mouth in new ways.
My skin and facial muscles also seemed tighter, my expression lighter. It really did feel like I had had a face lift, or had magically removed several years of worry from my forehead, brows and jawline. Sadly, the sensation and relaxed look only lasted 24 hours. But like with any workout, once isn’t enough.
For maintenance, Nguyen recommends rubbing the face daily with oil to keep the muscles toned. “Keep a bottle of jojoba or grapeseed oil and keep it in the shower,” he recommends. “Put a quarter-sized dollop in your hand and rub in a circular motion for one minute.”
FaceXercise sessions range from $360 for the initial 80-minute session to $160 for a 25-minute follow-up.
Verdict: A good alternative to Botox and fillers, but like those options, FaceXercise requires regular maintenance for the best results. Totally natural and pain free, and a great way to look your best before a big event.