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Massage Today
July, 2008, Vol. 08, Issue 07

The Basics of Facelift Massage

By Rita Woods, LMT

Last month, I introduced basic facelift massage work by giving you a list of benefits, as well as touching on the potential unseen benefits within the autonomic nervous system. This month, I want to talk about the difference between facial massage and facelift massage, and general guidelines for working on the face.

While there are similarities between facelift massage and facial massage, you won't get a firming and lifting effect unless you specifically address the muscles involved. It's sort of like general Swedish work versus more specific or focused work such as rehab, deep tissue, etc. With facelift massage, you must be very specific and deliberate with your strokes. It really is best to take a class to learn the detail required to maximize results.

I make it a point to ask my workshop participants and fellow therapists if they work on the face during a regular massage session. About half of them spend very little time, if any, on the face. One explanation they give for this is their client doesn't want their face to feel greasy or to get oil in their hair. Another reason is simply because they don't feel comfortable working on the face. Let's face it, you really are in the client's face and it takes special care not to impose upon their personal space.

Both of these reasons for avoiding the face - client refusal and lack of confidence - are key components that must be addressed in order to start doing good face work. First, there is the lubricant. I have refused to allow therapists to work on my neck and face because they use way too much lubricant. I don't want to walk out with oil on my face and hair, and I'll bet your clients don't, either. Please don't use the same oil or lotion you use on the body for the face. Use something intended for the face or use very little oil. Jojoba actually is quite good for the face and will do if that's all you have. Just remember to use it sparingly. Let's look closer at these issues.

Choosing a Good Lubricant

When I work on the face, I use moisturizer for normal to dry skin. I am using a product intended and created specifically for the face. Formulating chemists of good-quality products put a lot of thought into creating the perfect product. They understand the chemistry and physiology of the skin and will work with it. Notice I said "good-quality products." That doesn't mean you should go buy a moisturizer off the drugstore shelf and use it. Many of the cheap moisturizers contain mineral oil and other petroleum ingredients as their main source of moisture. They moisturize by creating a physical barrier by which moisture can't escape from the body. That's not what I suggest. Rather, look to a line of high-quality skin care products and get the moisturizer with plumping (lessening the appearance of wrinkles) and anti-aging benefits.

Now, your product actually is doing part of the work for you. I use normal to dry because it has slightly more oil, which allows it to stay on the skin just a little longer. That allows me to use it as a massage lubricant. Apply the product to small sections of the face at a time to prevent reapplying as you progress. By following these simple guidelines, you will avoid the pitfall of the greasy face and your client will be able to enjoy the benefits of your work.

Confident Touch

As a therapist, you know the importance of confident touch. Confident touch is a blend of good technique and good people skills. It comes from within and flows through your hands to your recipient. Both parties instinctually know if you have confidence or trepidation. Of all the places we work on the body, no place requires you honor the client's space more than the face. They will also feel shaky hands and unorganized strokes, so be prepared to practice and develop a routine for the face. These stokes will differ from facelift massage to general facial massage, but a good rule of thumb is to always lift rather than push or pull down. Here are some tips for building confident touch:

  • Shorter strokes usually are better than longer ones. Facial muscles are small.
  • The jaw area can take deeper pressure, but not the area around the eyes.
  • Notice if your client has dentures and avoid pressure in that area around the mouth.
  • Avoid overstretching fine facial muscles.
  • Focus on moving underlying tissue, not surface skin.
  • Start at the top and work down for better flow.
  • Keep your personal hygiene impeccable. No onions for lunch.
  • Be present with your client. Stay focused on their needs.
  • Keep your idle fingers tucked under to avoid poking your client.
  • Don't rest your hands on the client's face.
  • Use a pillow to properly position your client's head.
  • Support your arms by comfortably resting your elbows on the table.
  • Invest in a Styrofoam head.

In our workshops, we go over the anatomy of the face in great detail. We learn which muscles cause which expression lines and learn techniques to specifically address each of these areas. That creates our pattern and flow of work. I found students had trouble remembering the sequence, so I incorporated Styrofoam heads as part of our study. We literally get markers and number the sequence and regions on the heads. The students then take their heads back to their office where they can just glance up and be reminded of what to do next.

Let's face it, many of us received very little face training in massage school. This work, however, especially facelift massage, quickly is becoming a very large market. Boomers want it, and they have disposable income. From a business perspective, it's the smart thing to do. From a therapist's perspective, it's very easy to perform. That's a winning combination.

Click here for previous articles by Rita Woods, LMT.


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