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Trying to Save Face

'Facial Aerobics' Give Your Mug a Workout. But Claims They Erase Wrinkles Tend to Make Experts Scowl

By Dana Scarton
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, November 2, 2004; Page HE01

Remember your mother's warning that if you made silly faces your mug would freeze that way? People doing Face Val-U exercises clearly do not.

The Face Val-U program encourages many bizarre contortions, from a haughty, model-ish "snooty face" to a ghoulish, mouth-dropping, eye-popping "scream face." The objective here isn't to look silly (though it certainly does that). The purpose is to prevent wrinkles and reduce the visible effects of aging.

Valeria Georgescu, wearing gloves to protect skin from her hands, demonstrates the Platysma stretch, one of several allegedly face-saving exercises. (Susan Biddle - The Washington Post)

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"Hello, dahling. How are you?" instructor Valeria Georgescu calls, hands on hips, nose canted upward in the aforementioned snooty face. One by one, each of the 14 adults inside Studio One at the swank Sports Club/LA in the District's West End return the expression, complete with accent.

There are giggles and more than a few ridiculous faces, but embarrassment has a payoff, according to Georgescu, inventor of Face Val-U. "The posture naturally lifts things and makes your brain understand how to move your muscles," she explained. The fitness instructor's wrinkle-free face and taut bod belie her 39 years.

"I want people to walk out of here being aware of what they're doing with their face on a daily basis," she said. "If you correct your facial posture, you're going to slow the process of aging and you won't be running for a quick fix so often." She refers to her program as "natural Botox for the head."

Facial exercises are hardly new. Many books promote the notion and some adults, mostly women in the middle years, have sworn allegiance to such techniques. And while some exercises may yield improvements, don't expect your dermatologist or plastic surgeon to prescribe aerobics for the face.

Facial exercise "is what people did before they had Botox and fillers," said dermatologic surgeon Tina Alster, director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery. "It's not going to hurt you, but I'm not convinced it's going to help you, either."

Facial exercises won't prevent or eliminate wrinkles, which are caused by skin turned inelastic due to aging or sun exposure and to the accumulated impact of hundreds of thousands of conventional facial expressions, said Michael Olding, chief of plastic surgery at George Washington University Medical Center and a spokesman for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Still, he said, exercises "might make enough improvement with a patient to postpone a face-lift for a while." After participating in a recent Face Val-U session, Olding acknowledged that performing such exercises on a regular basis could produce some potential benefits, including correcting or improving facial imbalances, reducing tension in the jaw and staving off ridges that develop around the upper lip.

He also said it was "much more fun than I thought it would be."

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