We'll all wrinkle in time. But it would be nice to hold off furrows, pouches, bags, crow's-feet and "turkey neck" for as long as possible. While much of the wrinkled population is flocking to plastic surgeons for eye tucks, face lifts and the like, and stores can't keep $25 face creams in stock, there's another group of anti-wrinkle people that believes facial exercises are a deterrent.
One such believer is Romana de Vries, a Hollywood facial expert who has counseled the smooth-skinned likes of Dina Merrill and Doris Day and is convinced that prevention is better than treatment.
"Elasticity of the skin is determined by the strength and tone of the muscles. Therefore, a firm, smooth complexion means firm, supple muscles underneath," says De Vries, whose book, "Cosmetrics" (E. P. Dutton, $12.50) includes a regimen of face and neck exercises that she says will soften, prevent and even remove those lines.
De Vries admits that skin heritage, complexion, diet, sleep, tension and other factors play a large part in determining just how many lines you add to your face. But she feels her cosmetric exercises will diminsh added lines by "keeping facial muscles in control."
Some doctors, however, do not share her enthusiasm for facial exercises.
"You cannot prevent wrinkles by doing exercises," says Dr. Clyde Litton, a top Washington plastic surgeon. "The main factor is hereditary -- what you've inherited is exactly what you'll be later on." Litton points out that the basic cause of wrinkles is age, and with it, absorption of fat under the skin. Absorption of facial bones and the thinning of the skin -- resulting in the loss of elastic fibers -- all lead inevitably, he says, to lines and creases.
Dr. Lewis Thompson, director of plastic and reconstructive surgery at George Washington Medical Center, has seen no medical evidence suggesting that facial exercises are effective.
"But," he says, "I do have patients who seem to believe that it helps them. If they get a lift from it psychologically or otherwise, it's a positive factor. But there's nothing documented about it."
De Vries says doctors who don't see the value of facial exercises dont' know her methods. "I've proven it too many times to be affected by them," she says. "My methods are more like face yoga. They go deep into the muscle and increase blood circulation so the skin gets better nourishment. They are not ordinary facial exercises and women will see results if they do them regularly."
She says she gets letters from women who have benefited from then and says some dermatologists, including Dr. Albert MacKenzie, sometimes send patients to learn her methods.
"Maybe West Coast women are more into vanity," says Dr. MacKenzie of Hollywood. "But with these facial exercises you can bring out the fullness of the cheeks, youthful contours of the skinline and keep brows from sagging and take care of a certain type of wrinkling associated with aging that plastic surgery won't take care of."
There are, obviously, no magical cures for wrinkles, but these suggestions are generally agreed upon by experts:
Look closely at your parents -- if they've escaped with few bags and creases, chances are you will, too.
Watch what you eat, don't crash diet, and remember that fat people rarely look wrinkled. (Fat plumps up the skin so the lines don't show.)
Sun is the major no-no if you don't want a leathery, wrinkled face. Careful tanning and the less facial exposure to the sun, the better. Wear a hat.
Find your way to handle stress, whether by exercise or meditation.
Drink plenty of water.
Know your skin type and stick to the cleansing and moisturizing regimen that works best for you.
Remember, every face, even a newborn baby's has some lines. Learn to love yourself the way you are.
But if taking an active approach toward wrinkles will make you feel better, here are three facial exercises from "Cosmetrics," demonstrated above by Washington actress Nancy Lepp (who just finished doing "PS Your Cat is Dead" at Back Alley Theatre). Lepp does facial exercises and stands on her head daily, which she maintains help prevent wrinkles.
1. Neck exercise to help firm droopy muscles of the neck. Bring your lower lip above your upper lip and smile, relax your shoulders, raise your chin and make a long neck. Place right hand on left side of collarbone and move head two inches slowly to the right. Rock your upper body gently back and forth from the hips and hold the stretched neck position to a count of 10. Relax and repeat, placing hand on the right side of collarbone.
2. "Victory Lift" for correcting droops and pouches in the jowls. (Dina Merrill does this while zipping along the freeway. "Helps the face and helps keep me awake," she says.) Sit straight and focus on one spot. Open mouth wide and roll lower lip inwards over your lower teeth as firmly as possible. Tilt your head back and point your chin toward the ceiling and form your upper lip into a smile. Lock muscles and move your lower jaw up and down 10 times in an easy, biting movement.
3. The "Nose Pump" for joining nasal muscles to upper cheek muscles, to help keep youthful expression. Place the tips of your middle fingers firmly together on the bridge of your nose. Place the tips of your index fingers at the ends of your eyebrows. Pull your nostrils in and down in a firm pumping motion 30 times.