The skin game

Most of us have one body part that we’d like to change, be it our double chin, our tuchis or our belly. And as a quick fix, plastic surgery has become pervasive – according to the American Academy for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, 1.6 million surgical cosmetic procedures were done in 2010; a 9 percent increase from the year before.

But it’s not a solution that appeals to everyone; the cost can be prohibitive, and the possibility of going under anesthesia and being sliced open in the name of vanity may seem extreme.

For those looking to take off a few years without breaking the bank or risking their health, though, there are alternatives, including yoga, massage and noninvasive skin procedures that don’t even require a needle.

Of course, no amount of downward dogging can make your breasts two cup sizes larger or help you drop 100 pounds overnight, but to treat saggy or splotchy skin, wrinkles and other signs of a life well lived, here are some suggestions.


When we think of yoga, we may imagine deep, cleansing breaths and stretching tired muscles. But a growing number of yoga instructors believe that the practice can have cosmetic results that go beyond a firm behind; that with the right exercises, yoga can be used to tone the muscles in the face.

“Facial yoga combines five simple facial exercises with a simple yoga workout,” said Michael Glen, who owns the company Facial Yoga Online, based in San Diego.

When muscles get weak, Glen said, they sag, causing the skin above them to do the same. The exercises he teaches work the 57 facial muscles to keep them in shape. “The result is that you tone up the muscles, which helps remove the wrinkles,” he said.

The facial workout, which takes about five minutes altogether, targets three areas: the neck and chin; the face; the forehead and the area around the eyes. He encourages clients to tack on some traditional yoga moves as well, which adds about six or seven minutes but has the benefit of reducing stress. That can, in turn, reduce lines generated by worry.

The workouts should be done a minimum of once a day, and twice if possible. 

“Look at the things you do that you can be doing facial exercises at the same time,” he said. “When you’re driving, watching TV… you can do a dramatic job of lifting the areas.”


Getting a massage doesn’t sound quite as invasive as going under the knife, right? In addition to being relaxing, massage can have results that are similar — if less dramatic — to those of a facelift.

The primary goal of massage isn’t to look younger, said Brian Reder, the owner of The Massage Place, which has locations in Encino, Sherman Oaks, the Westside and South Pasadena. But, by its very nature, massage boosts circulation and improves muscle tone, thereby reducing wrinkles and cellulite.

“Massage can keep your muscles from becoming stiff,” he said, “[and] it improves skin’s pliability, making it less likely to wrinkle.”

Kneading the skin — not just on the face but throughout the body — helps to improve blood flow and circulation, which can bring about a glow, and in some instances reduce cellulite. Massage therapists often tell their clients to come back once a month for the best results, Reder said — not too tough a prescription to follow.


One of the primary causes of sagging skin is the breakdown of collagen, a protein that helps keep skin looking young, and of elastic fibers in the skin, said Dr. Debra Luftman, a dermatologist with practices in Beverly Hills and Calabasas and co-author of the book “The Beauty Prescription.”

To help reverse the look of aging, she said, a new procedure called Thermage is gaining popularity.

“I truly believe that the future of plastic surgery is something like Thermage,” Luftman said. “I don’t think that in 10 years we will be cutting people’s faces.”

Through radio frequency, heat is applied to the lower layers of the skin to stimulate collagen, while the outer layers are cooled at the same time. The procedure is completely noninvasive and takes about an hour, depending upon how much of the body and face is being done.

According to Luftman, Thermage is nearly painless, with no topical or oral pain medication needed. The treatment can lift skin, making a once-sagging jawline, for instance, become more taut. The results can last up to three years.


Using the same premise as Thermage, lasers target small areas of the skin, causing it to tighten around the area that the laser hits, says Luftman.

In her practice, Luftman uses two kinds of lasers: Fraxel, which can be used to treat wrinkles, sun damage and scars, and intense pulsed light, also called a photofacial. Intense pulsed light can be used to treat a wider range of skin issues, including age spots and protruding veins.

Both are long-lasting, so after an initial series of two to five treatments, patients can go up to a year before having another touch-up.

Whatever alternative to plastic surgery you may opt for, you should do the research to be sure that you’re in good hands, Luftman said.

“It’s important to go to a practitioner who is very experienced,” she said, advice that applies not just to dermatological procedures but to all health-related therapies.