Natural Alternatives to Botox

As every singer knows, looks are becoming ever more important in our career. The need to look young, fit, attractive, and stylish is a reality for singers. Visual media, such as TV and the Internet, have added to the pressure. Besides working out and careful grooming, some singers have considered cosmetic surgery as a way to maintain their youthful appearance.

Botox has become one the most common and fastest growing procedures in cosmetic surgery today. Botox is a diluted form of botulism that is injected into facial muscles to paralyze or weaken the muscles that form wrinkles, according to Smartplasticsurgery.com. Last year, the procedure was performed in the United States more than 1.6 million times, a 46 percent increase since 2000 and a 2,356 percent increase since 1997, says the site.

Botox can treat wrinkles caused by muscle contractions—such as frown lines, crow’s feet, forehead creases, and neck bands—safely and successfully. The cost of Botox treatment is not exorbitant, but it is expensive, costing a national average of more than $382 per injection.

Can you find other methods for retraining the facial muscles that cause wrinkles? As a voice teacher, I’ve always been aware of how tension in the muscles of the face affects the voice. I know that by isolating and retraining the muscles of the jaw, mouth, tongue, and neck, singers can learn how to develop a relaxed and full vocal tone color. So it wasn’t a stretch when I first found a book on facial exercise at my local library. It made sense to me that you can work out and train the muscles of the face. Over the years, I have continued to research and learn about facial exercise. The knowledge about my facial muscles and how to train and relax them has definitely helped both my appearance and my singing.

Facial exercise may seem like a new and radical concept, but it has been around since at least the time of an important early pioneer, Margaret Kroesen. In 1889, Kroesen became concerned that her daughter, Alice, a concert pianist, had developed wrinkles and frown lines. In hopes of finding a way to maintain Alice’s beauty and stage presence, Kroesen created Wrinkle Eradicators (since renamed “Frownies”) by applying the basic principles of fitness to the muscles of the face.

Frownies have now been around for more than 117 years. The premise is fairly low tech, a set of strategically cut sticky papers that you sleep in overnight to retrain the muscles of your forehead, eyes, and mouth. You moisten the pieces of sticky paper and place them over your creases, which helps your muscles learn to stop tensing.

Frownies have a long standing relationship with Hollywood, and have been featured in many movies. Gloria Swanson wore them in the classic film Sunset Boulevard. Glen Close wore them in Mars Attacks! (1996), and Frownies had cameo roles on Gwen Verdon in Cocoon (1985) and Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her (1992).

Though not widely known, Frownies have many devoted fans and have garnered favorable press. Dermatologist Ranella Hirsch M.D. recently gave her approval in O Magazine and Good Housekeeping, calling Frownies, “the easiest wrinkle reducer.” (For more information, see www.frownies.com.)

More recently, creative thinkers have developed other systems of facial exercise. One of the first to gain notoriety is Carole Maggio and her program, Facercise. A licensed aesthetician, Carole began developing her method of exercising the 57 muscles of the face and neck to help her clients and herself. She discovered that by strengthening the facial muscles, the face could actually be restructured to achieve a sleeker and more youthful appearance.

Billed as “the world’s foremost authority on facial exercises,” Maggio has developed a systematic series of exercises that she has taught to thousands of clients around the world. In 1995, she wrote a book, Facercise, which continues to be a bestseller. She has also released a DVD demonstrating her program.

Maggio has been featured on numerous television shows and the readers of Harper’s Bazaar magazine have rated her program as one of the top 100 beauty products in the world. Maggio has succeeded “in bending time’s arrow the other way,” said the New York Times. For more information on Maggio and her Facercise program, visit www.facercise.com.

Deborah E. Crowley, with her system of facial exercise, Facialbuilding or FlexEffect, is another leader in the facial exercise arena. Crowley came to facial exercise as a personal trainer and weightlifter. When she began to lose weight for competitions, she became concerned about the gaunt look of her face. She experimented with adding resistance to the facial exercises currently available and found the results to be quite impressive.

FlexEffect has been profiled in magazines such as Energy Times, Ms. Fitness, Aging with Style, Flare, and Alternative Medicine. Crowley has also been involved in scientific research regarding facial aging and has amassed a large group of medical professionals who recommend her program. Her website, www.flexeffect.com, includes many amazing before and after pictures, and doctor’s references and research, as well as a supportive forum where experienced “facebuilders” encourage and support one another. It was here that I found two singers willing to be interviewed about their experiences with facial exercise.

A long-term “facebuilder” had this to say about facial exercise and singing:

How has facial exercise helped your performing/singing career?

My face is part of my instrument. Just as the size, shape, and materials of a guitar’s body color its sound, the contours of my face factor into the color of my voice. Keeping my face muscles firm preserves the sound of a voice people usually think of as “younger.” At least, that’s my theory. While my voice has matured in some respects (deepening and growing richer, as well as benefiting from learning and experience), it still doesn’t sound, to people who’ve commented, like the voice of a typical 51 year old.

What has been the greatest benefit for you, personally or professionally?

Oh, personally, just sheer vanity. I’m willing to admit that because, come now, no matter how humble a woman is, if she uses cosmetics and skin care products, there’s still a little part of her that enjoys favorable attention.

Professionally it’s important because I write, perform, and market my own music. I’m still getting started, and being played side-by-side on podcasts with much younger women. I don’t want to be considered “the old one,” thank you very much. Besides, I don’t feel anywhere near my age. I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow myself to look it. I want to look like myself.

Is there any exercise that you feel has been the most valuable? Why?

Obviously, anything involving the cheeks, neck, and lips is going to help, because the more responsive those muscles are, the better you can enunciate consonants and shape vowels. More generally, though, the confidence of knowing the work you’re doing to look your best (and, yes, younger) comes right through in the performance. Some songs even demand a certain cockiness, which is no problem if you feel good about yourself.

The next singer, Julianne (www.julianne.net) is a classically trained singer based in Tokyo. She is in demand as a session singer and performs jazz, a cappella, pop, early, and classical music, as well as her own compositions in various venues in the greater Tokyo area.

How long have you been doing facial exercise?

On and off for about six years, including a long lull of a few years at one point.

Do you feel it has helped your performing/singing career?

Like it or not, in our field, looking good can be important. Sometimes image matters more than voice, especially if you’re a female singer. Sometimes it doesn’t matter at all, but in those times where it does, of course, looking better has helped.

What has been the greatest benefit for you, personally or professionally?

I feel more confident knowing I’m looking the best I can, and this confidence is likely felt by those I’m in contact with, so it not only affects me, but other people also.

Do you feel any exercise has been the most valuable? Why?

I think with facial exercises you really need to do the whole regime regularly, rather than spot exercising, if you want to maintain good results. All the muscles are interconnected. For example, working on building the cheeks will probably have a greater effect for someone who wants to tighten up their lower face than focusing solely on the actual problem area. That being said, everyone is going to have their own particular areas they want or need to focus on.

For me, when I first started doing facial exercises, my under-eyes and brows needed the most attention, so the exercises for those areas really helped. I did the whole exercise regime and sometimes added extra to those areas, but I never simply spot-exercised an area on its own. Some muscles take many months to build, so for some areas you have to have patience. But the good thing is that muscle has memory, so if you stop and resume your body remembers.

Do you have any advice for singers looking to learn more about facial exercise?

I say do your own research, explore things. Different people find different things work for them. I recommend choosing a program that’s based on resistance exercise, as the resistance builds muscle, rather than simply toning it. You can search on Internet forums (especially skincare forums) and find lots of people talking about facial exercise and what works for them.

A regime that offers support is also great—for instance, FlexEffect has fantastic online forum support with online trainers bending over backwards to help people make sure they’re doing the exercises correctly. They also have people who will do one-on-one webcam training sessions, or do one-on-one support where you can send photos or videos and they will advise and help for your particular situation. This is a great way to make sure you’re doing things correctly and keeping on track, kind of like having a personal trainer in the gym.

Find what works and if it doesn’t work, try something else. Never simply give up and believe facial exercises don’t work just because the regime you tried wasn’t giving you results. Get support when you need it and be patient in times when you need to be patient. It’s wonderful to see improvements as the muscles build, instead of seeing a steady downhill slide once one is over a certain age.

It looks like facial exercise is finally coming into its own. A search online or on Amazon.com lists many other books and methods. Many people are discovering the benefits of toning their faces.

It is important to note, however, that not all doctors approve of facial exercise. Some are concerned that the exercises may cause even more wrinkles. As in all things, it is helpful to do your own research and make your own decisions, because as singers, we really do need to put our best face forward.

Valerie White Williams

Valerie White Williams is a Seattle-based singer, voice teacher, lecturer, and writer. A featured presenter at the 2005 Classical Singer Convention in New York City, Williams taught classes on “Promoting Your Teaching Studio” and has since then lectured on vocal health and internet marketing for musicians. Visit Williams online at www.valeriewilliams.net to learn more about her singing career and www.vocalsplendor.com for information about her voice studio.