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We know that repeated muscle contractions (from smiling and squinting, for instance) can create furrows and wrinkles. But muscle isn’t the only skin tissue that can contribute to an aged appearance. An ever-growing body of research suggests that we should pay more attention to our fascia. This unique network of tissue is found throughout the body, and it can have an impact on the look and feel of your skin from head to toe. Keep reading to learn more about fascia, how it works, and how it can affect your appearance.
What is fascia?
Fascia is a type of connective tissue that’s made of fibrous sheets of woven collagen. “It encloses every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein, as well as our internal organs, including the heart, lungs, brain and spinal cord,” explains NYC-based board-certified dermatologist Ellen Marmur, MD. “I often describe it as ‘SaranTM Wrap’ that protects all of the major structures of our anatomy.”
In other words, fascia holds everything together. According to NYC-based board-certified dermatologist Patricia Wexler, MD, there are four different types of fascia. “ “[Fascia] has various functions depending on its location in the body,” she explains. “For example, the fascia that stabilizes the arch of your foot is thick and dense, while in other areas it’s soft and pliable.” Despite differing densities, the fascia in our bodies is all connected, and is often referred to as a single entity. In fact, several studies have proposed that fascia could be defined as an organ, yet more research must be done to confirm this hypothesis.
What happens to fascia over time?
The natural aging process affects every cell in our bodies, including the cells that comprise our fascia. Cell aging is a broad term that can relate to everything from cell proliferation to cell death, depending on the individual and the type of cell. Moreover, different types of fascia age differently, which can become apparent on the surface. Dr. Marmur explains, “Some fascia becomes rigid, in turn compressing the muscles and nerves.” Hardened, compressed fascia can lead to painful knots and “trigger points.” Other fascia, including the more collagen-rich fascia below the face and neck, stretch out over time.
Dr. Wexler adds, “There are two components of fascia in the face. The superficial layer right under the skin is responsible for giving it support, lift, and tone. The degradation of the deeper layer can cause facial tension that pulls the face downward, causing wrinkles and sagging.” Ultimately, aging fascia below the face and neck creates skin laxity, wrinkles, and jowls, Dr. Marmur notes.
Aging fascia in other areas of the body could contribute to cellulite. Dr. Wexler explains, “We are still exploring how much of a role fascia plays in cellulite. However, there is science to support that fascial adhesions can pull the skin down and force fat to bubble up, in turn causing the dents and dimples known as cellulite.”
How to maintain healthy fascia
Like muscle, fascia can be toned and strengthened. According to Dr. Marmur, “When you tighten the fascia, you can realistically expect smoother, younger-looking skin and a reduction in the appearance of cellulite.” Sounds great, but how? “Overall good health, deep-tissue and lymphatic drainage massage, as well as at-home tools such as the FDA-cleared MM Sphere® 2.0 LED device ($795) can all help improve the quality of fascial collagen,” Dr. Marmur says (and ultimately, more collagen equals fewer lines and wrinkles). Another popular in-office modality is Ultherapy®. This treatment uses heat to tighten fascial fibers and induce collagen and elastin production, Dr. Wexler explains. Learn more about how Ultherapy works (and see before and after photos!) here.
As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment.
If you just can’t get into a doctor’s practice to try an advanced treatment, there’s a less techy way to support fascia health: facial massage. (Tools designed to do just this, including gua shas, have seen a recent surge in popularity.) While a face massage won’t increase collagen production, per se, it can increase circulation by releasing tense fascia, thereby promoting blood flow to the skin. For a fancier take on the traditional gua sha, try the PauseTM Well-AgingTM Fascia Stimulating Tool ($115), an FDA-cleared device that claims to improve blood flow and potentially stimulate collagen.
If you take blood thinners, talk to your doctor before using a gua sha or rolling tool.
For the rest of the body, there’s a similarly broad range of low- to high-tech options for supporting fascia health. Dr. Wexler names a variety of in-office cellulite treatments — including Lumenis® NuEra® Tight, VelaShape®, and Venus Concept® — that rely on radiofrequency-induced thermal energy to tighten fascia and smooth skin. That said, Dr. Wexler emphasizes that you should maintain realistic expectations since the skin-smoothing effects are likely temporary. A simpler at-home option, the FasciaBlaster® tool ($89), promotes deep, circulation-boosting massage that may help smooth the look of cellulite (at least in the short-term).
Finally, Dr. Wexler notes that hydration is a critical component of maintaining healthy fascia, so make sure you drink enough water. “In addition, stretching for 10 minutes a day can [help] improve damaged fascia and release tension in the surrounding muscles,” she adds. “Using a foam roller also helps relieve tightness of fascia in the body.” These principles apply to fascia from head to toe, and not only could they help your muscles feel better, they can possibly help your skin look better — so drink up and start massaging!
Doctors Ellen Marmur and Patricia Wexler are paid Allergan® consultants.