I step into the serene suite of the spa, and the gentle lighting and soothing ambiance immediately envelop me in a sense of calm. Thanks to the soft music, cozy robes, and comfortable massage bed, I temporarily forget that I’m here for a treatment: my first buccal massage.
The technique, which has recently been trending on TikTok, has been used by estheticians for years to help people achieve a more contoured and define face shape. Buccal massage is performed on the cheeks, where the buccal fat pad—the layer of fat that gives the face a fuller appearance—is located. It’s a more affordable, less invasive alternative to the buccal fat removal surgery that’s also been buzzing on social media lately (thanks, celebs), so I decided to give it a try.
@meicrosoft getting a face sculpting/buccal massage for the first time! I got it done at @Sous La Face ♬ My Kind of Woman – Instrumental – Mac DeMarco
What is a buccal massage?
Unlike plastic surgery which can rejuvenate the face by permanently removing sagging skin, buccal massages temporarily improve the appearance of the face by enhancing lymphatic drainage. During the treatment, a therapist uses their hands to gently massage the cheeks in a circular motion, applying pressure from both the outside and inside of the mouth.
“I always start the massage from the outside first because you can’t go inside the mouth straightaway or else it would be painful. I normally loosen up the muscles from the outside and then I work around the jawlines and the mouth and up towards the cheekbones,” explains London-based celebrity massage therapist Guendalina Gennari, who has over a decade of experience. “When I work my way from the inside of the cheek, I can reach the ligaments and the fat cells and muscles of the face to re-give it structure to release tension and a lot of liquids. The goal is to make sure that the lymphatic system flows again.”
The benefits of buccal massage
Many people opt for buccal massage to create a more defined and contoured face shape, but the treatment also offers additional benefits. In fact, according to Konstantin Vasyukevich, MD, a double-board certified facial plastic surgeon, the non-cosmetic benefits of a buccal massage actually outweigh its cosmetic advantages. Because the treatment releases tension around the jawline, it can help relieve stress, improve sleep, and lessen headache discomfort.
Gennari explains that buccal massages were once used by chiropractors to help treat bruxism, or the grinding of teeth that can cause poor jaw alignment. “It’s especially great on those who suffer from headaches or hold stress in their jaw or necks,” she says. “Releasing this tension helps improve sleep. Also, for those who snore, having a massage will remove some of the stiffness.”
As an added bonus, releasing this tension helps restore symmetry to the face. And with repeated treatments, your muscles will start to recall the motions and maintain their sculpted appearance.
What to know before trying a buccal massage
First things first: do not try this at home. It’s imperative that you consult a vetted professional for a buccal massage, because the treatment can stretch the skin if it’s done incorrectly, leaving you with sagging instead of the sculpting you’re after. “It’s imperative that you don’t overstretch the muscles,” says Gennari.
With that in mind, you don’t want to overdo it. While frequent treatments are great for the muscle memory they provide, you’ll want to wait at least 7-10 days in between them to give the muscles time to replenish. “Usually, the definition and contour of the face lasts at least a week, so it makes sense to do it once a week or once every week and a half,” Gennari adds.
It’s also worth noting that buccal fat massage can be uncomfortable for some people—it’s basically a deep tissue massage for your face, and can be intense. And though the treatment is designed for all skin types, proceed with caution if you’re prone to acne. Gennari explains that acne is an inflammation of the skin, so when you massage that area, you are breaking the sebaceous glands, which can cause bacteria to travel and create more breakouts.
My buccal massage experience
I decided to try a buccal fat massage the day after landing in London, when I was tired, jet lagged, and puffy from the flight. Since it was my first time experiencing the treatment, it was initially painful—it felt like my cheeks were playdough and the therapist was sculpting them into higher cheekbones.
However, after the 60-minute treatment was over, I felt a sense of lightness. My face didn’t necessarily look more chiseled (which is to be expected for a first-timer), but I did see less puffiness and felt rejuvenated. I also felt surprisingly relaxed, as if the hour miraculously took away the stress I felt with the move and traveling. One more unexpected side effect? Chewing felt a whole lot easier thanks to the fact that my jaw muscles were relaxed, and I found myself taking smaller bites and really savoring whatever food I was eating.
Though I may not be getting weekly buccal massages any time soon, I would definitely spring for the treatment ahead of any big occasions in the future… or any time I need to bust stress in 60 minutes flat.