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I tried a deep tissue massage for my face

WORDS BY MAEVE GALEA

For science, of course.

I’ve been obsessed with facial massaging since its rise to the top of the beauty world in (around) 2017. The practice, which has its ancient roots in places like China, Mexico, France and Sweden, has only gotten more popular since then. These days it’s almost impossible to scroll through TikTok without seeing various ‘face lifting’ or ‘sculpting’ tricks that promise to boost firmness and increase definition naturally.

As someone who was born with a rectangular face and chubby cheeks, the idea that I can carve out a razor-sharp jawline and set of cheekbones for myself has undeniable appeal. I’ve tried everything from gua shas, jade rollers and vibrating sculpting bars to Ukrainian skinfluencer Karina More’s ‘face building‘ marathon.


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But, despite my best efforts (and a sizable investment in various tools and programs) my face has – for the most part – remained unchanged. The only thing I haven’t tried? A facial massage by a professional. Arriving at Jocelyn Petroni’s eponymous salon in Sydney’s leafy Woollahra, I immediately get the sense that my face is in safe (and perfectly manicured) hands. The space is luminously white and luxurious, with staff and clients speaking in hushed tones to preserve the serenity.

Petroni herself sits behind the desk sporting the kind of plump, glassy complexion you’d expect of Chanel’s official manicurist and one of Australia’s leading facialists who counts Miranda Kerr, Jessica Gomes and Megan Gale among her clients. After filling out a comprehensive form that asked me about the products I use, my major skincare concerns and the pressure level I’m comfortable with for the massage (medium, because I am a cowardly, indecisive fence-sitter), I’m invited inside the sacred walls of the dimly lit treatment room.

In privacy, I undress, wrap myself in a towel and lie down on the treatment table, wondering if it’s more appropriate to say “come in”, “ready” or just “yep” when my facialist gently knocks on the door to see if I’m ready to begin. Dressed in all white and with radiant lit-from-within skin, my facialist smiles down at me. From where I’m lying, the light fitting is perfectly positioned behind her head to give her a halo-like glow.

I decide she must be an angel as she starts explaining what is about to happen in sweet, dulcet tones while pulling fly-aways back out of my face and securing them under a terry-towelling head wrap. The first half of the facial is like many I’ve had before. There is cleansing, steaming and even an extraction. Product goes on, product comes off. It’s lovely, if at times a little bit painful. A single tear rolls down my face as she scrapes a stainless steel blackhead extractor across my nose.

I note at the time that it also sets an impossible standard for cleanliness. In fact, having your face cleansed by a facialist is a lot like having your teeth cleaned at the dentist: once you know what clean really feels like, everything else falls short. But while I enjoy the process (even the blackhead extraction because I’m only human and a successful purge delivers me a dopamine hit of satisfaction) I am not yet in the state of bliss I was anticipating. I put this down to the fact that I am excitedly (or perhaps anxiously?) awaiting the moment the real fun begins.

And then it happens. My therapist’s warm, silky, serum-y hands land on my sternum and start gliding outward from my heart centre, around to my shoulders and up my neck. The pressure is firm, and the movement slows down as she pulls her hands up either side of my neck. My excitement (and total enjoyment) is matched by my surprise. “Isn’t this a facial massage?” I wonder.

I expect the massage to quickly migrate north and focus on my cheeks, under eyes and forehead. However, we actually end up spending a decent portion of the facial on my back, shoulders, neck and décolletage. Later, Petroni tells me the justifications for this (and its benefits) are twofold. “The décolletage is as delicate as the skin on the face and therefore requires equal attention,” she explains, before adding, “it’s also the area that contains many of the lymph nodes required to stimulate lymphatic drainage.”

Promoting lymphatic drainage, a process that aims to reduce swelling and flush skin of toxins and congestion by relieving the build-up of lymph fluid, is one of the main selling points of a deep tissue facial massage. According to experts, lymphatic drainage can improve circulation by delivering oxygen around the skin, draining toxins and assisting in the reduction of inflammation, puffiness and acne inducing hormones.

It’s also incredibly relaxing. By the time my facialist gets to work on my face I am only half awake. My commitment to journalistic integrity is the only thing stopping me from falling to sleep completely as her fingers press and caress the skin around my eye socket, relieving tension that feels like it has been building up from years of squinting at screens. I may only be in a state of semi-consciousness but even I can recognise this is so much more than just running a jade roller up and down your face.

The speed and precision with which she moves her fingers across the surface of the skin of my face is remarkable. Every nerve ending feels stimulated. Every muscle – even the ones I didn’t know existed – feels worked. As the treatment comes to a close my therapist performs a final flourish on each side of my face that Petroni describes as “a tapotement, percussion massage technique designed to ‘wake-up’ the skin and assist in lifting the muscles of the face for a more sculpted finish”.

I can only liken it to what I imagine it would feel like to have one hundred tiny fairies Irish dancing on your face. As I skipped out onto Queen street I had the kind of rosy glow that can only be achieved through a combination of hard work (theirs) and total relaxation (mine). But more importantly, I had a completely different understanding of what facial massaging (and its at-home alternatives) should be trying to achieve.
You see, TikTok and clever marketing had me under the impression that facial massaging was all about trying to achieve structural change.

Since the beginning of my obsession I had considered it a non-surgical alternative to Botox and filler, that would lift and tone my face and leave me with chiselled features. But in actuality, what the treatment delivers is a boost from the inside out. “This treatment is about ensuring skin is nourished with oxygen-rich blood and minerals for rosy, glowing skin nurtured from the inside,” explains Petroni. And there’s no denying it: I left utterly illuminated.

For more on the benefits of facial massage, try this.

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