As a beauty editor, I've had the privilege of trying all sorts of professional facial treatments, but regardless of what spa I'm at or what esthetician I'm seeing, my favorite part of each service remains the same — the facial massage. Some are short, lasting only a minute or two at the end to gently press product into my face, while others are the focal point, working to "tighten" my skin using micro-currents and LED lights. Yet, no matter how much I love them, I can never, ever seem to recreate the motions and do them on myself at home. That is, until recently, when I received the most life-changing facial massage at the Koh Gen Do Spa in Tokyo, Japan. Though it was a professional treatment, it did not involve any fancy gadgets and with the assurance of my esthetician, I would be able to successfully do it on my own face at home. All I would need are my hands.
Though Americans may not be super familiar with the name, Koh Gen Do is practically an institution in the Japanese beauty world. The company was founded in 1986 by Ai Saotome, a Japanese actress who was tired of having stressed-out skin from spending hours in front of the camera wearing heavy makeup. She began a quest to find natural beauty products that would soothe and treat her face. When she couldn't find any, Saotome created her own. Fast forward to 2018 and Koh Gen Do is now famous for its botanical-based, technologically-driven products rooted in Japanese skin care traditions. Even its makeup products (which Hollywood makeup artists are huge fans of) focus on working with your skin's natural processes to deliver a healthy, radiant glow.
Now, Saotome's sister, Megumi Setoguchi, is at the helm of Koh Gen Do as director, but she's also a trained esthetician and the one who would conduct my facial at Koh Gen Do. Since she's busy running the brand, Setoguchi doesn't typically give facials to the general public, only lending her masterful hands to Japan's biggest stars for awards shows or red carpet events. However, she was kind enough to invite me to the spa to show me the art behind Koh Gen Do's famous facial massage and how I could do it at home when I returned to the states.
The massage method Setoguchi uses work to lift and relax your facial muscles and reduce swelling in your eye, neck, and jaw area (also known as lymphatic drainage). It consists mostly of one important technique: applying pressure with the fattiest part of your palm, holding and lifting it in place for five seconds, and then releasing and creating a circular motion. The pressure of your palm helps to lift and relax your muscles, while the circular motion helps increase circulation in your face.
There is absolutely no downtime after the facial, since there are no extractions or harsh gadgets involved, and most of her clients see a huge transformation in their face shape immediately after the facial. That's exactly what I found after 60 minutes in Setoguchi's hands — my cheekbones were higher, my skin was softer, and overall, I looked glowier and more relaxed.
If you want to try Setoguchi's facial massage at home, here's what you need to do.
Step 1: Prep Your Face
After cleansing and exfoliating, apply your favorite facial oil or cream all over your face. Setoguchi used Koh Gen Do's Macro Vintage Royal Massage Milk during my facial, a creamy moisturizer made with Argireline, a natural peptide that "works like botox" to relax muscles and firm your skin.
Step 2: Begin With Your Forehead
Using the meatiest part of your palm, apply pressure between your eyebrows. Hold and lift your palm for five seconds and then make a circular motion around your brow, landing your palm a little bit higher on your forehead than where you began. You'll then repeat the same technique — hold and lift your palm for five seconds, make a circular motion around your brow and forehead — and then land your palm a little bit higher than the last. You are basically moving up your forehead, beginning between your brows and moving up towards your hairline.
Step 3: Release Muscles Underneath Your Eyebrows
Next, hold and lift your palm underneath your left eyebrow. Apply pressure and hold for five seconds and then make a circular motion, landing your palm a little bit higher above your brow (just like before). You'll repeat these motions — holding and lifting your palm — until you reach your hairline above your eyebrow. Once you're done with your left eyebrow, you'll repeat the steps on your right side.
These motions help release the tension in your eyebrows and forehead, where many of us hold a lot of stress.
Step 4: Release Temporal Muscles On The Side Of Your Head
Place your hand on the left side of your forehead and repeat the previous steps — holding and lifting your palm for five seconds, and then creating a circular motion — moving up until you've reached your hairline on the side of your head. Once you've done your left side, repeat on your right side.
After this step, you might notice that your eyes will look higher and more awake.
Step 5: Release The Pressure In Your Cheek
Setoguchi says that the puffiest part of our faces (due to factors such as stress and sodium) are our cheeks. To reduce swelling, she focuses on the pressure point under your cheek. To find this pressure point, locate the highest point of your cheek.
Once you find it, place your palm underneath the pressure point and apply pressure and lift and hold for five seconds. You'll repeat this lifting motion all the way up your cheekbone, holding for five seconds each time. Once you're done with one side, repeat on your other cheek.
Your cheekbone begins to sag when you're tired, so applying pressure with your palm underneath your cheek's pressure point literally lifts your cheekbone muscles higher. If you grind your teeth, your cheek muscle can become stiff and tense — this motion can help release and relax the muscle.
Step 6: Drain Your Lymph Nodes
Using the sides of your thumbs, brush your cheeks starting from the side of your nose all the way to the sides of your face and then without pressure, bring your hands down your neck. This will help drain everything your facial massage has helped release.
While this facial massage might seem complicated, Setoguchi says that with practice, it should only take you one or two minutes at home. It's gentle enough to do every day, so try tacking it on to the end of your morning or evening skin care routine. And who knows, with time, you just might be mistaken for a Japanese actress — or at the very least, look and feel way more relaxed.