by Wolfgang Luckmann, A.P., L.M.T

Oriental Facial Massage: Mixing Ancient Tradition with Cutting Edge Application, MASSAGE MagazineSo you think you should learn how to do a proper head and face massage without first becoming a skin esthetician? Your clients have been bugging you about how good it feels, but in your old-school curriculum it was just glossed over. You have looked at the Western massage approach to the head, face, neck and shoulders, but you don’t think the Swedish approach quite hits the mark. On top of that, you are ambitious to practice massage as an art form without abandoning its scientific basis. Why not turn to the East?

In China and Japan , facial massage with oils is deeply embedded in the traditional ancient healing arts of tuina (Chinese medical massage), shiatsu (finger-pressure massage) and Ko Bi Do (ancient Japanese facial massage for beauty and health).

Modern Western culture places enormous emphasis on facial beauty. So much so, it has become an obsession. It is estimated women spend, on average, 300 hours in front of a cosmetic mirror. Oriental facial massage goes beyond the superficial facial beauty we see in the mirror and promotes constitutional health and longevity. It’s as if the aesthetic and physiological aspects of massage have combined to produce true inner beauty. Most Western facial massage techniques work on the surface, only achieving relaxation and refreshment of the tissues. In Oriental facial massage—and specifically Japanese facial massage—you have extensive and deep therapeutic quality.

Oriental facial massage is a thorough combination of Chinese medical concepts, such as Yin-Yang Theory, Five Elements Theory and specialized facial manipulation techniques. The treatment of the head and face is still a branch of traditional Chinese medicine and Japanese medicine based on a combination of diagnostic principles and ancient bodywork techniques like Anma (Japanese massage with roots in India, Tibet and China), acupuncture and tuina.

In China and Japan, the treatment of the face and head is usually seen as part of a full–body treatment that involves acupuncture, as well as Japanese or Chinese bodywork. This is based on the concept that in treating the individual, the body and mind have to be balanced. Furthermore, the belief in a body, mind, emotions and spirit connection is strongly supported in Japanese and Chinese bodywork.

In Western medicine, only the signs and symptoms are treated; however, in Oriental medicine, the whole mind, body and spirit are balanced so as to treat a single ailment effectively. All of the different physiological systems together with psychological and spiritual health are viewed as interdependent factors. This interconnection is based on the unimpaired and balanced flow of qi ,or universal energy. Qi is acquired through what we inherit genetically from our parents: our breathing, eating, drinking and exercise. When the quality and quantity of our air and food becomes insufficient, our qi suffers and we become vulnerable to illness. For example, from an Oriental perspective, facial skin that is excessively oily or pale, or is afflicted by a pathology, is the result of not just one physiological factor, but a combination of the deficiency of qi generated by the mind, emotions, body and spirit .

In Western medicine, the ideal of health is a fixed, static one of perfect health. In Oriental medicine, the image of health is dynamic, where the individual always strives for balance between mind, body, emotions and spirit. Yet, this balance is always shifting because of an adaptation process to daily stress from social, work and physical environments. How is this reflected in the face and skin of an individual?

In Oriental medicine, a person might have a fine and even bone structure enhancing their looks, but true beauty in Oriental medicine comes from the inside. True beauty is based on good health. It is only when there is balance between all the different physiological systems, the mind, emotions and spirit that the skin begins to glow and vitality radiates from the eyes of the client.

You might ask how this is achieved if only the face and head are treated. Earlier, I mentioned qi, the universal energy that interconnects mind, body and spirit. This energy is transported via a system of pathways, or channels, all throughout the body. Depending on whether you adhere to the Japanese or Chinese system, there are either 100 meridians and their branches or 12 major meridians with their branches. All of these meridians affect the mind, body, spirit and emotions of the client. Health is achieved when the qi moves freely and plentifully in the meridian system, because according to ancient Chinese texts, qi is the “commander of blood.” This means blood and lymph need energy to move throughout the body. Congestion and blockage cause illness due to a deficiency of qi in vital physiological systems and excess in others.

Since most meridians either end or begin at the face and head, a massage therapist is able to influence the general state of qi flow throughout the body. Also, most Oriental facial massage starts with the shoulders and neck, slowly progressing upward. The purpose is to open up points and meridians that affect the head. The idea of just treating the head and face also has roots in a class of acupuncturists in China know as “ barefoot” doctors, who would only acupuncture these parts no matter what a person’s sickness was or where it was located. When there is pain at a particular acupressure point, it is an indication of some irregularity in the meridian or organ. However, everyone will have slightly different symptoms in these acupressure points and meridians because each client is unique. It takes skill to interpret these acupressure symptoms. The therapist can evaluate the tone of the muscles and fascia, the state of circulation and condition of organ systems by palpating individual acupressure points and meridians before launching into a full treatment. A good practitioner will only use maybe a dozen or less acupressure points to achieve powerful results.

It is only after assessment that the therapist will use a combination of light and deep manipulation techniques from the three disciplines of shiatsu, Anma and tuina. These can be classified as stroking, kneading, pressing and stretching. However, unlike Western face massage techniques, the tempo of these manipulations is fairly fast. The therapist has to concentrate so much that often a trance-like state is achieved for the client and therapist. Note, it must be emphasized that the treatment simultaneously works on mind, body, spirit and emotions. In fact, special attention is given to the balance of the mind and emotions first before addressing muscles, skin and circulation. Many ancient Chinese and Japanese medical texts prescribe treating the mind and emotions first. This also makes sense from a Western medical perspective, because if you balance the autonomic nervous system by stimulating the parasympathetic system, the client becomes relaxed first and not after the treatment. This is done with the selection of certain acupressure points.

How many times should a client receive an Oriental face treatment? Once or twice a week for a 40-minute session can be sufficient. One should not simply give a 10- or 15-minute treatment to the face and head as an afterthought after a full-body massage. Your client will only start to relax after 10 or 15 minutes, so the longer the session, the better. If the treatments are done frequently and consistently, it is more likely the client will have better skin circulation, lymphatic drainage and noticeable wrinkle reduction. You may educate clients as much as you like about the physiological benefits of an Oriental face massage, but by mentioning wrinkle reduction and anti-aging, you will also appeal to their vanity and get them hooked. The overall result to the client is as follows: the skin will glow with youthful freshness, the client will feel awake and alert and then experience the sensation of being pampered.

Finally, after having learned how to be a craftsman and artist at this modality, there is the question of the economic viability of an Oriental facial massage. First, there is no equipment needed. The only necessary supplies may include a few essential and carrier oils to supplement your treatment.

In the present economic climate, clients tend to be choosy with their dollars. However, the prospect of experiencing an Oriental facial massage is attractive in both a health-care and pampering perspective, making the client feel special and healthy at the same time. In addition, the therapist will feel comfortable with the knowledge that what he or she is doing to the client’s skin, head and face is rooted in an ancient traditional modality that has been proven over time.


1. Chinese Qi-Gong Massage. Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming. 1997. YMAA Publication Center , Massachusetts

2. The Handbook of Chinese Massage. Maria Mercati.1997. Gaia Books Limited, London.

3. The Complete Book of Shiatsu Therapy. Toru Namikoshi. 1981. Japan Publications Limited, Tokyo and New York.

After graduating from the Florida College of Natural Health in Miami, Florida, Wolfgang Luckmann, A.P., L.M.T., attended the College of Acupuncture and Massage and graduated with distinction. He has brought 20 years of teaching experience to his numerous holistic courses. His workshops are a blend of his experience as an acupuncture physician and massage therapist and are highly customized to fulfill the needs of the individual practitioner. Luckmann has been selected to give a “taster” workshop of Indian Head and Face Massage with Aromatherapy Oils at the annual Florida State Massage Therapy Association meeting in Orlando, Florida, this year. At present, he is teaching massage at the Florida Community College of Jacksonville and maintains an acupuncture/massage practice. For more information, visit