A 45-minute facial massage reduced anxiety and alleviated negative mood in healthy adult women, according to recent research.

The study, “The facial massage reduced anxiety and negative mood status, and increased sympathetic nervous activity,” involved 32 healthy Japanese women, ranging in age from 20 to 40.

Each woman received the same type of facial massage in a private room. During each of these sessions, the face was first massaged using a cream-based lubricant. This was followed by a steam treatment, after which the face was massaged a second time using a lotion designed to moisturize the skin.

Outcome measures were evaluated immediately before and after each facial massage. These measures included electrocardiogram (ECG) recordings to evaluate intervals between heart beats, as well as parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous activity.

The Profile of Mood Status was used to determine the current mood state of each subject, and the State Trait Anxiety Inventory was used to measure participants’ anxiety levels.

Results of the research revealed that parasympathetic nervous activity increased during the massage, and sympathetic nervous activity increased after the facial massage.

Parasympathetic nervous activity is responsible for rest and recovery, resulting in a relaxed physical state. On the contrary, sympathetic nervous activity is in charge of the “fight or flight” response, resulting in a stimulated physical state.

The study also showed that both anxiety and negative mood decreased significantly after the hands-on intervention, based on the scores from the Profile of Mood Status and State Trait Anxiety Inventory.

Based on this data, the authors theorized facial massage may bring about not only relaxation benefits, but it also may have a stimulating effect, or refreshment.

“These results suggest that the facial massage had strong effects on stress alleviation, or psychological relaxation,” said the study’s authors. “The increased sympathetic nervous activity following the facial massage … might be a positive reaction to a stressor, which is classified as eustress. Such a mixed status of psychologically relaxed and physically-activated might well be regarded as refreshment rather than relaxation. In conclusion, the present study could demonstrate that facial massage reduces psychological distress and activates subjects physically.”

Authors: Tomoko Hatayama, Shingo Kitamura, Chihiro Tamura, Mayumi Nagano and Koichiro Ohnuki.

Source: User Science Institute, Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan. Originally published in Biomedical Research (2008) 29 (6): 317-320.