Ep 256 – Facial Massage for Happy, Healthy Skin with Abigail James

A woman lays supine while her massage therapist performs a facial massage.

Facial massage has a relaxing and rejuvenating effect, helping us look and feel better. In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Kristin and Darren speak with author, esthetician, and facial massage expert Abigail James about her go-to facial massage techniques, the benefits of cold-water therapy on the skin, incorporating Gua Sha into your practice, and her thoughts on massage therapists becoming estheticians.

Author Images: 
Darren Buford, editor-in-chief of Massage & Bodywork magazine.
Kristin Coverly, director of professional education at ABMP.
Author Bio: 

Abigail James is an award-winning skincare and well-being expert who has established herself world-wide as one of the most respected expert facialists within the health and beauty industry. She consults regularly with top lifestyle, skincare, and well-being brands.

For more information about Abigail, visit www.abigailjames.com.


Darren Buford is senior director of communications and editor-in-chief for ABMP. He is editor of Massage & Bodywork magazine and has worked for ABMP for 22 years, and been involved in journalism at the association, trade, and consumer levels for 24 years. He has served as board member and president of the Western Publishing Association, as well as board member for Association Media & Publishing. Contact him at editor@abmp.com.

Kristin Coverly, LMT, is a massage therapist, educator, and the director of professional education at ABMP. She loves creating continuing education courses, events, and resources to support massage therapists and bodyworkers as they enhance their lives and practices. Contact her at ce@abmp.com.



Anatomy Trains:www.anatomytrains.com


Fascia Research Society: www.fasciaresearchsociety.org


Elements Massage: http://www.elementsmassage.com/abmp


Anatomy Trains is a global leader in online anatomy education and also provides in-classroom certification programs for structural integration in the US, Canada, Australia, Europe, Japan, and China, as well as fresh-tissue cadaver dissection labs and weekend courses. The work of Anatomy Trains originated with founder Tom Myers, who mapped the human body into 13 myofascial meridians in his original book, currently in its fourth edition and translated into 12 languages. The principles of Anatomy Trains are used by osteopaths, physical therapists, bodyworkers, massage therapists, personal trainers, yoga, Pilates, Gyrotonics, and other body-minded manual therapists and movement professionals. Anatomy Trains inspires these practitioners to work with holistic anatomy in treating system-wide patterns to provide improved client outcomes in terms of structure and function.    

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Fascia Research Society (FRS) was established as a membership organization to facilitate, encourage, and support the dialogue and collaboration between clinicians, researchers, and academicians, in order to further our understanding of the properties and functions of fascia.

Every three years, FRS hosts the International Fascia Research Congress (IFRC). Beginning in 2007 with the first IFRC, and triennially since, the IFRC has been the premier fascia congress in the world. No other fascia congress brings together the very latest in fascial discovery and the diversity of the leaders in fascia. Registration closes August 31, 2022 – don’t miss out!

For more information on FRS, or to register for the 2022 IFRC please visit us at www.fasciaresearchsociety.org

Questions about either FRS or IFRC? Email us at info@fasciareserchsociety.org

Full Transcript: 

0:00:00.2 Kristin Coverly: Fascia Research Congress invites ABMP Podcast listeners to attend the Sixth International Fascia Research Congress, September 10th through 14th, 2022 in Montreal. The event includes eight key note speakers, over 60 parallel session talks and posters, seven full and eight half-day workshops, and a two-day Fascia-focused dissection workshop. The line-up of keynote speakers and workshops is already available on the Fascia Research Society website, and the full congress schedule will be out June 3rd. Register for the Sixth International Fascia Research Congress today at fasciaresearchsociety.org.

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0:01:50.6 Darren Buford: Hi. I'm Darren Buford.

0:01:51.9 KC: And I'm Kristin Coverly.

0:01:53.0 DB: And welcome to the ABMP Podcast, a podcast where we speak with the massage and bodywork profession. Our guest today is Abigail James. Abigail is an award-winning skin care and well-being expert who has established herself worldwide as one of the most respected expert, facialist, and voices within the health and beauty industry. She consults regularly with top lifestyle, skin care, and well-being brands. For more information about Abigail, visit abigailjames.com. Hello Abigail, and hello Kristin.

0:02:22.6 Abigail James: Hi. It's a pleasure to be here.

0:02:24.1 KC: Welcome, Abigail. We're so excited to talk with you today about skin care self-care for ourselves and tips to enhance our work with our massage and body work clients. Your book, The Glow Plan: Face Massage for Happy, Healthy Skin in 4 Weeks, contains great information on internal and external factors that impact our skins overall health and vitality, like nutrition, sleep, the products that we're using. It also includes a four-week daily facial massage routine, so we have so much to talk to you about today. Let's jump in and get started. First of all, can you share with us what are the most important components of improving and maintaining our skin health?

0:03:05.5 AJ: That's a great first question, by the way, 'cause skin health is multifaceted, and I think the first thing people immediately think of is probably their skin care products, and that is only part of the journey. Another key thing is what we're eating. It's the lifestyle factor. We are what we eat, and it is building the cells from within us that are supporting the skin. So we've got our products and then we've got our nutrition, but then we've got other lifestyle factors such as stress, work, those external factors that do make a huge impact on how our brain works, how our hormones are set up, and all of those things impact on the skin. We've then got other things that we can impact in a positive way, like the physical touch, as in the massage, and then that next stage on from that might be some technology and bits of things that we can be doing to the skin maybe even a facial or some gadgets at home. So there are a number of things that impact on our skin and the aging process, but then all of those things we can actually do things about to support it.

0:04:23.5 DB: So, Abigail, what is one of those things that listeners can do or stop doing to improve their own skin health?

0:04:31.2 AJ: Okay, so I'm gonna start with the internals, as in the nutritional side of things, 'cause in my clinic and over my practice, and I've been doing this for over 20 years now, often people will, whether they find me on social media or come for a treatment or a consultation, there might be a skin issue or a skin concern. It doesn't have to be full-blown acne or eczema, it could just be inflammation, but there are a lot of those other skin issues as well. And my first thing in my consultation or chatting to someone is, "Alright, let's delve into the nutrition. Give me a rough day of food. What are you eating?" Because nine times out of 10, there might be some key triggers amongst that, and even if someone thinks they have a healthy diet, I think our modern diets are not necessarily as healthy as we would want them to be. So that's usually my first starting point. Well, what's going on internally and how can we best support that? So it might be some dietary tweaks or changes. I don't like elimination. I think maybe there are some foods that actually, you know what, we might need to put those to one side for a bit.

0:05:54.9 AJ: However, if we're gonna do that, we need to replace. I think balance in our diet is important, and anything in excess, you can be into your yoga and if you doing excessively, that's not good for us. So that's kind of some simple things, looking at the diet. I often will get someone to keep a diet diary for at least three days. I think that's a good thing, because, even though we might be thinking, "Yeah, yeah, I'm healthy. I only have that one coffee," but actually, maybe when you physically write down everything that passes your lips during the day, you go, "Oh, actually I'm... "

0:06:34.3 AJ: There's a lot more of that, or maybe there's more tea or gosh, I grabbed three biscuits in the afternoon or maybe if I analyze it, well, it was cereal for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch and pasta for dinner, so you go, hold on a minute is quite wheat heavy, and sometimes we need that personal recognition, 'cause someone can say, yeah, I think your diet might be heavy in this, but taking ownership of our own diet and health is so important. So that is one of the first steps that I think is key to skin health and aging well.

0:07:14.5 KC: What's your go-to facial massage technique that you recommend practitioners incorporate into every client session?

0:07:22.1 AJ: I think if you... 'cause I know obviously hands-on therapists, some have more of a focused on body work, whereas others might actually have some skill or knowledge in skin and face, and I know there's quite a variety in that learning and skill set that an individual therapist might have, so I think... Disregarding where you're coming from. I would always cleanse the skin first, be that with a gentle cream cleanser or wash or something and use some type of plant-based oil on the skin, so no mineral oils, so no baby oils or anything like that, a plant-based... It could even be olive oil, something released a base oil.

0:08:10.5 AJ: I wouldn't use too much, 'cause actually, when we're working on the muscles of the face, we don't wanna be slipping past the muscles too much, we actually wanna be able to lightly grab hold of some muscle to be able to have that impact from a simple massage move that most, if not all therapists will be able to do would be using firm finger pressures and focusing on circular movements, and instead of gliding over the skin too much, actually getting into the muscle and moving in a deeper way rather than just gliding on the surface, I find a lot of people have that tension in jaw, cheeks so you can get really stuck into that area of the face, but you can replicate those kind of moves maybe in a smaller way, small circular moves deep in the forehead under the cheek bones, under the jaw as well.

0:09:16.2 AJ: So those are really simple moves. Another nice way to get in deeper into the TMJ area is to get the knuckles involved, but again, stationary pressure into but moving within the tissue rather than just gliding across. Face Massage should never hurt. I think that's a key thing to bear in mind, some of it can feel that pleasure pain kind of feeling, but it should never, your client shouldn't be pulling away from you, thinking, Oh wow, that's a bit feisty, it's also getting that pressure right. But you can work deeper on the face, than some practitioners might think.

0:10:05.0 DB: Kristen, do you incorporate facial massage in your practice or have you with your clients over the years?

0:10:09.9 KC: Absolutely, I think unless the client says that they don't want it, for some reason, I think most practitioners do, although they probably, if they're like me, have the same handful of moves that we've had since massage school, so I think we kind of have our little routine that we do, it's a small part of the big full body session, but I think that it's great for us to learn new techniques, try something different, incorporate something new, because as... Just as Abigail was saying, the masseter area, TMJ area, hold so much tension around the jaw around the side, and it feels... So number one, working on the actual musculature, but number two, it feels so good, it's relaxing, and so I think it's a great area that we could always be learning some new techniques to do something different, and it's interesting too talking about product, because I think most of us are using our massage lotion, we have a little bit left in our hands, we just use that, so it's good for us to hear about, okay, do we take a moment to cleanse the skin and use a different product on the face, than we use on the body, that's really good information.

0:11:12.4 AJ: I also think it very much depends on the face in front of you, 'cause if you can see that actually, maybe someone's breaking out, they've got a bit of acne. Do you know what I wouldn't be doing any of the gliding moves on them, I'd probably go a little bit more stationary acupressure moves, we do you still stimulating blood flow and easing tension and they're getting a therapeutic benefit from it, but you don't wanna be massaging over break-outs, and also with skin conditions like rosacea and maybe even an eczema. You just need to be a little bit careful, especially if like you've just said, I don't know, maybe you've been using an aromatherapy oil on the body, and you're kind of naturally thinking this is great to take on to the face, if they've got a bit of skin sensitivity, you have to be so careful with the type of aromatherapy that you then might apply to a sensitized facial skin.

0:12:13.8 KC: And question, Abigail, if we're taking the technique that you talked about, that's really just some gentle circular movement, circular friction. Could we do that without product or do you recommend always having a little bit of product?

0:12:21.5 KC: So, great question. Generally, I do like having some product on the skin, I think we might be causing a little bit too much friction, unless it's what I call a stationary circle. Yeah, the only time that I would really actually do a face massage without an oil is if I'm doing a lymphatic... I trained with the Bowditch School of lymphatic drainage. And actually, you don't want oil or you're gonna be slipping past that lymph and it's not gonna be as effective, so that's the only time really on the face that I wouldn't be using some kind of slip.

0:13:09.5 DB: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors.


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0:14:24.1 DB: Now, let's get back to the podcast. Abigail, one of the tools and techniques you incorporate into your daily massage routine is dry brushing. Many massage therapists have been introduced to dry brushing at some point during their training, but may not do it regularly themselves and incorporate it into their client sessions. Can you tell us about the benefits of dry brushing and how you suggest people incorporate it in their daily routine?

0:14:45.4 AJ: Yeah, sure. So, dry brushing is one of those actually within the spa industry that you might have come across. And it's one of those, I'll probably say, slightly ancient methods of treating the body that you can add on to any massage, do it personally or do it with clients. Dry brushing is something that I would do on the body, not necessarily on the face. And there's a variety of different brushes. Some of them are cactus bristle, which they are quite feisty. But then others are a little bit softer. And I think with dry brushing, the ideal is to be working, if we think of feet upwards. So, working towards the heart, or maybe you're working in that lymphatic way, maybe that's the focus of your treatment. If it was incorporated into a treatment, I would probably dry brush first, because it's exfoliating the skin, it's stimulating blood flow, it's supporting that lymphatic system, then I would be getting your oil or other product and then massaging after dry body brushing. As I said, it's great for circulation, lymph flow. You can get really stuck into thighs, buttocks, it's not gonna get rid of cellulitis, but it's a great support with those types of treatments.

0:16:24.4 AJ: And then personally, there are so many benefits to it. If you've got a dry body brush in your bathroom, start at your feet, work up the legs, up to the body, up the arms, from hands to armpits. If you can get your arms around your back and behind your torso that's great, it's good. We know that the lymphatic system is so important to health, and it's one of those key things that we can do to ourselves, that is a big support on that side of things. And I love incorporating it in the morning, if I have time to do a dry body brush, cold shower, then if I'm gonna put some oil or moisturizer on or something like that, that's a nice sweet spot to be starting your day.

0:17:12.9 KC: I love it. You mentioned cold shower, another thing you talked about the book is using cold water showers or splash on the face. Can you tell us a little bit more about the benefits of that?

0:17:22.0 AJ: Yeah, so interestingly, my father, he's this eccentric character and he has been cold bathing as was his father. He recalls, his father, he used to work in the fishmonger industry, and he recalls his father getting up at like three or four in the morning to go to the fish markets and kind of almost screaming in the shower as he was having his cold showers. And my father took that into his life, not the screaming, the cold baths and the showers.


0:17:53.7 AJ: And he's even gone to the lengths of... He's got this old cattle trough that he's enamelled and he's filled, it outside and he's even... Wooden plank, so it looks like a swanky spa type thing, and he's made a lid for it. And he's got a beer cooler, he's actually got two beer coolers on it, and a filtration system.

0:18:18.8 KC: Wow.

0:18:18.9 AJ: So he... Yeah, I know... This is the tip of the iceberg when we're talking about my father.


0:18:24.5 AJ: And he cold baths. He maintains it at a certain temperature, and he has cold baths daily for years. And he is as fit as anything. So, obviously I've got that crazy inputs into my life, but I also have the spa input with my training and my learning over the past 20-25 years. So, I know the benefits of cold bathing, cold showering, and I think at the moment it's... I don't know what it's like over there, but in the UK, it's really having its moment. The cold therapy is so beneficial for so many things, which is great because it's so easily accessible to people. And we can incorporate that in many different ways. In my clinic, I actually have a cryotherapy machine where I can actually get the skin temperature down to between 0 and 4 degrees. So we're actually simulating cell death to stimulate that cell renewal, which is fascinating. And I know this particular device is actually used by physiotherapists for injuries, sports injuries, and I'm using it for skin rejuvenation, which...

0:19:35.8 AJ: Yeah, it's great. But even from an at home point of view on, let's say, the most simplest of forms. It's cold water in your bath or in your sink. If you want to make it cold, you throw some ice cubes in it. And it's... Whether it's holding it on the skin or splashing that on the skin or getting submerged in it, it's kind of that pleasure/pain feeling. But the euphoria that you feel afterwards, if you manage to get fully in... You feel like, when you're doing it, it's like, why am I doing this to myself, oh my god, this is hurting. I literally can't. I've got brain freeze in my fingers. But the blood flow and the lymph flow and everything that you get after that is just incredible, and I don't think there's many health concerns that wouldn't benefit from it, and it has that anti-inflammatory effect. It is also... There's studies on how it's being used to benefit people with depressive conditions and how it can boost the mood, so it's multifaceted in what it can do.

0:20:38.8 KC: Abigail, another tool you recommend using is the Gua Sha, which is like mysterious if you've never used it or had that type of application. So let's talk about it. Tell us more about the tool, its benefits and how you recommend using it.

0:20:52.8 AJ: Okay. So, Gua Sha, I never know how to pronounce it properly. No, and I'm often pulled up on it, on my YouTube channel. People go, "It's not pronounced like that."


0:21:05.8 AJ: It's a great tool. It is from Chinese medicine, and they come in lots of different beautiful shapes. But it's a flat, usually stone, it might be Rose Quartz or Jade or Onyx or something like that. But it's smooth, it's got beautiful edges to it. But fundamentally, you can use that to... Glide isn't deep enough a word, and scrape is too deep, it's something in between. Okay. But you can use it for drainage, to be able to get deep into the muscle. They do use them on the bodies, really that is a scraping. And when they are using it on bodies to actually scrape and bring that blood up to the surface, so it does leave those lines on you and it has the detoxification impact. Obviously on the face, we are not using it at any depth like that, bruising is not an outcome that we want from it, so it's not a scraping.

0:22:10.0 AJ: But we can use it to get in deeper, you can use one of the kind of curved edges on it for maybe some acupressure work. So gliding out. And the way I like to describe, if you kind of slightly concerned with what movement or direction to be going in, I really like working, again, with that lymphatic flow that we'd be considering. So from... If we imagine the mid-point of the face, that nose... As if we would lay on our back and we were pouring water on our face, it would go nose down the cheeks and out to the ears, and that's quite a nice direction to be thinking of. It is great for if you wake up in the morning and you're looking a little bit puffy and a bit sleepy and you need to rebuild your face in a day.


0:23:00.3 AJ: It's great to use in that morning message. Scooping under the cheek bones, around the eyes, to really work on that drainage and not forgetting to then be going down the neck, continue the drainage down.

0:23:14.3 KC: Oh, I love it. And listeners, I did Google the pronunciation. So hopefully we got it right, fingers crossed. [laughter] And then along those same lines, Abigail, Jade Rollers, which I think more people know about, and may even have in their own home. Those are the same effect. Rolling on the skin to increase the drainage, decrease puffiness.

0:23:31.0 AJ: So they are, however, I find you can't get in half as deeply as you can with the Gua Sha. So if it was one or the other, I would totally go Gua Sha, you just got so much more flexibility with it. I do kind of feel that maybe the Jade Rollers is good for a little bit of drainage, and maybe if you keep one in the fridge and you wanna go around the eyes, that type of thing. It's that, but it's a little bit more on the fluffy side than, let's get a little bit stuck in and do something here.

0:24:03.8 DB: Abigail, what thoughts do you have for our massage therapy listeners, thinking about becoming an esthetician and adding skin care as an additional modality?

0:24:11.0 AJ: That's a great question, and I actually I get quite a few therapists asked me on social media. So I spent many years as a massage therapist, as in a body worker, but I had done my beauty therapy training first. So I'd done the facial electrics and the skin and the skin conditions, and that's quite involved to learn that side of things. But I suppose my career went that way, and then into the body work. And you know, sports injury massage, [0:24:44.5] ____ and all of those kind of things, which for me has definitely shaped how I address the muscles on the face. So for a massage therapist who... That's their core training. There's a few different angles I'd be thinking of that if they were serious about getting into skin, I'd actually be recommending some kind of beauty therapy addition because the skin is such a complex organ.

0:25:12.5 AJ: And the chances are, you're then gonna be getting someone through the door that has a skin condition that you're feeling a little bit ill-prepared to be able to really support them with. But if you're actually thinking, "I want to learn face massage," that's where possibly I might be able to step in later this year. There are other practitioners that teach face massage methods, but actually later this year... For safety's sake, I'm gonna say early next year, 'cause it's quite a big project. I am gonna be training therapists in my massage methods. And whether, then... Say you're a sports massage therapist or your thing is Swedish or aromatherapy, there's going to be massage skills that will give you the confidence to, when you have someone on the bed, to think, "Actually, I'm feeling confident to sway into working on this person's face." And as long as they haven't got any skin concerns you're gonna be pretty safe.

0:26:15.1 AJ: But if skin, like I said, is something that is really of interest to you and you're thinking, "Actually, now I really wanna get down in that." Yes, absolutely, some kind of face massage course to give you that hands-on confidence. Because I also see a lot of dermatologists and estheticians, and let's say, people doing injectables. They don't know how to cleanse the face, they don't know how to touch the face, they don't know how to message the face. So this is actually where a specific face massage, learning those methods, actually touches quite a few people that would really benefit from that to be able to then further benefit and support their clients.

0:26:57.1 KC: I love it, yes. And we're very excited to see on your website that you have those courses coming in the future, so we'll look forward to checking those out when they're available. And Abigail, you've shared such great information with us today. I'm curious, what final thought would you like to share with our listeners as we end our podcast today?

0:27:14.6 AJ: I think whether it's body, face, feet, hands, whatever type of therapy you're in, it's such a gift and a privileged position that we find ourselves in. That people, they might meet you for the first time, and whether they are allowing themselves to strip off in front of you and trusting you. For me, I specialize in face. Nowhere in life do you go up to a total stranger, or even someone who you've met a few times, and touch their faces. It's a very personal thing, and I feel very privileged that I'm trusted with that. And I suppose it's, as a therapist, not taking that trust and relationships for granted. It's a real gift to be able to do that and make people feel happy and confident and, yeah, it's also... I think it's important to take that time to go, "Yeah, this is... I'm helping someone physically, but I'm also helping someone emotionally."

0:28:20.8 DB: I wanna thank our guest today, Abigail James. For more information about Abigail and the good work she's doing, visit abigailjames.com. Thanks, Abigail. Thanks, Kristin.

0:28:29.9 AJ: Thank you.

0:28:31.8 KC: Abigail, thank you so much for sharing all this great information we can take and incorporate not only into our work with our clients, but also into our own daily routines and self-care for our own skin. We really appreciate you.


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