One would think a study covered by the New York Times would be both scientifically valid and important. Apparently, that is not always the case.
Under the headline “Facial Exercises May Make You Look 3 Years Younger” is a story about a research letter published in JAMA Dermatology. The Times article concludes with a quote from the lead author, “But for now, it is reasonable to consider contorting and pinching up your face if you wish to try to look younger.”
Is it reasonable? Let’s see if this 1½ page research letter proved its point.
Northwestern University investigators recruited 27 women with an average age of 53.7 years and an interest in doing facial exercises. They were taught 32 facial exercises in two sessions totaling 3 hours of live instruction by a certified facial exercise instructor. [Certified facial exercise instructor? I had no idea there was such a thing. I wonder if maintenance of certification is required.]
The participants were supposed to perform the exercises every day for 30 minutes during the first eight weeks and at least 3 or 4 times each week over the next 12 weeks. There was no mention of how compliant the women were with the protocol. Eleven dropped out before completing the study.
Of the 16 women who finished the 20 weeks, a significant improvement in upper cheek fullness and lower cheek fullness was seen, but no difference was noted in 17 other parameters. In addition, two blinded dermatologists estimated the women’s appearance to have decreased in age from 50.8 to 48.1 years, a statistically significant change.
Maybe two dermatologists, who were co-authors of the study and must have been aware of its premise, can reliably estimate ages of 16 research subjects, but is a less than 3-year decrease really that important to the way one looks?
As pointed out in the paper itself, there were many limitations such as the number of dropouts, the small sample size, and although it was billed as a pilot study, the lack of a control group.
An analysis of 19 different parameters should include a Bonferroni correction to compensate for the number of possible false positive findings.
For example, using a p value of < 0.05 as significant means that if an experiment was performed 100 times, the results would be falsely positive at least 5% of the time. The Bonferroni correction accounts for that level of false positivity when comparing several different parameters by reducing the acceptable p value of each one to a number much smaller than 0.05.
Bottom Line: Don’t contort or pinch up your face.