Do Facial Rollers Really Do Anything?

Facial rollers are everywhere right now. Whether they're made of jade or rose quartz or some other fashionably colored crystal, these devices are far more attractive than any cosmetic device deserves to be. Not only do they have appeal as an Instagram and YouTube product du jour, facial rollers also look like they belong in a museum—and in fact, that's where some of today's makers of the devices say they first saw them, resting in a display case. If you're contemplating adding one of these beauties to your daily skin care routine, here's what you need to know.

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It is impressive to hear that an object that legit qualifies as an ancient Chinese secret—seriously, check out this 18th century version at the Brooklyn Museum—is also available at Amazon for less than $10. New York facialist Ling Chan, one of the women credited with resurrecting the facial roller trend in the 21st century, writes that the Chinese believe jade draws out negative Qi. The other product claims include: reducing puffiness, helping the appearance of under-eye circles and eye bags, increasing blood circulation, smoothing wrinkles, and easing pain.

In the ancient history of beauty blogging—we're talking 2012—you can also find bloggers delivering rave reviews of the Ying Yu jade roller. Back then, when the high-end versions were selling for $40 and up, his product remained fairly obscure. But in the past year, the popularity of jade rollers has exploded, partly due to word-of-mouth and the clout of reviews in Vogue, and also due to a majorly reduced price tag.

Why is everyone swearing by these things? First, jade rollers just feel good. The jade stone is naturally cool, and the roller makes it easy to apply gentle pressure all over the face. It's also a pretty, visual reminder to stop and treat yourself to a mini massage. How often does anyone think to do that otherwise? After days or weeks of using it, nearly everyone reports that it decreases their puffiness in the morning, and there's a real reason for those results.

Lymphatic Drainage Massage

"The only benefit of the facial roller, in my opinion, is that you do have lymphatic drainage," says board-certified dermatologist Marie Jhin, author of Asian Beauty Secrets. "Sometimes, you wake up, and your face is a little swollen, and your eyes are a little full. The roller could help move some of that lymphatic fluid and remove some of the inflammation or swelling."

FYI, lymphatic drainage is something your body does naturally—otherwise you would be a very swollen mess on the daily. Lymph fluid is what carries white blood cells and other immune system molecules to areas of distress in the body, and that's where you may see swelling. When those cells have finished their work, the fluid drains away toward the lymph nodes, which filter out the bad stuff and then send the fluid back into the bloodstream.

There hasn't been much in the way of scientific study on the effects of facial massage, but researchers have looked at manual lymphatic drainage techniques on the rest of the body. It does look like massage or movement helps reduce the serum enzymes in the body associated with damage (or exercise) and reduce swelling. You have lymph nodes at the base of the nose, outside the mouth, along the jaw, behind the ears, under the chin, and in the back of the neck, so, theoretically, you'd want to direct the flow of fluid toward those spots.

On a typical day, would you really need to roll a treasured stone all over your face?

"If you really have nothing else to do," says Doris Day, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical associate professor at the New York University Langone Medical Centers. "When you're putting on your serums and other things, you're stimulating lymphatic drainage manually. Just by moving and making facial expressions, you're doing lymphatic drainage."

Photo: Herbivore Rose Quartz and Jade Facial Rollers

Anti-Aging Properties

The many bloggers singing the praises of facial rollers also say they feel like the device helps their lotions, serums, and masks penetrate the skin. At the very least, massage does increase blood circulation, so it's possible that massaging makes it easier for the skin to soak up any product. This experiment found that an anti-aging cream produced better results in reducing fine lines on women who used a vibrating massage device to apply it than those who just used their hands. By extension, that may also back up the theory that these facial rollers have anti-aging properties.

Just don't mistake jade facial rollers with the microneedle facial rollers, such as the Ora Roller. Dermatologists like Day provide microneedle procedures in the office to treat scarring and melasma (as the procedure has been clinically proven to help) by poking lots of tiny holes in the skin. Doctors are still not so sure about those at-home derma rollers, however, because it's difficult to maintain sanitary conditions while you're giving yourself wounds.

And speaking of sanitation, if you're using any kind of facial roller at home, you should clean it after each use—the last thing you want is to reintroduce dirt and bacteria to that glowing face of yours. 

What About Rose Quartz Facial Rollers?

If you believe jade can remove bad energy, then why not go with the claim that rose quartz promotes inner peace and love? You can buy facial rollers in a variety of other crystals too. Maybe it's because of the scientific community's inherent bias against traditional healing lore, but there is basically no research-based proof of the efficacy of crystals.

On the other hand, the placebo effect is a very powerful medicine, so if in your heart of hearts, you believe that paying the extra cash for a rose quartz facial roller will get you better results, it actually might. Stones like jade and quartz do remain quite cold—especially if you keep your roller in the fridge or freezer—and cold is something Jhin agrees helps with inflammation and redness.

Do you need to search high and low for the best facial roller out there? We have seen some online reviews complaining that the mechanical parts of the cheaper rollers don't hold up to repeated use, so that's certainly something to be wary of. At the same time, the experts don't think you need to be spending big on these tools.

"There are many different ways to stimulate your lymph nodes," says celebrity aesthetician Ildi Pekar. "Facial rollers, facial cupping, dry brushing, magnetic therapy, and even hand massage—I think all of them work well, whichever tool you choose to use. Most times it’s not about the tool, it's about your technique and how to properly open and drain using the lymphatic system."

In this case, it seems, you have the expert's permission to do whatever feels good for you. 

Sabrina Rojas Weiss lives in Brooklyn, surrounded by her fellow freelance writers and competitive stroller-pushers. Follow her on Twitter @shalapitcher.