Rubbing vs. Pressing: Which Skincare Application Method Wins?

Your face hangs in the balance.

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This probably doesn't keep you up at night (nor me—contemplating my own mortality and the United States' defense strategy in the event of an alien invasion is much more my speed), but maybe it should: whether you ought to be working skincare products into your skin via small circles or warming and pressing it in à la the Clarins method. For it may seem like a non-issue now, but in 20, 30, 40 years, it'll be too late for shouldas and couldas. Just swell! Now that we've put the fear of advanced aging in you, read on for three different takes on the subject.

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The internet

Above, we have a video demonstration of the pressing argument, which promises less tugging, drainage, even product distribution, and, from this reporter's experience, conservation of serums that cost more per ounce than saffron. (Seriously—you'd be surprised how far a dollop the size of half a gummy vitamin goes when you're not smushing it around willy-nilly.)

In the other corner, we've got rubbing, which has the backing of tradition, as in "we don't know any other way because this is what my mother taught me after her mother taught her after a lady taught her at a Clinique counter back in the old country." Other than that, there is some evidence that, for short-term glowiness—say, right before you walk a runway—working skincare into the face does send blood to the face, therefore reviving your complexion instantly.

The dermatologist

"Your skin is an incredibly delicate organ, and the way you treat it can either induce damage or maintain it," says Dr. Rachel Nazarian at Schweiger Dermatology Group. "Vigorous rubbing cause an inflammatory response underneath, which not only aggravates conditions like rosacea and cystic acne, but may also cause premature aging of the skin. Repeated rubbing also pushes skin into folds, which over time leaves etched-in wrinkles and lines on the face, similar to ones caused by repeated facial expressions.

However, gentle pressure in a circular direction helps topical creams absorb and stimulates lymphatic circulation, clearing toxins faster. But not all areas of skin are created equal, and specific areas need to be treated with extra special care: Cheeks and forehead can be treated with gentle pressure in a circular motion, while super-delicate skin around the eyes should not be rubbed—that causes the skin to darken and swell, leading to under-eye shadows and bagging. Instead, products should be gently patted into this area.

Whether you rub or press products onto the skin there is really a negligible difference in the amount of absorption. The skin cells and pores are not large enough to 'press' products into with direct pressure."

The aesthetician

"We certainly know that gravity and facial expressions are two of the main causes of skin aging," says Renée Rouleau, top aesthetician and founder of the Renée Rouleau Skin Care collection. "You don't want to rub really firmly or aggressively, but a light pressure is always good to increase blood circulation, which is beneficial for the skin cells and will not be similar to tugging.

The goal with skincare products is always to get them to penetrate deeper within the skin, and I have seen data that applying a serum or moisturizer to damp skin can enhance absorption up to 10 percent. This is why I always suggest leaving using an alcohol-free toner before applying your serum or moisturizer to allow for that damp skin effect. [Editor's note: Ooooh.]

A circular rubbing motion when applying creams and serums, depending on how much pressure you apply to the skin, can help increase blood flow and lymphatic drainage for certain skin types (not skins prone to redness or those with rosacea). So which technique is better, rubbing or pressing? It truly depends on your skin type. If your skin is more tired and you're looking for a glow, rubbing may work better for you. If your skin is more sensitive and already has a lot of redness, your skin may work better with a patting technique.

However, eye creams work well with a patting motion, and, with sunscreen, I recommend rubbing, as I feel that you'll get a more even application to properly protect your skin from the harmful UV rays. Ultimately, it's a personal decision, and the choice is yours."

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