This gap is about to be filled. Eva Fraser, doyenne of facial exercises, is opening a Facial Workout Studio next week in the exclusive surrounds of Kensington. As well as offering classes, the salon will be a training school for new teachers, not only in Britain but worldwide. "There will be people coming from all over the country and abroad - we want to make the whole field larger," explains Eva Fraser.
So how do you work out your face? And why should you bother, anyway? "The method doesn't stop ageing, but it certainly delays it. It also lifts one's spirits and makes one more confident," claims Ms Fraser. So making a few faces and screwing up your nose will keep the years at bay? It seems the answer may be yes. Meeting Eva Fraser and her colleague, Marion Pearce, is quite uncanny. Eva calmly admits that she will be 70 in three years; Marion (pictured above in demonstration mode) is 56. Both have smooth, taut skin and could pass for a couple of decades younger.
Eva is used to scepticism. "Some clients ask me to come into the light so they can check for scars, and they look at my eyelids and chin for stitchmarks. They can see that I've never had a face lift, but I can understand them asking, because some film stars say they haven't had surgery when they have."
The exercises they teach were developed in the 1930s by a dancer, Eva Hoffman, with her doctor partner. Eva Fraser, then aged 50, met her at a party. "She had retired by then - she retired at 70 - and she said she wouldn't teach me. I was desperate. At 50 the face does start looking droopy. She finally agreed to give me one lesson, and said I'd make a good teacher and offered to train me, so we worked together for a year."
Eva Fraser then worked for two years, but had to give up in exhaustion. Five years ago she started up again. As well as classes from her home in south-west London, she produced a book, Eva Fraser's Facial Workout (Penguin, pounds 4.99), plus a sequel, a video ("you can get it from WH Smith and it's constantly in stock at Harrods") and there is another video in the pipeline. Books and videos, though, are apparently no substitute for a one-to-one class. "The first lesson is one-and-a-half hours, the next three are an hour each, and at the end of that you can do it at home for ever," Ms Fraser explains. A snip at pounds 352 including VAT, especially if it means no snipping of the plastic surgery kind. But surely this is very unsound from a repeat business point of view? Apparently addicted clients and lapsees do keep coming back for more. The main problem is stopping people getting hopelessly hooked.
"You only need to do five minutes every other day," sighs Ms Fraser. "People do too much - the whole routine every day. One woman told me her husband never sees her because she's always upstairs making faces at her mirror. It's better not to overdo it."
So how does it work? "The muscles in your face just sit there," explains Ms Fraser. "If you don't exercise them they just get longer and longer, until eventually your cheeks drop into your jawline and neck. You need to exercise the muscles in your face just like you would exercise your stomach in the gymnasium."
Starting from the age of 20 should do the trick, she says. "People come to me and say, 'Am I too young?' - but you don't wait until you're 30 or 40 to start playing tennis, and you don't wait until your face is gone to do something about it. No one should look old at 60, 60 is a young age. Seventy is young. Maybe at 80 you should say, 'Yes, I'm getting on a bit'."
Sitting in front of the mirror, Marion gets out a fearsome chart showing all the muscles in the face. "This is what we'd all look like with our skin off," she explains, cheerfully pointing out the muscles that keep your cheeks in place and maintain a taut jawline and chin.
The exercises themselves consist of tiny movements of the eyebrows, lip corners and the jaw; it is impossible to do them without looking very strange indeed.
"Cover half your mouth with your hand and do a half smile - pull the corner of your mouth up towards the eye," exhorts Marion. This is to be accomplished in six movements; then back again in six more. Practice is important. Classes have to be one-to-one, or the students tend to collapse in helpless giggles. It's hard to stand on dignity when trying to smile slowly with your lower jaw and lip hooked over your top one.
"It's a tremendously fun business," says Ms Fraser. "We haven't had one difficult person. Even when people are terribly grand, after 20 minutes of pulling faces, the facade goes and they all become nice and normal. It does break down the barriers." Men are also welcome. Eva and Marion's clients include an Army officer and a male model. "A lot of women constantly say, 'Aren't men lucky, they don't need this kind of thing', but it's a complete fantasy about men not ageing so quickly."
Heredity plays a large part in determining how individuals age, says Dr David Fenton of the St John's Institute of Dermatology at St Thomas's Hospital. "Much is down to luck. But from what I've seen of Eva Fraser's work, there is no doubt it appears to have some effect. I've had patients who have been to her, and there is no doubt that there is a visible change. There is no scientific evidence, but you can see a difference."
He points out that his patients who have tried facial exercises are likely to have benefited from a whole cocktail of different skin improvers. "They are that kind of rather elegant women - so it's impossible to assess the effects in isolation. It's also a matter of degree. If you were extensively wrinkled, exercises would not be nearly so effective. But when you exercise in the gym and improve the muscles of your waist and thighs, you see the results in inches, so why shouldn't it be the same for the face and neck?"
The main side effect of the treatment seems to be a certain smugness, particularly at the expense of others. "Clients say 'Oh, now I can't help looking at other faces'," says Eva. "They say things like 'Now I look at my sister-in-law, who I used to think looked so wonderful, and I think, Oh dear'."
o The Eva Fraser Workout Studio: enquiries, telephone 0171-937 6616/9992, or fax 0171 937 9992
no knife required
Here are some alternative ways to wage war on wrinkles without resorting to the scalpel:
"Bot-tox" (botulinum toxin): therapy is based on the theory that muscle contractions cause wrinkled and lined skin. Dysport, a commercially-produced form of botulism toxin, is injected into the skin to temporarily paralyse the muscles.
Frequency: every six months.
Average cost per session: pounds 250.
Side effects: droopy eye (which can be treated); repeated injections may cause long-term muscle damage.
Harley Medical Group, 6 Harley Street, London W1N 1AA, 0171-631 5494
CACI (computer-aided cosmetology instrument): an electric mini-current is sent through the muscle to tighten and shorten it, and so "rejuvenate" it.
Frequency: 10-20 sessions recommended, with a further four to six booster treatments every year.
Average cost per session: pounds 35
CACI International, 11 Heath Street, NW3 6TP 0171 431 1033
Chemical peels: stimulates the body's own collagen production by removing the top layer of skin, making it smoother.
Frequency: twice a year
Average cost per session: pounds 75
Surgical Advisory Service, 36 Harmont House, 20 Harley Street W1N 1AN, 0171 637 3110
Collagen implants: pre-packed collagen (usually a by-product of the butcher's floor) is injected with needle and syringe into the dermis and fills in lines instantly.
Frequency: twice a year, although researchers are hoping to produce a longer-lasting version.
Average cost per session: pounds 300
Surgical Advisory Service (as above)
Fat transfer: fat is taken from one area of the body - usually the abdomen - with a large syringe and reinjected into wrinkle (or lip). Two thirds of it is metabolised, so, for a permanent effect the surgeon must harvest three times as much as is needed.
Average cost: pounds 900-pounds 1,100
Most cosmetic surgeons perform this treatment
Laser skin treatment: area to be treated is anaesthetised and a CO2 laser with a very precise "silk touch" fitting vaporises top layers of skin without damaging the underlying dermis. Collagen and elastogen reform, reproducing the structure which naturally underpins young skin.
Side effects: temporary puffiness, soft scabs and reddened skin Average cost: from pounds 700-pounds 1,200; pounds 2,500 for total facial resurfacing.
Harley Medical Group (as above)
Sclerotherapy: used on broken facial veins. An irritant glycerine-based solution is injected into the blood vessel. The inflammation causes the walls of the vessel to collapse; blood can no longer circulate, vein loses its redness.
Average cost per session: pounds 160.
Frequency: 2-3 sessions per vessel.
Side effects: temporary red marks which vanish after a few days. If it is badly carried out, sclerotherapy can scar.
Harley Medical Group (as above)
Cost: current special offer - pounds 19.95 for three (usually pounds 29.95).
Designerlift: PO Box 34, Torquay TQ2 7YN, 01803 616779
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