- Aging, sun exposure and smoking reduces collagen and elastin production within the body, causing loose, sagging, wrinkled skin.
- The best skin tightening creams are formulated with antioxidants and cell regulators to stimulate the production of collagen.
- Skin firming creams that offer SPF protection can limit skin damage caused by sun exposure.
- Quitting smoking, adopting a healthy diet and getting enough sleep can help prevent signs of aging.
Aging, excessive sun exposure and lifestyle choices negatively impact the rate at which your body produces collagen and elastin. The loss of these components causes smooth skin to wrinkle, loosen and sag, and fine lines to form.
Skin tightening cream can encourage the production of collagen and elastin fibers. The best skin tightening creams will not only tighten your skin, but improve its overall look and feel, helping you look—and feel—younger.
How Do Skin Tightening Creams Work?
Effective skin tightening creams work by increasing skin hydration.“In addition to moisturizing, skin tightening creams can increase collagen and elastin,” says Dr. Steven Goldman, MD, a plastic surgeon with experience in skin tightening procedures. “Some creams, like those with hyaluronic acid, can also help promote skin cell turnover.”
Although surgery penetrates deeper into the skin than skin tightening creams, creams are noninvasive, cost-effective and require no recovery time.
Ingredients to Look for in Skin Tightening Creams
Skin tightening creams include a number of anti-aging ingredients to help:
- Hydrate your skin
- Protect your skin from sun exposure
- Increase collagen and elastin production
These ingredients fall into one of two groups: antioxidants and cell regulators.
Antioxidants such as vitamins B3, C and E work to slow collagen from deteriorating and have a molecular weight small enough to penetrate the skin.
Cell regulators such as retinol, peptides and growth factors encourage the production of collagen.
Vitamin C is formulated into L-ascorbic acid to tighten skin and combat the effects of aging. In concentrations of 5–15%, ascorbic acid increases the production of collagen and helps prevent an enzyme called matrix metalloproteinase from degrading certain types of collagen.
Vitamin E, or alpha-tocopherol, is used in skin tightening cream to smooth the skin and help it retain moisture. It is also used to aid in wound healing and to protect against damage from the sun. Vitamin E is typically used in concentrations of 2–20%.
A combination of ascorbic acid and vitamin E provides a stronger antioxidative effect than each provides on its own.
Retinol, or vitamin A, is an antioxidant, a compound that defends your cells from being damaged by harmful molecules. When added to a skin tightening cream, retinol has been proven to stimulate collagen production in aged or damaged skin.
“Retinoids increase skin cell turnover,” says Dr. Goldman. “Of the ingredients available, retinoids have the most positive evidence to support their use for skin tightening.”
Topical retinol also encourages the production of glycosaminoglycan, a component of your skin’s connective tissue that retains water and enables your skin to become more plump.
In addition to treating aged skin, retinol can also improve the appearance of fine lines.
Tretinoin, a derivative of vitamin A, is an antioxidant that helps tighten the skin in much the same way as retinol. Tretinoin combats the signs of aging by increasing skin elasticity.
Many skin tightening creams use some form of peptide. Peptides are combinations of amino acids that encourage collagen growth and firm up skin.
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a molecule naturally present in your body that is responsible for retaining water, particularly in the epidermis, or outer layer of skin. Like collagen, the production of HA slows during aging, causing the skin to lose elasticity and become dry and wrinkled.
Creams with 0.1% concentrations of hyaluronic acid improve skin hydration and elasticity.
Salicylic and glycolic acid
Salicylic acid (beta hydroxy acid, or BHA) and glycolic acid (alpha hydroxy acid, or AHA) are used to exfoliate the skin, the process in which the outer layer of dead skin cells is removed. Exfoliation can make it easier for other creams to penetrate the skin and increases collagen production to tighten your skin.
Over-the-counter exfoliating products should have no more than 2% salicylic acid or 10% glycolic acid to avoid irritating your skin.
Ingredients to Avoid
The best skin tightening creams use some combination of the ingredients listed above to encourage skin firming and combat sagging skin. Other ingredients may have little to no impact, or may even cause irritation or other issues.
Forms of vitamin C other than L-ascorbic acid
L-ascorbic acid is the only biologically active and medically useful form of vitamin C. Other forms of vitamin C are ineffective at tightening skin because they cannot penetrate the skin while maintaining a sufficient concentration.
Salicylic acid for some skin types and people
Salicylic acid is best used by people with oily skin. Skin tightening creams with salicylic acid can cause skin irritation, allergic contact dermatitis or excessively dry skin for those with sensitive skin. Asthmatics are at the greatest risk of negatively reacting to salicylic acid.
Parabens are preservatives commonly found in skin care products. Parabens function by binding to estrogen receptors within the body. While short-term use of skin care products containing a form of paraben is not toxic, long-term use is linked to decreased sperm quality and breast cancer, but additional studies are needed before a definitive link can be established.
Skin tightening creams formulated with certain fragrances can cause allergic reactions and irritation when applied to the face, neck, axillae (armpits) or hands.
Are Skin Tightening Creams Effective?
Skin tightening creams can effectively address some signs of skin laxity, however these products have their limitations. “Some can have benefits like increasing collagen and reducing pigmentary abnormalities,” says Dr. Goldman, “but creams are better at smoothing by moisturizing than they are at truly tightening.”
Professional skin tightening procedures offer an alternative to creams with more dramatic and enduring results. Procedures such as radio frequency and laser skin tightening work by stimulating the natural collagen production process and shrinking collagen fibers to provide tighter skin.
While it’s true that skin tightening procedures provided by a dermatologist offer more effective and longer-lasting results, they also cost more than skin tightening creams or require time to recover.
The best skin tightening creams use ingredients that are proven to be effective based on rigorous clinical trials and studies. For example, topical ingredients such as retinol and vitamin C are particularly well-established anti-aging options. When used consistently, these time-tested ingredients have a clear effect on skin firmness, elasticity and overall appearance.
Although their results are not as dramatic as those of professional anti-aging treatments, topical creams are a simple, cost-effective and easy-to-use alternative to these procedures.
For best results, when purchasing a skin-tightening cream, look for a combination of some of the ingredients mentioned previously. It is also important to note the concentration of an ingredient in a given skin firming cream.
Ensure that ingredients are present in a concentration that is strong enough to be effective in treating and firming saggy skin.
If you feel the concentration of a given cream isn’t effective for treating your skin, speak to a dermatologist to discuss a stronger prescription-strength solution.
How to Pick the Best Skin Tightening Cream for Your Face and Neck
The skin on your neck is the second-most thin area of skin on your body (other than your eyelids). This makes the neck and décolletage (your neckline or cleavage) area more delicate and susceptible to sagging skin, sun damage and other signs of aging.
Choose a face and neck cream that encourages collagen production
Both the neck and face can be treated with the same type of skin tightening face cream. The best skin tightening cream for your face, neck and chest include ingredients that stimulate collagen production and growth, such as retinol, peptides and niacinamide.
Be gentle with retinol-based eye cream
Skin tightening creams made with retinol are safe to use around the face and eyes, but caution is recommended during application. It is possible that retinol may cause irritation, redness and dryness around the eye and eyelid area.
Use skin firming creams that protect against the sun
The face and neck are commonly exposed to the sun and therefore subject to damage via photoaging. The best skin creams for the neck and face should include a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or 30 to best protect your skin UV rays.
Skin Tightening Creams for the Body
The skin on the rest of your body is thicker than that of the face and neck and notably, eyelids. As such, you may need a more intense skin tightening body cream for these areas.
However, you can use the same skin firming creams you use on your face and neck on the rest of your body. Since the face and neck are more sensitive, you’re not likely to have any issues on less sensitive areas of skin – whether due to product strength or sensitivity to fragrances.
Skin Tightening Routine
Developing and following a skin tightening routine can go a long way toward slowing or preventing sagging skin and signs of aging.
In addition to following an effective skin care regimen, adopting certain good habits can help in avoiding premature skin sagging. “A good diet and proper hydration can help skin look its best, in addition to sunblock and a healthy lifestyle,” explains Dr. Goldman. “Smoking and tanning should also be avoided as they damage the skin. No cream can fully correct their negative effects.”
Your body develops wrinkled and loose skin for two reasons: through the aging process or as a result of photoaging, or sun exposure. While natural skin aging is largely unpreventable, photoaging can be prevented by using sunscreen.
Consider using a skin tightening cream or sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.
Smoking tobacco increases the production of tropoelastin and matrix metalloproteinases (a group of enzymes) in your body. These substances break down collagen and elastin in your skin and lead to premature skin aging, contributing to loose skin and the appearance of wrinkles.
Some within the skin care community claim exercise boosts collagen production and tightens skin. While there is no conclusive evidence of such, exercise does increase circulation. The increased blood flow can help flush away waste products, such as free radicals, that have a negative impact on the skin and its components.
Poor sleeping habits can contribute to sagging skin. Lack of sleep interferes with the immune system, which impacts the body’s collagen production and the integrity of the skin.
Maintain a healthy diet
A diet heavy in sugar can speed up signs of aging in your skin. Too much sugar causes a process called glycation in which amino acids present in the skin’s collagen and elastin become linked and create advanced glycation end products, molecules that help further break down collagen and impact its ability to repair itself. Skin loses elasticity and becomes stiffer.
Apply moisturizing products to your skin
Moisturizers in and of themselves (without ingredients such as retinol, for example) do not prevent sagging skin, but can temporarily mask the appearance of aging skin. However, hydrating moisturizers help the skin appear more plump while minimizing visual signs of aging and photodamage.
Skin tightening creams are effective for treating sagging, loose skin and the damage caused by photoaging. The best skin tightening creams use ingredients such as antioxidants and cell regulators to penetrate the skin and encourage production of collagen and elastin.
Quitting smoking and living a healthy lifestyle can prevent or offset signs of aging, such as wrinkles and loose skin. Skin tightening creams with SPF can protect against skin damage caused by excessive sun exposure.
Skin tightening creams are not an immediate fix to make your skin firmer, but they can deliver visible results over time. Creams are more cost-effective and require no recovery time compared to more involved procedures and surgeries.
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