Have you ever noticed those dogs with the big, droopy jowls and worried that sagging look will be your fate someday? Fear not. Although some sagging of the skin is inevitable as you age, there's no need to dread looking like a basset hound. Maturing skin does get thinner and lose some of its firmness, but it's not all bad news. You do have options. Several kinds of skin-firming treatments are available to tighten and improve your skin. So chin up and read on.
As you investigate your skin-firming options, it is helpful to first know what you can and cannot change about your aging skin.
Sagging skin is a normal part of the aging process. As you get older, your body produces fewer of the chemicals, fats and oils that help to keep your skin firm [source: AAD]. Over time, gravity also takes its toll on the body. The downward force of gravity creates a drag on the skin that contributes to it sagging. These are two unavoidable factors you can't change.
But you do have a certain amount of control. Always use sunblock, and apply it generously to your face and neck. Continued exposure to the sun ages your skin. It also causes your skin to lose firmness by breaking down the chemicals it needs to maintain its elasticity. Also, don't smoke. Smoking not only ages your skin, it also damages its elasticity.
With the baby boomer segment of the population reaching retirement age, more research is underway on anti-aging techniques. Over the past several years, researchers have made major breakthroughs in anti-aging technology, including techniques to firm aging skin.
Curious to see what your options are? Want to investigate the advantages of creams, lotions, lasers and cosmetics? Read on to get the scoop on the latest methods for firming your skin.
Skin Firming Effectiveness
To understand how skin-firming treatments work, first you have to understand how skin works. Skin has three layers: the epidermis on the outside, the dermis in the middle, and the hypodermis, or subcutaneous layer, on the inside of the skin. For the purposes of keeping your skin firm, the layer you want to pay closest attention to is the dermis, or middle layer.
The dermis layer of the skin contains both collagen and elastin. Simply put, both collagen and elastin are types of protein that your body makes. They work together to keep the skin elastic, strong and moist. As you get older, your body doesn't make as much of these proteins, and the elastin and collagen that you do have don't work as well.
For skin firming to really work, first it has to reach the dermis layer of the skin. Any treatment that works on just the surface might improve the way skin looks, but it won't actually affect its firmness. Some effective treatments work by causing more collagen and elastin to grow, thus giving the skin more flexibility and strength [source: Mayo Clinic]. Other treatments remove or tighten skin, fat, muscle and connective tissues.
Many treatments can be done right in your doctor's office. To learn what these treatments involve, read on.
Types of Skin Firming Treatment
For the most dramatic skin-firming improvements, you'll need to visit a dermatologist or plastic surgeon.
One way to firm sagging skin is to fill it in so that it looks plump and strong. Instead of trying to grow new collagen, you can have your dermatologist inject it into the sagging area to firm it up. Or, you can ask your doctor to perform a "fat graft." The doctor takes fat from another area of your body and injects it into the sagging area [source: NZDS]. More recently, hyaluronic acid injections have also become very popular and effective fillers [source: Lyon].
Laser treatments have also gained popularity. Two specific types of lasers -- the carbon dioxide and the erbium: YAG -- belong to the category known as ablative lasers [source: AAD]. These lasers burn through the epidermis and into the dermis, encouraging new tissue growth. While effective, this option requires a lot of after care. More recently, fractionated ablative lasers have been developed. These lasers can be used specifically on just the damaged parts of the skin. This procedure also allows you to recover more quickly than with a traditional laser. Another class of lasers, called non-ablative, is becoming increasingly popular. These lasers boost collagen growth by working under the epidermal layer. The bonus? They don't require a long recovery time [source: AAD].
Of all the options available, surgery typically works best for severely sagging skin. Whether you're getting a facelift, body contouring or some other surgical procedure, your recovery time can vary based on what you're having done.
If you're not excited about visiting the doctor's office, move on to the next section to learn about some techniques and products that you can use on your own.
Skin Firming Cosmetics
Cosmeceutical products are the latest trend in at-home treatments. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration FDA doesn't officially recognize this term, "cosmeceutical" is the hot buzzword for products that combine cosmetics with ingredients that offer benefits such as reducing wrinkles and firming the skin [source: FDA]. Because the FDA doesn't recognize cosmeceuticals, it doesn't approve or regulate them. But that hasn't stopped the cosmetics industry from marketing them extensively.
Consumers generally like to get as much bang for their buck as possible. So the idea of value-enhanced cosmetics appeals to many people. But in order to truly improve your skin's firmness, you need to be able to penetrate the dermis layer of the skin. Cosmetics usually affect just the epidermis layer. So, even though they might help with wrinkles and sun damage, many cosmetics don't work deeply enough in the skin to provide true skin-firming benefits.
However, there is one skin-firming benefit you can get from cosmetics: improved sun protection. By choosing a cosmetic with a good sunblock, you're limiting your exposure to damaging UV rays, which will help prevent signs of early aging down the road.
You can also try cosmetics containing soy. Although soy's degree of effectiveness is still under investigation, research has shown that soy might act as a type of estrogen and stimulate collagen growth underneath the surface of the skin [source: Draelos].
Don't forget that you can also use cosmetics for their original purpose: to enhance some features and camouflage others. Cosmetics can contour sagging skin, creating a more defined shape. You can also draw attention away from a sagging area by highlighting another area of your face.
If you're not sold on using cosmetics, read on to check out the advantages of using lotions or creams for firmness.
Skin Firming Creams and Lotions
When searching for a cream or lotion, make sure you look for ones that will protect you from the sun and moisturize your skin. Your skin should always be protected by sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 when you're outside. A good moisturizer can combat the effects of aging [source: AAD]. It literally plumps your skin, which makes it appear firmer. Moist skin is also more elastic.
Next, make sure you pick something that affects the right part of the skin. Many creams and lotions are formulated to target age spots. These deal more with the surface of the skin. To help firm your skin, you should look for products that boost collagen or elastin -- or both -- below the surface.
The favored anti-aging topical product hands down is retinoic acid, also called tretinoin. It's available only by prescription. This vitamin A product encourages collagen growth but is used more for wrinkles than for skin firming. The over-the-counter version is called retinol [source: Lyon].
There are several other ingredients that look promising for skin firming. New research shows that copper might boost collagen growth and also help get rid of damaged collagen and elastin [source: Cleveland Clinic]. Researchers also are focusing on the effects of hormones and aging. Estrogen seems to offer the some firming benefits, but more studies are needed to confirm these findings [source: Schwartz]. L-ascorbic acid, the only effective vitamin C derivative for skin care, encourages collagen growth. It's being used more and more for its skin-firming benefits [source: Cleveland Clinic].
Overall, whether you choose lotions, creams, cosmetics or other treatments, you have many options available to you to help you firm your skin. The days of the dreaded "droopy dog" skin might finally be over. To learn more, check out the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Mature Skin." (Accessed 7/17/09)http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/sun_mature.html
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Cosmeceutical Facts & Your Skin."http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/general_cosmeceutical.html
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