Sagging Skin Overview

Close-up of older man's jawline and neck showing effects of aging and skin elasticity.
Close-up of older man's jawline and neck showing effects of aging and skin elasticity. See more pictures of skin problems. Stratford

Maybe you've notice that more and more often, people ask you if you are tired or not feeling well. When you look at yourself in the mirror, you see creases on either side of your mouth and a little sag in the skin along the jaw line.

It's not your imagination. Your skin is subject to the ravages of the sun, gravity and aging; it's starting to sag and it's become noticeable.


To begin the revitalizing process, you need to understand what causes sagging skin. Then, you need to take steps to minimize exposure to those causes. After that, you can decide what, if any, further treatment you'd like to pursue. A wide range of treatment options exist to give skin a boost, from less invasive solutions, such as topical creams and injectable fillers, to more drastic measures like laser treatments and surgical intervention.

So, if looking tired is getting old and loose skin in rubbing you the wrong way, then read on to learn what causes sagging skin and to discover the treatment that best fits your needs.


Causes of Sagging Skin

Skin that has lost its spring isn't the result of just one cause. Several factors are likely responsible for making your once supple skin appear tired and droopy.

The most common cause of sagging skin is aging. As you age, your skin loses the collagen and elastin, your skin's supportive connective tissue, that make it look soft, plump and youthful. In addition, facial muscles can weaken with age, which takes a toll too. Getting older means more exposure to the dreaded pull of gravity; which we know causes skin to sag a little further down with each passing day, [sources: Crawford, Skin Help].


Sun exposure is another reason for skin losing its elasticity. The sun's powerful rays damage skin cells which, over time, this can increase the effects of aging [source: Mayo Clinic]. It's a double-edged sword -- all that ultraviolet radiation you soaked up while getting the perfect tan was also breaking down your collagen and elastin, which can lead to saggy skin and wrinkles [source: Mayo Clinic].

Last but not least, weight loss, especially the loss of large amounts of weight over a short period of time, can cause skin to sag. Those who undergo bariatric surgery often find themselves stuck with skin and tissue too stretched out to snap back [source: eMedicineHealth]. People who lose a lot of weight quickly with diet and exercise may be disappointed by the amount of skin that is left sagging after all their hard work and discipline [source: Lakeview Dermatology].

Despite all of these skin-sabotaging factors, you are not necessarily stuck with skin that's gone slack. Read on to learn ways to defend against a droopy dermis.


How to Tighten Sagging Skin

If your skin is just beginning to lose tone, a moisturizer can be a good first step in the search for younger-looking skin. Using a moisturizer that also includes products like vitamin A, vitamin C, alpha hydroxy acid or beta hydroxy acid may provide some visible tightening [source: Good Housekeeping]. Staying hydrated is another way to keep skin from having a dry, droopy appearance. Taking antioxidant vitamin supplements can also improve your skin's overall health, which may just make your skin glow.

If these measures aren't enough to solve your sagging skin, you may want to consult a dermatologist to see what other options may work for you. Laser resurfacing treatments are available and may be a successful treatment of several dermatological problems, including sagging skin. Infrared and radiofrequency treatments are another popular option. By heating the skin, these treatments restructure the damaged collagen, tightening skin and reducing wrinkles. Even though these kinds of treatments generally require more than one visit, the recovery time is brief [sources: Irwin, Karlin].


Another option is to replace lost collagen to fill out the skin. Collagen, fat cells, hyaluronic acid and other fillers can be injected under the skin to tighten skin. These treatments may last anywhere from a few months to a few years, depending on which filler is used [source: American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery].

Sometimes noninvasive treatments aren't enough, to snap your skin back to it's youthful appearance, and surgery may be the next step. To learn more, keep reading.


Sagging Skin Removal

If you have tried topical creams and moisturizers, and even laser, infrared or injectable solutions and they aren't effective enough, you may want to consider having a bit of skin surgically removed. A facelift will tighten the areas around your eyes, mouth and jaw line. During this procedure a plastic surgeon uses excess facial fat to sculpt new contours and smooth out other areas. They then reposition the skin and remove any excess [source: American Society of Plastic Surgeons].

With a little time and regular exercise skin can recover from slow, steady weight loss, but people who lose a lot of weight quickly may have some skin left over. This problem is most common after bariatric surgery where sagging skin is usually found on the face, upper arms, neck, torso and buttocks, but can appear wherever excess fat caused skin to expand. Depending on the amount of skin that needs to be removed, more than one surgery may be needed, with a recovery time of weeks or months between surgeries [source: American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery].


For more information on sagging skin, check out the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • About Anti-Ageing. "Do Facial Exercises get Rid of Wrinkles?" (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. "Procedure Information: Post-Bariatric Body Contouring Surgery After Dramatic Weight Loss." (Accessed 8/10/2009)
  • American Society of Plastic Surgeons. "Facelift." (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • American Society of Plastic Surgeons. "Injectable Fillers." (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • AgingSkinNet. "Causes of Aging Skin." (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • Crawford, Holly. "Sagging Skin -- What You and Your Doctor Can Do." Good Housekeeping. (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • eMedicineHealth. "Excess Skin Removal after Extreme Weight Loss." (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • Irwin, Brandith. "Guide to Thermage." SkinTour. (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • Karlin, Jan V. "IR Treatments." Nova Cosmetic Center. (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • Lakeview Dermatology. "Sagging Skin." (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • Mann, Denise. "Facelifts: They're Back (and Better Than Ever)." Consumer Guide to Plastic Surgery. (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Slide Show: Sun Damage." (Accessed 8/10/09)
  • SkinHelp. "Sagging Skin and Loose Facial Muscles." (Accessed 8/10/09)