Youth is coveted for many reasons, and near the top of the list are definitely the good looks that come with it. When we’re young, our skin is supple and firm, and it feels particularly cruel that this tautness gradually declines as we age. After all, it’s not like we do anything to deserve it – we simply have the audacity to grow older. As if it could be avoided! Unfortunately, loss of skin elasticity is something we must endure if we want to keep having and celebrating birthdays. But we don’t have to give it up without a fight, either. There are ways to improve skin elasticity and cheat the vagaries of time a little bit. Let’s explore how we can accomplish this.
The Truth of the Sag
Skin begins to sag when collagen, elastin and natural fat begin to degrade and break down. This breakdown is the natural process of aging, but there are environmental and behavioral factors that can accelerate it. For example, too much sun exposure throughout one’s life can greatly affect the integrity of collagen and elastin, causing them to degrade more quickly than they would otherwise. Hence the absolute importance of using sunblock on a daily basis, whether it’s bright and shining outside or cloudy and gloomy. It doesn’t matter because sunlight and UV rays penetrate clouds, no matter how overcast the sky happens to be. If you hate wearing sunblock, consider covering your face with a broad-brimmed hat or a parasol (it’s fashionable!).
Collagen is the body’s most abundant protein. It is found in tendons, muscles, ligaments and the skin. It’s what keeps skin firm, and if we could somehow keep it from degrading, we’d pretty much have found the fountain of youth!
Elastin is also a protein found in many connective tissues. In the skin, it provides the ability to bounce back when pulled, poked or pinched. Elastin also degrades with time and with exposure to UV rays.
Fat loss in the skin also occurs as we age, causing skin to become thinner and less elastic. Absence of that protective layer of facial fat will make your skin appear droopier and looser.
These three factors are crucial in keeping skin looking youthful. Of course they don’t deteriorate at the same rate in every person. Some people will find that they age a little faster than others perhaps, especially if they are of a naturally light complexion. The less melanin you have, the more the sun’s rays will affect your skin’s appearance and integrity. That’s because melanin naturally protects the skin from damage caused by UV rays.
How to Get Firm Skin
Good news: It is possible to help skin remain firm or to improve elasticity once some of it has gone. Your diet, the products you use on your skin and prevention techniques can all go a long way in maintaining skin’s natural firmness, even as you blow out more and more candles on your birthday cake with each passing year.
This is honestly the most important step. Preventing loss of collagen and elastin, and thus preventing sagging, involves taking very good care of your skin and yourself in a variety of ways.
- Sun Protection – The first step is to use sunscreen (at the very least SPF 30) religiously. As we already covered, the sun’s UV rays break down collagen and elastin in the skin, leading to a drooping of the face, particularly along the jawline, but also in other areas like the undereye region. In fact, the eye area is supremely delicate, and since putting sunscreen under the eye can be irritating, you should always wear sunglasses or a hat.
- Antioxidants – You can both consume antioxidant-rich foods to help fight off skin-damaging free radicals, and you can use products with antioxidants to apply topically onto your skin for the same reason. Free radicals are unstable atoms that degrade collagen, and they’re often a product of exposure to the environment and pollution. Eating antioxidant-rich foods like blueberries, walnuts and kale can help prevent the cell damage caused by free radicals (they damage cells throughout the body, including skin cells). Topically applying products that contain antioxidants will help scavenge free radicals and also prevent sagging and cell damage, and loss of collagen/elastin.
- Lifestyle Changes – If you’re a smoker, it’s really, really, really time to quit. Really. Let us appeal to your vanity, if all the other myriad and well-documented reasons that smoking is bad for you haven’t quite sunk in yet, despite years of advertising. Smoking also breaks down collagen and elastin in the skin, and can lead to not only sagging and loss of elasticity, but also cause wrinkles to form all over your face, and particularly around the mouth. Also try to limit your alcohol intake. Obviously a glass of wine here or there is okay, but if you find yourself consuming alcohol often, consider cutting back. Alcohol can accelerate sagging by increasing insulin levels. This in turn results in low-grade inflammation in the skin and elsewhere.
2. Treatment Options
Treatments of sagging skin and loss of skin elasticity run the gamut from topical creams to more expensive injections.
- Retinoids and Glycolic Acid – You will often see dermatologists recommending retinoids (vitamin A derivatives) in the fight against sagging (Fun fact: They treat wrinkles and acne, too). Retinoids like retinol help accelerate skin turnover, making skin cells shed a little faster. This prevents pores from being clogged and infected with bacteria (how pimples form), and it helps smooth and soften wrinkles to make them less obvious. Retinoids can also help stimulate collagen production in the skin, which is how they may be able to treat sagging that has already begun. However, it must be mild sagging. If your skin has lost a significant amount of elasticity, you may not be able to gain it back only by using topical treatments like retinoids. Glycolic acid is another great ingredient that can help stimulate collagen production. It is an alpha hydroxy acid often used in chemical peels to resurface and refine skin. It can treat wrinkles and acne, but it is its ability to boost collagen that gives it an advantage in the fight against loss of skin elasticity.
- Topical Creams – Certain creams and moisturizers can help prevent and treat sagging. Formulyst’s Pro Collagen Serum contains hyaluronic acid and a number of peptides that can help fight loss of collagen and elastin, effectively slowing down the sagging process. Similarly, Formulyst’s Ultimate Youth Concentrate also relies on the power of plant botanicals and five potent peptides to combat sagging and loss of elasticity. These creams are also very hydrating, and well-hydrated skin will often look younger for far longer than skin that is dehydrated and dry.
- Injections – This is a treatment option that can also be very costly, but it is often recommended for people with severe sagging. Injections (like Botox, Juvederm and Restylane) can add volume, help contour the jawline and chin and tighten sagging neck skin. They are not as invasive as surgeries, of course, but still cost a pretty penny and are thus not accessible for everyone. This is why, as previously mentioned, prevention is so important. If you start in your mid-20s or even earlier (and are stubborn about using sunscreen at all times), you will not have to face such an uphill battle against sagging in the future.
- Laser Treatments and Ultherapy – There also exist a variety of laser treatments to help tighten sagging skin, particularly on the neck where sagging often appears first (usually in your late 30s to early 40s). This is due to the fact that neck skin is far thinner and has less fat than other areas of your body. For example, ablative laser resurfacing, a popular procedure, works by removing the top layer of skin then heating the bottom layers to stimulate collagen production. Some side effects may include pain, discoloration and swelling. Meanwhile, Ultherapy uses ultrasound energy to penetrate deep into the dermis, triggering collagen and elastin production. This is a non-invasive procedure, but several treatments may be required for best results.
The Bottom Line
Skin begins to sag and lose elasticity as collagen and elastin degrade in our bodies, beginning around the time we turn 30 years old. Though prevention is key and possibly the most important thing you can do to prevent loss of skin elasticity, there are plenty of different treatment options to consider as you fight to regain firmness in your skin. For mild sagging, topical creams, a healthy lifestyle and preventative measures will go a long way. For moderate to severe sagging, you may want to look into laser treatments and injections. Whether you are suffering from mild to moderate/severe sagging, however, remember that you can improve skin elasticity – it’s just a matter of how, and a bit of determination sprinkled in for good measure.
References: Archives of Dermatology, “Improvement of Naturally Aged Skin With Vitamin A (Retinol)”; The Journal of Dermatology, “The Effect of Glycolic Acid on Cultured Human Skin Fibroblasts: Cell Proliferative Effect and Increased Collagen Synthesis”;