Do firming creams work?

Do firming creams work?

Most cosmetics companies sell products claiming to lift and firm the skin, even when it's crepe-textured. So do firming creams work? The claims may sound convincing (like "facelift in a bottle"), but almost without exception they aren't genuine. It's not that some skin firming creams don't have value; it's just that most stretch the truth of what's actually possible.

What is a firming cream?

Whether it is marketed as a ‘lifting face cream’, ‘skin firming cream’ or ‘tightening cream’, it is a skincare product that contains collagen or elastin and claims to ‘firm’ or ‘plump up’ the skin.

Elastin is the support fibre in the body that allows skin to "bounce" back into place. You can think of it like the springs in a mattress and collagen as the ‘stuffing’ between the springs. During early childhood, skin makes lots of elastin, but older skin makes almost none … nada … zilch. Then sun damage and age further degrade elastin and the skin begins to sag and have a crepe paper-like look.

What really works to tighten skin on face?

There isn’t really a magic cream to fix sagging skin. It is almost impossible for adult skin to make more elastin, even with medical procedures.

Most firming creams are a waste of money because the collagen and elastin in these products cannot fuse with the collagen and elastin in your skin to help rebuild or reinforce those structures. Their molecular sizes are too large to penetrate the skin's surface.

Sometimes the manufacturer of a skin firming face cream will claim that the collagen or elastin is "reengineered" to be small enough to be absorbed into the skin, but even if nano-sized, these ingredients still will not fuse with the collagen and elastin in your skin. Any claims to the contrary are not supported by independent, peer-reviewed research.

Almost without exception, when you buy a cream that targets loose skin or claims to tighten crepey skin, its effects, if any, are due to ingredients such as film-forming agents. These form a film that can make the skin "feel" tighter. The effect is temporary and you won't see noticeable lifting of sagging skin, but the sensation is often enough to convince women that the product is working.

But here's what's certain: even the best firming face cream or skin tightening cream will not give you results that are even remotely similar to what you get from medical procedures, such as dermal fillers, lasers, or cosmetic surgery.

What ingredients help firm your skin?

Still thinking to yourself: ‘but how do I firm up my face?’. You’ll be pleased to know there are some ingredients that can give skin a more youthful look. Even if they can’t magically recreate your complexion of 20 years ago. These include:

  • Vitamin A, also called retinol. Applied topically, this can improve the shape of skin’s elastin. And there is even a small amount of research showing it can build elastin. Applying a retinol product every night can help a lot! The same is true for prescription retinoids.
  • Alternatively, try the plant-derived skincare ingredient bakuchiol. Research shows this natural ingredient has many anti-ageing benefits, such as reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Daily use of an exfoliant containing salicylic acid (BHA) or glycolic acid (AHA) can really help. Along with exfoliating for smoother skin, there is also a good amount of research showing these ingredients build more collagen and, to some extent, can help firm the skin. You don't need to use both; one or the other is fine, or, if you like, you can alternate.

How can I tighten my skin?

And there are a few other skin firming tricks and tools you can use to create the impression of a tighter, more youthful complexion.

  • Building more collagen is key! Although collagen doesn't help crepey skin bounce back, it does help support skin to make sagging less obvious. You can help skin make lots of collagen with products that contain potent antioxidants and skin-repairing ingredients.
  • Using a sunscreen rated SPF 30 or greater is non-negotiable! Because sun damage destroys elastin and collagen, daily protection is critical, but how many of us remember to apply sunscreen to our necks as well as to our faces each and every day?… Exactly. And that's one main reason why many people's necks look ‘older’ than their faces. This is why anti-ageing skincare doesn't stop at your face!
  • Medical procedures such as lasers and other light therapies such as Fraxel or Ulthera have impressive skin-firming results and can also improve crepey skin. Rather than spending money on expensive firming creams and facials that don't work, you could set those funds aside and in a few months easily afford these types of skin-changing treatments from a dermatologist.
  • When all else fails (or simply doesn't give you the results you want), you can consider cosmetic surgery. Various types of facelifts can make a dramatic difference without making you looked "pulled too tight". And when combined with a brilliant skincare routine, the results can be nothing short of show-stopping.

There you have it! Although it's not the best news, it's not the worst, either. Skin firming and tightening from skincare products is possible, but such products never work as well as the over-exaggerated claims you see on the product labels or what you hear from cosmetics salespeople.

Sources: Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, September 2012, pages 1036–1040; Birth Defects Research, September 2012, pages 248–257; International Journal of Cosmetic Science, April 2012, pages 132–139, and February 2011, pages 62–69; Biomacromolecules, February 2012, pages 379–386; Journal of Cosmetic Science, March 2010, pages 125–132; Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, March 2009, pages 56–62; Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, volume 20, 2006, page 980; and Experimental Dermatology, volume 11, 2002, page 398.


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