Why does skin lose firmness and elasticity?
By Cynthia Bailey MD. This page was updated on Wed, Nov 06, 2019
Skin loses firmness over time from sun damage and age. Most of the loss of firmness is due to sun damage. UV exposure over many years causes thinning of both living skin layers, the dermis (where collagen resides) and the epidermis (top living cell layer). In addition, the connection between these 2 layers is weakened. Collagen and elastin change form from UV rays, losing their fibrous nature and becoming more amorphous, called elastotic). This leads to a sallow yellowing, lumpy skin texture and loss of firmness and elasticity.
Doctors call the sun-induced degradation of skin collagen and elastic fibers, elostotic degeneration, or solar elastosis.
Sun and age also lead to a loss of water binding and water holding capacity in both layers of skin. This deflates the dewy and youthful character of younger skin. Lastly, skin sags with age - like everything in our body - gravity has its way! The good news is that skin firmness can be shored up and restored by using products that deeply hydrating the skin and stimulate your skin’s collagen renewal process - thank goodness.
What are the best skin care products for loss of skin firmness, sagging skin and loss of skin elasticity?
Use products with professional and stable ingredients proven to stimulate your skin's collagen renewal process to fight loss of skin firmness.
Ingredients with proven benefits to stimulate your skin's collagen renewal process include retinoids, glycolic acid and vitamin C. Many other ingredients claim to have this ability, but it is usually based on laboratory studies in test tubes and not on living human skin. Those studies are interesting, but time is of the essence, and ingredients proven on the skin of living humans are the best choice in my professional opinion.
One needs to use stable high concentration products that do not oxidize and degrade after production. That's tricky to assess. I use a pharmaceutical grade lab to produce our high concentration products of Vitamin C and Retinol. Vitamin C products in particular need to be kept in airtight containers, because vitamin C oxidizes quickly. The amber color is evidence of oxidization. Avoid amber vitamin C products!
Retinol, as a retinoid, stimulates collagen renewal. It has the added benefit of turning off the collagen degrading enzymes, called matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), that are turned on by UV ray exposure. You want these enzymes turned off! Only high concentration retinol, as present in professional products, can do this. My Retinol Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream has high concentration retinol in a stable formulation balanced with green tea antioxidants to help skin tolerate this important skin rejuvenating ingredient. It is also important that my retinol cream is made in a pharmaceutical-grade laboratory.
Glycolic acid at professional levels over 10% in acid pH formulations are also work-horse products to stimulate skin collagen renewal. I want to mention an interesting second benefit of glycolic acid. At professional levels of 10% or higher, this ingredient further stimulates your skin to make more of its own hydrating hyaluronic acid, which binds water, and thus plumps skin that is struggling with a lack of firmness. Gain dewy youthful character with this benefit. The best glycolic acid products can be irritating to sensitive skin. I give you use instructions on my product pages.
Use products that deeply hydrate and plump your skin immediately to fight loss of skin firmness.
Use hydrating moisturizers with ingredients that bind and retain water in all levels of your skin. Look for sodium PCA (also called NaPCA, a key component of your skin's Natural Moisturizing Factor), glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and squalane. If you have dry skin and are not acne prone, add ceramides and oils to replenish lost skin lipids that help to trap skin moisture.
Excellent super-power water binding products include my Instantly Luminous Multi-Action Serum which has high levels of multiple molecular weight hyaluronic acid. This allows the product to stratify throughout the skin's many layers to bind water for maximal plumping of limp skin. It also contains sodium PCA and glycerin for additional water-binding efficacy. My Daily Face Creams are both rich in squalane and my Daily Face Cream for Dry to Normal Skin also contains ceramides.
What is the best way to prevent further loss of skin firmness and elasticity?
Always sun protect skin that shows signs of losing firmness, because sun damage is the main cause. Free radicals form from UV ray exposure. These start a cascade of events in your skin that leads to a loss of collagen and other important structures – the end result is a loss of firmness. You need really good, broad spectrum sun protection that blocks UVA and UVB. The best sunscreen ingredients for that are zinc oxide; I've seen the comparison of zinc oxide against all other sunscreens in my 30+ years of examining the skin of my dermatology patients. Skin exam after skin exam, I've witnessed that zinc oxide gives the most trusted, stable protection. It's what I use. It's also the best choice for sensitive skin.
Dermatologist's highly effective Complete Skin Care Routine to fight loss of skin firmness.
Remember, you always get the best result with a Complete Skin Care Routine. Dr. Bailey's Complete Skin Care Routines always involve the 4 essential skin care steps of,
CLEANSE with a cleanser appropriate to your skin type. Avoid over cleansing, because the ingredients for collagen renewal can be irritating. Chose a cleanser slightly gentler than you would normally use such as my Extremely Gentle Facial Cleanser, Daily Foaming Facial Cleanser or VaniCream Facial Cleanser. Consider using a non-drying toner such as my Naturally Hydrating Pore Refining Toner to remove the last vestiges of product and skin oil to help your next product penetrate well.
CORRECT by applying my Instantly Luminous Multi-Action Serum™. Allow the product to dry then apply your additional products. Options for morning include Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy™ (to replenish antioxidant reserve and soothe any irritation from vitamin C, retinol or glycolic acid). Next apply either Vitamin C Anti-Wrinkle Professional Treatment Serum ™ or Glycolic Acid Face Cream. You can alternate these. At night skip Instantly Luminous and Green Tea and apply Retinol Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream. Top with Glycolic Acid if you have tolerant skin.
HYDRATE with a moisturizer appropriate to your skin type and look for some of the key ingredients I mentioned above. My Daily Face Creams are compatible with my collagen renewal products. Glycolic Acid Face Cream has a hydrating base and is an excellent moisturizer.
PROTECT by applying a zinc oxide sunscreen matched to your skin type and product preference. If you wear makeup, apply mineral makeup powder on top. This gives you an added layer of mineral particles to scatter UV light. We won't call it a sunscreen, but it helps support your good zinc oxide protection. I've included sunscreens and mineral makeup in the listing of products below.
Does this sound overwhelming? If so, look at my Ultimate Pigment and Sun Damage Repair Kit. I've taken the work out of crafting a Complete Skin Care Routine to fight loss of skin firmness, and the other consequences of sun damage and skin aging for you.
What is the best way to restore firmness to body, arm, leg and hand skin?
Skin in these locations is thicker, and the only effective treatment is glycolic acid and hydration. My Ultra-Fast Body Smoothing Triple Action Kit is highly effective. Always moisturize after your bath, shower or washing your hands. I have included products below to help. Chest and neck skin respond to the care I outlined above.