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Many ways to firm sagging skin

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It’s possible to tighten your skin without a facelift.

Do you find yourself gently pulling back skin on your face when you look in the mirror and wishing it would stay there? Does the jiggle in your upper arms bother you?

A surgical lift, such as a facelift or eyelid surgery, will give you the most dramatic results, but you’ll find plenty of other skin-tightening options. These other options offer less downtime and lower cost. Another perk: Many can be used on just about any part of your body that needs a lift.

Here’s the lowdown on your other options.

Subtle (if any) tightening

Skin-firming creams and lotions
You’ll find plenty of these products. Many come with such promising claims that you may feel you have to try them. Before you spend money on another skin-firming cream, here’s what you should know.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for facelift-like results from a jar, you’ll likely be disappointed. Despite the claims, the results you see from a skin-firming cream will be subtle at best. It’s also possible that you won’t see any results.

When you see immediate results, the product tends to be an effective moisturizer. A good moisturizer can plump up your skin, making fine lines and wrinkles less noticeable. This result is temporary. To continue seeing any benefit, you need to apply the product every day.

As for the claim that a cream or lotion can lift sagging skin, dermatologists say that’s not possible. A cream or lotion cannot penetrate the skin deeply enough to do this.

Still, you may see a small change if a product contains a retinoid, such as retinol, which can help your body make more collagen.

While creams and lotions produce subtle results at best, the demand for skin care products that can lift sagging skin continues to grow. This demand is fueling research, so researchers are experimenting with various ideas.

One idea they’re testing is using creams to create electrical charges in the skin. These painless charges might increase the amount of collagen in the skin, which would lead to tighter skin.

Modest tightening and lifting

Non-invasive skin tightening procedures
These procedures are called non-invasive because they leave your skin intact. You won’t have a puncture wound, incision, or raw skin afterward. You may see some temporary redness and swelling, but that’s usually the only sign that you had a procedure.

Here’s what you can expect from a non-invasive skin-tightening procedure:

  • Results: Tend to appear gradually, so they seem natural
  • Downtime: Little or none
  • Colorblind: Safe for people of all skin colors
  • Body-wide use: Can tighten skin just about anywhere on your body
  • Side effects: Usually some redness and swelling, but little risk of other side effects when performed by a board-certified dermatologist
  • Time commitment: Most procedures take 1 hour or less
  • Pain: May have some discomfort during the procedure, but that’s usually it
  • Makeup: Can often apply immediately after the procedure
  • Cost: Varies and not covered by insurance, so ask how much it will cost

If you opt for a non-invasive skin tightening procedure, you’ll likely have one of the following:

Ultrasound
Dermatologists are using ultrasound to send heat deep into the skin.

Bottom line: The heat can cause your body to produce more collagen. With 1 treatment, most people see modest lifting and tightening within 2 to 6 months. You may get more benefit from having additional treatments.

Radiofrequency
During this treatment, your dermatologist places a device against your skin, which heats the tissue beneath.

Bottom line: Most people have 1 treatment and feel some tightening right away. It takes time for your body to make collagen, so you’ll see the best results in about 6 months. Some people benefit from having more than 1 treatment.

Results can last 2 to 3 years with the right skin care.

Laser treatment
Some lasers can send heat deep into the skin without wounding the top layer of your skin. These lasers are used to tighten skin all over the body and can be especially helpful for tightening loose skin on the belly and upper arms.

Bottom line: You may need 3 to 5 treatments to get results, which gradually appear between 2 and 6 months after the last treatment.

Most tightening and lifting without surgery

Minimally invasive skin tightening procedures
While these procedures can give you more noticeable results, they still cannot give you the results of a surgical procedure like a facelift, eyelid surgery, or neck lift. Minimally invasive skin tightening, however, requires less downtime than surgery. It also carries less risk of side effects.

You will be sedated during this type of procedure and will have a few days of downtime.

If you have a minimally invasive skin tightening procedure, here’s what you can expect.

Radiofrequency
When you have this type of radiofrequency, a thin tube (or needles), is inserted into your skin to heat up the tissue beneath. This allows your dermatologist to provide heat exactly where you need it to tighten loose skin.
Dermatologists often use this procedure to tighten the neck or upper arms.

Bottom line: Putting the heat where it’s needed allows you to see results faster — usually in about 1 month. In some research studies, patients see gradual tightening and lifting for close to 1 year.

After the procedure, you’ll need someone to drive you home and you may need to wear a compression garment for 4 or 5 days. You’ll also need to care for the wound.

Laser resurfacing
This is the most effective procedure for tightening loose skin. Unlike the laser treatment described above, this procedure requires some downtime. You’ll need to stay home for 5 to 7 days.

Laser resurfacing also gives you the fastest results. After you heal, you’ll see tightening and fewer wrinkles within 2 weeks.

Bottom line: Laser resurfacing can tighten skin, usually better than any other skin-tightening procedure. It can also diminish fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots on the skin, such as age spots. The tradeoff is that it requires downtime and has a greater risk of possible side effects, such as scarring.

Who’s a good candidate for non-surgical skin tightening?

Many people can safely have a skin-tightening procedure. You’re likely to get the best results if you:

  • Are at a healthy weight and maintain your weight
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Quit smoking
  • Drink little alcohol
  • Protect your skin from the sun and never tan indoors
  • Have a small amount of sagging skin

A skin-tightening procedure isn’t right for anyone who is pregnant, has a skin infection, or takes certain medications.

Do you have lots of sagging skin? If so, skin-tightening may not be helpful.

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Ask a board-certified dermatologist

Seeing a board-certified dermatologist is the safest way to find out what skin tightening can do for you. With so many skin-tightening options available, you want to see an expert who is familiar with the different treatments and can determine the best option for your concerns.

You can find a board-certified dermatologist in your area by going to:
Find a dermatologist
Select the specialty Cosmetic Dermatology


Images: Getty Images

References
Alam M, White LE, et al. “Ultrasound tightening of facial and neck skin: a rater-blinded prospective cohort study.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2010;62(2):262-9.

American Academy of Dermatology:

  • “New and improved laser and light treatments take aim at cellulite, fat, tattoos, wrinkles and sagging skin.” News release issued Mar 21, 2014. Last accessed Nov 30, 2017.
  • “Electricity sparks interest in new technologies and cosmeceuticals for aging skin.” News release issued Mar 15, 2011.

el-Domyati M, el-Ammawi TS, et al. “Radiofrequency facial rejuvenation: evidence-based effect.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2011;64(3):524-35.

Fabi SG, Massaki A, et al. “Evaluation of microfocused ultrasound with visualization for lifting, tightening, and wrinkle reduction of the décolletage.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2013;69(6):965-71.

Hilton L. “The real deal with nonsurgical skin tightening.” Dermatology Times. November 2017. 76-8.

MacGregor JL and Tanzi EL. “Microfocused ultrasound for skin tightening.” Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2013;32(1):18-25.

Tanaka Y. “Long-term nasal and peri-oral tightening by a single factional noninuslated microneedle radiofrequency treatment.” J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2017;10(2):45-51.

Tierney EP, Hanke CW, et al. “Treatment of lower eyelid rhytids and laxity with ablative fractionated carbon-dioxide laser resurfacing: Case series and review of the literature.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2011;64(4):730-40.