So, Do You Really Need a Neck Cream?
I asked some top skin pros to give me the real skinny on caring for the skin of the neck.
“Every time I look in the mirror
All these lines on my face getting clearer
The past is gone
It went by, like dusk to dawn.”
Any Aerosmith fans out there? Steven Tyler wrote that song when he was 17. Seventeen! He had no idea what kind of wrinkles were in store for him—the dude is now 67 and probably wishes he could use the permanent press setting on his face. I’m in my fourth decade and like many women, do my share of mirror scrutinizing. Lately, I’ve been eyeballing the skin on my neck, wondering if I need a specific cream for it, or if my regular facial moisturizer is enough. No one wants a wattle, but I don’t want to waste money, either. I decided to get some insider’s information from leading dermatologists and skin care experts and asked them, do I really need a neck cream?
First, Neck Skin Vs. Face Skin
The skin on the neck is different from the skin on your face and the rest of your body; it’s thinner and more delicate. “The neck and décolleté area have very little fatty tissue and fewer oil glands, making this area more prone to dryness and extensive crinkling of the skin – that’s premature aging,” says Gary Goldfaden, M.D., a dermatologist in South Florida, author of the book Your Guide to Healthy Skin The Natural Way and founder of the Goldfaden MD brand. “Additionally, the majority of the neck muscles are not connected to the bone, which results in an increased rate on the loss of elasticity in the skin.”
The skin of the neck and its underlying fat pads succumb to the effects of gravity sooner than other parts of your body and face, too. “The front of the neck is structured around a network of muscles which don’t provide as much support,” says Desiree Stordahl, a co-writer with Paula Begoun on her many bestselling beauty books and senior beauty writer for Paula’s Choice Skincare.
Adding insult to gravity’s injury, people tend to get neck amnesia when it comes to applying sunscreen. “The neck area is often left unprotected from UV rays and other environmental challenges,” says Joel Schlessinger MD, a board certified dermatologist, cosmetic surgeon and the founder of LovelySkin.com.
This lovely combo of natural aging, gravity’s fierce pull, and accidental sun exposure contribute to the signs of aging we see on our necks: wrinkles, dark spots, loss of firmness, and roughness.
Neck Cream or Regular Cream?
“Many of the ingredients will be the same actives you can find in your face creams,” says Schlessinger. However, he points out that the thin skin on the neck may be more likely to be irritated from stronger treatments that might easily be tolerated on your face.
Goldfaden agrees that a specific neck cream is a good idea. “Just like you would use a different eye treatment for your eyes because the skin is very different from the face, the skin on the neck area has different needs based on the density of the skin, extreme loss of elasticity and fewer oil glands.”
But Stordahl has a different opinion, saying, “Despite all the neck ‘firming’ creams out there, there are no special skincare ingredients that can lift and tighten a sagging neck. There are, however, ingredients that can help stimulate collagen production and improve elasticity, as well as measures you can take to ensure your skin stays younger looking. Do you need a special neck cream to get these types of ingredients? Not at all! Research shows that same kinds of ingredients that are good for your face, are good for your neck: antioxidants, skin-repairing ingredients, broad-spectrum sunscreen and so on. The anti-aging products that you use on your face can and should be extended down to your neck and chest – it’s that simple. Neck creams are just another way for the cosmetics industry to sell you a product you truly don’t need. There’s nothing unique about a formula for the neck vs. the face. The same routine that you use for your face, you can use for your neck.”
What Ingredients Should You Look For?
When you are scanning the label of a potential neck cream purchase, look for topical nutrients. Goldfaden suggests skin strengthening peptides (amino acids), comfrey stem cells, hyaluronic acid, retinol, N-acetyl glucosamine, bird of paradise flower extract, niacinamide, CoQ10, concentrated tea extracts, alpha-lipoic acid, and DMAE. These should help protect, repair, and strengthen your skin, while lessening the appearance of hyperpigmentation and vertical banding. “These topical ingredients also help hydrate and revitalize dry-looking skin, firm and tighten sagging areas, and reduce the appearance of creases and folds.”
If wrinkles are your main concern, seek ingredients that stimulate collagen production, such as peptides or growth factors, suggests Schlessinger, and for dark spots, “look for ingredients like arbutin or 4 percent hydroquinone. Hyaluronic acid is also a good ingredient for hydrating and plumping skin.”
Stordahl recommends boosting collagen via antioxidants such as vitamin C, retinol, and green tea and enhancing skin’s barrier via skin-repairing ingredients (like jojoba oil, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid). “Although this combo can’t magically lift skin, it does help support it so that sagging is less apparent. In general, you want to look for a robust blend of anti-aging ingredients.”
More Neck Care
Whether you decide to use a designated neck cream or your regular facial moisturizer, you need to protect your neck and décolleté with broad-spectrum sunscreen containing SPF 30 or higher every day. “Sun damage destroys elastin, causes dark spots to form, and produces crepey skin,” says Stordahl. “If you do nothing else for your neck, this is the No. 1 thing you should do!”
She also recommends a leave-on exfoliant containing salicylic acid (BHA) or glycolic acid (AHA). “Along with unveiling 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. They can’t reverse sagging, but they can help keep it from getting worse and help skin look less mottled while they’re at it.”
The exfoliator “allows the treatment product to penetrate deeper,” says Goldfaden, while the daily SPF “protects from further damage.” These two steps, he says, are key.
Any Other Options, Besides Turtlenecks?
There are also several nonsurgical, in-office procedures that can help us in our quest for a neck as smooth as a seventh-grader’s. Pellevé is an FDA-approved treatment that uses radiofrequency waves to stimulate the skin’s production of collagen, boosting the firmness and elasticity of the area. No anesthesia is needed for the 30 to 60-minute treatment; the company claims it just feels like a warm massage. The only downside is cost: treatments run about $500 to $1,500.
Ultherapy uses ultrasound—you haven’t had one of those since you were pregnant, I bet!—to lift and tighten loose skin. A wand goes over the top of the skin, sending the ultrasound waves deeply into the skin, heating your body’s collagen and stimulating the process for the production of new collagen. Like Pellevé, there’s no down time.
Light therapies “have impressive skin-firming results and can also improve crepey skin—especially if you begin these treatments at the first signs of sagging on the neck and/or jawline,” says Stordahl. “Such procedures coupled with a great anti-aging skincare routine can go a long way toward keeping you from having to go down the road of cosmetic surgery.”
Good Products to Try
• For exfoliating, try Paula’s Choice Resist Daily Smoothing Treatment with 5% AHA or Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant.
• Dr. Goldfaden’s new line, Plant Profusion, has a Lifting Neck Cream with anti-inflammatory agents, plant based emollients and skin strengthening nutrients.
• Dr. Schlessinger says one of his favorites is the NeoStrata Skin Active Triple Firming Neck Cream.
So what’s the takeaway? For me, I acknowledge that some of the tightening effects of neck creams may be temporary, but, the gentler formulas and specific ingredients found in neck creams easily outweigh a little extra expense and the space taken up by having one more container of cream in the bathroom cabinet. So I vote yes for neck creams, for myself. I also feel better knowing there’s ultrasound treatments out there, in case it someday gets to that point. Until then, I’ll just turn up the Aerosmith and slather on my miracle workers!