It’s often said that the appearance of the neck is a clear giveaway of a person’s real age, and for good reason: Skimping on SPF, poor posture and general neglect of the area which spans the neck, chest and bust—also known as the décolleté—can give way to long-lasting damage that is difficult to reverse without clinical treatments like fillers, radio frequency therapy and laser resurfacing. But can targeted neck products and beauty gadgets make a lasting impact on the quality of our skin—or at least, slow the damage? We spoke to skincare experts to get their take.
Is neck skin all that different from face skin?
Short answer: yes. “The neck truly has a different anatomy than the face skin,” says Chloe Smith, Scientific Communications and Education Manager for SkinCeuticals. For starters, the skin on your neck is much thinner than the skin on the face. In addition to being particularly delicate, the neck skin has lower levels of lipids—the protective fats naturally found in the skin—meaning it’s more prone to dryness and sensitivity issues, and needs special care if you want to keep it looking petal fresh.
Near-constant movement means the skin around the neck is more susceptible to fine lines. And although our faces are also in motion, our necks are now, more than ever, usually staring in one direction: downwards. You may be familiar with a term called “tech neck,” which refers to the unsavoury result of continuously craning our necks over our devices. Beyond wreaking havoc on the spine, gravity dictates that this posture can accelerate the signs of aging, contributing to crepe-y skin, horizontal banding or (a slightly more charming term) “necklace lines.” Smith elaborates: “A dermatologist told me recently that when your head tilts forward, it’s like putting an additional 60 pounds of weight on the neck muscles, whereas if your head is upright, it’s about 10 to 15 pounds.” The moral of the story: Try to limit your screen time.
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Reality check: I’m addicted to my phone. So what can I use to treat “tech neck”?
“Ingredients that are geared towards collagen stimulation and preservation are the only types of topical ingredients that will truly have a significant effect on banding,” says Smith. Retinoids are among some of the best ingredients for stimulating collagen production and protecting against collagen degradation. According to Smith, retinoid research has been around since the 1920’s and has produced more clinical data than any other dermatological ingredient. Peptides—the tiny amino acid chains that make up the building blocks of collagen—are also proven to stimulate collagen production and lessen the appearance of lines and wrinkles. Look out for peptide-rich formulas—like Valmont’s V-Neck Cream—when selecting a product for your neck and décolleté.
Hydration is also a crucial factor in keeping the skin on your neck supple, says Valerie Grandury, Founder and CEO of French skincare brand Odacité. Before fine lines and slackness appear, the first marker of compromised skin is often dehydration. If you’re serious about nourishing your neck and the longevity of the skin, look for hydrating ingredients like shea butter and vitamin E, she says. “As soon as your skin is well hydrated, it starts to be plumped. The lines are less visible, the elasticity is better, and the skin bounces back.”
Why use a product made specifically for the neck?
Technically, you could use a product created for the neck on your face, if you wanted to. But the opposite isn’t necessarily true. The main thing to keep in mind is that products for the face can contain high concentrations of active ingredients that may be too harsh for the delicate skin on the neck (e.g. retinol, notorious for being finicky at the best of times), so tread carefully. Also, just as you wouldn’t want to use harsh exfoliants near the delicate skin around your eyes, avoid using these types of ingredients around the neck area.
It’s also worth mentioning that neck products are formulated to target the specific skin concerns of the neck. For example, yellow poppy extract, also known as glaucine—one of the key ingredients in SkinCeutical’s Tripeptide-R Neck Repair—works to preserve collagen in a unique way. Submental fat, the layer of fat underneath your chin, secretes enzymes that break down collagen. “It’s like the worst double-edged sword,” says Smith. “The more submental fat you have, the more loss of collagen you’re prone to. Glaucine helps reduce those enzymes that are secreted from submental fat so that the collagen doesn’t break down on us as quickly. It’s there really for excess fat, and a lot of us don’t have excess fat in the face.” Long story short: the needs of the neck differ from those of the face.
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What about a skin care device like the gua sha? Do they help the neck skin?
Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that facial massage aids, like gua sha stones and jade rollers, provide an opportunity for deep relaxation, and the more you can relax yourself and reduce stress levels, the better for your skin. “Stress is linked to the cortisol hormone, and the less cortisol you have flowing through your body, it’s been proven to have a beneficial effect on the skin,” says Smith.
To get the most out of your massage tools, gua sha expert Grandury recommends using an antioxidant-rich serum or oil, such as Odacité’s All Embracing Serum, and working it into the skin to get some slip. “The thing with gua sha is you really want it to glide across the skin, you don’t want to stretch the skin.” To ease tension in the neck, Grandury suggests setting the curved side tool against the nape of your neck, working your way up in a gentle, yet firm, scraping motion towards the hairline.
The bad news? Although these tools can temporarily tone the muscles, they won’t necessarily provide lasting results. “If you want that immediate lifted effect, you’re looking at things like microcurrent devices,” says Smith, which can visibly perk the skin for up to two hours. At-home devices like the NuFace and ZIIP GX can help boost definition, but bear in mind the results are less intense than what you’d get with a professional microcurrent treatment.
How can I achieve a lifted effect without turning to professional treatments?
Treatments aside, there are things we can do to strengthen the muscles underneath the chin and neck area. Smith suggests a technique developed by Toronto-based celebrity body and posture expert, Dr. Liza Egbogah called “the baby bird.” She explains: “Tilt your head back and look at the ceiling. Then, press your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Hold it for five to ten seconds and release your tongue. Then press your tongue back against the roof of your mouth.” You can immediately feel the resistance when technique is repeated (kind of like a mini-workout for your neck). “The more you strengthen these muscles, then the less prone to sagging they will be.”
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At what age should I start to pay attention to my neck?
“My philosophy—which is very French—is that it’s better to prevent than wait until it’s too late,” says Grandury. “The sooner you adopt a good routine for your neck and décolleté, the more ahead of the game you’re going to be.” Smith agrees: “Prevention is the best. The earlier you start, the more gracefully you’re going to age into later life.”
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Neck Fit Contour Serum, $116, dermalogica.ca
Step up your neck skincare game in a major way with this unique roll-on serum from Dermalogica. A blend of peptides and rye seed extract mimic the firming effects of retinol, while the stainless steel applicator sculpts the neck while you work the product into the skin. Major bonus: the brand is also offering customized neck workouts via neckfitcontour.com.