The area near my desk always resembles a chaotic warehouse. There are boxes—many boxes—literally engulfing my chair. Some are opened, some are closed, and unnecessary amounts of bubble wrap are always present. I never enjoy cleaning the mess, but I love making it. In my messy little corner, I’m able to conjure story ideas or take a break from my to-do list. Above all, unboxing makes it easy to spot a trend as it’s taking shape. And while most are hardly controversial, the uprising of neck cream is one that continues to confuse and annoy me.
First, I don’t want to discredit anyone’s insecurities, as the neck is a sore spot for many. When it starts to sag and fine lines seemingly appear overnight, it can be a confidence killer for those who revel in showing off their decolletage. Sometimes you don’t even need a reason for certain insecurities–they’re just there. Personally, I was uncomfortable with the lines that formed on my neck after dropping weight post-puberty. Though my discomfort didn’t last long, I can empathize with the feeling some carry well into adulthood or develop as the aging process accelerates.
The only thing I want to discredit is the assumption that if we did want to address signs of aging in our necks, a neck cream is the best (or only) way to do it. I’m admittedly into beauty products that aren’t completely necessary, but fun to use and Instagrammable. However, there’s just something about a neck cream that unnecessarily spotlights a flaw that really isn’t a flaw. Give it enough attention and everyone will think aging is unnatural and start wearing turtle necks until the end of time. Perhaps I’m being slightly dramatic, but neck cream sounds just as gimmicky and ineffective as stretch mark cream. Combined with the fact that most are also expensive, “SCAM” is the first thing that comes to my mind.
However, I am merely a skeptic; not a dermatologist or doctor. So in an effort to get some real answers, I reached out to two experts who were able to separate fact from fiction.
Fact: Your Neck is Sensitive
If your neck were a person, it probably couldn’t take a joke. Like the skin around your eyes, it’s extremely sensitive to not only the aging process but the environmental factors that accelerate it, like sun exposure.
According to Susan W. Cox M.D., Academic Dermatologist for Higher Education Skincare, these factors can cause decreased cell turnover (DNA damage to cells) and increase the loss of collagen and elastic fibers. Technically, they take place internally but manifest externally in the form of fine lines, skin laxity, and pigment changes like freckling or fine broken capillaries. “With enough sun damage over time, the skin can appear leathery in texture; we typically start to these changes take place as early as our 20’s, but most women start worrying about the appearance of their neck and décolletage well into their 40’s and 50’s,” she says.
The type of products we apply to our neck also has a huge impact on how it ages. According to board-certified dermatopathologist Dr. Gretchen Frieling, there are fewer oil glands compared to the face, making it more sensitive to irritation and dryness. “We tend to put things on our necks, such as perfumes and creams with fragrances which don’t really belong on such thin skin. This leads to chronic irritation (even if not obviously apparent) and can accelerate the aging process,” she says.
Another sneaky culprit of premature skin aging is how you’re sitting in your chair. “The way we hold our heads and back are paramount to maintaining a youthful appearance to the neck,” adds Dr. Frieling. (P.s, sit up!)
Fiction: Neck Creams Can Diminish or Erase Signs of Aging
Rarely do over-the-counter skincare products deliver immediate results. In the case of neck creams, results are basically non-existent and a waste of your hard-earned money. Dr. Frieling agrees, saying, “I don’t believe there is anything special or different about a ‘neck cream.’ These creams all appear thick, which has a tendency to clog the pores.”
To that same point, this doesn’t mean you should just skip over the neck when you’re applying your post-shower products. In fact, this is the disconnect that causes sagging and fine lines to show up earlier than they’re supposed to. “Frequently, the lack of sunscreen in this area is the culprit; most of us apply sunscreen religiously to our faces without properly carrying it down to our neck or chest, damaging this thin, sensitive skin,” says Dr. Cox.
Fact: Sunscreen Isn’t Just for Your Face
Wu-Tang Clan probably didn’t know they were rapping timeless beauty advice when they dropped “Protect Ya Neck.” That’s exactly what will keep you from falling victim to the neck cream craze. Preventative care is always easier than the reparative kind, so get proactive about your SPF from head to toe.
“The main factor that contributes to aging is ultraviolet radiation, and due to the thin nature of the neck skin, our necks should always have sunscreen on them, even when indoors,” says Dr. Frieling. “A condition known as Poikiloderma of Civatte is characterized by ultraviolet radiation-induced light and dark spots that form on the neck associated with broken blood vessels (telangiectasias).” And generally speaking, the products used on your face should always extend to this area.
Fiction: Retinol is Harmless
Should you want to take preventative care to a new level, Dr. Cox says to remember that our necks “can tolerate more moisture and less irritation than our face.” Anti-aging products with ingredients like Retin A, alpha-hydroxy acids or Vitamin C may need to be diluted or used less frequently on the neck.
“I frequently suggest that my patients dilute their facial anti-aging products at a 50:50 ratio with an unscented moisturizer and increase the ration of an anti-aging product as the skin builds tolerance,” she adds. Additionally, if the skin on your neck is dry or flaky, most facial moisturizers will soothe and help it to appear smoother.
“Creams with growth factors are another way to stimulate the formation of new collagen and elastic fibers that have been depleted by the factors mentioned earlier,” says Dr. Cox. “Growth factors usually need a consistent application for 3-6 months to see significant results.” But overall, expect topical products to only make mild, superficial improvements in the texture of the skin.
Fact: Dramatic Change Requires Dramatic Treatment
If your neck skin is aging past the point of comfort and you want a drastic change, only a doctor or surgeon can deliver the results you want. The most obvious solution is a neck lift by a plastic surgeon. According to Dr. Frieling, this comes with significant downtime and recovery, so people often try non-invasive treatments first. The only caveat is that results from the latter are temporary, so it’s important to discuss realistic expectations.
“Resurfacing lasers can address and improve texture and tone, while also strengthening and boosting the underlying framework of the neck skin. Radiofrequency/thermage offers subtle results by tightening the deeper layers of skin,” adds Dr. Frieling. “Neuromodulators (Botox, Dysport, Xeomin) can be used to relax the thin muscle of the neck, the platysma, which can soften and prevent the formation of lines and wrinkles.”
There are also dermal fillers which can be used to gently fill existing horizontal neck lines and fat-dissolving treatments (deoxycholic acid) for minimizing “jowls” and tightening the jawline. Collagen stimulating treatments can also be used to stimulate your own body to produce more collagen. One of the most popular according to Dr. Cox is microneedling, a procedure often associated with the face.
“Microneedling with or without ultrasound can be used to combat fine lines, laxity and uneven texture,” she says. “Needling helps to stimulate new collagen production and will perform minimal tightening; this treatment often requires more than one session.” Lastly, if your neck’s giving off “turkey neck” vibes, treatments like liposuction, Coolsculpting or Kybella injections can restore a more youthful look.
But overall, remember that aging is completely natural and okay to embrace. However, should you want to put it off for a few more years, start using your SPF sooner than later. Just don’t waste your money on a cream that promises to do something it quite simply can’t.