I think I was 25 when my mother (who has amazing skin) said, “I wish I’d paid more attention to my neck when I was younger. Sunscreen at least.”
Did I listen?
Nope. And now I’m truly understanding what she was trying to tell me.
If you’re like me, you probably pay a lot of attention to your face. Most women do. You wash and moisturize it, apply sunscreen, and at least some of the time, examine it for blemishes, fine lines, or spots.
You probably don’t pay any where near as much attention to your neck.
Until…one day you notice your jaw line isn’t as sharp as it used to be. And what’s that loose skin doing on your neck?
There are three main reasons that our necks really begin to show some age after about 50:
- Muscles that aren’t tight
- Looser skin because of collagen and elastin breakdown. The skin on your neck is thinner and drier than skin on your face and is more susceptible to damage and drying.
- Fat under your skin (subcutaneous fat) becomes thinner in some areas which causes sagging and accumulates in other ones (double chin).
This is definitely a situation where prevention is your best defense against the unflatteringly named “turkey neck” (and why do we talk about ourselves in such unflattering ways? But I digress-that’s another discussion).
What makes your neck age
There’s a certain amount of aging that comes from the inside: your genetics and your natural biological clock. These changes are harder to influence that environmental factors but they happen none the less. Here’s what naturally happens to your neck as you get older:
- Collagen and elastin production decreases just like it does on your face, hands and other parts of your body. This means the skin on your neck (already thinner than your face) looses its bounce and may start to sag or crease, or both.
- Melatonin in your skin decreases or becomes uneven. Melatonin is the how your skin protects itself from sun damage. When the sun damages your skin but doesn’t actually burn it, melatonin tries to help by putting up a darker umbrella over your skin cells. This umbrella is a tan. As you get older, you’ll find that rather than an even “healthy” looking tan, you’ll have more and more uneven pigmentation and spots.
- Cellular turnover slows. Which means it takes your skin longer to shed dead and dulling cells and replace them with shiny new ones.
- Oil glands and hair follicles decrease. You neck has fewer moisturizing oil glands and thinner skin to begin with. This decrease means the skin on your neck is even more vulnerable to UV and other environmental damage. Plus, you’ll need to protect your skin barrier on your neck even more as it becomes drier.
If these sound bad, don’t worry too much. It’s estimated that only 10% of the signs of aging skin comes from these intrinsic (biological) factors. The other 90% comes from environmental factors and you have a great deal more control over these.
Lifestyle factors that contribute to your neck’s aging
- The UV rays of the sun. This is by the biggest factor in making your neck look older than you’d like.
- Your climate. Extremes of heat, cold, wind, humidity make your skin age faster. So if you live in a high, dry, cold climate like me, you need to take extra steps to protect your skin, especially your neck.
- Pollution. Urban dust (the particles in air pollution) settles on your skin and accelerates the process of dehydration, discoloration, and fine lines. Antioxidants are your best defense.
- Poor diet and nutrition. Sugar, especially hidden sugar in highly processed foods, artificial ingredients, and trans fats all effect the health and look of the skin on your neck. A poor diet degrades collagen and elastin even faster than normal.
- Some medications. Certain medications can cause your skin to become more dehydrated, sensitive, or sensitive to the sun. Some medications can damage the skin’s immune function. The effects of medications may be different for different people, so if you're taking medication or a new one is added, pay attention to any changes on your skin and discuss them with your doctor.
- Bad habits. Smoking and tanning are some of the worst things you can do for your neck and all your skin as well as your health. If you have bad lifestyle habits, the best thing you can do is replace them with some healthier ones.
If you’re like me, it’s hard to accept that some of the damage is done and without surgery it’s never going to be as tight and smooth as it was when you were twenty.
But, that’s ok. 20 wasn’t all that great, am I right?
If you have a lot of very loose skin and want it gone, gone, gone, surgery may the option that you’re going to be most pleased with.
If surgery’s not your thing, there’s plenty you can do to make your neck look better.
Preventative measures for your neck
Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve diligently applied sunscreen to my face and put nothing on my neck. Protecting your face, neck, chest, and hands from the sun is the single biggest thing you can do to maintain youthful healthy skin. Make sure you apply it liberally from your forehead to your chest. And, while you’re at it, don’t forget the backs of your hands.
Oh, how I wish I had learned this earlier.
Even if your neck is already photodamaged, being consistent with your sunscreen will prevent even more damage and give your skin a chance to work on healing.
Plus, many broad spectrum sunscreen will also protect your skin against blue light and will help with pollution.
Mind your posture. Sitting with your head forward and neck stretched out looking at your phone or computer is not good for you or your neck. Not only does this position lead to back and neck pain because it puts a lot of strain on the back of your neck and shoulders, it leads to sagging in your neck and lower face.
Pay attention to your posture after you’ve been on your computer or device. Are you chin forward with your neck stretched out?
You’re weakening the muscles in the front of your neck and over working the muscles in the back (that weren’t designed to hold your head in this position for long periods of time).
Stop. Pull your shoulders down and back, tuck your chin slightly and straighten your spine and neck. Breathe. This is the posture you should have most of the time. If you’ve been chin forward for a while, retraining your posture is going to take some persistence and work.
Weak muscles in the front of your neck mean that those muscles aren’t supporting the skin on your neck. Yep, sagging.
Like all of your muscles, the ones in your neck shrink and get looser with age. Unless you exercise them.
The (scientific) jury is out on whether facial and neck exercises make a difference. But there have been several very small studies and at least one larger, well designed study done on middle aged women that showed positive results.
Check out my neck exercise videos here.
Products can really help the look and feel of your neck. Your neck has fewer oil glands than the skin on your face so it’s more prone to being dry and sensitive. It’s also more likely to wrinkle.
I know that I’ve been guilty of skimping on products when it comes to my neck. No more.
Your neck, in a lot of ways, is an extension of your face. It should get the same consistent skin care and products that your face does.
Retinol helps the skin on your neck by making it more firm and encouraging healthy new skin cells. If retinol is drying on your neck, you can still use it. You need to start slowly and maybe even mix it with a little moisturizer until your skin is acclimated to it.
Antioxidant serums are important for fighting the free radicals produced by any UV rays that have slipped by your sunscreen and pollution particles as well.
Vitamin C is queen of the antioxidants and works great on your neck. Some people have more sensitive skin on their necks and vitamin C may be too strong (and irritate). If this is the case, skip the vitamin C and retinol until your skin barrier is in better shape.
If the skin on your neck is very sensitive, twice a day moisturizer will really help your skin barrier restore itself.
Plus, you‘ll want to moisturize twice a day anyway to keep your drier, thinner neck skin well protected.
Some moisturizer ingredients can help firm the outer layers of skin. Peptides are one of the key ingredients to look for in a firming serum or moisturizer. Other ingredients that are associated with firming are vitamin C, retinol, hyaluronic acid and royal jelly and bee propolis.
Firming ingredients really work well to tighten up the outer layers of your skin. Don't expect them to perform a full neck lift.
It’s a fact of life that your neck is going to age and probably will show your years before nyour face does. With a little bit of attention and care, your neck can look better. As with all things skincare, the key is consistency and effective ingredients.