People are getting annoyed over a few pimples. And I’m over here like “wait till you get saggy skin”! That’s a can of worms you wish you didn’t have to get into. But alas, here we are. And when I say here, I mean standing in front of the skincare counter at Sephora holding some skin-firming cream completely zoned out and thinking about all those times we took our young, taut, and firm skin for granted. Let’s snap out of it, shall we? We’re making people uncomfortable.
And don’t give up just yet. If you’re dealing with sagging skin, or skin that has started to show loss of elasticity and firmness, there are still ways to salvage the situation with the best skin-firming ingredients science currently has to offer. If you’re not sure which ingredients tighten your skin and how exactly they do that, keep reading.
But first, what is firm skin, anyways? Firm skin is skin that is tight, elastic, and doesn’t show any visible sagging (1). The two most important proteins responsible for keeping our skin tight and firm are collagen and elastin. While collagen keeps the skin strong and resilient, elastin keeps it elastic and supple (2).
As a result of the natural aging process as well as external elements like UV exposure, our body’s ability to produce proteins that keep our skin firm gradually decreases (3). We can infer that by increasing their production, we can restore our skin’s firmness and elasticity, at least to a certain extent.
Below are the best skin-firming ingredients that help tighten skin.
Retinoids refer to vitamin A derivatives. And one of the most popular and well-researched vitamin A derivative is retinol. Retinol works by speeding up skin turnover, which means encouraging the shedding of old skin cells to make way for the newer, healthier cells. It’s by far the most effective ingredient that stimulates collagen and glycosaminoglycans production (4).
The latter is an umbrella term used to describe various molecules responsible for skin hydration and support for collagen and elastin (5). In sum, retinol improves skin texture and tone, minimizes wrinkles, and promotes firmer skin. But there’s a reason I titled this section ‘retinoids’ and not ‘retinol’.
Retinol is an over-the-counter ingredient. And though it’s one of the most potent active ingredients out there, it still has its limits. That’s why I’d personally suggest seeing a dermatologist for prescription retinoids like tretinoin. I did. And I can tell you that prescription retinoids are much, much more effective and they work faster. So if you mean business, don’t settle with retinol.
On a side note, it’s important to manage your expectations from retinol. Know that you won’t have tight skin overnight. Retinol takes weeks, even months to work. It requires patience. On the flip side, your results will be long-lasting and more profound.
Whether you’re a beginner or not, I recommend this gentle retinol serum because of its fragrance-free, skin-friendly formulation. It’s slightly creamy and it prevents dryness and redness from retinol. It also contains ceramides which mitigate damage to your skin barrier. You only need a pea-size amount to let vitamin A get to work and boost firmness.
Peptides are basically amino acids linked together in a particular sequence. And in skincare, there are different types. For our purposes, two types of peptides are especially helpful skin-firming ingredients. Signal peptides stimulate collagen production while neuropeptides temporarily smooth out wrinkles (6).
In case you’re completely new to the concept, here’s the scoop on peptides. Proteins like collagen and elastin are, in essence, several peptides chained together. So the idea with peptides in skincare is to send them into the skin and trick the skin into producing these proteins. As a result of collagen production, you achieve smoother, firmer skin.
Compared to retinoids, peptides are much gentler on the skin and offer a skin-friendly way to stimulate collagen and promote tighter, firmer skin. And as an overlooked benefit, peptides also hydrate the skin and make it plumper. Because they’re made of amino acids, and amino acids are majorly hydrating for the skin.
This is a budget-friendly peptide serum formulated with both signal and neuropeptides. You can use it to tackle the loss of skin elasticity as well as to smooth out expression lines.
3. Hydroxy Acids
Hydroxy acids, especially alpha-hydroxy acids like glycolic acid and lactic acid are among the most effective skin-firming ingredients that can help improve skin elasticity. They also accelerate skin turnover by exfoliating the skin. They work by getting rid of dead skin cells from the surface of the skin.
Then the skin starts producing more collagen to compensate. As a result, alpha-hydroxy acids refine the skin texture and tone and make the skin slightly firmer and plumper. On a side note, hydroxy acids also improve the skin’s hydration. They work as humectants and help bind water to the skin.
You can incorporate this exfoliating toner into your daily routine to slowly and gradually increase skin turnover rate and reveal firmer skin. It’s formulated with both glycolic and lactic acids. And it also has tree bark ferment to improve firmness. Your skin will be glowing in no time.
When you think about it, there are two ways to keep your skin tight. One is by actively trying to firm it with skin-firming ingredients and the other is by preventing it from getting saggier. Antioxidants do both! Antioxidants like vitamin C, E, and B3 have secondary benefits like brightening and moisturizing the skin.
But they also have the primary benefit of stimulating collagen production and preventing collagen loss. Antioxidants work by neutralizing free radicals caused by skin aggressors like UV and pollution.
That way, they prevent the whole cycle of events that result in collagen degradation and allow your skin to hold on to its healthy proteins. Compared to retinoids, the results you’ll get from using antioxidants will be slower. But the process is usually much gentler.
This is an antioxidant serum made with a gentle and stable vitamin C derivative in 10%. It’s incredibly comfortable on the skin and doesn’t make it sticky or greasy. It’s the perfect anti-aging serum to prevent further sun damage and loss of firmness. The serum also las licorice extract, which is known for brightening the skin. On a side note, I read here in this article that licorice also has skin tightening and firming properties.
Though caffeine is also an antioxidant, I wanted to talk about this separately. First of all, caffeine is a phenolic compound derived from plants like coffee, green tea, and black tea. To give you an example, the antioxidants ferulic acid and resveratrol are also phenolic compounds. But what sets caffeine apart is its ability to temporarily tighten the skin.
Caffeine has a constricting effect on the skin. And that causes a temporary firmness on the skin. That’s why caffeine-infused products make the skin appear fresher, tighter, and smoother. But contrary to other skin-firming ingredients I mention here, this particular effect of caffeine is temporary. So it won’t give you eternally firm skin.
To boost circulation and help your skin look tight and taut, you can try this caffeine serum. It’s suitable to use both under the eyes and on the face. Besides caffeine, it has the major compound derived from green tea to give you all the antioxidant protection you need from free radicals that cause laxity and droopiness.
So these are some of the best skin-firming ingredients you can use in your routine. As you can see, they each have a different way of doing things. Some ingredients aid in skin renewal and collagen production while others work by providing temporary effects. Either way, it’s important to manage expectations from topical skin care, especially if you have major sagging. In that case, you can consider procedures. One of the most effective and popular treatments for skin tightening is radiofrequency. But make sure you do your research and get your treatment from qualified professionals.
- Ganceviciene, R., Liakou, A. I., Theodoridis, A., Makrantonaki, E., & Zouboulis, C. C. (2012). Skin anti-aging strategies. Dermato-endocrinology, 4(3), 308–319. https://doi.org/10.4161/derm.22804
- Mehta-Ambalal S. R. (2016). Neocollagenesis and Neoelastinogenesis: From the Laboratory to the Clinic. Journal of cutaneous and aesthetic surgery, 9(3), 145–151. https://doi.org/10.4103/0974-2077.191645
- Michalak, M., Pierzak, M., Kręcisz, B., & Suliga, E. (2021). Bioactive Compounds for Skin Health: A Review. Nutrients, 13(1), 203. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13010203
- Mukherjee, S., Date, A., Patravale, V., Korting, H. C., Roeder, A., & Weindl, G. (2006). Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clinical interventions in aging, 1(4), 327–348. https://doi.org/10.2147/ciia.2006.1.4.327
- Wang, S. T., Neo, B. H., & Betts, R. J. (2021). Glycosaminoglycans: Sweet as Sugar Targets for Topical Skin Anti-Aging. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, 14, 1227–1246. https://doi.org/10.2147/CCID.S328671
- Gorouhi, F. and Maibach, H.I. (2009), Role of topical peptides in preventing or treating aged skin. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 31: 327-345. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2494.2009.00490.x