Q: I’ve been noticing more wrinkles and sagginess on my neck and chest. Aside from aging, are there other causes for these changes in my skin?
A: Just as with the wrinkles around your eyes and mouth and across your forehead, aging is the primary reason for the appearance of fine lines and looser skin on your neck, chest and décolletage (the upper part of your torso). With every birthday, your skin’s collagen, which provides structure, breaks down a little more. The result: Skin becomes thinner, less elastic and drier—a combination that makes it appear less firm, saggy and wrinkled. There are some other culprits, though, which could be the reason you’re noticing these changes sooner than you might expect:
- Sun Damage Exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun (think of how shirts, dresses and swimsuits leave exactly these areas exposed) speeds the natural aging process, breaking down your skin's collagen and elastin, the connective tissue that keeps it looking young and plump, and causing skin to lose its strength and flexibility. When this happens, skin starts to sag and wrinkle.
- Years of Neglect When you wash and moisturize your face in the morning and before bed each night, you may not always include your neck, chest and décolletage in the process. By neglecting to cleanse, hydrate and nourish those areas just as you do your cheeks, forehead, chin, nose and so on, negative effects build up over time.
- Being a Side-Sleeper You may have heard that snoozing on your side, which presses your face and neck against the pillow, can contribute to facial wrinkles. True enough, but it can also promote fine lines elsewhere too: Sleeping on your side or curled up in the fetal position encourages the skin on your chest to compress, which can cause wrinkles between and just above your breasts.
- Constrictive Clothing Sports bras, some push-up bras, swimsuits and fitted tank tops and shirts can push your breasts together, which squeezes the surrounding skin. While you may feel supported during a workout or on the beach, be mindful that when worn for hours too-tight clothing can contribute to wrinkles.
- Smoking Just as lighting up will cause fine lines and wrinkles on your face, the same happens on your neck and chest. That's because nicotine causes the blood vessels in the outermost layers of your skin to constrict, impairing blood flow and depriving the skin of oxygen and important nutrients.
Whether the changes in your skin are normal signs of aging or due to one of the other reasons mentioned above, you can take action to improve the appearance of your neck, chest and décolletage. Try:
- Cleansing and Moisturizing Daily Be sure to wash the areas below your face daily and thoroughly, most likely in the shower. Invest in a thick moisturizer (look for one with super-hydrating hyaluronic acid) and slather it on your neck, chest and torso in the morning and before bed. Though moisturizers won’t reverse wrinkles or prevent more from appearing, they help nourish your skin, prevent dryness and may temporarily mask fine lines.
- Applying Sunscreen While you likely know to protect your face with SPF every day, there’s a good chance you’re not including your neck and chest when you apply your daily dose of sunscreen. It’s time to change that habit: Choose a moisturizer with a built-in broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) so you don’t have to add more steps and products to your beauty routine and be sure to cover any body parts that may be exposed to sunlight during the day (this applies no matter what time of year it is). Choosing mineral sunscreens with zinc and titanium are also ideal because they contain more natural ingredients.
- Quitting Harmful Habits Add wrinkle prevention to the long list of good reasons to toss your cigarettes once and for all. Though it may take some time and can definitely be a challenge, kicking smoking to the curb can improve your skin’s tone and texture and prevent future wrinkles, even if you’ve smoked heavily for years.
- Being Mindful of Your Diet Our skin is also influenced by what is going on inside our bodies. Eating less sugar and more healthy foods rich in omega-3s (fish), colorful fruits and vegetables and, yes, even occasional dark chocolate can benefit the appearance of your skin.
- Using Prescription Products There are a few medical treatments that can work well to improve the appearance of your skin. Topical retinoids have been proven to reduce fine wrinkles, skin roughness and uneven skin tone. Your dermatologist may also talk to you about light and laser treatments, which destroy the outer layer of skin in order to stimulate the growth of new collagen fibers that make skin appear smoother and tighter.
- Applying Over-the-Counter Wrinkle Creams Products with active ingredients like retinol, alpha hydroxy acid and peptides help reduce the appearance of fine lines. Keep in mind, though, that these products contain less potent wrinkle-reducers than prescription creams, so it may take longer to see results and they may be shorter-lived.