Skin-Care Tips

‘Skin Firming’ Body Lotions Are Everywhere—Here’s How To Find One That Actually Works

Photo: Stocksy/Ivan Andrianov
With the body-care boom upon us, there are plenty of products that promise to eradicate neck-down skin concerns. But while it would be pretty amazing if a simple swipe of cream could deliver a soft, bouncy complexion on your chest, arms, and legs, according to dermatologists, there are some limitations to what these "skin firming" body lotions can actually do.

"Firming body lotions are unfortunately not miracle creams," says Adrienne O'Connell, DO, medical director and president of Laguna Beach Aesthetics. "They mostly help to plump the top layer of skin, which can temporarily make the skin look tighter and smoother."

Considering "skin firming" tends to be used as an umbrella term, there are a few different skin concerns that may have you reaching for this type of product. Think: crepiness, sagging, cellulite, and stretch marks. Unfortunately, the formulas aren't necessarily built to treat them all, so it's important to understand their limitations before investing—especially because most of them aren't cheap. Keep reading for what pros want you to know.

How skin-firming body lotions work

As Dr. O'Connell mentioned, most skin-firming products tend to target the top layer of your skin, known as the epidermis. While these formulas may give you the look of temporary tightness, to see lasting results, you'll need to use ingredients that stimulate collagen and elastin production one layer down, in the dermis.

"You want to make the dermis as firm as possible," says board-certified dermatologist Corey L. Hartman, founder and medical director of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama. "You don't want the epidermis to necessarily be [thick] because that's the part that's rapidly turning over every two weeks."

Generally, pros recommend pairing over-the-counter products with in-office treatments for best results, but there are a few ingredients that can hit that dermal layer on their own. Retinol is considered the gold standard, as it's "one of the only active ingredients that has been shown to help thicken the skin and prevent it from getting thinner," says Dr. O'Connell. Peptides can also help, because they strengthen the skin to improve elasticity and firmness, and "play a key role in directing our skin cells to produce collagen, reduce inflammation, and even skin tone," says Dr. O'Connell. She suggests pairing these powerhouse actives with antioxidants like vitamin C and CoQ10 (which fight free radical damage to prevent inflammation) for peak effectiveness.

How skin-firming lotions impact different skin concerns

1. Wrinkles

If wrinkles are your primary concern, the skin on your body will likely benefit from the same techniques you use on your face. "Chemical exfoliants such as glycolic acid will exfoliate and tighten the skin," says Dr. O'Connell. Dr. Hartman recommends pairing chemical exfoliants, which smooth the top layer of skin, with retinol, which stimulates collagen and elastin in the dermis.

Will using this combination of ingredients diminish wrinkles completely? Probably not. But applying them regularly in conjunction with SPF can help to soften existing lines while preventing new ones from forming.

REPLENIX Retinol Smooth + Tighten Body Lotion — $89.00

This luscious body lotion contains retinol to firm the deepest layer of the skin, while ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and a proprietary green tea polyphenol technology work synergistically to moisturize, plump, and protect the top layer of skin from oxidative stress.

2. Sagging skin

As a person ages, the combination of gravity and a decreased production of collagen and elastin in our skin can cause drooping on both the face and body. "Peptides help stimulate more collagen, which can lead to firmer, younger-looking skin," says Dr. O'Connell, adding that peptides are the "most effective" ingredient for firming up sagging skin.

Revision Skincare BodiFirm
Revision Skincare® BodiFirm — $150.00

Board-certified dermatologist Deirdre Hooper, MD, uses this skin-firming lotion to combat sagging on her arms and legs. “When I am really good about using this product, and I’m using it daily for at least a month, I do see an improvement in my skin’s quality overall,” she previously told Well+Good. “And I think that that is because of the ingredients which blend tons of topical cosmeceuticals. Most importantly, a peptide blend that is supposed to improve the skin firmness and elasticity and antioxidants and botanicals that will be anti-aging and help stave off the process of any further sagging.”

3. Crepiness

"Crepey skin occurs when your skin grows thin and loses its ability to return to normal after being stretched," Andrew Ordon, MD, FACS, a California-based plastic surgeon, previously told Well+Good. "It tends to impact larger areas, as opposed to wrinkles, which usually form from facial expressions such as smiling, frowning, or squinting. It affects the skin's texture, resulting in saggy, crinkly areas, as opposed to a furrowed crease or lines that are known as wrinkles."

Dr. O'Connell names retinol as the most effective ingredient for targeting crepey skin. "Retinol penetrates the middle layer of your skin, boosting the production of elastin and collagen to 'firm' or 'plump' the skin," she says. "It can also improve the skin's texture and tone." However, Dr. Hartman adds that there's only so much retinol can do, so your best bet is to combine a retinol-infused body lotion with an in-office treatment like CoolSculpting or radiofrequency.

Alastin Skincare TransFORM Body Treatment with TriHex Technology — $205.00

Dr. Hartman recommends this peptide-rich cream for diminishing crepiness and improving elasticity.

4. Stretch marks

According to Christopher Zoumalan, MD FACS, an oculoplastic surgeon, "Stretch marks are considered a type of scar, and although there is no visible incision that is healing, stretch marks create tears deep within the skin dermis."

These "scars" impact both the color and texture of your skin. To reduce discoloration, Dr. Zoumalan recommends using tranexamic acid, which has been shown to improve hyperpigmentation almost as effectively as hydroquinone (a scar-lightening ingredient banned for sale in the U.S.), and arbutin, which is known for its brightening properties. To smooth texture, retinol is (once again) a solid option. But while these ingredients can help, they likely won't make your stretch marks totally disappear.

If you're looking for more aggressive treatment, there are a few in-office options to consider. "Deep radiofrequency lasers and deep resurfacing lasers like Fraxel, CO2, and microneedling can all stimulate collagen and elastin fibers to form under the skin," says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York. "These are wonderful tools to improve and minimize the appearance of stretch marks, and I've had great success treating many of my patients."

Skinuva Brite — $80.00

This cream contains both tranexamic acid and niacinamide, two ingredients that work together to even out the skin tone and diminish the appearance of stretch marks and scars

5. Cellulite

Many people think moisturizing the skin is the key to diminishing cellulite (which, by the way, impacts 90 percent of women throughout their lifetimes). According to Dr. Hartman, though, there isn't much merit to this theory. The reason? Cellulite happens when skin lays over fat cells, and skin-firming creams won't do much because they don't permeate deeply enough to change the skin's structure.

One way you can firm your skin is by strengthening the muscles underneath. "On the face, muscle tone is not as important since we use those muscles to eat and chew and express ourselves," says Dr. Hartman. "But on the body, the muscles are a lot bigger, and they can help provide a better structure."

However, it's important to note that firming the muscles and using skin-tightening creams are not guaranteed to get rid of cellulite. If it's something that bothers you, an in-office treatment that involves radiofrequency, injectables, or heat-and-massage contouring is the way to go.

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Experts Referenced
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