Sagging facial skin is a sure sign of aging that occurs as the skin fights, and eventually loses, its battle with gravity. While there is not much that can be done to stop it altogether, the skill of plastic surgeons and a number of preventative procedures may slow the sagging process.
The surface layer of skin is called the epidermis; underneath that is the dermis. Two proteins -- collagen and elastin -- are found in the dermis. Collagen supports the epidermis while elastin fibers keep skin taut and tight and let the skin stretch and spring back like a rubber band. Both internal and external processes age the skin. While the skin begins aging from birth, in the mid-20s collagen production begins to slow down and elastin starts to wear out, reducing the skin’s ability to snap back. Genes and heredity play a role in these interior forces and generally can’t be changed. Outside environmental forces, such as sun exposure and smoking, can often be controlled.
Too much exposure to the sun, whether it’s from natural sunlight or tanning beds, can cause everything from unattractive changes in appearance to deadly skin cancer. Ultraviolet exposure breaks down collagen and weakens elastin, and the result is loose, leathery, sagging and wrinkled skin. These effects usually don’t show up until years after the damage has been done, when it's too late to repair. If it's not possible to avoid the sun, some skin damage can be prevented by staying out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and by applying sunscreen of 30 SPF or higher every two hours. Additionally, wear a wide-brimmed hat and protective clothing for added prevention.
Too Thin, Too Fast
Reaching a healthy weight through dieting is a desirable goal, but losing weight too quickly can leave loose skin on the jowls and baggy underarm skin. While young skin can snap back after weight loss, over the years, crash dieting or yo-yo dieting -- repetitive weight loss and gain -- diminishes elasticity until skin can no longer recover its earlier form. Instead of crash dieting, slow progress allows the skin to adjust; a loss of two pounds a week is generally a good goal.
In addition to its other harmful results, smoking also can damage the collagen and elastin of the skin, leading to premature aging. Exposure to smoke has been shown to produce increased levels of MMP, a substance in cells that breaks down collagen; smoking also causes fresh collagen production to drop significantly.
Save Your Money
Advertising for skin creams and lotions may promise to remove lines and wrinkles and restore youthful firmness, but buyers should be aware that such promises are more hopeful than factual. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate them as strictly as if they were drugs. Cosmetic creams and lotions don’t routinely go through FDA testing for safety or effectiveness, so they come with no guarantees that they will reverse sagging skin or produce any other advertised results. For those who wish to try cosmetic help, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using products for specific skin types, giving them time to work, and ignoring unrealistic promises.
Opinions are mixed on whether facial exercises help or hurt sagging skin. Repeated facial expressions can etch lines and groves into facial skin that become permanent as the elastin in the skin loses its ability to snap back. On the other hand, books, magazines and the Internet abound with articles and programs touting facial exercise as a way of combating aging. Anyone interested in trying such a program should first consult with a doctor or dermatologist for advice or recommendations.