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I’ve lost count of the amount of sculpting body creams that have passed across my desk over the years, each one promising to firm and tone my body; I tend to ignore them, certain that time spent at the gym is more likely to get me the sculpted limbs of my dreams rather than laboriously rubbing in a cream each night.
Founder of Machester's One Aesthetic Studio Dr Jonquille Chantrey agrees with my sceptical stance. “Most of the creams on the market are unable to penetrate through the upper skin layers sufficiently to be active at the level needed to deliver tightening,” she says. But hold on - they might not be entirely useless.
“Toning creams can certainly help to moisturise the upper layer of the skin and some can seem like they are giving a superficial tightening,” says Dr Chantrey.
Jamie O'Banion founder and CEO of Beauty Bio agrees, saying: "While topical sculpting creams can’t rearrange our sub-dermal connective tissue, what they can do is boost collagen production and help break up fatty acids for a smoother outward appearance."
Many of the creams promising firming and toning powers do have some impressive credentials. “Firming body creams work thanks to active ingredients that strengthen the dermis (the living tissue under the skin) and provide an instant tightening effect on the skin,” explains Jemma White, a trainer for Sisley who sell a luxury firming cream.
“Sculpting and toning products work to increase elasticity, making the skin more supple as well as energising it with stimulating ingredients that tighten and tone,” adds Tom Reynolds, head of brand at Coco and Eve , who also offer a collection of products designed to tone up the skin.
Different toning creams target different areas; some tighten the outer layers of the skin, while others plump it so the skin looks smoother. Other products use skin stimulating ingredients such as caffeine to boost circulation and achieve a firmer look.
With this in mind, if you’re simply looking for the appearance of toned, sculpted skin then there’s no harm in massaging a toning body cream in each day. In fact, it’s the time-consuming rubbing in that could be key.
"When we apply our daily body creams, we’re naturally stimulating circulation, promoting lymphatic drainage, breaking up fascia and massaging areas of cellulite, which over time definitely aids in sculpting skin and helping it appear smoother," says Jamie.
That's not to say that any bottle of body cream rubbed in will get to work firming your skin. "I’d wager that most beauty companies don’t rely on the user massaging for results," comments Jamie. "Much of the results will be due to the skincare actives you're working with."
Ingredients to look for in toning body creams
Green tea: "Green tea is an amazing antioxidant," says Jamie. "When used topically it promotes collagen production, which helps skin appear firmer."
Oat seed extract: “This is used to instantly give a tightening effect on the skin,” says Jemma
Dill seed: “This ingredient is used to work into the dermis level to build elastin, which is really important in building firmness up," Jemma explains
Padina Pavonica: These brown algae found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans work on the water bubbles in the dermis to help preserve collagen. Sea algae improves the elasticity of the skin, Jamie told us.
Caffeine: "Caffeine has the ability to stimulate blood flow, which ramps up oxygen delivery to skin cells, promoting collagen production and smoother-looking skin." Jamie explains.
Peptides: Peptides promote collagen and elastic production to thicken the skin and improve bounce.
Coconut, cacao and shea butter: “Rich oils and butters nourish the skin to make it appear brighter, plumper and healthier,” says Coco and Eve.
If you are looking for a sculpted and toned appearance, here are the body creams we’ve found to be a pleasure to use - and deliver a firming feel too.
This rich yet easily absorbed cream include Indian fig extract and monk's pepper berry for hydration and caffeine to smooth and firm. Despite the fruity name, this is very subtly citrus-scented rather than peachy and sinks in automatically. The tub lasts a long time too as a little goes a long way.
Loved by GTG's editorial director Victoria for its citrus fragrance, this serum texture toning body buy is clinically proven to reduce skin roughness. As well as aloe vera, this includes centella asiatica extract, grapefruit and orange oils for scent and a peptide that works on fat breakdown which results in smoother, firmer-looking skin.
Beauty editors go absolutely wild for Augustinus Bader’s The Cream , but does the body version live up to the hype? It uses the same principles and technology as the face creams, backed by stem cell science and claims to ramp up the skin’s renewal processes to create a firmer skin tone. The high-powered ingredient is the patented TFC8, which is a complex of natural amino acids, medical-grade vitamins and synthesised molecules naturally found in the skin which guides key nutrients to the cells (hence the renewal process). In clinical trials, 94 per cent of testers said their skin felt tightened and more elastic after use and 98 per cent said it improved the skin’s texture making it appear more toned.
Mandarin and bergamot mingle together for an uplifting fragrance treat in this easily-absorbed serum - there’s no stickiness whatsoever after applying. Aurelia’s signature African botanical ingredients including baobab deliver omegas, essential fatty acids and vitamin E to the skin to nourish, protect and firm it, delivering a reduction in the appearance of stretch marks making skin appear more even.
This ultra-light 'contouring care' from Sisley says it will firm and tone the skin and work to reduce the appearance of cellulite. Within 14 days it promises to diminish the appearance of dimples so that the skin looks firmer and more toned. Ingredients include stimulating caffeine and plankton-derived ingredients that promote sculpting and toning. It has a gel-in-oil texture that absorbs instantly, leaving the skin feeling fresh and zingy and allowing you to get dressed straight away.
This launched earlier last year as part of a three-piece collection designed to buff, smooth and hydrate the body. This masque, which is scented with lychee and dragon fruit, uses Balinese volcanic clay to detoxify, lift and tighten the skin, along with green coffee extract and green algae to even the skin tone. The collection also has the Bali Buffing Sugar which increases circulation (and a mitt to really stimulate that circulation) and a body moisture whip infused with amino acids to hydrate and firm skin.
, £70 for 180ml
This non-greasy cream hydrates, boosts collagen levels and reduces the appearance of cellulite thanks to a blend of active ingredients, antioxidants and amino acids. Sea algae and arginine enhance elasticity while organic green tea seed oil promotes collagen production. It works especially well when used with the GloPro Microneedling Regeneration tool, because the micro-channels enhance product absorption and the tiny micro-injuries force skin to create new, bouncy, younger-looking skin.
MORE GLOSS: The skincare to use when you’re microneedling (and what to avoid)
This sculpting serum is designed to be applied at night; the marine complex of collagen-boosting micro-organisms work with your body’s natural circadian rhythm to firm, tone and contour at night while you sleep. It’s not promising that you’ll arise with supermodel style legs, but peptides in the mix enhance microcirculation to decongest the skin and reduce water retention, thus sculpting the body.
This plum-packaged product promises to address the lack of skin firmness on the arms, bust, stomach and buttocks (which decreases 27 per cent between the ages of 28 and 54, according to Caudalie). It has a whipped texture which is pleasing to use and a subtle orange blossom scent which we’d love even if it wasn’t promising to firm us up. Ingredients include iris extract and grape-seed polyphenols known for their firming properties to visibly smooth and firm the skin. In a 28 day trial 96 per cent of people who used the cream said their skin was firmer, while 91 per cent said their skin was more toned.
Anyone who has ever had this little yellow tub of joy in their life will be able to attest to just how gorgeous it smells - summer in a pot, basically thanks to salted caramel and pistachio. More than just an incredible scent, it’s also a high performing formula, infused with guarana which has five times more caffeine than coffee, which we already know improves circulation and firms skin.
Quince leaf extract is at the heart of this soft pink cream-gel; it targets the cells which work to stimulate the elimination of fats helping along the process. It also includes caffeine and has a subtle mint fragrance which feels fresh and zingy on application - very refreshing after a workout.
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