Fighting the effects of gravity is the latest concern in the anti-ageing camp, but can a cream really give you a lift?

Any products in this article have been selected editorially however if you buy something we mention, we may earn commission

For an inevitable phenomenon, ageing, or rather the outward signs of it, is seemingly one of the biggest thorns in our sides from a beauty point of view. We have a lot of bones to pick with ageing, and anti-ageing ‘trends’ seem to come and go, be it reducing the appearance of wrinkles, fading age spots or smoothing out a crepey décolletage. In a move that proves that contouring is the craze that will not die, ‘sculpting’ has this year taken precedence in the skincare rather than makeup market, with an uplift (sorry) in launches that claim to reduce sagging and restore our youthful bounce. As solving ageing conundrums go, defying gravity, Wicked style, seems like a pretty lofty ambition, but is there method in the contouring madness? We put a few of our qualms to  Dr. Justine Hextall , Consultant Dermatologist on behalf of The Harley Medical Group .

What can a lifting cream actually do?

“The area of the skin where the collagen and elastin are found is in the dermis. These structures keep skin firm- the so-called scaffolding of the skin. As we get older, intrinsic ageing and the effects of our environment, for instance UV exposure, stress, pollution  and smoking start to degrade the collagen and elastin. As a consequence, wrinkles develop and skin starts to sag.”

“It makes sense therefore that it would be unlikely that applying a cream would immediately correct this deficit. Although newer technologies allow for deeper penetration of topical preparations, I am not aware of any cream that can truly firm skin after a few applications with lasting results. That said serums and creams with antioxidants can protect skin and mitigate against the free radical damage from the effects of pollution and sun exposure amongst other things. So in effect they can protect against damage to the skin’s collagen and elastin over time, if used regularly, and thus in this way if effective products are used over time that fortify skin, they will help to reduce skin sagging.”

So we’re playing the long game here. What's the best skincare to look out for if sagging is a concern, and is there anything in particular to avoid?

“Look for skin creams with active ingredients that protect skin from external damage. Always wear a sunscreen, even in winter, but not any old sunscreen. Remember that while there is less UVB around during the winter months, levels of UVA are still significant. UVA is a longer wavelength that can penetrate through glass. UVA ( or UV-ageing ) will over time cause a breakdown in collagen and elastin. It is vital, therefore, to make sure that your sunscreen not only protects against UVB, but also UVA.”

“There is also a lot of talk now about the damaging effects of even longer wavelengths, such as Infrared A and high energy visible light  (HEVL), which is emitted by screens. Physical blocks such as zinc oxide (as found in DermaQuest Sheer Zinc SPF30 , £48) may be important as they simply work by reflecting light away from skin. If you go for a sunscreen that contains antioxidants that in addition will help to mitigate against free radical damage from light exposure.”

What else can you do to prevent sagging where possible?

“Over time we inevitably lose volume in our faces, though loss of dermis, fat and muscle and bone changes. That said, there is increasing evidence that external factors such as sun exposure, pollution and stress have a significant effect on skin. A healthy diet with plenty of antioxidants, stopping smoking, reducing alcohol intake and keeping stress in check, plus of course wearing an effective sunscreen, can all dramatically reduce these extrinsic ageing factors. Twin studies increasingly show that these external variables can be more important than genetics in how our skin ages.”

Any lifestyle tips to prevent sagging and keep skin 'lifted'?

“The single most important thing is to  stop smoking . Smoking, like sun exposure causes free radical damage. This damage causes the up-regulation of enzymes such as MMP-1 that breakdown collagen and elastin. There is increasing evidence now that pollution particularly, in conjunction with UV exposure, causes skin ageing. Topical and oral antioxidants can help to protect against free radical damage from the above. A diet rich fruit and vegetables will supplement our bodies natural antioxidant defenses. Yellow and orange peppers for example contain carotenoids, which are powerful antioxidants, tomatoes contain lycopene that protect against sun exposure to some degree, while avocados contain high levels of vitamin E, an important skin antioxidant. A healthy diet, gentle exercise and sun protection will all help to protect skin, so ultimately reduce skin sagging.”

I want real results, like, now. What are the latest cosmetic 'lifting' options?

“I am a believer in maintaining skin health and having a good skin care regime, healthy diet and possibly investing in intermittent non-surgical interventions such as micro-needling. Micro-needling works by mechanically damaging collagen, thus stimulating new collagen.”

“If you want tighter skin and a more youthful-looking jawline in under two hours, I recommend The Harley Medical Group’s i-Lipo Xcell (£150 per session). A non-invasive, painless treatment, it helps to contour targeted areas of the body, including, for instance, droopy jowls. The three-staged treatment can help to eliminate excess fat around the chin by emptying fat cells, aiding the body’s lymphatic drainage system to move the fat cell contents for use, and tightening the skin. Combining Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT), vacuum massage and radio frequency, this treatment not only does wonders for a double chin but can be used to target arms, inner thighs and other common problem areas.”

What can other more serious interventions achieve?

“Obviously a surgical face lift will in the short and medium term, lift the skin. However, increasingly people are looking for alternatives with less down time. Consequently, thread lifts are becoming more popular.”

“A thread lift involves the use of various types of threads, which are made from the same material as that used to close wounds during surgery. Skin markings are made prior to inserting the thread, which includes the entry points, exit points and directional vectors. Based on the skin markings, the dermatologist inserts the threads at certain sites.”

“These threads are placed under the skin. There is a formation of new collagen along the thread which ultimately leads to further tightening of the skin and providing the desired lift. The threads consist of polydioxanone (PDO), a material which is a dissolvable suture and is very safe for use as a thread lift as it has a long history of being used safely in many surgical and medical indications. It’s without a more serious option, but it gets results.”

The skincare high five

Not all ‘lifting’ creams are vials of hot air in themselves. While they won’t hoick up cheekbones or give you a jawline that could cut glass, some can produce a very short-term ‘tightening’ and suppleness while working as you wear them to make skin more resilient in the long term (we’re talking years here). Here’s our ‘high five’ worth considering, but bear in mind that miracles are not to be found in the bathroom cabinet on this one…

Shiseido Bio-Performance Lift Dynamic Serum , £73.80

Revving up the skin’s own hyaluronic acid production, this lightweight serum plumps skin by boosting hydration levels at the skin’s ‘lower layers’. Antioxidant vitamin E heavy, its patent pending formula aims to support the skin’s structure and bolster natural defences. Time will tell…

No7 Lift & Luminate Triple Action Serum , £27

One of these is sold roughly every two seconds in Boots, and in consumer trials involving 1500 women, 87% reported that their skin looked younger after just two weeks. Harnessing the power of the collagen stimulating peptide Matrixyl 3000 Plus™, it aims to firm, even out skin tone and diminish the appearance of wrinkles over time. Big goals, but it’s got the women of Britain on its side, and we found that it made skin look and feel hydrated and more than a little bouncy.

Clinique Sculptwear Lift and Contour Serum for Face and Neck , £46

Not new to the market, but a good egg, producing a temporary ‘taut’ appearance (...very subtle), but more importantly, a huge hit of antioxidants and peptides that can improve skin health and appearance in the long-run. Plus, it’s beautifully silky and fragrance-free.

Sisley Double Tenseur , £99.90

Your face may fall at the price alone, but of all of the ‘lifting’ lotions and potions, this produced the most profound immediate effect, thanks to an oat seed extract ‘mesh’ that retracts on application. Apply as a final skincare step for springy, supple skin, plus it doubles up as a primer, keeping makeup in place all day. A host of antioxidant plant extracts also go some way to justifying the price.

REN Keep Young and Beautiful™Instant Brightening Beauty Shot Eye Lift , £30

Sagging skin around the eyes is perhaps the least welcome effect of gravity on the face for many women, and while it can only be corrected by a highly trained dermatological or surgical professional, a little cosmetic, very short-term lift is quite frankly, welcome. This soothing, hydrating gel contains beneficial ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin with a good dose of brightening light reflective particles to provide a visible ‘lift’ in the eye area, so to speak. Basically it’s not moving mountains, but boy does it make a difference on tired, grey, ‘blah’ mornings. Partner with a creamy under-eye concealer for extra impact.

Want to know what skincare ingredients to prioritise?  We’ve got the list…

Follow Anna on Instagram  @annyhunter