Saggy Skin: Causes and How to Tighten It Without Surgery

Photo Courtesy: Alexander Ford | iStock by Getty Images

You look in the mirror and notice your once taut skin has lost much of its bounce. We all notice saggy skin at some point, but we’re more likely to notice it as we get older or after losing a lot of weight. 

Non-surgical treatments tend to cost less than their surgical counterparts. Many of these are natural treatments you can try at home. Keep reading to learn more about the causes of saggy skin and which non-surgical treatments can help lift and tighten it back up.

What Causes Your Skin to Sag?

Many of us can recall the days when our skin looked and felt firm and bouncy. It remained supple and less marred by time or damage from health and environmental issues.

Skin that loses this pliability tends to sag, form wrinkles and appear weathered. This is known as elastosis.

Saggy skin tends to be more pronounced in those of us with light skin and in certain areas of the face, neck and body. For instance, chin fat may pool just below the jawline (or jowls), making it look bloated. Or, bands form around the neck as the cords that girdle it stretch out of shape.

Your skin’s affected by goings-on within your body (intrinsic factors). It’s also wide open to the effects of your outside environment (extrinsic factors). 

As such, many areas of your skin tend to be exposed. It makes sense then that it shows overt signs of damage.

Intrinsic factors tend to thin out your epidermis (outer layer of skin) and produce fine wrinkles. Extrinsic ones often result in deep wrinkles, lax skin and skin discoloration from too much sun exposure.

Aging Can Affect Skin Firmness

It’s natural for your skin to show signs of aging as time marches on. That’s because your dermis (your skin’s middle layer) makes less of the proteins elastin and collagen as you age.

Elastin makes your skin more compliant and resilient — together these are known as skin elasticity. Less bouncy and more wrinkly and saggy skin appears as your dermis ratchets down how much of these fibers it makes.

Younger skin has much more tidy and tightly packed collagen networks than older skin. These dense fiber networks uphold the structure of your skin and help it stay firm. But less collagen is made while more of it breaks down as you age.

A large polysaccharide (long chain of carbohydrate molecules) known as hyaluronic acid plays a key role in keeping up your skin’s water content, thereby helping it stay moist. These bind to proteins such as collagen to make your skin firm and help it absorb shock. 

Your levels of these bonded sugar molecules don’t drop with age. Rather, the number of proteins that bind to them goes down. This results in less hydrated, more saggy skin.

Pregnancy Can Loosen Skin

Pregnancy can cause loose skin by stretching and changing its structure. Being pregnant at an older age or with multiple babies may also raise your risk for skin sagging.

Losing Weight Can Slacken Skin

The extra pressure that excess weight places on your elastin and collagen fibers can harm them. This makes it harder for loose skin to bounce back after weight loss. 

This is especially true if you lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time. The younger you are when you lose weight, the more likely your loose skin will spring back and tone up.

Other Factors Can Lead to Saggy Skin

These include health and substance issues such as:

  • Long-term exposure to harsh compounds found in skin and soap products
  • Menopause
  • Prolonged use of drugs such as steroids and illicit substances such as methamphetamines (commonly called meth)

Environment and lifestyle hazards can worsen and speed up elastosis. These include:

  • Excess exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from natural sunlight or UV lights used in tanning beds and sun lamps — this is called photoaging or solar or actinic elastosis
  • Environmental toxins such as those that come from tobacco smoke and air and water
  • Lifestyle habits such as eating poorly, lack of exercise, drinking too much alcohol and not coping with stress well or letting it build up

How to Tighten Loose Skin

To determine which treatments can help firm up your saggy skin, think about:

  • Which areas of your body you’d like to treat
  • How much your skin sags in that area
  • How much of a tightening effect you want in this area

Non-surgical treatments can produce:

Subtle Results for Minor Skin Sagging

These range from skin products and lifestyle changes to various laser and energy devices. Treatment with these devices can be performed at home or at a medical clinic or beauty spa.

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Skin Products Applied Topically

Lotions, serums and creams that contain retinoids, such as retinol, can improve skin elasticity around your face and eyes. Retinoids are a vast group of compounds sourced from vitamin A. 

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Studies have shown that retinoids can boost collagen production and soften wrinkles. They can also fade skin discoloration and help treat acne.

These can be bought over the counter (OTC) or prescribed by your doctor. But those your doctor prescribes tend to work better than OTC retinoid skin products.

Retinoids can irritate and dry out your skin. If this is the case for you, you may want to try bakuchiol. The topical antiaging compound is often made from Psoralea corylifolia seeds but can also be derived from:

  • Psoralea glandulosa
  • Pimelea drupaceae (cherry riceflower)
  • Ulmus davidiana (Father David elm)
  • Otholobium pubescens
  • Piper longum (long pepper)

Bakuchiol has been used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine for centuries, providing a holistic approach to skin aging shown to:

  • Boost collagen production
  • Stimulate skin regeneration and wound healing
  • Offer antioxidant protection
  • Ease inflammation
  • Prevent and treat acne

Research has shown that bakuchiol functions much like retinol with fewer side effects such as stinging, scaling and sun sensitivity. Much of the research shows these effects after about a 3-month course of the plant-derived treatment.

Exercise to Tone Up Skin

Making exercise a part of your skincare routine can help with minor skin sagging. These include workouts that help build muscle mass and tighten muscles such as:

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  • Barre
  • Pilates
  • Weight lifting and resistance training
  • Yoga

Some research has also shown that facial exercises can help tighten skin sagging around your chin, jowls and throat.

Supplements for Loose Skin

Research supports the use of oral supplements that contain collagen and hyaluronic acid. These can provide minor improvement in skin:

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  • Elasticity
  • Fiber density
  • Hydration

Modest Results for Somewhat Lax Skin

These involve the use of non-invasive treatments, which leave your skin intact. They can help tighten skin in just about any part of your face and body. Many are safe for people of all skin colors and call for little to no downtime.

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Home versions of devices used for non-invasive, skin-tightening treatment can be used. But those used at a medical clinic or beauty spa often have greater capabilities and stronger doses.

The results are usually gradual, which helps them appear more natural. These include:

Laser Treatments 

Some lasers can send heat deep into your skin layers without harming your epidermis. They can also boost collagen production. 

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These are especially effective for treating lax skin on your stomach and upper arms. You’ll slowly see results 2 to 6 months after you’ve had about 3 to 5 treatments.

Microfocused Ultrasound (MFU) 

MFU devices use targeted sound waves to send heat deep into your skin layers to support collagen production and lift and tighten saggy skin. The results of just 1 MFU treatment can be seen within 2 to 6 months and last about a year.

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Radiofrequency (RF) 

These devices use low-dose RF energy to heat the tissue layer beneath your skin. RF helps with collagen production with results seen within 6 months (which last up to 3 years) after a single treatment.

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Most Noticeable Results for Really Loose Skin

These involve minimally invasive skin-tightening techniques that produce the most noticeable results outside of surgery. They require sedation and are performed by a licensed health care provider, such as a doctor.

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You’ll need someone to drive you home and care for you afterward. Downtime can take a few days or up to a week or more.

These include:

Laser Resurfacing

This laser treatment removes the top layers of your skin with results observed within 2 weeks. It’s the most effective non-surgical procedure for tightening saggy skin but also carries the highest risk of unwanted side effects such as scarring. The technique also helps fade dark spots, fine lines and wrinkles

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Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Injections

This entails rapidly spinning a tube of your blood in a device called a centrifuge to extract your platelets. These are then injected into the target area of your skin.

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PRP contains multiple growth factors and proteins shown to diminish skin discoloration and improve the density of collagen and elastin fibers, thereby enhancing skin thickness. 

These results are amplified when PRP is combined with other therapies such as microneedling or laser treatment. Microneedling uses a special roller device with needles to prick your skin, which helps the platelets reach deeper skin layers to stimulate collagen growth.

Radiofrequency

This minimally invasive type of RF involves inserting a thin tube (or needle) into your skin to heat up the underlying skin layer. Precise placement of the tube helps tighten loose skin in target areas such as your neck or upper arms. 

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Results can be seen in about 1 month with the best results noticed about 6 months after a single treatment. These can last for up to 3 years.