Skin elasticity refers to your skin’s ability to stretch and bounce back into place. Our skin’s elasticity is what gives us plump, healthy-looking skin. As skin loses its elasticity, it starts to sag and wrinkle.
Our skin elasticity is highest when we’re young and slowly decreases as we age. While it’s inevitable that your skin will become less elastic as you get older, there are ways you can slow the process.
What Is Skin Elasticity?
Our skin is made up of three layers, and this makeup affects elasticity. The epidermis is the outermost layer, the dermis is the middle layer, and the subcutis is the deepest layer. In the dermis, the middle layer, our skin contains two kinds of proteins called collagen and elastin. These proteins are found in the skin’s connective tissues and are responsible for its elasticity.
Collagen is an important building block for our skin, hair, and nails. It also makes up our muscles, bones, and tendons. Collagen and elastin are the fibers that make it possible for the skin to stretch and spring back into place.
What Causes Loss of Elasticity?
Loss of skin elasticity, also known as elastosis, is a natural part of the aging process. Environmental factors and harmful products can speed up the process.
As we age, our skin naturally loses its elasticity and starts to show signs of aging. Women begin losing collagen in their 20s and lose about 30% of their total collagen in the first five years of menopause. This loss of collagen results in sagging skin and wrinkles.
Our faces also lose fat deposits in the aging process. Without fat stores to fill out the skin on the face, the skin naturally begins to fall and sag. Our skin also loses protein and hyaluronic acid with age.
As our skin loses collagen with age, the bond between the epidermis and dermis weakens. This separation of the layers of the skin causes the skin to sag and appear wrinkled. Because collagen holds our skin together, as it decreases, gravity naturally takes over, pulling the skin down.
Environment and Lifestyle
In addition to the aging process, environmental factors can contribute to sagging skin as well. Because collagen and elastin are located in the dermis, they are affected by the environment. These proteins can be damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, as well as by smoking and pollution. The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that up to 90% of skin aging, including loss of elasticity, is due to exposure to UV rays.
When UV rays hit the cells in the dermis, they damage collagen fibers and stimulate the production of abnormal elastin fibers. These abnormal fibers further damage the collagen fibers, leading to damaged skin that wrinkles and sags prematurely.
Like UV rays, smoking and pollution are harmful to the skin and can expedite aging. Cigarette smoke is toxic to all of the body’s cells. It causes thinning of the skin, which leads to sagging and wrinkles.
While not as dangerous as sun damage or smoking, poor skincare habits can lead to loss of skin elasticity. Forgetting to wash your face at night can happen once in a while, but when you sleep in makeup and products every night, your pores can become clogged. This leads to breakouts and a buildup of oil. It’s best to wash your face once or twice daily, depending on how oily your skin is. Washing more than twice per day can strip your skin of its natural oils and moisture, making wrinkles and fine lines more noticeable.
Pressing or tugging on the delicate skin around your eyes can result in loss of elasticity as well. This area of skin is sensitive and too much handling can lead to broken blood vessels and fine lines.
Lifestyle Factors That Protect Elasticity
Losing skin elasticity over time is a natural process that can’t be stopped; it can, however, be slowed down. Making lifestyle changes like using sun protection and quitting smoking can help your skin preserve its natural elasticity longer.
To naturally improve skin elasticity, start with your dinner plate. Our bodies need a wide array of nutrients to be able to function at their best. If your diet is lacking major food groups, your body won’t have the energy and reserves it needs to continue to make collagen. A poor diet can speed up the loss of collagen, leading to premature skin aging and sagging.
To make collagen, your body needs amino acids. These are components of protein and can be found in protein-rich foods like poultry, fish, beef, dairy products, eggs, and beans. Collagen production also requires vitamin C from foods like citrus fruits, red bell peppers, tomatoes, spinach, and broccoli. In addition to protein and vitamin C, our bodies need zinc and copper to produce collagen. These minerals can be obtained from meat, nuts, beans, and whole grains.
In addition to providing building blocks for collagen production, our diets can also help to reduce collagen loss. Eating foods rich in antioxidants, especially fruits and vegetables, can help to neutralize free radicals in the body. Free radicals contribute to skin aging by breaking down skin cells and collagen.
Another food to start incorporating into your diet for skin health is bone broth. It is made by extracting the collagen from beef or poultry bones and is meant to be consumed warm.
High-quality dark chocolate contains cocoa flavanols, naturally occurring nutrients in cacao beans that may improve skin elasticity. A study found that when women consumed a drink with cocoa flavanols daily for 24 weeks, their skin showed significant improvement in wrinkles and elasticity. Cocoa flavanols may also improve signs of photodamage from the sun like age spots.
Most experts believe that you can get all the nutrients your body needs from your diet. However, if you’ve been struggling to stick with a well-rounded diet or simply want to try adding more nutrients, a supplement may be right for you. Because vitamin C, zinc, and copper are necessary components of collagen production, a daily multivitamin may be beneficial.
A collagen supplement may help to preserve your skin’s elasticity and prevent wrinkles. A 2019 study found that taking a daily collagen supplement significantly improved skin hydration and elasticity. It also appeared to help the skin maintain its thickness and density. Taking a collagen supplement, especially around menopause when our bodies quickly lose natural collagen, may make a big difference in the appearance of our skin.
Exercise benefits every system in the body, especially the skin. Exercise can help to stave off the aging process in the skin, preserving its collagen reserves and keeping its thickness. A study found that the skin of exercisers over age 40 appeared more like the skin of someone in their 20s when examined under a microscope. The skin samples from those who exercised regularly had more collagen and appeared thicker.
Researchers from the study obtained skin samples from sedentary individuals over age 65 before and after starting a moderate exercise program. After three months, their skin samples looked significantly different and more youthful.
Getting plenty of sleep every night won’t just make you feel better; it will help you look your best too. When our bodies are sleep-deprived, they release the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol leads to inflammation in the body, including the skin. This inflammation can lead to redness, irritation, and wrinkles. Collagen and elastin cannot function properly when the skin is inflamed.
During sleep, your body releases a human growth hormone. This hormone is necessary for collagen production. Aim for seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep each night to help your body heal and hormones reset. Turn off the television and your phone an hour before bed to help your mind relax, and talk with your doctor if you’re experiencing insomnia.
Staying hydrated can lead to brighter skin with more elasticity. Our skin cells, like every cell in the body, are made up of water. When the skin is dehydrated, it can’t function properly and appears dry and flaky. Dry skin tends to be less resilient and starts to show fine lines and wrinkles sooner. To keep skin hydrated, start with your diet. Drink plenty of water each day, aiming for at least eight glasses. Use a gentle moisturizer each day, especially after showering or washing your face.
Once you have made lifestyle changes like getting more sleep and drinking more water, skincare products may be your next line of defense against aging and loss of elasticity. Topical products containing sunscreen, collagen, or vitamins can protect your skin from the environment and help to preserve your skin’s natural collagen.
The most effective anti-aging skin care product will always be sunscreen. Blocking some of its harmful rays is essential in promoting skin elasticity. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVB and UVA rays from the sun. UVB rays affect the top layer of the skin and cause sunburns. UVA rays penetrate deeper and are responsible for the loss of skin elasticity from damaged collagen and elastin fibers. Your sunscreen should be at least SPF 30 or higher.
Other ways you can protect your skin from the sun include:
- Wear UPF-containing clothing
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat
- Stay under the shade of an umbrella
- Avoid peak sun times (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
There are now creams and lotions available that contain collagen in them. While it makes sense to replace the collagen you’re losing naturally with topical collagen, these products have not been proven to significantly improve skin elasticity. Dermatologists believe that retinol and retinoid creams are more effective than collagen-containing ones.
Retinol and Retinoids
Skincare products containing retinol and retinoids have been proven to promote collagen production and reverse some of the signs of aging. Retinol is a form of vitamin A that has been shown to improve skin elasticity when combined with vitamin C. Retinol and retinoids can be found in many over-the-counter skin products and prescription medications.
Hyaluronic acid is found in the skin’s connective tissue and helps to keep the skin hydrated and lubricated. It decreases over time due to aging and exposure to UV rays from the sun or tanning bed. Hyaluronic acid is marketed as an anti-aging wonder because of its ability to moisturize skin. It holds 1,000 times its own weight in water, which keeps the skin hydrated and attracts more moisture to skin cells. This gives your skin firm plumpness and makes it more resilient and less likely to wrinkle.
Genistein is a type of soybean isoflavone that mimics the effect of estrogen in the body. It can be taken as a supplement or in soybean products. Similar to hormone replacement therapy, this phytoestrogen may improve skin elasticity when taken orally. Because this is a natural product, it has not been tested for safety or efficacy by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Talk with your primary doctor before starting a genistein supplement.
Witch hazel is a plant that can be found in many over-the-counter and natural skin products. One small study found that applying witch hazel topically may help with skin sagging and wrinkles. This is because witch hazel appears to aid in repairing elastin damaged by the sun. Talk with your dermatologist if you have questions about starting to use topical witch hazel.
If lifestyle changes and anti-aging skincare products have not produced the results you’re after, medical treatments may be the next step. Medical procedures performed by a cosmetic dermatologist can improve skin elasticity by stimulating new collagen growth. Medical treatments may help you preserve skin elasticity more effectively than other options.
Laser treatments can be used to treat chronic skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. They may also improve signs of skin aging. Studies show that laser therapy helps stimulate the production of collagen in the skin’s connective fibers. Increased collagen improves the look of the skin and increases its natural elasticity; it also improves the look of wrinkles.
Laser treatment is usually considered less invasive and low risk compared to other medical treatments for skin aging. During laser therapy, your skin will be prepped with a numbing cream, and the procedure is usually painless. After laser treatment, it’s normal to experience redness and swelling. Possible risks are rare ands include infection and scarring.
Microneedling with Radiofrequency
This is a minimally invasive procedure that helps build collagen in the skin. Special needles that deliver high-intensity radio frequency energy are inserted into the targeted tissue in the skin, which gives a uniform warming effect to the deep tissue and stimulates new collagen fibers to grow. Microneedling with radiofrequency can lead to significant improvement to skin quality and texture.
This procedure can not only tighten skin but also help with fine lines, enlarged pores, wrinkles, acne scars, and stretch marks. Improvement is seen three to six months after the procedure. Most people get two to three treatments.
Ultherapy is a non-invasive procedure that uses microfused ultrasound waves to stimulate collagen growth in the body and tighten the skin. It works by generating a thermal effect under the skin, which jumpstarts the body’s collagen production. Your doctor will use ultrasound to visualize the layers of your skin during the procedure to ensure the right amount of energy is directed at the right area.
People who undergo ultherapy usually see results in two to three months. They may also see improvement in their skin six months after, and the results may last for a year or more.
A chemical peel is usually performed on the face and can also treat the neck and hands. Chemical peels improve signs of aging like age spots and wrinkles as well.
During a chemical peel, your doctor will apply a chemical solution to your face. This solution works as an exfoliant and removes the top layers of the skin. When the skin grows back, production of new collagen is triggered, leaving you with smoother, younger-looking skin.
There are different degrees of chemical peels. To improve elasticity, your doctor will most likely recommend a light or medium peel. Deep chemical peels penetrate deep into the skin and are usually used to treat scars or precancerous growths.
As with any medical procedure, chemical peels come with risks. After a peel, it’s normal to experience skin redness, inflammation, and peeling. This inflammation process is what triggers new skin cells and collagen growth. Scarring and infection are rare but possible.
Dermabrasion is another exfoliation technique performed by a dermatologist or plastic surgeon. During dermabrasion, your doctor will use a tool to “sand” your skin and remove the outer layers. Dermabrasion can improve the look of wrinkles and skin sagging. It is also used for acne, scarring, age spots, and precancerous growths. Studies have found that dermabrasion is more effective at stimulating new collagen growth than chemical peels.
Dermabrasion comes with risks as well; infection is possible. People with darker skin tones are more likely to experience scarring and permanent pigment changes.
Platelet-Rich Plasma Injections
Platelet-rich plasma injection is a relatively new cosmetic procedure, but has been used for years to aid wound healing after surgery or trauma. The treatment involves drawing blood from you, then separating out the platelets and growth factors. Platelet cells clot your blood when your skin is cut, but they have other benefits as well. Platelets contain proteins and growth factors that can heal skin and promote collagen production.
Once the platelets and growth factors are separated from the rest of your blood, they can be injected into your face, neck, or hands. These cells then stimulate new cell growth and healing. Following an injection of platelet-rich plasma, fibroblasts in the skin are triggered, which leads to new skin cells and collagen production.
Certain fillers like Sculptra and Radiesse stimulate the body to make collagen. Sculptra contains poly-L lactic acid that can stimulate collagen production and tighten skin. Your doctor will inject the filler at different points of your face, and the procedure takes about 20 to 30 minutes to complete. The solution fills in hollow areas and deep folds of skin. Results are usually noticeable after one month, but three to four Sculptra treatments may be required for optimal results.
Radiesse contains calcium hydroxylapatite, and is diluted with saline and lidocaine when used to stimulate collagen production and tighten skin. For the best results, you may need one to three treatments in the first year and then one treatment every 12 to 18 months to maintain the results.
Cosmetic surgeries to address wrinkles and skin sagging include a face lift, brow lift, and neck lift. During these procedures, a plastic surgeon makes an incision in the skin. The surgeon then lifts the skin and underlying muscle tissue. Fat may be redistributed as well. Excess skin is then trimmed away, and the incisions are closed with sutures. These surgeries provide a lifted and tighter look for the affected skin.
Cosmetic surgery carries all of the risks of any surgery, like infection and scarring. It requires general anesthesia, which also involves serious risks. Talk with your doctor about the risks and potential benefits to make the right decision for you.
As we age, our hormone levels naturally decline and this leads to changes in the skin. Falling hormones are to blame for skin thinning and dryness, as well as sagging. Hormone therapy aims to improve skin thickness and hydration, leading to firmer, plumper skin. Hormone replacement therapy is still being studied, and there are serious side effects to be aware of.
A Word From Verywell
Skin elasticity gives our skin its youthful look and feel. It’s helpful to remember that while some loss of elasticity is natural, it’s possible to slow down the process and keep our skin looking younger for longer. We can protect our skin from damage by wearing sunscreen, avoiding cigarette smoke, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep. For more dramatic results, you can try skincare products and medical treatments. Talk with your dermatologist about your skin elasticity questions to make a plan that is right for you.