Technology has changed our lives in so many ways. We can work from anywhere, connect with people in myriad ways, and shop with the push of a button. Unfortunately, these conveniences come with a cost, including a common cosmetic condition: neck creasing and wrinkles known as tech neck.
“There is a natural curvature of the neck to the back, to keep your head lifted,” says Sarah Sawyer, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist at Dermatology & Laser of Alabama. “[Nowadays], we spend so much time in the neck flexure position that it causes changes in the cervical spine, and then there’s less space for the skin to sort of stretch over the jawline. The effect on the skin and the other three layers of tissue in the neck are that it becomes lax.”
This laxity, she explains, is more than just skin deep. The platysma — a superficial muscle that spans from the collarbone to the lower face — plays an important role in avoiding tech neck. “The platysma is troublesome, cosmetically speaking. It is a very thin muscle, and as we’ve evolved as humans, it’s really thinned out [even more],” Dr. Sawyer explains. “What often happens is that as the muscle starts to herniate, [it causes] the loss of that 90-degree angle. It can also create a downward force on the facial muscles, which is going to blunt the jawline.”
She says that the first line of tech neck defense is preventing it from happening in the first place.
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Susan Griffin, CEO and co-founder of Nashville Cosmetic Surgery, echoes this sentiment. “A couple of things contribute to those [platysmal band lines],” she says. “One is when you’re moving the cervical spine up and down a lot. The other aspect is a combination of environmental factors, [including] all sorts of light damage … and age.”
Erin Bruton, owner and lead aesthetician at EB Skin in Nashville, adds that it’s never too late to prevent future skin damage. “When I see a client for the first time,” she says, “whether they’re in their 60s or in their 20s, I tell them they need to use their skincare products on their neck. A good anti-aging preventative care regimen includes vitamin C and retinol.”
She also offers the following preventative tips for tech neck:
- Employ proper ergonomics. Hold and/or prop devices up to reduce the downward tilting of your chin.
- Sleep on your back, on just one properly sized pillow.
- Wear a daily SPF with blue-light blocking technology. Find a formula that includes both zinc oxide as well as iron oxide, such as Colorescience Total Protection Face Shield Flex SPF 50.
Erin adds that recent studies suggest blue light — also known as high energy visible (HEV) light — emitted from devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computer screens may cause free radical damage in the skin, which can lead to DNA damage, cell and tissue death, a reduction in skin barrier functioning, and photoaging.
With the amount of time most American adults spend looking at a screen every day, prevention may not be enough to combat tech neck. Fortunately, there are a plethora of treatment options available. “The HydraFacial is our number one treatment,” Erin says. “You can do it on any skin type, and they make different booster vials to address specific issues — they just put one out for the neck and décolleté.”
Dr. Sawyer recommends radiofrequency at the first signs of laxity. Bi-monthly or quarterly treatments should suffice if someone is suffering from early neck or jawline changes. For more severe issues, she suggests one treatment every month. “Once you have a lot of laxity,” she explains, “radiofrequency is going to be of limited benefit. My advice when [patients] first start to develop that little bit of laxity: do frequent radiofrequency treatments, which are going to tighten the skin over time.”
She adds that, unlike most other treatments, radiofrequency increases collagen and elastin production. “Everybody talks about collagen … But in the neck, elastin is as important, if not more important.”
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Susan of Nashville Cosmetic Surgery recommends Morpheus8, which combines radiofrequency energy and micro-needling. In addition to increasing collagen and elastin production, Morpheus8 smooths and tightens mildly sagging neck skin and reduces the appearance of jowls. Though the treatment can be requested on the face or neck only, Susan always recommends both simultaneously, and typically as a series of three treatments, spaced out every three to five weeks.
“There’s nothing worse than somebody who has treated only their face,” she says. “[When] they’ve completely ignored their neck and their chest, it just doesn’t look normal. We always tell our patients to look at it as one canvas — if you’re going to treat the face, then you need to treat the neck and the chest; and what you get is a seamless effect that is just a general rejuvenated improvement.”
She says that post-treatment care — regardless of which treatment is utilized — is just as important as preventative care. “Don’t waste your money on these really great rejuvenating treatments that are going to bring you back to a good baseline if you’re not going to go home with a really great skincare regimen,” she says. “[A good regimen] starts with protection from UV light and UV radiation, and continues with rejuvenating treatments like an antioxidant, a retinol — or something of the retinoid family — and a good moisturizer.”
Making the right lifestyle choices, Susan adds, is also critical: drink water, focus on nutrition, reduce stress, and don’t smoke. She emphasizes that combating tech neck is a two-step approach. “Let’s rejuvenate first, to get us back to a good baseline,” she says. “Then, let’s make sure that you go home with a great skincare routine that protects the investment you just made.”
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