The Truth About Firming Creams: Can You Really Lift Up Sagging Skin?

by Gio
the truth about firming creams - do they work?

Once skin is sagging, no cream can firm it and lift it back up: true or false?

Sephora & co want you to keep the hope alive. Navigate through their aisles and you’ll find hundreds of lotions and potions promising to lift even the crepiest of skin.

But if these facelifts-in-a-bottle worked, then why do celebs like Kris Jenner still go under the knife to lift everything up? Mmm…

You know where I’m going with this…

Firming creams aren’t the antidote to sagging skin you’re looking for. No firming cream can give you the same results you get with lasers, fillers and cosmetics surgery.

But when done right, firming creams do have a temporary tightening effect on the skin that makes the sagging look less noticeable.

So how can you tell what’s the real deal and what’s just marketing BS? Here’s the truth about firming creams:

the ordinary retinol 1

Why Does Skin Sag?

I’m sure you’ve heard of collagen and elastin. They’re your skin’s scaffolding, so to speak. Collagen keeps skin firm, while elastin keeps it “bouncing back” into place.

When you’re young, your skin has plenty of both. As you get older, their production slowly trickles to a halt. Add sun damage, pollution, smoking and all the usual suspects to the mix, and your collagen and elastin degrade faster than ever. Cue sagging, wrinkles and paper-like skin.

To add insult to injury, once skin has stopped making elastin, it’s almost impossible to force it to make more again. It just won’t do it.

Prevention is key here. Slather on that sunscreen now so you won’t be tempted to waste your hard-earned cash on firming creams that don’t work once the damage is done.

But what if the damage’s already done? Besides, sunscreen can prevent a lot of damage, but it can’t keep your skin from sagging at all. Even if you avoid sun damage, at some point natural aging is going to catch up with you.

What can you do when that happens?

dr dennis gross c collagen brighten and firm vitamin c serum

Can Putting Collagen And Elastin Back Into Your Skin Firm It?

If your skin doesn’t make enough collagen and elastin on its own anymore, can’t you just put them back in and be done with it? It’s not like there’s any shortage of collagen and elastin creams on the market.

If only it were that easy! You see, collagen and elastin are BIG molecules. Too big to penetrate skin. If they can’t penetrate, how can they trigger the production of collagen? *sighs*

Chopping down collagen into smaller molecules – the “hydrolysed collagen” so popular in skincare today – won’t work either.

Hydrolysed collagen is small enough to penetrate the skin BUT it can’t integrate into the skin’s own collagen framework to affect it. Hydrolyzed collagen is too small for that. 

Ironic, isn’t it?

P.S. This doesn’t mean that collagen and elastin in skincare products are useless. They have water-binding properties that keep skin hydrated for hours.

Related: The Truth About Collagen Drinks: Do They Really Work?

How Most Firming Creams Really Work

Hint: they cheat. 😉

Here’s the deal: most firming creams use film-forming agents that form a film on the skin and stretch it in different directions.

All that stretching makes you skin feel tighter and look smoother. It’s not a huge difference – just enough to make you believe it works.

Needless to say, the effects are just temporary. Cleanse your face and your skin goes back to normal.

niod copper amino isolate serum 2 1

What Really Works To Firm Skin, Then?

Don’t lose hope. Not all firming creams use mumbo jumbo and visual tricks to make you believe they’re capable of more than what they can really deliver.

Some firming creams are the real deal. But how do you spot them? Easy: they use collagen-boosting ingredients.

Yep, adding collagen back into the skin won’t work. Using actives that can penetrate skin and tell your cells to pump up the production of collagen gives you much better results.

Just so we’re clear, boosting collagen production CAN’T reverse sagging and make crepey skin bounce back. But it can help support skin so that sagging is less obvious.

Here are the collagen-boosters to look for in firming creams:

In case you’re wondering, antioxidants like vitamin C and green tea have some collagen-building properties, too.

They’re not as common in firming creams as the 3 actives I’ve mentioned above, but you’d do your skin a disservice if you didn’t use them. Remember, your skin can never get enough of antioxidants!

Related: 8 Ways To Rebuild Lost Collagen For Firmer, Youthful Skin

What Are The Best Skin-Firming Creams & Serums?

The Bottom Line

No cream can reverse sagging once it happens. The best firming creams can do – when they contain collagen boosters like retinol, glycolic acid and copper peptides – is to support skin so the sagging doesn’t look so obvious. If you need more help than that, consult your doctor for lasers or facelifts.

Have you ever tried firming creams and how did they work for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.



Vivella February 5, 2019 - 8:58 am

Very informative article, thank you. I always appreciate your posts!

Gio February 8, 2019 - 5:59 pm

Vivella, glad you enjoy them!

Mem February 5, 2019 - 8:04 pm

Hi! I have just discovered your site and I am devouring every article ! For a body firming lotion, I use Avalon Organics body firming lotion. I definitely notice a difference when I stop using it. When I use it daily, my skin looks firmer and more supple. However, is it only because of the hyaluronic acid and the antioxydants? Does Q10 make a difference ? Do you have other suggestions for body lotions that would be firming and/or at least anti-aging? I tend towards more “natural” cosmetics. I just alterrd my face routine following your suggestions, but I need suggestions for body care. 🙂 Thanks!

Gio February 8, 2019 - 2:22 pm

Mem, Q10 fights antioxidants but it won’t have a firming effect. I think it’s just a result of the added hydration as that would definitely make your skin look better.

Your best bet is to look for a body cream with retinol. Paula’s Choice makes a good one but it’s not a natural brand.

Zoe February 6, 2019 - 1:05 am

Thanks for the article!

You mentioned not using copper too much, but how much is too much? I use NIOD’s CAIS which I see you have recommended. I am relatively new to the NIOD range and so I have just been following their directions as to frequency of use, once in the morning, once at night every day. Is this too often?

Thank you for your help

Gio February 8, 2019 - 2:16 pm

Zoe, I prefer to use it every other day, just to be on the safe side. Plus, that allows me to include other actives in my routine, as I don’t like to do too many steps at once.

Maja February 6, 2019 - 5:52 am

I’m astonished you say to never combine glycolic acid and retinoids. If your skin tolerates it, it’s a highly effective combination. There are products with that combination, such as Alpha H Beauty Sleep Power Peel.

Gio February 8, 2019 - 10:37 am

Maja, if your skin can tolerate it, by all means go ahead. But when I write this blog, I have to be aware that ANYONE can read it. In my experience, people tend to overestimate how resistant their skin. I get so many emails from people who used them together every single day and are now left with dry, irritated skin. If you’re an experienced user, know what you’re doing and your skin can take it, go ahead. But as this blog is read by a lot of beginners, too I’d rather warn them against it lest they make their skin worse.

Dollie Martinez February 17, 2019 - 11:57 pm

Gio, I recently read that copper gluconate (as found in NIOD CAIS) has a cofactor for the melanin stimulating enzyme, tyrosinase.

Wouldn’t that counteract the melanin suppressors (hydroquinone, azelaic acid, kojic acid, etc) I’m using to fight “age spots”?

Gio February 20, 2019 - 5:37 pm

Dollie, copper does contribute to your natural skin pigmentation. If this worries you, don’t use it on your dark spots. You can still use it on the rest of your face.


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