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Fight sagging and achieve firm, tighter-looking skin

The causes of saggy skin and how you can overcome this problem.

Yumi Narasaki

Renowned Beauty Writer

“Even though my weight stayed the same, I’ve noticed that the skin around my chin is sagging. My facial contour is less defined and slightly slack.” Although this is a common occurrence with aging, it also happens to young adults in their 20s as we’ve observed with these recent comments: “I was shocked to see my laugh lines when I removed my face mask!”, “So upsetting to see my facial lines on the monitor during my online meetings…” The reason for sagging face and sagging cheeks is due to the reduced elasticity of the skin.

Firm skin is skin that is taut, with good elasticity. How do you test if you have firm facial skin? Just like how you’d experience resistance when you push a bouncy ball with your finger, elastic skin is flexible and pushes back so that you will not have pillow marks if you’ve slept lying on your face, less fine wrinkles while laughing, and overall, your skin returns easily to its original state. Collagen and elastin are the two essential proteins that support skin firmness. The thickness of the epidermal skin layer also contributes to the skin’s flexibility and firmness.


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It is a common myth that one’s skin only starts to sag when they are in their 40s or 50s since this is a result of aging. However, research has disproved this. SK-II’s decade-long study on skin aging in Japan’s Akita Prefecture has shown that the first sign of aging is neither the increase in dark spots nor the skin’s lack of moisture; it is the loss of skin elasticity. Reduced skin elasticity leads to sagging facial skin, which is a primary cause of dull skin and visible pores. It is not coincidental that skin dullness and visible pores are also considered signs of aging. Observations like “the skin seems to have shrunk and deflated at the end of the day” and “I feel my skin is tired at night” are all effects of the skin’s reduced elasticity. And this is true, even for those in their 20s!

Collagen supports skin firmness and the natural amount we have is at its peak in our 20s. Beyond this age period, the slowdown of the dermal fibroblasts function causes a decline in the production of collagen. At the same time, saccharification (the process of breaking down complex carbohydrates into simple sugars) affects collagen and causes the skin to deteriorate, thereby losing its firmness and elasticity causing wrinkles and skin sagging. Elastin, the protein responsible for helping the skin to expand, contract, and return to its original form, is also reduced with lowered dermal fibroblasts function. The result is that the skin becomes stiff and loses elasticity. Over time, the skin loses its firmness and your face and cheeks starts to sag.

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The visible effect of aging is evident where it first starts – the skin’s outermost dermis layer, also known as the stratum corneum. At the same time, the deeper skin tissues will also start to age. Given the imbalance in the skin’s turnover rhythm, the loss of moisture content will cause solidifying and thickening. As for the deeper skin layers, the cells start to shrink. With the decrease in cell size, the layer becomes progressively thinner. The eventual result is skin surface that is not only hard and rough, but also thin and no longer feels supple.

Exposure to UV rays contributes to 80% of the causes of aging, with significant damages. UV-A waves that penetrate into the deeper skin layers destroy the collagen and elastin and this cumulative effect has a far-reaching negative impact on skin health. UV care is something that most of us, particularly the youths, may not realize or take seriously enough.

The content of the human body is comprised of more than 60% water and of this, 15% is concentrated in the skin, the body’s largest organ. Hence, if your body is dehydrated, it will not be as efficient in keeping your skin firm and moisturised. Therefore, one of the most important skincare rules is to drink adequate amounts of water throughout the day. To keep your skin hydrated from the inside, we recommend that you drink small amounts of water frequently instead of having too much at one go. This will help your skin stay moist and firm!

Since collagen and elastin are both proteins, they are susceptible to the effects of saccharification, thereby becoming denatured. You may have heard comments like “I would rather skip my meal and have desserts instead!”, but such an action increases the risk of the effects of saccharification! Consuming large amounts of sweet food and beverages during meals that contain protein and carbohydrates creates the recipe for saccharification. The outcome is one where the body’s collagen and elastin solidifies and stiffens, causing the skin to lose its elasticity which results in a sagging face. Results from in vitro tests have also shown that saccharification suppresses the body from producing new collagen and elastin, which means to say, a sugar-rich diet not only harms you, but is also detrimental to your skin!

We have discussed the occurrence of decreasing skin firmness among the youths, but there is another problem that plagues this generation – weakening facial muscles. The reason for this is the heavy usage of digital devices such as smartphones and tablets on electronic communication platforms (emails, social media, etc) that has replaced traditional face-to-face interactions. This has reduced the opportunity for the use of mouth movements and facial muscles to generate speech and/or emotional expressions. This is also the reason for the deepening of the nasolabial folds (the two skin folds that run from each side of the nose to the corner of the mouth, also called ‘laugh lines’) since their habits and lifestyle have contributed to the slackening of their facial skin. Long hours spent telecommuting, donning of a face mask for safety outside of home, screen time with blue light-emitting devices which are akin to UV radiation – these are all contributing factors to damages suffered in the dermis layers. As youths, they may still be fairly lean and trim, but their facial contours lack the definition that you would associate with someone of this age. Given that video conferences and online video calls are so common these days, the reality of being viewed up close by others, makes this self-conscious issue one that needs to be addressed and resolved.

Remind yourself to drink moderate amounts of water frequently throughout the day instead of consuming a lot at one go. Drinking water in this manner, even before you feel thirsty, keeps your body well-hydrated so that you can maintain the firmness in your skin. To hydrate the external skin layer, apply moisturiser regularly! Adequate moisturisation supports a healthy skin barrier and allows the dermis layers to be renewed constantly. In this way, your skin will not only stay smooth and supple, you will also be able to keep it firm and plump to the touch!

We recommend you use face lifting skincare products developed specially for skin firming and tightening as these would also help to promote suppleness and improve the overall tone of your skin. You should also exercise your facial muscles to keep the skin firm and taut. Simple gestures like moving your mouth, making different facial expressions and using wider motions, all possess therapeutic effects as it improves the blood circulation in your face. Gentle massage is also beneficial but keep your touch light by just patting the face with your fingers to avoid sagging. Remember that rubbing or any strong abrasive movements can damage the collagen in your skin.

Since UV exposure takes place regardless of the weather conditions, and despite whether you are indoors or outdoors, it is wise to apply sunscreen daily, throughout the year. A sunblock product with an SPF30 PA+++ (or higher) is ideal as the minimum requirement to mitigate the damages UV-A waves can cause. Not only does sunblock protect your skin against the harms of suntanning which leads to dark spots, freckles and skin dullness, it will also protect you from saggy skin and loss of skin firmness.

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Now that you know the effects of saccharification on the skin, take the time to review your dietary habits. While you don’t have to take drastic measures to remove all sugars and carbohydrates from your diet, it would probably be beneficial to achieve a balanced diet that comprises healthy proteins, grains, vegetables and fruits. Opt for healthier snacks like nuts and fruits instead of sweets whenever you crave for a light bite. However, remember that fruits may be rich in vitamins but overconsumption also increases the sugar levels in your body. Another important habit to inculcate is to have regular and quality sleep. The amount of rest you clock at night determines how well your skin recovers and regenerates from the stresses and UV damages it encounters in the day. Don’t let your favorite TV drama or video subscriptions interfere with your beauty sleep!

Once the nasolabial folds appear more obvious than before, its deepening is an indication that your skin is starting to lose its firmness! Leaving it unattended will only lead to more serious sagging of your face and cheeks, and even deeper wrinkles. Use appropriate skincare to tighten your facial skin to maintain a defined facial contour and keep looking sharp!

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