Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 7/5/2021
Whether you’re 29 or 99, your skin has needs. If those needs are being met, you’ve got a better chance at fending off wrinkles, smile lines and other forms of skin aging.
But your body might need help providing for those needs from time to time (or permanently, after a certain age). This is where good anti-aging products come in.
Daily products like firming creams are a secret weapon against wrinkles, sagging skin and even some of the spots and dull coloration that you’ll find more as you age.
Finding the right firming cream, though, isn’t an easy task, because there’s a lot of bad science out there.
It’s important to know what ingredients to look for in a good firming cream, and what you should avoid about the stuff that’s out there. But before we talk shop, let’s talk about the basics.
Your skin may seem like a simple organ, but it’s actually a complex web of cells, tissues and glands.
The most important parts of your skin for the purpose of our conversation are three proteins: collagen, keratin and elastin.
Collagen is responsible for firmness by way of keeping your skin looking full. It’s a connective tissue that keeps cells together.
Elastin is what helps your skin stretch and return to shape. When grandma grabs a cheek, elastin is what makes sure it doesn’t stay pinched.
Keratin acts like a shield. Compared to the others, it’s very hard (it also makes up your nails and hair), and that thick armor protects your skin with an outer layer that can take damage on behalf of your gentler tissues.
Keratin, elastin and collagen are important, because when they break down or become overwhelmed, the resulting changes can make your skin look less youthful.
Two major theories/sources explain how we believe aging works, and they’re called the extrinsic and intrinsic theories. For your own benefit, you should consider both important.
Intrinsic sources mostly have to do with aging and time; your cells become less efficient and less effective as you age, and therefore things don’t work as well as they used to.
Extrinsic sources include sunlight, poor air quality, deficient nutrition and insufficient water intake.
Smoking, sleeping face down or even just rubbing your eyes can also damage your skin extrinsically.
But extrinsic damage really comes down to something called reactive oxygen species, also known as free radicals.
Free radicals oxidatively stress your skin by stealing electrons from your cells — stealing energy means you can’t produce new cells efficiently.
Firming creams are topical medications that can help treat and sometimes even reverse the visible signs of aging and some of their underlying factors.
They can utilize many ingredients, and can be targeted for certain skin areas.
You might see firming neck cream, or firming face cream or firming cream for other body parts.
Firming creams work through several mechanisms, including preventing the degradation of elastin and collagen, or reducing things like inflammation. They can also be preventative of oxidants.
Firm skin, simply enough, just means that the skin is healthy, blemish free, smooth and resilient.
Aging products can make some very convincing claims about what they can do, but there are limits to what’s possible. Rare jungle herbs come and go, and yet we still have wrinkles.
A 2007 review published in the explained that many over-the-counter products advertise dramatic results, but, “there have been relatively little scientific data to support these claims… we conclude that although many different compounds are marketed as anti-aging products, studies proving their efficacy are limited.”
The study authors found just a few over-the-counter topical ingredients that have any proven efficacy: vitamin C, alpha-hydroxy acids, vitamin A, vitamin B, moisturizers and peptides.
According to the study, alpha-hydroxy acids and vitamin C have been most thoroughly researched and have demonstrated the most potential, but vitamins A and B, as well as peptides and certain moisturizers, can also be effective in decreasing facial wrinkles and skin roughness.
It’s important to caution that there may be plenty of other compounds, ingredients and chemicals out there with beneficial effects, but the difference is that they have yet to be proven (we still have our fingers crossed for pizza making the list).
The best firming ingredients are the ones that work for you, but it’s important to start trying ingredients that have some scientific traction behind them.
Below is a list of ingredients that studies show may benefit your skin, inside and out:
Retinoids have many applications for keeping your skin healthy. They’re good at clearing away dead cells (retinoids are chemical exfoliants made of vitamin A compounds), but they are also beneficial anti-aging ingredients.
Retinoids have been shown to promote collagen production, which is a key to that whole “firmer, younger skin” thing we look for as we age.
Vitamin C acts against free radicals the way bullet proof vests act against bullets.
Your skin uses vitamin C to give free radicals tons of spare electrons, so they sap them instead from your vulnerable cells.
When sunlight hits, vitamin C can help your skin absorb the damage (but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be wearing broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen!).
Hims’ daily Morning Glow Vitamin C Serum is a great way to use vitamin C — it can be applied topically in the morning to brighten and protect your skin.
We don’t need to explain why moisture is good for your skin.
Hyaluronic acid can bind to “over one thousand times its weight in water,” which means that it can help your skin retain tons of moisture.
It’s also totally natural and is generally made by bacteria.
Caffeine may seem like a counterintuitive ingredient for aging prevention, but the results of its topical application are much different from its potable one.
Research shows that caffeine prevents the accumulation of fat under the skin, increases circulation and can slow the effects of photoaging.
Hydroxy acids (glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid) help with skin imperfections by both exfoliating and hydrating the skin.
They can help with conditions like photoaging, acne, ichthyosis, rosacea, pigmentation disorders and even conditions like psoriasis.
Peptides benefit your skin by supporting collagen production.
Peptides are short-ish chains of amino acids that penetrate the skin well and can signal to your skin that collagen production should increase.
Whether you’re 20 or 120, taking care of your skin is important. Like any other organ, your skin’s needs are going to change as the years go on.
Acne issues will (hopefully) give way to aging issues, and this is normal. The best course of action is to treat your skin with care, regardless of whether it’s having outbreaks, sprouting wrinkles or other age lines or even looks beautiful.
This may be a great time to consider consulting a healthcare professional — someone to give your skin a thorough once-over and address any concerns you might have.
They may recommend more specific treatments or more rigorous ones.
If you’re just taking an interest in your skin now (or just finding solutions to your problems now) we have resources.
Our skin care resources are full of recommendations for whatever ails you, be it acne or aging.
Not sure where to go? Start with an article on How to Fight Aging. The more you know, the better you’ll look.