• Face firming creams are a category of anti-aging products that provide a wide variety of skincare benefits.
  • Good face firming creams moisturize, protect against the sun, deliver antioxidants to the skin, exfoliate the epidermis and encourage skin cell turnover.
  • Many compounds found within face firming products have been clinically proven to fight wrinkles. These include vitamin C, retinols, alpha lipoic acid and alpha hydroxy acids.
  • Skin tightening creams and serums work best for very fine lines and slightly loose skin.
  • For deep creases and folded skin, clinical treatments are recommended.

If you’ve ever wondered what face firming creams really do, which ones are the real deal and which ones you should probably avoid, this article is for you. We’ll also make some specific product recommendations that meet Zwivel’s criteria for real anti-aging products.

Do You Need a Face Firming Cream?

Many wrinkles are simply too deep and too advanced to be corrected by face creams. If your wrinkles are past the “fine lines” stage and look like permanent features of your face, you’re probably better off researching clinical treatments like Botox, laser resurfacing, chemical peels or cosmetic surgery.

All of those options are popular for a good reason: they work.

So what are facial firming creams and serums good for? They work best for these milder conditions:

  • Fine lines or hairline wrinkles.
  • Mild age-related loss of skin elasticity
  • Mild sun damaged skin
  • Dry skin

Conversely, creams and serums usually won’t work for:

  • Deep creases
  • Skin folds
  • Severely discolored skin or dark spots

As we get older, Enemy #1 for our faces is collagen loss. As the amount of collagen in our skin naturally decreases with age and sun damage, the natural plumpness and elasticity of our skin goes with it.

Repeated muscular movements like smiling, talking, frowning and even eating, all stretch our facial skin. As the natural elasticity in our skin declines, all of these activities contribute to the slow formation of fine lines — and eventually much deeper wrinkles.

Contributing to this natural loss of collagen are a lack of moisture in the skin and UV damage from the sun.

>> Learn more on the best mineral sunscreens, recommended by dermatologists, to protect you from the sun

How Do Face Firming Creams Work?

Face firming creams work their magic in a number of ways:

  • They replenish moisture loss within the skin.
  • They provide UV protection and protect against sun-damage.
  • They deliver antioxidants to the skin to reduce free radicals.
  • They exfoliate the epidermis.
  • They inhibit an enzyme called collagenase.
  • They encourage cellular turnover within the dermis and encourage new collagen growth.

To accomplish their age-defying sorcery, face firming creams rely on a smorgasbord of moisturizing agents, sunscreens, exfoliating agents, antioxidants, and ingredients which encourage skin cell turnover.

Products that encourage skin-cell turnover (which literally means killing off old cells to make way for new ones) have been clinically shown to grow new collagen, improve skin elasticity and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

Key Face Firming Ingredients

If you’ve ever wondered if your face firming cream has a formulation that really fights wrinkles, keep a look out for some of the following workhorse ingredients:

Vitamin C

This powerful antioxidant neutralizes harmful free radicals which accumulate in the skin due to environmental factors and high stress levels. It’s also an inflammation fighter, promoting cellular turnover, plus it’s clinically proven to promote new collagen growth. Vitamin C’s acidic quality also helps to smooth and soften the surface of the skin.

Retinol

Retinol is an over-the-counter variant of the prescription lotion Retin-A. While this man-made version of vitamin A doesn’t penetrate the skin barrier as readily as its prescription strength cousin, it’s still an effective wrinkle fighter. Retinol stimulates the production of new collagen, reduces the size of facial pores and fades areas of hyperpigmentation.

Niacinamide

Niacin or vitamin B3 has long been known as an important nutritional supplement but has only recently been recognized as a powerful anti-aging ingredient. Niacinamide traverses the skin barrier and is easily absorbed into the lower levels of skin. Clinical studies have shown it improves skin elasticity, reduces fine lines, and improves skin discoloration.

Alpha Lipoic Acid

Alpha lipoic acid wears many hats when it comes to anti-aging. It’s easy solubility makes it highly accessible to the skin. It clinically proven to fight free radicals, reduce inflammation, fight wrinkles and improve visible damage caused by exposure to UV light. It’s also a good moisturizing agent, and even makes an effective acne fighter.

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is among the most popular additions to face serums and skin tightening creams. It’s a powerful moisturizing agent and has been clinically proven to improve skin elasticity. A common ingredient in eye creams, hyaluronic acid (or HA) is often used to smoothen crow’s feet, tighten eye bags and reduce the visibility of periocular wrinkles.

>> Do oral hyaluronic acid supplements actually work ? Learn everything you need to know about the effectiveness of HA in pill form.

Alpha Hydroxy & Beta Hydroxy Acid

Hydroxy acids are among the most popular anti-aging agents on the market today.

  • AHA’s include well-known compounds like lactic acid and citric acid. They exfoliate and help to reduce the depth of fine wrinkles.
  • BHA’s perform differently from AHA’s in their ability to cross the skin barrier via hair follicles, making them a great treatment for acne, open comedones and excessively oily skin.

Glycolic Acid

One popular alpha-hydroxy acid that deserves special mention is Glycolic acid. Glycolic acid is probably best known as a popular chemical peel administered by dermatologists. While over-the-counter creams and tightening serums containing glycolic acid aren’t nearly as potent as their clinical cousins, they still exfoliate and help expose healthy, younger-looking skin below.

While this list of the top facial firming ingredients is hardly exhaustive, it should still serve as a great starting point for picking out anti-aging creams and beauty products that really work.

Hydrating Mask with Hyaluronic Acid

Hydrating Mask with Hyaluronic Acid

Derma E

This is a soothing mask containing a mild concentration of hyaluronic acid. It moisturizes and provides a mild amount of exfoliation to encourage skin turnover.

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Pros
  • If you’re just starting out with hyaluronic acid, this formulation is mild enough that it shouldn’t cause irritation.
  • It’s mild formulation means you can leave it on overnight.
Cons
  • If you’re a regular hyaluronic acid user you may find this concentration a little on the mild side.
Niacinamide + Zinc

Niacinamide + Zinc

The Ordinary

The Ordinary’s no-nonsense, no-frills formulations continue to attract fans, and their niacinamide formulation remains a consistently strong seller.

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Pros
  • Niacinamide reduces pores and evens out skin tone.
  • Niacinamide smooths fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Niacinamide reduces hyperpigmentation.
  • Contains zinc, an anti-inflammatory which is believed to help fight acne.
Cons
  • A sticky consistency may turn some people off.
  • Niacinamide has been shown to have excellent skin benefits, but topical zinc’s benefits are relatively untested.
GlyPro Antioxidant Serum

GlyPro Antioxidant Serum

SkinMedica

GlyPro’s skin firmer contains AHA, the same exfoliating ingredient used in professional chemical peels. Combined with moisturizers to soften and plump the skin, GlyPro is a perfect skin firmer for both daytime and evening use.

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Pros
  • Contains glycolic acid for exfoliation.
  • Appropriate for all skin types.
  • Improves skin texture.
  • No fragrances.
  • Contains a range of plant-based antioxidants.
Cons
  • Price is on the high side.
C15 Super Booster

C15 Super Booster

Paula’s Choice

This 15% L ascorbic acid solution is perfect for wrinkle repair. It encourages new collagen growth and fades hyperpigmentation to boot. The inclusion of two additional antioxidants, vitamin E and ferulic acid, make this an all-round free radical fighter that should reduce the visible signs of aging over time.

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Pros
  • Fragrance free
  • 15% vitamin C formulation, not too strong for sensitive skin.
  • Improves skin tone and fights wrinkles
  • Reduces signs of aging.
Cons
  • Regular topical C users may prefer a stronger formulation.
C-Tango Multivitamin Eye Cream

C-Tango Multivitamin Eye Cream

Drunk Elephant

This eye cream contains vitamin C for anti-aging benefits and blocks UV as well. The formulation is creamy but not greasy.

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Pros
  • Contains five different forms of vitamin C.
  • Creamy formulation is soothing and moisturizing.
  • Lightens areas of hyperpigmentation.
Cons
  • Rich formulation makes this better as a night cream.
Squalane + Peptide Eye Gel

Squalane + Peptide Eye Gel

Biossance

Another eye product, this antioxidant-rich gel contains niacinamide and a squalene-based skin lubricator.

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Pros
  • Niacinamide (vitamin B3) for wrinkle reduction and firmer skin.
  • Moisturizes with aloe and other organic moisturizing agents.
Cons
  • Product also claims to “reduce dark circles”. While some ingredients have been clinically shown to reduce areas of hyperpigmentation, most dark circles under the eyes are not caused by hyperpigmentation.
Retinol Firming Eye Cream

Retinol Firming Eye Cream

Kate Somerville

This silky smooth eye cream includes a form of retinol — a synthetic form of vitamin A which has been clinically proven to reduce the visible signs of aging.

Check price
Pros
  • Can be used under makeup.
  • Non-greasy, light texture.
  • Also includes hyaluronic acid for adding moisture and exfoliating the skin.
Cons
  • Price is at the high end of the scale.
  • Some users find the product to be too strong. Remember to start slowly.

Some Face Firming Tips to Keep in Mind

  • Many acidic compounds degrade in daylight. Pay attention to which face firming products work better at night.
  • Avoid any vitamin C product in a clear container or that has already changed color to a deep orange or brown.
  • Avoid anything that promises instant results. New collagen formation is a slow, time consuming process that will involve months of diligent applications. There are no quick result face firming options available over-the-counter.

Takeaway

If deep folds and creases have already taken hold, the subtle effects of over-the-counter topical treatments probably won’t be enough to correct the issue.

That doesn’t mean you don’t have options though. Depending on just how deep your wrinkles are, available clinical options range from noninvasive chemical peels and laser treatments to facelifts.

If you’re interested in pursuing a clinical option, be sure to speak to a board certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon for best results.

Our blog is reader-supported. If you click on or buy something via a link on this page, we may earn a commission.

References

Mukherjee, Siddharth. Date, Abhijit. Patravale,Vandana. Korting, Hans Christian. Roeder, Alexander. Weindl, Günther. (2006) Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2699641/

Ganceviciene, Ruta. Liakou, Aikaterini I. Theodoridis, Athanasios. Makrantonaki, Evgenia. Zouboulis, Christos C. (2012) Skin anti-aging strategies. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583892/

Levin, Jacquelyn, DO. Momin, Saira B., DO. (2010) How Much Do We Really Know About Our Favorite Cosmeceutical Ingredients? ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921764/

Pavicic, T. Gauglitz, GG. Lersch, P. Schwach-Abdellaoui, K. Malle, B. Korting, HC. Farwick M. (2011) Efficacy of cream-based novel formulations of hyaluronic acid of different molecular weights in anti-wrinkle treatment. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22052267

Stiller, MJ. Bartolone, J. Stern, R. Smith, S. Kollias, N. Gillies, R. Drake, LA. (1996) Topical 8% glycolic acid and 8% L-lactic acid creams for the treatment of photodamaged skin. A double-blind vehicle-controlled clinical trial. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8651713

Moghimipour, Eskandar. (2012) Hydroxy Acids, the Most Widely Used Anti-aging Agents. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3941867/

Tiedtke, Jane MD. Marks, Olaf MD. Morel, Jacques MD. (2007) Stimulation of Collagen Production in Human Fibroblasts. dr-baumann-international.co.uk/science/Stimulation%20of%20Collagen%20Production%20in%20Human%20Fibroblasts%20with%20Vitamin%20C.pdf

Perricone, Nicholas V. MD. (2000) Topical 5% alpha lipoic acid cream in the treatment of cutaneous rhytids. academic.oup.com/asj/article/20/3/218/196220

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James Haynes is a contributing health writer for Zwivel.

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