We love our necks, honestly, we do. Without them, how would we stick our neck out for a friend, move our head around, or get oxygen from our lungs to our brain? And don't forget the abundance of nerve cells clustered at the base of the neck -- that's an erogenous zone. Ooh la la! Clearly this statuesque structure performs very important functions beyond being a showcase for those fabulous beads you found on vacation.
The fact is, we're busy, frugal, and, frankly, uninformed. Who knew necks needed special attention? Is it really worth squandering that costly antiaging salve just to save our necks?
The answer is yes, say dermatologists, makeup artists, and women (most famously Nora Ephron) who wish they had paid a little more attention to this swath of skin. Avoid the pull of gravity and get a chin up with a few toning tips.
Lotions and Potions
Cleanse and Moisturize
Think gentle -- emollient cleansers, non-irritating creams. Skin on the neck is thin, with very little connective tissue, so the signs of aging (a crepey appearance, brown spots, lines) appear much more pronounced there than on the face.
Naomi Kunizawa, a Shiseido research associate who explored neck physiology in a 2006 International Journal of Cosmetic Science paper, suggests a light, easy-to-spread cream "to avoid excess force" and excess stretching. The neck also contains fewer stem cells to help promote skin renewal, so those classic clock-stopping tools, such as peels or retinoic acid, aren't the right routes to take in this instance -- and can be scarring.
Neck Cream or No?
Moisturizers formulated specifically for the neck are generally smoother than typical face creams, so they create less pull on the skin. And the antiaging agents are carefully designed to deliver results without a reaction.
If you're in your 20s -- and your skin looks it -- a face or body moisturizer will do fine, says Jeffrey Dover, Yale University associate clinical professor of dermatology. "You don't need to own six different creams." He does, however, stress the importance of being religious about sunscreen.
It's the 30-plus set who may want to give neck creams a go. "Look for those directed at treating fine lines and wrinkles," says Elizabeth Callahan, a dermatologic surgeon in Sarasota, Florida. Many boast toners that offer an immediate skin-tightening tingle and brighteners to help camouflage dark spots. The addition of peptides and plant stem cells helps promote collagen regeneration, for results said to be similar to a doctor-supervised, in-office treatment. (At $900, ReVive's Peau Magnifique, is almost as pricey.) "Ten years ago, it was all about hydration," says Nadine Pernodet, executive director of skin biology, research and development at Estee Lauder Companies. "Now we have new technology to address the specific functions of skin."
Don't Forget the Sunblock
"The neck is one of the hardest areas to rejuvenate, so respect it," says Callahan. "Use a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 every day." If you're outside, be sure to reapply. A drag, yes, but so is contemplating turtlenecks in July.
- StriVectin-TL Tightening Neck Cream, $89, strivectin.com.
- ReVive Peau Magnifique Youth Recruit Neck and Decolletage Serum, $900, reviveskincare.com.
- Dr. Hauschka Regenerating Neck and Decollete Cream, $58, drhauschka.com.
- Lancome Renergie Lift Volumetry Neck Cream, $90, lancome-usa.com.
- Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream, $25, drugstore.com.
The Right Mix
Treat your face to a little TLC. This made-to-order mask, courtesy of Elena Arboleda, salon director at Mario Badescu Skin Care (one of Martha's favorites) will help tighten a turkey wattle and lift and soften skin. Try it before a big event.
Whisk together 1 egg white with 1 teaspoon each of honey, olive oil, and lemon juice. Smooth on a thin layer from the hairline down to the decolletage. Let sit 15 minutes. Wash away with cool water. Pat dry, and apply a thin layer of moisturizer over the top.
For Stressed-Out Necks
We crane it forward to stare at the computer and contort it to cradle the phone. Here, three healthy habits to keep your neck in line.
Keeping your shoulders back, try to line up your ears with them, suggests A. Lynn Millar, professor of physical therapy at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina. If you find yourself dipping your neck to hold the phone, stop! Briefly bend your neck to the opposite side, and focus on remaining in the proper position -- or invest in a headset.
Endurance Exercises for Neck Muscles
Lie on your back with your head on a pillow. Tuck your chin to your chest, and hold that position for five seconds (longer as it becomes easier). Then press your head back. Repeat 10 times daily.
To alleviate tension and tightness, get on your hands and knees and inhale, dropping your head downward and rounding the spine like a startled cat. Next exhale, arching back, lifting your head, chest, and derriere toward the ceiling. Repeat 12 times daily, advises Loren Bassett, an instructor at Pure Yoga in New York.