Journalist Nora Ephron is not the only woman who feels bad about her neck; I, too, have become fixated on the tree trunk-like rings I’ve acquired over the years (count them, and you’ll know how old I am!), which has been punctuated by the digitally amped-up year that COVID-19 forced. It’s for this reason that skin care experts tell me the neck is a central point of concern for many people around the US.

“There is no doubt that Zoom and video conferencing has increased focus on the neck for people—we are all spending much more time staring at ourselves on the computer screen and analyzing our faces,” says double board-certified plastic surgeon David Shafer, MD, FACS. “Pinhole cameras at close range, such as on computers and also on phones, tend to distort our faces.”

Technology isn’t singularly to blame, however. Advances in facial aesthetics—such as Botox and fillers—have created a disconnect between how our skin looks above the chin and below it. According to Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, this is for two main reasons. First, the skin on the neck is incredibly thin, and the second, it’s often neglected. In other words, it’s more vulnerable and yet most of us do less to care for it—until the dreaded day we suddenly notice a change and begin to panic about it.

And panic, we do. According to Michelle Jacobs, co-founder of menopause-centric skin-care brand Womaness, signs of aging on the neck tend to make women emotional. “It’s a sign that something’s different, something’s changed, and it’s not an easy fix like wrinkles on the forehead you can treat with Botox,” she says. “Without doing something more severe, you almost have to just live with it.”

Almost, but not quite. Because beauty is big business, when a “problem” is identified, solutions are soon to follow. Below, skin-care experts describe the types of changes you might notice in your neck over time, and identify both prevention strategies and after-the-fact solutions.

What happens to the neck as you age

There are four main issues individuals might notice in their necks as they age, says Dennis Gross, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, dermatologic surgeon, and founder of Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare: lack of elasticity, crepiness, horizontal wrinkles or tech neck, and discoloration.

These changes occur slowly, according to Dr. Zeichner, but people seem to notice them all at once. “Brown and red blotches usually appear first, and can be visible as early as your thirties or forties,” he says. “And for some people, horizontal lines crop up on the neck, just as they do on the face, as early as in their thirties. Sagging usually becomes prominent later in life, in the fifties or sixties.”

The causes of changes to your neck

To some extent, these changes are inevitable, just as are most age-associated shifts in our appearance. But there are some common causes that can be mediated to at the very least postpone them.

  1. Sun exposure
  2. Anyone versed in skin care 101 knows that the sun is pretty much the worst for your skin. “The sun causes 90 percent of early signs of aging,” says Dr. Gross. And the neck is particularly vulnerable to this damage because, as noted above, it’s thin, and it’s also often exposed to the sun. “It’s one of the first places that people start to notice the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles or discoloration,” he says.

    Additionally, chronic UV light exposure leads to a condition known as poikiloderma, says Dr. Zeichner, which is a very sexy combination of brown spots, red blotches, and thinning of the skin.

  3. Tech use
  4. I acquired my tree trunk rings the analogue way—by spending my entire childhood with my head down, buried in a book. But these days, it’s our iPhones and iPads that are doing most of the damage. “The term ‘tech neck’ refers to premature aging of the neck related to looking down at our devices,” says Dr. Zeichner. “We see early development of horizontal lines because of overworking of the neck muscles.”

  5. Menopause
  6. During menopause, estrogen levels decline, explains Dr. Zeichner, and this is thought to accelerate skin aging. “We know that estrogen plays a role in skin cell functioning, including barrier function, wound healing, and repair mechanisms,” he says. “So low estrogen may be associated with dryness, dullness, poor wound healing, and even more prominent lines and wrinkles.”

At-home solutions for neck changes

As Jacobs noted, it’s not particularly easy to treat signs of aging on your neck; but that doesn’t mean you’re without recourse. Below, pros run through your best options.

Prevention strategies

Of course, there is no skin care treatment that works for any part of your body better than prevention, and the number one thing you can do to protect your neck from damage is to apply sunscreen to it each and every morning.

Your other lifestyle choices matter quite a bit, too. “Work on good diet and exercise, a good skin-care regimen, staying well hydrated and, of course, not smoking,” advises Dr. Shafer. “We can make great improvements for patients in the office, but if patients are not caring for themselves at home it makes it that much harder.”

Skin-care strategies

Many of us have no skin care regimen for our necks at all, which Dr. Zeichner says is a mistake. “You want to treat your neck with the same types of ingredients as you use on your face,” he explains. “The morning regimen is to protect the skin and prevent damage from the environment. The evening is a time of hydration and repair.”

To treat both crepiness and wrinkles, both Dr. Zeichner and Dr. Gross recommend relying on retinol. “Retinol is the best studied ingredient we have to fight the signs of lines and wrinkles,” says Dr. Zeichner. “It stimulates production of collagen and elastin to strengthen and thicken the skin.” He particularly likes Roc Retinol Line Smoothing Night Serum Capsules ($33), which contain a high concentration of retinol stabilized in a single-use capsule that can cover the face and neck.

For hyperpigmentation, vitamin C should be your go-to, says Dr. Gross. “It not only diminishes the appearance of dark spots but also protects the skin against damaging free radicals which can cause hyperpigmentation,” he explains.

And while those two ingredients are heroes to be sure, they’re not the only options. Ingredients such at peptides help to tighten the skin, hyaluronic acid helps restore lost moisture, growth factors can help to stimulate collagen production, etc. And ultimately, as Dr. Zeichner mentioned above, you should treat neck skin care the same way you treat skin care for your face, which means you need to find the right products to address your individual needs.

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