A firming face cream is an emulsion of water and oil combined with various other ingredients that may combat the signs of aging in the skin. To qualify as a cream as opposed to a lotion, the mixture must contain 60 to 75 percent water and 20 to 30 percent oil, with the emulsifiers making up the difference. The high oil content is why a cream is heavier than a lotion, and may clog the pores of those with naturally oily skin. Aging skin, however, often benefits from a high oil content because dryness is a major reason why sagging and wrinkles are so visible.
As skin ages, many changes occur. Skin that has been exposed to the sun has also been exposed to free radicals that can damage skin by inhibiting cell turnover, which results in dryness and discoloration. The body's production of collagen and elastin slow down and skin loses elasticity, resulting in lines and sagging. Sluggish circulation causes loss of muscle tone, which also contributes to sagging. There are several ways in which a firming cream affects the skin, and results can generally be seen in four to eight weeks, although the effects usually don't last once the treatment is stopped.
A quality firming face cream contains antioxidants, which protect the skin from free radicals. Free radicals are everywhere, both inside and outside the body, but the majority of free radical damage is caused by sun exposure and smoking. Free radicals damage skin cells by "stealing" electrons, which slows cell turnover. Antioxidants inhibit the free radicals' ability to do so. Antioxidants commonly found in a firming face cream include vitamin E (tocopheryl acetate), coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), ascorbyl palmitate, and alpha lipoic acids.
Humectants are another common ingredient of firming cream. They work by drawing moisture from the air into the skin, which combats natural moisture loss. Common humectants found in a firming face face cream include niacinamide (B3), glycerine, idebenone, and dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE). Dimethicone is commonly used in less-expensive creams to simulate the smooth feel of moisturized skin, but is only a silicone derivative, and not an actual humectant.
The most popular and successful brands of firming face cream contain ingredients that stimulate the body's natural synthesis of collagen and elastin. Collagen and elastin are responsible for elasticity and the smooth "plumpness" of young skin. Common face cream ingredients that act as "collagen boosters" include vitamin E, niacinamide, retinol, ascorbyl palmitate, and neuropeptides.
Sometimes, a firming face cream will also contain ingredients called "smoothers," which act as surface fillers, reducing the appearance of wrinkles. Common smoothers include omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, hyaluronic acid, idebenone, and niacinamide. Most popular firming face cream ingredients are versatile, acting on the skin in several different ways. Some ingredients, like DMAE, also claim to improve facial muscle tone to combat sagging, but this has not yet been scientifically proven.