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Image courtesy @arvidabystrom

The rise of tech neck: can looking at your phone give you neck wrinkles?

We interrogate the latest beauty insecurity “tech neck ” and try out the latest products designed to treat it

We are all aware that we need to curb our smartphone addiction. Not only does excessive use worsen our anxiety and the blue light from our screen disrupt our sleep cycles, now there’s another problem: looking down at screens could be responsible for developing neck wrinkles. Dubbed “tech neck,” constantly craning our necks down to look at our screens is reportedly doing us no favours.

The skin on our neck is particularly delicate and is constantly fighting against gravity as we move our heads around in daily life. The result of this is often the loss of volume in the underlying tissues. Genetics, sun exposure, excessive smoking and drinking, weight fluctuations, and even hormonal changes can all play a role in the change of texture in your skin. There are two types of neck wrinkles — horizontal and vertical. Vertical neck creases are usually caused by sleeping in certain positions for a long period of time and are mostly genetic, while horizontal creases usually occur from a myriad of factors including loss of collagen production, sun and environmental damage, and keeping the neck flexed forwards for long periods of time, for example, while looking at your phone, furiously scrolling on Instagram.

“Lines around our necks are largely hereditary, but repetitive movements anywhere can increase the possibility of lines and wrinkles,” attests skincare expert Abigail James. However, some are still cynical about the idea that neck wrinkles are becoming more prominent purely because of our use of technology. Dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams remains uncertain, “It is true that after repeated creasing of the skin in a specific area, the crease will eventually ‘edge’ itself into the skin and become permanent over time. But I’m not sure whether there is really a significant increase in neck wrinkles from working more on digital screens these days, although I guess the theory is possible.” Consultant plastic surgeon and skin specialist at The McIndoe Centre, Silva Kumar, meanwhile, points to another issue, “The rise in selfie culture means that people are scrutinising themselves much more than they did in the past. Social media certainly contributes to a desire to improve physical appearance. I believe this trend is more to blame for the rise in “tech neck” as people are noticing their wrinkles more than they did in the past. Even babies are born with neck wrinkles, so it’s unlikely that they are caused by our use of tech.”

But while the connection between screen time and the wrinkles on your neck remains unproven, the fear of tech neck remains a fact. Following a few days of looking into neck wrinkles, I found myself scrutinising the lines on my own neck. How had I not noticed them before? Holding my phone high up above my head as I scroll through Twitter – I was curious about what my options were.

For nearly every fear or insecurity, there is a product created by the beauty industry that claims to fix all of our problems, so I knew it wouldn’t be hard to find something that could help. True to form, in the last year a wide range of products and treatments have popped up within the industry, aimed specifically at targeting and firming our wrinkling necks. Take Guerlain Orchidée Impériale’s neck and décolleté cream which retails at £249, for example, or NOID’s neck elasticity catalyst for £78.

"As our phone usage has increased, it’s no wonder consumers are turning to beauty brands for solutions" - Clare Varga, Head of Active & Acting Head of Beauty at WGSN

“We’ve been tracking a huge upturn in skincare products and tools for the neck and décolletage,” says Clare Varga, Head of Active & Acting Head of Beauty at WGSN. “But equally, there has been a shift in treatments too, with ‘facial workouts’ designed to rehabilitate lazy, sagging muscles. This also mirrors what’s happening in wellness, where there are a number of new wearables – such as Upright Go or Lumo Lift - designed to alert to slouching and device over-use emerging. In terms of what’s next, products that treat and counteract tech neck will become central to daily beauty regimes. We can expect to see more and more products and brands in this sector. As we’ve moved deeper into the social media age and our usage has increased, it’s no wonder consumers are turning to beauty brands for solutions and that they, in turn, a capitalizing on that.”

But it’s not all expensive creams or high tech wearables, there are also many brands offering a cheaper solution. The neck mask. Available on the high street for as little as £3, these masks claim to offer the same tightening effects as their expensive counterparts. Eager to find an affordable solution to my newest insecurity, I picked up a few of the masks on the market to try.

First up was the V-Line Chin Up mask from Soo’Ae (£3.99), a ‘facial compression treatment’ that claims to lift and firm the chin and jawline providing lift and firmness over the whole face. It took me a minute to work out how to get this mask onto my face, and when I did I realised that this is more likely aimed at the jaw than the entire neck. Looking like a budget Hannibal Lecter, I sat with this one on for 30-40 minutes. After what felt like forever on my face, I removed the mask and my skin did feel moisturised — but also quite pulled back and sore which was probably thanks to the ear hooks that pulled it over my face rather than any actual chemical tightening properties.

Next up was the Revitale Collagen and Q10 neck mask (£2.46) which claims to restore the skin’s natural elasticity and vibrancy. One of the cheaper options around, I was a little sceptical as I opened the packet. It had no real instructions and I struggled to get it into position, breaking it off a little as I tried. It was super slippery and difficult to get to stay. However, the liquid feeling gave me a little more confidence that this could be useful — plus it smells amazing. When I took it off I found that my neck was very well moisturised and feel like with more frequent use, this mask could actually be helpful.

Then there was the Oh K! Firming Tech Neck Sheet Mask (£12). From Korean beauty brand Oh K!, this mask is enriched with amino acids, avocado and red algae and is designed to firm the neck area. One of the most popular masks on the market, it actually markets itself as a solution to ‘tech neck,’ but is also the most expensive. Putting it on I struggled with ear holes again and pulled it over my neck and chin. The quality was probably the best so far and it fit impressively well on the face.

“There are so many nonsense products that are marketed for specific areas and concerns like “neck lifting”” - Dr Stefanie Williams

Last but not least was the 24k Gold Crystal Neck Mask (£3.97) a fancy sounding mask claiming to rehydrate and increase your skin’s natural collagen production. Containing colloidal gold, the mask supposedly absorbs at 10 times the rate of traditional masks while tightening the skin and removing toxins. This mask was really moisturising and felt like it had some quality to it, but I’m still not sure about the ability of gold to make me look younger.

While masks are an interesting experience and could be a good addition to a skincare routine, skincare expert Abigail James is sceptical of their effectiveness is curing the illusive tech neck. “They might soften the appearance for a short period of time, so they can be a great pre-event mask. But you would need to use masks like this more than three times a week to actually see a marked improvement,” she says.

So how can you fix neck wrinkles longterm? “I see the best lifting and tightening results from facials,” says Abigail, “especially those using radio frequency which is stimulating collagen production on a physical level.”

Dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams is more cautious. “There are so many nonsense products that are marketed for specific areas and concerns like “neck lifting,” but there is really no true difference in mechanism of action between them and a good face cream.” Instead, she recommends skincare ingredients that over time, with regular daily use, can increase collagen and elastin production in our skin and therefore help tighten the skin, like retinoids which have proven benefits on collagen metabolism. “At the end of the day, whether we want to firm the skin on the neck or face, we will always need ingredients to stimulate collagen and elastin production,” she says. “So, usually, it is best to just use your facial regime on both face and neck for best effects. Hairline to nipple line — as I always tell my patients.”

Whether tech neck is a real concern or just the latest insecurity designed to make us splash our cash, is still up for debate. For those concerned with neck wrinkles, it seems a good skincare routine that doesn’t neglect any part of the body is what the doctor orders. But it is also important to keep in mind that wrinkles in all their forms are an inevitable and perfectly normal part of life and that we should learn to embrace and love rather them rather than spending hundreds of pounds fighting them.