THE DISREGARDED DÉCOLLETAGE
Hiding in plain sight might be the perfect expression to describe the décolletage. We see it every day, but most of us don’t give it the same attention we do our face. “We put so much emphasis on taking care of our faces that there are people who come in with the face of a 30-year-old but the chest of a 65-year-old,” says Samantha Wright, senior esthetician and head skinovator at New York’s acclaimed Dangene skincare clinic.
To begin to address the décolletage, one must understand its perimeter. The décolletage actually runs from the bottom of your earlobes to the top of the nipples’ areolas, explains Beverly Hills dermatologist Dr. Harold Lancer, who tends to the Kardashians, Beyoncé, and Victoria Beckham. “It’s far more than the central cleavage line,” he says. It’s also, anatomically speaking, extraordinarily different from the face. “The dermis and the epidermis are thinner and more fragile, there is very little subsurface fat, and there is both a different blood flow and different characteristics of color distribution and melanocytes,” explains Lancer. And, adds Dr. Gregory Bays Brown, founder of ReVive Skincare, there are also fewer sweat glands, hair follicles, and sebaceous glands. “This area is far more sensitive and delicate than the face,” says Lancer. Ignore it entirely and you leave yourself more susceptible to wrinkling, hyperpigmentation, and loss of elasticity.
LAUREN HUTTON ARRIVES AT THE ACADEMY AWARDS, 1975 / Photo by Michael Montfort / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
Much of the damage inflicted on our décolletage is the result of our own bad behavior. Skimping on skincare products and overexposure to the sun are two of the main offenses that lead to initial textural and pigment changes, plus fine lines. Add to that overarching environmental and pollution factors and our growing postural problems (Strivectin just trademarked the term TechNeck to describe the recurring issue of neckline wrinkles incurred from bending over our phones 24/7), and you have what Lancer deems a total spectrum destruction of the décolletage’s collagen-elastin tissue structure. But simply widening the scope of your product regimen to include the entirety of the neck and chest can make a significant difference.
To tackle the triumvirate of décolletage issues—vertical wrinkles, sun damage, and loss of elasticity—deeply hydrating products are key. “The more you keep the hydration levels up, the less likely skin is to break down,” says Wright, who likes to advise clients to look “for products that have antioxidants in them [like 37 Extreme Actives High Performance Anti-Aging Cream] to neutralize free radicals that cause collagen and elastin to break down.” Rich moisturizers packed with peptides, like the new Strivectin TL Advanced Light Tightening Neck Cream, also have a major collagen-renovating effect.
“I always say the most important anti-aging cream anyone can purchase is sunscreen, especially for the décolletage and neck,” says Brown. As you would do for your face, slather on a high protection factor (at least 50), like ReVive Soleil Superieur Broad Spectrum SPF 50.
To really address aging issues around the décolletage, your routine should also include a nighttime treatment product for the area. “Topical medical-grade treatments such as glycolic acid and retin-A will reverse signs of aging and improve skin texture,” says Dr. Craig Austin, whose oft-hoarded Cane + Austin Retexture glycolic acid peel pads come in various degrees of potency (10, 20, or 30 percent). New York–based medical esthetician Jordana Mattioli suggests alternating between a retinol and an alpha hydroxy acid (“lower dose formulas work best because the neck and chest skin is more sensitive,” she adds) at night before smoothing on your go-to lotion. A weekly gentle scrub like Cane + Austin Retexture Face + Body Scrub or Omorovicza Refining Polisher is great for clearing, but use them less frequently in the summer when skin is more exposed and, therefore, more sensitized. “You’re actually wounding the top layer of your skin with a physical exfoliant, so when you go out in the sun it’s more susceptible to damage,” says Wright.
CINDY CRAWFORD AND RICHARD GERE ON THE OSCARS RED CARPET, 1991 / Photo by Ron Galella / WireImage
When it comes to the décolletage, age ain’t nothing but a number. “The first thing that brings patients in are textural change and lines when they push their breasts together, but that might be an 18-year-old or an 80-year-old,” says Lancer. Same goes for cup size. “There are women who are triple F who have smooth-as-silk baby skin on their décolletage, and women who are barely an A who are incredibly creviced,” he adds.
What he tells them all is that a product protocol should come before jumping into treatments. He will put patients on a tailored regimen for a few months to prime the area before considering procedures. “When there’s some restoration of the bounce in the skin and the color, texture, and lines become less demonstrative and more pliable, you know you’re ready for your first procedure,” he explains. Once skin has been product-primed, Lancer usually starts with a bespoke chemical peel, often blended to include a combination of lactic, malic, and pyruvic acids that will cause exfoliation for a few weeks. After seeing the results he often follows up with light fractionated radio frequency to firm, then a PicoPulse laser to repair and freshen texture and, as he says, reduce the need for filler. “I don’t ever use filler on the chest because it’s lumpy and not a very cost-effective solution,” claims Lancer, who uses Botox on the décolletage infrequently and only on “specific, localized grooves in the skin.”
At Dangene, treating the décolletage is part of every facial. First, explains Wright, they do a dry diamond-tip microdermabrasion on a low setting (“to lift up all those dead skin cells and stimulate your body’s ability to heal itself,” she says), then hyfrecator laser zaps to remove any little sunspots or other imperfections, followed by a hydrating oxygen infusion to stimulate collagen. LED light therapy is a finishing, tightening touch. Mattioli advises her clients, depending on the state of their décolletage, to supplement facial treatments with a series of Clear & Brilliant or Fraxel every few years to smooth out any lines and get rid of discolorations. “The minimal downtime for lasers is even easier in this area because clothing can cover it during the healing process,” she says. For the first signs of slackness on the neck, she likes radio frequency treatments such as Thermage or an ultrasound therapy like Ulthera, which “help a lot with tightening the area.” And for one central cleavage line that just won’t budge no matter what product or treatment you try, Lancer uses something called Novathread. “They are these tiny micro-needles with dissolvable sugar threads built into them that are woven to create a mesh of firmness in the central cleavage line,” he says.
Much like with your eye area, the position in which you sleep can impact your proclivity for wrinkling around the décolletage. And for us side sleepers, the effects can be grim. “Side sleepers are more prone to chest wrinkles just from causing a crease in the chest area,” explains Mattioli. Wright has a DIY fix for those who aren’t ready to retrain their sleep position: put on a loose sports bra, then roll a hand towel into a log and tuck it between your breasts. “It helps prevent creasing by keeping everything separated and where it’s supposed to be,” she explains. For those seeking a less bulky solution, there is SiO, a brand-new trio of products designed with overnight décolletage repair in mind. At night, swipe the area with the discs laced with glycolic and lactic acids, then apply the fleshy silicone skinpad and wear it while you sleep. In the morning, follow up with the antioxidant-rich serum.
Of course, you can always cheat a little with a bit of pre-party makeup magic. First, apply your skincare across the décolletage with intention, massaging it in to really stimulate. “This ensures that any makeup will go on smoothly and evenly,” says Jenny Smith, lead makeup stylist for NARS. Dab on a little concealer or foundation to mask any small areas of redness or blemishes, then use a big brush to sweep on bronzer—all over for an everywhere glow, or in a V shape to create more contoured definition. Slip into something low-cut and prepare for the flashbulbs...