You see it everywhere, from the office to on the subway and at the dinner table: people staring down at their mobile devices. We are constantly using electronic devices, scrolling through Instagram®, chatting in a group text, or calling an Uber®, and this keeps our necks flexed forward for extended periods of time. This habit — and the lines, wrinkles, and sagging it can cause — has been coined as “tech neck.”
What exactly is tech neck?
Many people have heard of tech neck in the context of cosmetic concerns: the repetitive motion of looking down can create unpleasant, early-onset wrinkles and sagging in the neck region. However, it is also linked to a bevy of serious issues with the cervical spine and musculoskeletal system. Think about it: the human head is heavy (about 10 to 12 pounds), so the slightest shift in how its positioned can result in pain and medical concerns. These consist of everything from inflammation in the area and shoulder pain to headaches and even the development of a “dowager’s hump.”
Tech neck is unique in that it affects all age groups — including children and young adults during major developmental stages — and its prevalence has increased dramatically as we have become more and more dependent on our mobile devices. If you find yourself hunched over at your computer or looking down at your cell phone constantly throughout the day, chances are that you’ve already started reaping the nasty side effects of tech neck — regardless if you feel pain or not.
How can I prevent tech neck?
Although the buzzy blue light (HEV) emitted from our screens has been recognized as a major cause of skin damage, board-certified Los Angeles-based dermatologist Ronald Moy, MD says the repeated action of looking down at cell phones definitely causes more wrinkling and sagging of the skin than HEV. It’ll also lead to musculoskeletal soreness of the neck over time. The most natural, but not-so-easy way, to prevent tech neck and horizontal neck banding (a.k.a. wrinkling of the neck) is, of course, limiting screen time. For many, this isn’t an ideal or even feasible option.
Luckily, we can control how we look down. Dr. Moy suggests keeping your cell phone at eye level to decrease the wrinkling, sagging, and musculoskeletal issues, and sitting upright with a straight back whenever possible. “The only way tech neck [may] go away is with consistent attention to the position of the head and neck,” he explains. “All other modalities, like creams and laser, are mostly preventative — and some reverse [damage] if you invest in the treatments and care.”
I already have tech neck — what do I do now?
If you are already struggling with the negative cosmetic side effects of tech neck, there are treatment options available to minimize and even erase neck wrinkles and sagging with consistent use. Jason Diamond, MD, board-certified Beverly Hills-based plastic surgeon and founder of The Diamond Face Institute℠, notes that tech neck often requires multiple strategies to rectify the damage. He suggests his signature Diamond InstaFacialsm, a trifecta of treatments that help smooth the area including lasers, skin-tightening treatments, and injections such as platelet-rich plasma into the horizontal neck bands. The Diamond InstaFacial should be done monthly or quarterly, depending on the severity of your tech neck. “Results will be noticeable in as little as a week post-procedure,” says Dr. Diamond. “The treatment takes roughly forty-five minutes and results are continuously built on one another.” He points out that consistency with lasers is key to seeing a major difference in the appearance of your tech neck.
Dr. Moy also suggests lasers for those seeking serious results. “Depending on the severity of the neck concerns, specific types of lasers can help tighten skin and decrease wrinkling.” He’s particularly fond of the results that can be achieved with radiofrequency via devices like FaceTiteTM or Pellevé®, and microneedling radiofrequency (like MorpheusTM, Vivace®, EndymedTM, TripolarTM, and PollagenTM). The latter delivers heat via the super-fine needles of microneedling treatments. With radiofrequency, you will likely need multiple treatments in order to see results.
Dr. Moy adds that minor plastic surgery can also make a difference. “We do a lot of minimal-incision neck lifts combined with laser resurfacing to get optional results in some patients,” he says, noting that laser treatments alone can provide improvement in just one treatment if the setting is high enough. However, because neck skin is so sensitive and thin for most patients, it will typically take multiple laser treatments to see major results.
Of course, if you’re fond of daily at-home treatments, you can opt for topical creams. Dr. Moy suggests alternating two products from his line, DNA EGF Renewal®: the DNA Restoring Mask ($85), which contains repair enzymes to help repair HEV-damaged skin, and the Regeneration Serum ($145). This contains epidermal growth factor (EGF), an ingredient that helps naturally stimulate tissue regeneration, helping to thicken and tighten the skin on the neck. Furthermore, Dr. Diamond recommends seeking out a skincare regimen rich in peptides, which also promote skin cell production. We’re fond of the Paula’s Choice® Peptide Booster ($52), which can be mixed into your existing skincare formulas to amplify their firming benefits.
Interestingly enough, both doctors advised a unique (plus simple and cost-effective) option that can help correct the look of tech neck: a change to your pillow! Dr. Moy suggested sleeping with a pillow that keeps your neck in a neutral anatomic position, like a Samina® orthopedic pillow. Not only can that help reduce pain and correct curvature concerns, but it will help prevent your neck from bending (and, thus, prevent the skin on it from creasing further). Dr. Diamond suggests switching your pillowcase to one made of silk, regardless of what pillow you stuff inside. Silk fabric, like that of the Slip® Slipsilk® pillowcase ($85), doesn’t snag on skin like cotton or synthetic cloth, and helps skin retain moisture, keeping it looking wrinkle-free longer.
That all said, while it’s excellent that we have an array of treatments to choose from when it comes to rectifying tech neck-induced damage, your best bet is still to reduce the amount of time you spend looking down. “The cosmetic aspects of tech neck can be significantly improved, but depending on the severity, may never fully go away,” warns Dr. Diamond. So, in this digital device-obsessed world, don’t beat yourself up too badly about your tech neck — but do keep in mind the health ramifications of screen time. The more frequently you take breaks and the sooner you start targeted treatments, the more likely you can reduce both the cosmetic and musculoskeletal concerns.
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