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This post has been updated (July 2013) with brand new tips that work for lifting sagging and wrinkled knees.
It is a rarely discussed but frequently seen part of the body that is prone to wrinkles as we age: the knee. You may think that knees are never the focus of any anti-aging treatments because they are a lost cause, doomed to remain sheathed in folds for the rest of time. But there are steps you can take to ward off, deal with, and even permanently fix saggy knees. What follows is breakdown of these steps ordered by how great of a commitment each requires, from low to high.
Easy preventative measures for knee de-wrinkling:
The skin on any part of your body which is forced to bend and stretch repeatedly, such as the knees and elbows, becomes scaly, cracked, and wrinkled-looking as you age. In addition, these parts often have to support the weight of your entire body (from leaning, kneeling, etc.), exacerbating their condition. Call it payback for all that exhausting stress, but with time, these areas tend to show more dryness and wrinkles than the rest of your skin. The best reward you can give your knees is to keep them moisturized at all times.
The best body lotions for desiccated knees will help drive moisture through the skin barrier. Look for formulas containing urea or ammonium lactate (ie. Eucerin Plus Intensive Repair Body Cream or AmLactin Moisturizing Lotion. A number of brands, from B. Kamins to Dermal Therapy, offer targeted products to treat the knee, elbow, and foot areas specifically. Take a gander at Marta's recommendations for the five best body moisturizers on the market (along with a frightening tale of what could happen to your knees if you don't take proper care of them).
If you're really serious about improving the appearance of your knees, get in the habit of exfoliating, thus revitalizing them on a cellular level. After scrubbing your knees in the shower (with a loofah, scrub, or Clarisonic body brush) to slough off dead skin cells, coat the area with some heavy-duty petroleum-based products like Curel or plain-old Vaseline. If you'd prefer the natural path, use a rich cream (or concoct your own) with wholesome emollients like shea butter and emu oil. You may look like a volleyball player, but tying long, clean socks around your knees will keep the cream from rubbing off on your sheets. Forming regular habits is far easier than trying to cure a long-neglected disaster- which brings us to the next level of knee skin therapy.
Moderate lifestyle changes for nixing knee creases:
The knee sag can afflict all individuals, whether they are overweight or in terrific shape. This looseness of the skin stems from a loss of elastic fibers, collagen, and muscle mass, which naturally occurs as we age. Firming the target area requires you to develop the muscles above your knee cap, thus rebuilding elastic fibers. Updating your workout routine with core exercises will help you tighten and tone the area above your knees.
Leg extensions are the most basic and efficient knee-toning exercise. You don't need a leg-extension machine at the gym to reap the same benefits simply by raising your legs with ankle weights while seated on a stable chair or bench. Pointing your toes up and in toward each other will tighten the flabby area on the outside of knees, while pointing your toes up and out with your heels touching will build the inner-leg muscles around your knees.
The same rule holds for yoga and Pilates, which are excellent choices for keeping knees strong and flexible without putting the body under duress. Sign up for a yoga or Pilates class so that you can learn the basic moves and practice at home. Yoga poses that strengthen the quadriceps, such as the Chair, Warrior I, and Warrior II, support the knee joints while also tightening the surrounding skin and muscle. Whereas yoga focuses more on stretching, Pilates aims to build strength by using a series of movements drawing on the body's weight as resistance to train muscles. Not only will you better support the knee joints by strengthening the quadricep and hamstring muscles, but you'll also develop a stronger midsection to keep the upper body erect, thus lessening the strain placed on your knees.
No turning back with these high-cost knee fixes:
Demi Moore infamously consulted with her Hollywood surgeon about her supposedly saggy knees before making her jaw-dropping entrance on the big screen in the Charlie's Angels sequel. A much-publicized surgery ensued, helping to introduce the term "knee lift" into the collective cosmetic consciousness. Though the procedure doesn't even appear in the American (or Canadian) Society of Plastic Surgeons data bank, knee lifts have become a popular option in recent years.
Because the operation involves an incision where the skin on the front of the thigh begins to fold above the knee cap, it can leave a large scar which, due to everyday motion of the knee, can spread. Not only is there nowhere to hide the scar, but there's also no place to anchor the stitches, resulting in a great deal of tension on the wound. Thus, knee lifts run the risk of what is known as hypertrophic scars, which are thick, raised, and often darker than the surrounding skin. Many surgeons advise against a knee lift, except in cases when patients have lost over 30% of their body weight and are carrying around huge amounts of loose skin. If you don't fall in this category, you might want to look into less invasive alternatives.
Infusion Lipolysis, a procedure designed to shrink fat cells, can be performed above the knee in place of a knee lift. Unlike liposuction, which removes adipose cells (loose connective tissue), Infusion Lipolysis helps to deplete excess fat stored in these cells, thereby shrinking them back to their normal size and actually tightening skin. The Refirme Skin Tightening Procedure, which uses elos technology, is another safe, virtually painless non-invasive solution for sagging skin around the knee. These medical treatments help improve skin laxity, wrinkles, and textural irregularities, but they often require a big financial investment and maintenance programs.
Are your knees worth it?
Who wants knees that look like the photo above? Believe it or not, that saggy set belongs to a very well-known actress. I won't name names, but I will tell you that her hubby Antonio Banderas has requested that she eschew knee lifts. Let's hope that she's heeding some of the aforementioned advice. The rest of us can adjust our lifestyles or try different treatments based on the level of sacrifice we are willing to make in the name of our knees. Really, our knees deserve all the attention they can get given the abuse they tolerate over a lifetime.
See also: A Regimen for Lovely Legs