Given how much more flesh we #swoldiers are flashing on Instagram, Snapchat and dating apps these days, it’s hardly surprising that body-sculpting creams, serums and gels are muscling their way into men’s grooming regimes.
These products – promising to nip and tuck those niggling bits of fat while enhancing muscular definition – seem a godsend for most of us feeling the heat from impossibly-ripped men on billboards and in Hollywood blockbusters, as well as those obligatory shirtless moments in BBC costume dramas.
“Fit, healthy, toned and tanned models set the mood for many fragrance and skincare campaigns,” says Teresa Fisher, Senior Account Manager of UK Beauty for research company The NPD Group. (Face of Paco Rabanne’s Invictus fragrance, Nick Youngquest, is just one man fomenting ab envy.) “Men begin by improving their physique and then continue to enhance their traditional grooming rituals with high-tech skincare products to smooth, refine and tone the skin,” she says. “Hence why we continue to see a strong increase in sales of body products.”
It’s little wonder then that there’s a Spartan army’s worth of skin-firming and body-toning products targeted specifically at men. “Great pecs and abs are what guys strive for in the gym and any product that can help them achieve an enviable, photogenic body is going to be in demand,” says James Green, founder of the FIT Skincare range, which includes a sculpting product in its line-up.
“I included Pec & Ab Sculpt in the FIT range due to my background in weight training: I used to train up to nine times a week in the gym and my obsession with working out was where the whole idea for FIT skincare came from,” he explains. “Any products that I could create that would enhance both my own and my customer’s training routines were a must-have.”
But let’s get one thing straight here: to have any success with these products you need some decent foundations in the first place. Body-firming products are enhancement tools, not miracle workers. They are designed to firm and tighten skin to better show off what you already have, rather than magic mounds of muscle out of thin air.
It stands to reason then that guys who’ve already put in their time at the gym and mastered the art of resisting the Big Mac will see the best results. (If your body fat isn’t 10 per cent or lower, you probably won’t be able to see your abs anyway.)
How They Work
“Nothing short of the surgeon’s knife will keep skin tight, but there are useful, non-surgical options, too,” says skincare expert Liz Earle, author of Skin Secrets. “With regular use, certain skin-tightening gels and serums have been shown to tighten slackened skin and ingredients like kigelia Africana (sausage tree extract), quince and mangosteen are all proven skin-firmers.”
Most products also contain ingredients which, it’s claimed, help break down fat deposits, while all aim to support the skin’s natural collagen. “This is the key protein in the skin that provides its characteristic flexible strength,” says Candice Gardner of The International Dermal Institute. “By boosting collagen production, skin will be firmer and smoother.”
These are the ingredients to look out for:
Found in everything from anti-cellulite creams to eye creams, caffeine boasts antioxidant properties and is believed to reduce puffiness by constricting blood vessels.
A paper published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology also suggests it may break down fat cells, but the jury’s still out due to a lack of firm findings.
According to a study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, creatine – a nitrogenous organic acid that helps supply energy to cells (and a supplement you might already be taking to gain mass) – can help in the synthesis of collagen when applied topically, hence its inclusion in many skin-firming creams.
So you could say it’s deserving of a place in your bathroom cabinet as well as your gym bag.
“Vitamin C is critical in the production of collagen,” says Gardner. “And without good levels of Vitamin C, collagen production is reduced and skin will become slack and more fragile over time.”
A potent antioxidant, soy protein is used in skincare products primarily for its anti-inflammatory benefits, but also because it contains genistein – a compound which, like creatine, supports collagen production.
FIT’s Pec & Ab Sculpt features an ingredient called levan. “This is a polysaccharide made up of fructose molecules that forms a firming film on the skin,” explains Green.
Cleverly – or craftily – most body-sculpting products feature ingredients that instantly cool, refresh and energise the skin so it feels different when you apply the products. Make of that what you will.
Lab Series Ab Rescue Body Sculpting Gel
One of the first and best-known sculpting gels for men, Lab Series’ Ab Rescue claims to smooth and tighten skin around the midsection using the holy trinity of skin firmers: caffeine, creatine and soy protein.
Designed as a post-workout treatment, it needs to be massaged into the skin until it disappears and, to its credit, does at least feel like it’s doing something.
Available at labseries.co.uk, priced £34.
ClarinsMen Ab Firming Body-Sculpting Gel
As well as caffeine and botanicals to support collagen production (Bocoa extract sourced from the Amazonian rainforest being one of them), this refreshing, lightweight gel also contains adiposlim – a lipo-amino acid that’s rated for its purported ability to slow down fat storage.
Clarins reckon 80 per cent of testers reported firmer skin while love handles shrunk by an average of 0.5cm with continued use. The tester sample was, however, relatively small at just over 100 men.
Available at Clarins, priced £29.
Shiseido Men Body Creator Abdomen Toning Gel
As well as caffeine (seeing a trend here?), this cooling gel also features red pepper and houttuynia cordata (aka fish mint) extracts to tone skin.
As with all toning products, you’ll need to massage this one in thoroughly to reap any benefits.
Available at House Of Fraser, priced £40.
FIT Pec & Ab Sculpt
Like most sculpting products, this serum from British skincare brand FIT aims to tighten and tone skin while minimising excess fat storage in order to enhance muscle definition.
There’s caffeine in there (obviously), along with artichoke leaf to help break down fat and plant fructans to tighten skin.
Available at fitskincare.co.uk, priced £35.
Nip+Man Bicep Fix
Intended for use on the upper arms and biceps, this quickly-absorbed, non-greasy toning gel contains caffeine and laracare – a polysaccharide that helps tighten skin slightly.
The range also includes Ab Fix should your gut need attention as well as your guns.
Available at nipandman.com, priced £12.95.
Keep The Collagen, Kick The Candy
While most of today’s body-sculpting products aim to temporarily tighten skin, their longer-term function is to support the skin’s natural collagen so as to minimise sagging and keep it looking firm and youthful. To do that effectively, though, you might want to consider reducing your sugar intake as well.
Why? Because sweet stuff – apart from Old Father Time – is collagen’s number one enemy, owing to a process called glycation. “Glycation is a naturally-occurring process in which the by-products of digested glucose (carbohydrates and sugars) attach to the collagen molecules in the skin, causing fibres to harden and lose their suppleness,” says Gardner. “The effects of the glycation process at the cellular level of the skin’s structure may result in wrinkling and loss of elasticity.”
So if you really want to keep skin firm and tight, don’t just think about what to put on your body, but what you put into it too.
Are you tight with skin-toning products? Or do you need firmer evidence before plumping for body sculpters?
Give us the unvarnished truth below.