It’s finally happened. Your nana’s sagging jawline has made an unwelcome appearance on your face. What’s started as a little softness under your chin has become a full-fledged gobbler.
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“What’s known as ‘turkey neck’ is a problem with your neck’s skin, fat or underlying muscle, or a combination of the three,” says plastic surgeon Martin Newman, MD. “It’s often a sign of aging, but younger people can experience it, too. There are many ways to address it, depending on the cause and what kind of results you want.”
Dr. Newman explains why turkey neck develops and the many nonsurgical and surgical options available to improve or get rid of it.
What’s a turkey neck?
“Turkey neck” may not be an official medical term, but people know it when they see it.
“Patients are dissatisfied with the appearance of their profile or the front view of their face because of excess skin, soft tissue and lax neck muscles,” says Dr. Newman. “These neck issues can affect your cervicomental angle, which is the angle formed where your bottom jaw meets your neck. As a result, your neck looks like it’s drooping and less defined.”
What causes a turkey neck?
Dr. Newman says these six factors can cause turkey neck:
- Aging: Your skin naturally loses elasticity as you get older. “Gravity takes over, and the skin on your cheeks starts to drift down,” explains Dr. Newman. “Your cheek skin then pools underneath your jawline and in your neck.”
- Weight: Weight gain can cause extra fat to collect around your neck.
- Genetics: “I hear, ‘I have my mother’s neck’ or ‘I have my father’s jaw,’ all the time,” Dr. Newman says. “Your inherited bone structure or anatomy affects whether you carry extra neck tissue or are prone to collect excess fat around your neck.”
- Lifestyle factors: Environmental toxins, smoking, sun damage and a poor diet can all eat affect your skin’s elasticity, too.
- Medications: Certain medications can cause overall weight gain or fat to be more concentrated in certain areas of your body, including your neck. “There’s a phenomenon called HIV lipodystrophy, where some anti-HIV medications cause fat to collect in your neck and other areas of your body,” Dr. Newman says. Steroid medications can also make your face rounder and increase neck fat.
- Weak neck muscles: You have two platysma muscles on the front of your neck. “These muscles can weaken or separate over time, affecting your neck’s appearance,” Dr. Newman explains.
How to get rid of turkey neck
Choosing an effective turkey neck treatment depends on what’s causing it and your goals. Fortunately, there’s a smorgasbord of treatment options available. Dr. Newman breaks them down.
Dr. Newman says some people note a change in the appearance of their neck when they lose weight — but not always. It depends on the character and quality of your skin.
“If you’re young with healthy skin, your skin may retract on its own after weight loss,” he says. “But if you’re older or you smoke and your skin is wrinkled and has lost a lot of elasticity, you may not see much improvement, even after weight loss.”
Nonsurgical treatments for a turkey neck
Many products and minimally invasive procedures can help improve your skin’s elasticity and the appearance of neck fat, including:
- An anti-aging skin care routine, including neck creams and lotions can help minimize collagen loss and tighten your skin.
- Laser skin resurfacing uses heat to rejuvenate your skin.
- Ultherapy uses focused ultrasound to lift and tighten your skin.
- Microneedling uses tiny needles to stimulate your skin to repair itself.
- Radiofrequency microneedling uses radiofrequency energy to help collagen grow and tighten your skin.
Other, more potent options include:
- Deoxycholic acid, or Kybella® injections, which help dissolve neck fat.
- Fat freezing and nonsurgical body sculpting, such as CoolSculpting®, and devices that use laser, radiofrequency or ultrasound energy to destroy fat cells.
To improve your neck’s underlying muscle quality and tone, you can try:
- Turkey neck exercises: Daily neck exercises can strengthen neck muscles, which may help improve your neck’s appearance. For ideas on moves you can try, ask a dermatologist.
- Botox® for turkey neck: As the platysma muscles weaken, vertical bands or cords can appear on your neck. “The muscles become tight and enlarged,” Dr. Newman explains. “Applying Botox (botulinum toxin) helps tone them down and can be very effective.” Before having Botox injections into your neck bands, though, be sure to ask your plastic surgeon about “indications” for this medication (whether it’s safe and recommended for you).
But buyer beware: “The brochures for many nonsurgical treatments commonly promise great results, but often provide subtle changes,” Dr. Newman warns. “And it usually takes several sessions to achieve desired results followed by maintenance.”
He continues: “While they can improve your skin’s character and quality, they all pale in comparison to turkey neck surgery. Nevertheless, many people are happy with their results.”
Facelifts and neck lifts
Surgeries that treat turkey necks include facelifts (rhytidectomy) and neck lifts (platysmaplasty). During these procedures, plastic surgeons remove excess face or neck skin and fat while tightening the skin, muscle and tissue left behind.
Facelifts and neck lifts go by many aliases, depending on who’s doing them and how. “Feather lift, short scar, J lift — essentially, they’re all one form of facelift/neck lift or another,” Dr. Newman says.
While surgery has more risks and recovery than nonsurgical treatments, you get a bigger bang for your buck, he adds. “Facelifts and neck lifts are the gold standard. By surgically removing the extra skin and fat (and tightening the muscles, when needed) you get instant results and a definitive fix.”
Other surgeries for turkey necks
Other surgeries that treat bone structure problems, like misaligned jaws and teeth, can also have benefits. “While these procedures are done less often for cosmetic reasons, they can ultimately improve your neck’s appearance,” notes Dr. Newman.
The route you go is up to you, but meeting with a reputable, board-certified plastic surgeon is the best first step. “Do your research and discuss your goals,” Dr. Newman advises. “Then they can help you achieve them.”