Because You’ve Been Wondering: Do Skin-Firming Creams Really Work?

It's a gym in a bottle! Maybe!

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Walk down any skincare aisle (or, let’s be honest, browse the skincare section of, because WHAT ARE STORES?), and you’ll see at least a dozen body creams and lotions promising to firm your butt, cure your cellulite, and tone you thighs—so, you know, a 12-month gym plan in a bottle.

I, as a resident bullshit-caller, have always deemed these products as gimmick, and even tested one diligently for three months to no avail. But every week, a new iteration lands on my desk, and every week, I find myself wondering if I actually am missing out on something magical. So I did what any good hater does: I asked a bunch of doctors.


And they were, uh, skeptical, to say the least, explaining their opinions with a lot of vague qualifiers and hypotheticals. There was, however, a general consensus that although these products won’t make you look 20 pounds lighter, some of them can, in fact, give your skin a temporary tightening and smoothing effect.

“Firming creams are best at preventing sagging or may give modest improvements in sagging skin when used alone,” says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital, noting that the formulas you want to look for are those spiked with caffeine or carnitine (“they can help minimize the appearance of cellulite by dehydrating the fat, while actually helps your body break it down”) and peptides (“they can promote collagen and elastic production to thicken skin and improve its bounce”).

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Of course, this is not to say that slathering something on the outside of your skin will magically sink in and repair your connective tissues, or tone your muscles, because we all know you need a few hours of exercise, a cleaner eating plan, and maybe some help from a doctor and derm to get that body. But, if you use them every day, you’ll basically always reap the benefits of the “temporary” effects, which is almost the same as permanent, right?

Basically, the biggest downside of trying one of these body-firming creams is that they do nothing but hydrate your skin, which is exactly what your normal lotion would do anyways. But the possible upside? Slightly firmer and smoother skin, which I’m all about. Of course, for every single good product, there are a billion crappy ones, so to cut through the noise, I present to you the three top-rated body-firming creams, below, that (allegedly) really do work.


Body Merry Cellulite Defense Cream

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Body Merry Cellulite Defense Cream, $22 BUY IT

This Amazon best-seller may not look that exciting from the outside, but the industrial jar holds an incredibly legit cream that’s formulated with caffeine and retinol, which, over time, will smooth skin, even out your skin tone, and soften rough patches, while temporarily giving skin a firmer look.

Nivea Skin Firming & Toning Gel-Cream

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(Image credit: Courtesy of Brands)

Nivea Skin Firming & Toning Gel-Cream, $10 BUY IT

A drugstore favorite, this Nivea gel-cream absorbs into skin fast, making it easy for the staunchest of of lotion-haters to keep up with slathering it on the daily. But, most importantly, it’s filled with L-carnitine, which, just like caffeine, can temporarily minimize the appearance of cellulite, thanks to its fat-dehydrating properties.

Sol De Janeiro Brazilian Bum Bum Cream

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(Image credit: Courtesy of Brands)

Sol De Janeiro Brazilian Bum Bum Cream, $45 BUY IT

The cute name of this cream is a plus, but we’re mainly digging the fact fact that the formula is filled with a zillion skin-plumping ingredients, like açaí (an antioxidant that soothes inflammation), coconut oil (ultra skin-softening and smoothing), and, most importantly, guarana, an insanely caffeinated Amazonian berry that temporarily firms skin.

Marie Claire

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Chloe Metzger
Beauty Editor

Chloe Metzger is the deputy beauty director at Cosmopolitan, overseeing the editorial content and growth strategy of the hair, makeup, and skin space on digital, while also obsessively writing about the best hair products for every hair type (curly girl here; whattup), and the skincare routines that really, truly work (follow her on Instagram to see behind-the-scenes pics of that magazine life). She brings nearly a decade of writing and editing expertise, and her work has appeared in AllureHealthFitnessMarie ClaireStyleCaster, and Parents. She also has an unhealthy adoration for Tom Hanks and would like to please meet him one day, if you could arrange that. Thanks.