Issue 7 Stories
On-Call Advice

Why do we wrinkle as we age? Can wrinkles be avoided?

Wrinkling is a natural part of aging that occurs as the skin’s ability to produce natural oils and fats begins to decrease, making the skin dryer and less elastic, and contributing to fine lines and creases that typically become more pronounced with age. Shrinking of natural fat pads under the skin as we age exaggerates these wrinkles. This natural aging process in the underlying structure of the skin can be made worse by certain external factors, only some of which we can control.

One primary cause of wrinkling is exposure to sunlight. Ultraviolet radiation in the sun’s rays speeds up the wrinkling process by breaking down the elastin and collagen in the skin’s connective tissue, potentially causing the skin to wrinkle and sag prematurely. Smoking also can contribute to wrinkling by interfering with the circulation that supplies blood to the skin.

People who squint or smile a lot may also notice thin lines beginning to form around the eyes and mouth as their skin ages. These are known as dynamic lines, since they come from the repetitive muscle movements of facial expressions, creating creases over time.

While there is no way to avoid the natural process of aging that makes the skin dryer and less elastic, we can take certain steps to slow down premature aging. Avoiding the sun when possible, covering the skin with clothing and wearing sunscreen daily have been shown to decrease sun-induced wrinkles and aging. Not smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke also can help protect the skin from excessive and premature wrinkling. Even people who have smoked heavily for years may notice an improvement in their skin after giving up the habit.

Using creams and moisturizers won’t stop the natural aging process and associated wrinkling, but skin care products can help cover fine lines and creases and keep the skin more supple. Some prescription products actually can trigger collagen production to plump aging skin.

People with deep wrinkles who wish to improve their appearance should talk to a board-certified dermatologist. A number of techniques involving chemical or laser resurfacing procedures, fillers, and neurotoxins like Botox can all reduce wrinkles and improve the appearance of aging skin.

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