It all begins that day you look into the mirror and notice tiny crow’s feet at the outside corners of your eyes. You may only be in your 20s, still fighting acne that started when you hit puberty. Or you may be in your 30s and surprised you’re already showing signs of aging.
Crow’s feet are followed by little lines around your mouth or perched on your forehead. Those lines on both sides of your face, from your nose to your lips, look deeper. You begin to understand why people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on cosmetic procedures.
Don’t panic when wrinkles and fine lines begin making their inevitable appearance on the part of your body you can’t really hide. Instead, understand why they materialize and what you can do to prevent and treat them.
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Although there’s still nothing funny about laugh lines, wrinkles happen to everyone. Here’s what you should know about fighting those wrinkles in time.
The Anatomy of a Wrinkle
A wrinkle can be a crease, a furrow, or even a fold. They can be tiny, short, large, or long. Wrinkles are caused naturally when skin loses its elasticity and firmness. As the largest organ of the body, your skin is your shield against the elements. The greater and the longer the beating it takes, the more wrinkles and fine lines you will develop.
Skin comprises three layers. From top to bottom, those are the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis. The epidermis is the thinnest layer, but it’s the waterproof outer layer that is constantly generating new skin cells while the old ones dry up and fall off.
The broadest layer is the workhorse, the dermis. That’s the layer housing your sweat glands and sebaceous glands, which produce complex oils. Those oils lubricate the skin, make it more moisture resistant, and move antioxidants in and throughout the skin. Too much oil production and you may suffer from acne. Too little and you have flaky, dry skin. But the larger the glands are, the shallower the wrinkles on your face.
This layer also houses collagen and elastin, two essential proteins for skin structure. Collagen fills the skin, keeping it taut. Elastin is what makes skin stretch and snap back.
The foundational layer of skin, the hypodermis, is where the all-important veins and arteries provide blood flow to the skin. Circulation carries vital nutrients to skin cells and aids the production of collagen and elastin.
How Do Wrinkles Form?
There are multiple elements involved in healthy, taut skin, including fat, proteins, antioxidants, and oils. Conversely, factors such as age, gravity, poor nutrition, dehydration, sun, pollution, and smoking contribute to skin’s breakdown.
Aging and sun exposure are the two primary factors in the formation of wrinkles. While most people blame age, it is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays that causes the most visible skin damage, referred to as “photoaging.” Besides creating fine lines and wrinkles, UV exposure causes hyperpigmentation — those dark spots that appear on your cheeks, ears, upper lip, and chin. While melasma is often brought on by pregnancy, genetic factors, oral contraceptives, and sunlight can all play a role in the onset of the condition as well.
UV radiation damages the collagen fibers in the dermis layer of the skin. As the collagen is damaged, elastin overproduces protein to rebuild the collagen. That overproduction usually results in rebuilding defective skin which, combined with the lack of collagen, forms wrinkles that resemble worn leather. This creates a significant relationship between melasma and wrinkles.
At the eyes where those crow’s feet form, there is very little fat and collagen and few sebaceous glands in the first place. As you age, your skin loses these three elements, which is why this may be the first place you notice fine lines and wrinkles.
Another wrinkle hotspot is the glabella — that space between your eyebrows where vertical lines form. Then there are those not-so-funny laugh or smile lines, which are nasolabial folds from both sides of your nose to the corners of your mouth. In addition to the breakdown of collagen and elastin, these wrinkles may be accentuated by loose skin if you lose weight.
Not All Wrinkles Are the Same
The difference between fine lines and wrinkles is a matter of degree. Fine lines are shallower, so they are less noticeable. Wrinkles are deeper, and the deeper they are, the more noticeable they become. However, treatments for the two are virtually the same, contingent on the type of wrinkle formed.
There are different types of wrinkles, which include dynamic and static wrinkles. Dynamic wrinkles are caused by contraction of the muscles, such as when you squint, frown, smile, or raise your eyebrows. When you do any of these acts, you create a furrow between bunched muscles. Over time, that furrow stops bouncing back. Decreasing that muscle activity is the theory behind Botox injections. Botox is a neurotoxin that weakens or paralyzes muscles. After three or four months, it will wear off and those muscles will begin working again.
Static wrinkles result from genetics, sun exposure, poor nutrition, smoking, and pollution. These may also result from prolonged dynamic wrinkle activity, such as from smiling, frowning, or squinting repeatedly over time. Static wrinkles are visible even when facial muscles are relaxed.
Who Wrinkles and When?
Because multiple factors affect the formation of fine lines and wrinkles, who gets them, how noticeable they are, and when they begin noticing them depends on the individual.
Collagen production begins to decrease after age 20 by about 1% per year. Sebaceous and sweat glands slow production as does glycosaminoglycan production, which keeps skin hydrated. These are intrinsic changes that hasten the formation of fine lines and wrinkles.
Fat cells and oil production fall throughout a person’s 30s and in their 40s, collagen production stops altogether, and production of new skin cells begins to decline. By the time you reach your 50s, you’re losing the subcutaneous fat that keeps skin taut. Nutrients fail to keep skin cells fed so they can slough off old cells and replace them with new ones.
Remember, too, that your skin is the body’s largest organ. The function of every organ in the body declines with age. Of course, some decline faster than others depending on factors other than just age. For example, cardiovascular disease hastens the decrease in heart function and diabetes can affect kidney function.
Extrinsic factors, such as pollution, UV exposure, nutrition, smoking, and repetition of actions that form dynamic wrinkles affect the timing of wrinkles. Smokers are likely to develop wrinkles, particularly around the mouth and nose, earlier than non-smokers. Those who are exposed to UV rays, especially if they don’t use sunblock protection, will develop wrinkles earlier than those who protect their skin. Moreover, the wrinkles will tend to be more pronounced.
You are what you eat, and so is your skin. Water intake is vital to healthy skin. So are proteins, which affect the makeup of your skin and its ability to repair damage. Copper, zinc, iron, and selenium contribute to the activity of antioxidant enzymes. Vitamins A, B, C, D, and E also contribute to healthy skin structure. In fact, antioxidants found in vitamins A, C, and E; carotenoids like beta carotene, lycopene, and lutein; and polyphenols in green tea, turmeric, and soybeans foster healthy skin. Antioxidants fight those free radicals responsible for wrinkles, inflammation, UV damage, and skin cancer.
Good nutrition is inexorably linked to the health of your skin and the ability to keep fine lines and wrinkles to a minimum for a longer period. Consumption of fats, alcohol, and processed sugars and tobacco use, on the other hand, play a role in everything from inflammation and skin thickening to tissue death.
How Can I Treat My Wrinkles?
Now that you know what causes wrinkles, you can find ways to treat them. Although you can’t eliminate them, you can make them less noticeable and slow their progression by using a combination of anti-aging treatment methods.
Of course, there are cosmetic procedures that immediately reduce or even eliminate facial wrinkles. However, these can be expensive, painful, risky, and don’t last forever. At some point, even after surgery, your face will begin showing the sagging and wrinkling you staved off temporarily.
Although they don’t yield instant results, retinoids such as tretinoin cream have been proven effective in the treatment of fine lines and wrinkles. Often prescribed for treatment of acne, tretinoin increases collagen production and decreases those dark spots caused by melasma.
How Can I Prevent Wrinkles?
Preventing or slowing the formation of wrinkles is the best way to fight them, but you’ll need to begin early and continue prevention measures throughout your lifetime.
Begin by avoiding exposure to UV rays. If you can’t avoid it, use the right sunscreen. There are mineral formulas that reflect UV rays and chemical formulas that allow the epidermis to absorb the rays but dissipate them as heat. Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
If you’re using any sun protection factor (SPF) under 30, it’s probably not providing an adequate defense. Mineral sunscreens containing iron oxide, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are generally preferred over chemical sunscreens as they don’t predispose to allergic reactions and are overall safer for the environment.
Oils, sweat, dead skin cells, and pollution accumulate on your face throughout the course of a day. These, as well as makeup, should be removed every night. To keep skin healthy, use a gentle cleanser that will keep your pores clean and your skin functioning on all cylinders.
Avoid over-washing or using an astringent cleanser. Those will dry out your face and can do more to encourage wrinkles than discourage them. Look for cleansers that don’t contain soap or medications and that are hypoallergenic. Such a cleanser will remove debris from your face without stripping your natural oils.
You should also moisturize your face regularly. If you have acne, moisturizing can seem counterintuitive, but it’s not. Skin that becomes too dry and stripped of sebaceous oils can lead to acne outbreaks just like oily skin can. Certainly, as your skin dries out with age, you should be using a moisturizer that helps lock moisture into the skin and repel all the external hazards your skin is designed to protect your body from.
Eat a healthy diet too. Avoid alcohol or use it in moderation, and stop smoking or vaping. These prevention measures will help keep you from developing wrinkles before your time.
Start Defying Fine Lines and Wrinkles Today
The earlier you begin taking steps to prevent the formation of fine lines and wrinkles or to treat them once they appear, the more successful you will be in fighting the natural aging process and the ravages of sun exposure. Why wait?
Begin defying these signs of aging today by making smart decisions and employing science. Although some of the defenses you need require a prescription, it’s easy to talk to a healthcare provider, find the products that help you, and have them delivered right to your door.
Wrinkles may be roadmaps of smiles, frowns, and sunshine during a life. You can’t avoid developing them entirely. But you can choose to not succumb to them early or quietly. Keeping them at bay is the real fountain of youth.