Spoiler alert: It’s really not possible to completely get rid of wrinkles because you can’t stop the breaks on the aging process — but that doesn’t mean you can’t take your foot off the gas pedal a bit. Statistics show that people all over the world continue to seek out the proverbial fountain of youth. The anti-aging market is estimated to see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.7% between 2018 and 2023. Unfortunately, the driving force is more than just standard self-esteem. It’s society and the social pressure associated with physical appearance as seen on television, in magazines, and on the silver screen.
Interestingly enough, studies show women worry more about aging skin and wrinkles on the face than other issues such as losing eyesight, teeth, memory, bone density, or sex drive. There’s nothing wrong with adopting a results-driven anti-aging routine (in fact, it’s vital) or considering dermatological procedures to soften the appearance of fine lines or wrinkles. However, have realistic expectations and remember that one of the most important staples of a beauty routine is self-acceptance and self-love. In other words, being comfortable with the skin you’re in.
While it’s your responsibility to nurture your mental health, we tapped four dermatologists to help you establish an effective skincare and dermatological treatment program to help you keep fine lines and wrinkles at bay.
What Causes Wrinkles?
The most significant cause of wrinkles is what’s known as intrinsic aging, a genetically determined process that we cannot manipulate. Contributing factors include oxidative stress, glycation, your DNA, and fluctuating hormones, all of which contribute to the loss of collagen and elastin, roughness, uneven and dull skin, and (of course) wrinkles. On the other hand, extrinsic aging is caused by circumstances we can change, such as smoking, poor sleep habits, the environment (think pollution), an unhealthy diet, drinking too much alcohol, and sun exposure — the number one cause of wrinkles.
Related: Best Wrinkle Cream
What Are the Different Types of Wrinkles?
Wrinkles are classified as visible creases or folds in the skin. Wrinkles less than one millimeter in width and depth are defined as fine wrinkles. Those that are one millimeter or more in width and depth are defined as coarse. Here are the six main types of wrinkles:
- Expression Wrinkles: As the name implies, these wrinkles are caused by repeated facial expressions, such as wrinkles on the forehead, smile lines, wrinkles under the eyes, mid-cheek lines, or vertical smoker’s lines around the mouth from making a repetitive puckering movement.
- Atrophic Crinkling Rhytids (Crinkle Lines): Crinkle lines are one of the first signs of aging. These fine lines aren’t too deep yet and disappear when the skin is pulled taut. Lifestyle habits, such as an overabundance of sun exposure, can significantly influence how early on in life atrophic crinkling rhytids start to appear.
- Permanent Elastotic Creases: Individuals with a fair complexion who have spent a lot of time out in the sun (likely, without adequate protection) are susceptible to getting this type of wrinkle. They develop where the skin naturally creases (lips, cheeks, the bottom of the neck), and unlike crinkle lines, these are deep wrinkles.
- Atrophic Wrinkles: Deep parallel lines that appear between the eyebrows (known as the 11s) are furrowed.
- Compression Wrinkles: Creases that appear on your face, neck, and chest from poor sleep habits like sleeping on your stomach.
- Gravitational Folds: The skin loses 1% of its collagen each year as we age (somewhere around 25 years.) With continued loss of elasticity, the skin eventually begins to sag and create folds known as jowls around the neck and chin areas.
As mentioned, wrinkles are an inevitable part of the aging process. Since consumers are continually pontificating about “how to get rid of wrinkles on the forehead” or “what’s the best wrinkle treatment,” there’s an overwhelming amount of information swirling around about what you should or should not do. It’s time to debunk a few myths about wrinkles.
- All of Your Wrinkles Are Predetermined by Your Mid-20s
While it’s true you start to lose collagen at a rate of one percent per year starting in your 20s, you’re not creating an imprint for wrinkles that will magically pop up later in life. Over the years, it’s a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that are responsible for your wrinkles. However, keep in mind that you’ll accelerate the aging process when younger if you’re not protecting your skin from harmful UVA rays (hint: wear SPF every day, even when it’s cloudy.)
- Everyone Needs the Same Anti-Wrinkle Skincare Routine
Some of the key wrinkle-fighting ingredients are vitamins A (retinoids) and C, alpha hydroxy acids, niacinamide, flavonoids, and resveratrol because they correct the signs of age, protect against harmful UV rays, neutralize skin-damaging free radicals, and brighten and tone. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all skincare routine. The combination of products and ingredients that work for someone else may not be effective for you and vice versa. Skin type and tone, the climate where you live, and whether or not you have an underlying skin condition (thing eczema, rosacea, etc.) are a few factors that should shape your skincare routine.Also, patience is a virtue. On average, most anti-aging products take approximately six weeks to start producing a result — longer in some cases — so don’t expect an overnight miracle. Also, you want to avoid using too many aggressive products at once. Start with one, and when your skin becomes adapted, you can slowly introduce additional products. A dermatologist or esthetician can help you craft the safest and most effective routine for your skin.
- A Moisturizer Prevents Wrinkles
While a moisturizer is a crucial component to any skincare routine, slathering it on every day isn’t going to prevent wrinkles. However, what a hydrator will do is keep your skin’s lipid barrier intact and prevent crucial moisture loss, both of which make wrinkles less prominent.
- Downward Facial Motions Equate to Wrinkles
This myth could be considered controversial, but the reality is, due to the elasticity of the skin, rest assured it’s going to bounce right back into place regardless of upward or downward hand motions. You can’t rub a wrinkle into the skin because collagen and elastin fibers don’t differentiate between up and down friction on the skin when a product is applied. Elasticity and “bounce” do deteriorate with age, but that has to do with the natural aging process — not how you apply your skin cream.
- You Need to Invest a Lot of Money Into Your Skincare Routine
The skincare products market is a multi-billion industry, and despite how much money people are investing in it, that doesn’t mean you have to pay an arm and a leg for an effective routine. Go for quality of quantity. Invest in a few core products (such as an ingredient-packed serum and a retinol formulation) and keep the rest of your regime more elementary and cost-effective.
Dermatologists Share Their Tips for Softening Wrinkles
Dr. Scott Paviol, MD FADD, Paviol DermatologyLifestyle tip for softening wrinkles: “When it comes to wrinkles, prevention is key! The best way to address wrinkles is to prevent them from happening in the first place. General lifestyle tips for preventing wrinkles include wearing sunscreen daily, moisturizing often, and sleeping on your back.”
- “Sun exposure is the number one cause of aging skin, including wrinkles and discoloration. The sun causes a breakdown of the collagen and elastin in the skin and leads to free radical formation that contributes to skin degradation. Daily sunscreen usage is the best way to prevent these changes. When choosing your sunscreen, look for one with an SPF of at least 30 and zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide on the active ingredients list.”
- “Moisturizers should be applied once or twice daily, depending on the season and your particular skin type. For people with oily skin, a hydrating gel or serum may be best, such as Neutrogena Hydro Boost. For people with dry skin, a thicker cream may be needed, such as CeraVe Moisturizing Cream. No matter which type of moisturizer you use, make sure it includes ceramides and/or hyaluronic acid. These ingredients are naturally found in the skin and help to hold water and maintain the skin’s moisture barrier.”
- “Sleeping on your back helps to prevent the formation of fine lines caused by squishing your face into a pillow for hours overnight.”
Best cosmetic procedures for targeting wrinkles: “When it comes to cosmetic procedures that can be used to target wrinkles, you have lots of options! The main idea is to stimulate cell regeneration at the site of the wrinkles to help soften them. This can be done with various treatment modalities, depending on how aggressive you want to be. Navigating through these decisions to create a custom plan can be tricky, which is why partnering with a good skincare team is so crucial.
Generally speaking, procedures that produce a more dramatic result after one treatment are associated with a longer recovery time. These procedures include things like laser resurfacing and facelifts. The reverse is also true; procedures that produce a subtle result typically have a shorter recovery time. These procedures include things like chemical peels, microneedling, and facials.”
Best ingredients for softening wrinkles: “Skincare plays an important role in minimizing the appearance of wrinkles and optimizing skin health. There are a few key products that will help the most, including daily sunscreen with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, a retinoid, and vitamins C and E. Retinoids, derived from Vitamin A, help increase cell turnover. This process thins out the top layer of skin and helps to promote the formation of collagen and elastin. When used over months, retinoids can help minimize signs of skin aging, including wrinkles. Vitamin C and E work to help fight free radical formation in the skin caused by the sun. I suggest using a vitamin C and E serum in the morning, under your sunscreen.”
Top piece of advice when it comes to the aging process: “It’s a privilege to get older. Embrace your age; don’t have the goal of looking younger but rather the goal of looking your best at your current stage in life. Embrace your face.”
Dr. Lauren Fine, MD FAAD, Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology
Lifestyle tip for softening wrinkles: “You cannot underestimate the importance of sleep and eating well! Aiming to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night can help the skin around the eyes look brighter and less puffy. I do not advocate any specific diet, but eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates and limiting processed foods, excessive sugar, and dairy can also promote skin health. Drinking plenty of water is important too.”
Best cosmetic procedures for targeting wrinkles: “In-office resurfacing lasers or microneedling treatments are my picks. A good skincare regimen includes retinol, hyaluronic acid serum, and peptide/collagen stimulator. Light chemical peels every few months can also be helpful — and avoid excessive sun exposure!”
Best ingredients for softening wrinkles: “Retinols (and their prescription counterparts) are still, in my opinion, the gold-standard product for softening wrinkles. These products can be drying and irritating at first, so it is crucial to choose one that is right for your skin type and not to overuse. Some of my favorites are Skinbetter Science AlphaRet, PCA Intense Brightening Cream, and Altreno.
Other ingredients that can help promote softer, smoother skin include glycolic acid (some of my faves are M-61 PowerGlow Peel Treatment Pads and SkinBetter Rejuvenate AlphaRet Exfoliating Peel Pads) and peptides. Also, any ingredients that promote new collagen formation. I love Alastin Daily Restorative Skin Complex and Skinbetter Science Interfuse Treatment Cream.”
Top piece of advice when it comes to the aging process: “Make taking care of your skin a priority in your 20s and 30s so good habits will become second nature for the years to come. Always wear sunscreen and avoid excessive sun exposure whenever possible. Your skin slowly starts to lose collagen and elasticity in your mid 20’s, so it is not uncommon to see changes such as fine lines and more lax skin at this time. Addressing concerns early on will not only allow you to achieve the best, natural results, but it can also be preventive and truly help improve the way your skin ages.”
Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, FAAD, President and Co-Founder of Modern Dermatology, Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology, Yale New Haven Hospital
Lifestyle tip for softening wrinkles: “Get a silk pillowcase! I love the one from the brand Slip. It reduces friction, tugging, and squishing of the skin while you sleep. Also, aim to drink half your body weight in water each day. Hydrating from the inside out will help plump up fine lines and wrinkles at the skin’s surface.”
Best cosmetic procedures for targeting wrinkles: “The CO2 laser. This laser creates controlled columns of injury that stimulate new collagen production deep within the skin while exfoliating dead skin cells’ outer layers. Another favorite is the Picosure laser treatment, which addresses the collagen production and sun freckles.”
Best ingredients for softening wrinkles: “Hyaluronic acid is a great way to instantly plump up and hydrate skin; there are lots of options, but Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel is a favorite of mine. SPF is the most important part of the fight against wrinkles (and, of course, sun damage overall!). ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica SPF 50+ provides mineral protection while also nourishing the skin with antioxidants that repair and protect against oxidative damage from environmental stressors.”
Top piece of advice when it comes to the aging process: “Stay ahead of it with a solid skincare routine, sun protection, and a healthy diet and lifestyle. Up to 40% of changes that contribute to the aged appearance are the result of nongenetic factors.”
Luigi L. Polla, MD, Founder of Forever Institut and Alchimie Forever of Switzerland
Lifestyle tips for softening wrinkles: “My top pieces of advice for aging gracefully have always been: SPF every day (no exceptions – no matter the weather or the season, whether you’re inside or outside, etc.), “wear anti-oxidants every day, sleep on your back, dont’s smoke, and don’t use straws — they aggravate those pesky upper lip wrinkles.”
Best cosmetic procedures for targeting wrinkles: “Any procedure that will create a micro-wound and thus stimulate collagen production will help correct fine lines and wrinkles. Fractional lasers and lasers that target collagen in the skin yield the best results in my experience, without significant side effects. Of course, a CO2 full-face resurfacing will show results comparable to a facelift, but this type of invasive procedure is not what my patients are looking for.”
Best ingredients for softening wrinkles: “For a truly visible reduction in fine lines and wrinkles from a topical product, there is only one gold standard, and that is retinol. Pure retinol, or even stronger, retinoid acid (which is prescription-only). While other ingredients (including antioxidants, peptides, and more) will have anti-aging benefits, the best studies that truly show a change in the skin are those [studies] on retinol.”
Top piece of advice when it comes to the aging process: “Prevention is key. It is much easier to prevent skin aging than to correct it. And prevention, first and foremost, means staying out of the sun. Understanding the difference between intrinsic aging (aka aging written in our genes, not preventable) and extrinsic (aka environmental) aging is also will help you avoid the sun — which is responsible for 90% of our environmental (and preventable) aging.”
Related: Best Wrinkle Cream
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“Can You Really Rub a Wrinkle Into Your Face?,” Healthline, March 2019.
“The Truth About Anti-Aging Products,” LiveScience, May 2013.
“Factors that Affect Aging Skin,” JAMA Dermatology, 2009.