What causes wrinkles?

Sue Hitzmann
Repetitive facial expressions cause the lines we ultimately see. The repetitive movements that we do as a part of daily living are what break down, challenge, and stress the collagen matrix in the superficial fascial layer under your skin. The tissue slowly loses its hydration and plumpness, slowing down cell production. Fewer cells, along with less activity of the remaining cells, equals less collagen production.

Obviously, going totally without facial expression is impossible (unless you are going to Botox every square inch of your face and look like plastic). What’s important to recognize is that, as we age, this process happening to everyone, every day. Sorry to burst the bubble of hope that somehow your genes will stop you from having wrinkles and sagging skin. 
Debra Jaliman, MD

One common mistake directly causes wrinkles. Find out what it is in this video with dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD.

Arthur W. Perry, MD
Plastic Surgery
Wrinkles are actually fractures in the dermis, the lower layer of the skin. In most people, the first wrinkles do not appear until their late 30s. However, certain conditions accelerate the formation of wrinkles.

The most significant of these is sun exposure. Simply put, the more sun exposure you have had, even as a child, the earlier your wrinkles will appear. I have seen patients in their early 20s with wrinkles. These are the beach babies -- they spend hours each day working on their tans, and their future wrinkles. And today's freckles become tomorrow's age-spots. It is the ultraviolet light (UV) contained in sunlight that is responsible for much of the aging of the skin. Chronic UV exposure causes wrinkles, splotchy pigmentation, visible capillaries (telangiectasia) and loose, rough skin. UV causes damaging substances called free radicals to be produced. UV also depresses the natural antioxidants in the skin, contributing to more damage. Ultraviolet light damages your genetic material (DNA) every time you are in the sun. To convince yourself, compare the skin on the back of your hands with the skin on the inside of your upper arm. The upper arm looks better in everyone.

Smoking accelerates wrinkling. A single puff on a cigarette releases toxins that constrict blood vessels for nearly four hours. That's four hours of decreased nutrition and oxygen to the skin. It's no wonder that smokers have unhealthy, gray-appearing skin. They look older than their age. We may joke that it is better to look good than to feel good, but smoking causes you to look bad and feel bad.

Acne scarring accentuates wrinkles later in life. It creates mini "facial crumple zones" throughout the face, particularly just below the corners of the mouth. The bacteria responsible for acne actually eat away at the dermis. Decades later, when the skin thins, the weakened dermis crumples in old acne scarred areas.
Straight Talk about Cosmetic Surgery (Yale University Press Health & Wellness)

More About this Book

Straight Talk about Cosmetic Surgery (Yale University Press Health & Wellness)

The public’s recent exuberance toward cosmetic surgery has spurred an unprecedented demand for appearance-changing procedures. But how can an average consumer discern the hype from solid truth? ...
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Think of wrinkles as a natural side effect of aging. As you grow older, your body makes smaller amounts of certain proteins needed for youthful-looking skin. As a result, the skin becomes less elastic and less flexible, which causes fine lines and wrinkles to form.

Some people develop more wrinkles than others. Research shows that certain habits increase the chances of developing wrinkles, such as smoking tobacco and not wearing sunscreen or protective clothing when exposed to sunlight. A dermatologist can recommend strategies for helping to keep your skin healthy and looking its best.
Anne M. Chapas, MD

Watch as board certified dermatologist Dr. Anne Chapas explains what causes wrinkles on your skin.

We develop two types of wrinkles on our faces:

Dynamic Wrinkles
We are born with dynamic wrinkles, which are associated with the muscles we use for facial expression. As we continuously use our facial muscles to smile, laugh and squint, mild wrinkles appear when we are young, but they become deeper and more noticeable as we grow older. The most common areas where we develop dynamic wrinkles are around the lips, the corners of the eyelids (where the wrinkles are known as crows’ feet), between the eyebrows and on the forehead. These wrinkles often make people look older and more tired than they actually are. Botox can be used to treat these dynamic wrinkles and make them less noticeable.

Crepe-Paper Wrinkles
Crepe-paper wrinkles are caused by sun exposure and aging. As we age or are repeatedly exposed to the sun, collagen (the protein substance found just beneath and within the deep layers of the skin) begins to thin, causing facial skin to stretch and sag. Unfortunately, Botox cannot treat crepe-paper wrinkles. However, there are other procedures that may be used to reduce the appearance of crepe- paper wrinkles.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
We all know that wrinkles generally don't look all that good -- not in dress shirts and not on your skin. In fact, one main indicator of body aging is wrinkles, especially vertical lines above the lips and between the eyes (each of these stereotypically mean different things; cigarettes and inflammation in your blood vessels cause lip wrinkles, while vertical lines between eyes reflect stress).

How do we get wrinkles? In a couple of ways, actually. Since skin is attached to the muscle beneath it, your skin creases when your muscles move. Over time, that creates a well-worn groove. It's actually like a stress fracture -- the repeated bending of skin over the underlying muscle creates inflammation and the collagen gets squeezed together.

Young skin stretches and recoils over the muscle, but thinned, old skin loses this ability. And, like an over-bent piece of cardboard, it eventually cracks. As we get older, the connections between the skin and underlying connective tissue stretch out, which can cause sagging of the skin. When that happens, gravity pulls down, and the sagging contributes to the formation of wrinkles.

Ultimately, wrinkles are caused by thinned, damaged collagen and a loss of elastin fibers (think of it as a kind of stress fracture). When skin loses its elasticity, gravity pulls down, and the sagging causes even more wrinkles.

As we age, our bodies stop producing collagen, a protein that maintains skin's firmness. Less collagen means wrinkles. Smoking and sun exposure accelerate collagen loss, so not smoking and using sunscreen are two ways to keep wrinkles at bay.

Continue Learning about Anti-Aging Skin Care

Banish Dark Bags Under Your Eyes
Banish Dark Bags Under Your Eyes
When Abe Vigoda played Fish on Barney Miller, the dark bags under his eyes emphasized his laconic demeanor, while Benicio Del Toro’s swollen, dark und...
Read More
How can I look younger without surgery?
There are various ways to reduce, prevent or even erase the signs of aging without resorting to surg...
More Answers
25 Top Cities for Aging Too Fast 2012
25 Top Cities for Aging Too Fast 201225 Top Cities for Aging Too Fast 201225 Top Cities for Aging Too Fast 201225 Top Cities for Aging Too Fast 2012
Find out where Americans have the unhealthiest RealAge.
Start Slideshow
How Is Glycolic Acid Used to Treat Skin?
How Is Glycolic Acid Used to Treat Skin?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.