Walk into any drugstore and you'll be bombarded with legions of creams, lotions, and serums—all promising to erase or prevent the most dreaded of skin imperfections: wrinkles.
In fact, from Botox to topical products, Americans spend upwards of twelve million dollars a year to treat them.
While it may seem like we've been told everything we need to know about avoiding the feared creases (who doesn't slather on sunscreen every time they head outside nowadays?), there's still plenty to learn.
What Causes Wrinkles?
How soon your skin starts to wrinkle is partially predetermined by genetics. As we age, the outer layer of skin, called the epidermis, thins. Thinning skin allows much-needed moisture to escape.
The second layer, the dermis, begins to produce less collagen as we age. Collagen is the protein that makes our skin elastic and smooth—less of it means that skin creases and sags more readily in response to daily wear and tear.
Finally, fat cells in the subcutaneous layer become smaller as you age. This also contributes to sagging and crinkling, as well as a general loss of volume.
Related: What Causes Crepey Skin
But it’s not just getting older that can affect collagen production and visible signs of aging. Environment also plays an important role: What did you do? How much sun was your skin exposed to? Did you repeatedly gain and lose weight? All of these things affect how much elasticity is in our skin.
We searched the internet and read through books to find the best expert’s advice on what causes wrinkles and which habits and products will help you prevent them. The result is our big list of 19 Cardinal Rules for Wrinkle Prevention.
1. Wear Sunscreen
For the best anti-aging protection, dermatologists strongly recommend that you apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least an SPF 15 a half an hour before sun exposure to protect your skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays. For superior protection, look for one with zinc or titanium oxide in the ingredient list—unlike chemical sunscreens, they sit on top of skin to provide an invisible barrier.
See Also: 6 Tanning Myths You Might Still Believe
2. Wear Sunglasses
Don’t fancy a set of crow’s feet? Other than staying indoors and away from windows, UV-blocking sunglasses are the best way to protect the thin, sensitive skin around your eyes from premature wrinkling.
3. Stay Away from Smoking
There’s no avoiding it: Smoking causes wrinkles. How? The nicotine in cigarettes causes narrowing of the blood vessels in the outermost layers of your skin, which impairs blood flow. With less blood flow, your skin doesn't get as much oxygen and important nutrients, such as vitamin A.
4. Take Steps to Manage Stress
When you’re stressed out, your body releases a powerful aging hormone called cortisol into your bloodstream. Cortisol causes thinning of the skin, which results in prominent blood vessels and premature wrinkling. How to beat chronic stress? Take yoga, write in a journal daily, sing, take a walk, meditate, even embracing your inner child by coloring for thirty minutes a day can help to lower cortisol levels.
5. Don’t Skimp on Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids, such as omega-3, help to nourish skin and keep it plump and youthful. Eat fresh caught Atlantic salmon three times a week or another fish high in omega 3 fatty acids, such as herring, mackerel, trout, or tuna.
6. Eat Your Antioxidants
Instead of paying extra for expensive creams that promise to deliver antioxidant action, get the real deal by adding antioxidant-rich foods to your diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants to fight skin-damaging free radicals, which can help reverse existing damage and promote a healthy glow.
7. Add Some Spice
While it may be a bit too far-fetched to believe that fresh herbs will solve all your anti-aging problems, research has found that there are many health benefits to eating spicy foods. A study from Oxford University, Harvard, and Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences found that people who ate spicy food every one or two days had a lower risk of dying from cancer and heart disease. Plus, spices are loaded with antioxidants, which, as mentioned above, can only mean good things for your skin.
8. Cut Down on Alcohol
You probably already know that drinking dehydrates your body. But, had you heard that researchers have found drinking damages the part of cells linked to premature aging and cancer?
On top of cell damage and dehydration, drinking before bed can decrease your chances of getting enough rest and raise cortisol levels. That’s because alcohol causes your throat muscles to relax, leading to irregular breathing. This can prevent you from achieving continuous deep and REM sleep, which leads to increased stress levels.
9. Stay Hydrated
Everyone knows they should aim to sip enough H2O daily to stay hydrated, but there's another reason you should load up on liquids: Keeping your skin quenched helps it stay soft and supple. When your skin is dry, wrinkles become accentuated since parched skin tends to look flat and dull. Water also flushes out any toxins the body collects, which can have a negative impact on your skin.
We've been trained to believe that eight glasses a day is a one-size-fit-all number for how much water we should be drinking. But in reality, there is no magic number. Here’s how to stay on top of your water needs:
- Drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up.
- Keep water next to your bed when you go to sleep at night.
- Keep water at your desk at work.
- Put a sticky note on your computer to remind you to drink up.
- Carry a water bottle with you in your bag.
- Drink before, during, and after exercise. If exercising for longer than 60 minutes, consider a sports drink.
10. Avoid Yo-Yo Dieting
Another reason to aim for a balanced diet instead of lightning-fast weight loss is the effect yo-yo dieting can have on your skin. Much like a rubber band, your skin can only stretch and contract so many times before its ability to spring back into shape decreases, leading to wrinkles and premature sagging.
11. Don’t Neglect Your Eyes
Rather than being an indicator of age or sun damage, frown lines, which are creases between the eyes, may actually suggest that you're overdue for an eye exam. That’s because some people overcompensate for eye issues by squinting, which contracts the muscles in the forehead, between the brows. Repeatedly doing so over time may exacerbate the appearance of these creases.
Already have a furrowed brow? If you address vision issues early enough, you can soften the appearance of existing lines, since the muscles won't have to work as hard and will begin to relax.
12. Maintain Good Circulation
Regular exercise gets your cardiovascular system going, which is great for getting needed nutrients and oxygen to your skin. And while cardio is great for your skin and heart health, don’t forget to add in weight strengthening exercises to maintain the muscles underlying your skin.
13. Look After Your Teeth
Your teeth, along with your jaw bone, form the scaffolding that holds your face skin in place. While dentures are a helpful substitute, nothing can replace the structure formed by a healthy mouthful of pearly whites.
14. Wash Off Your Makeup
Dirt and makeup trapped against your skin cause environmentally-induced oxidative damage. This leads to a breakdown of the skin barrier and prematurely ages your face.
Need proof? In 2013, the Daily Mail conducted an experiment in which one woman stopped washing her face for an entire month and simply reapplied her makeup over her unwashed skin each morning. The results: experts said she aged herself by ten years—all because she skipped cleansing for 30 days.
Learn More: Are You Using the Wrong Cleanser for Your Skin?
15. Moisturize Regularly
Leaving moisturizer out of your routine today could lead to deeper wrinkles later on. That’s because when the skin becomes dry, its barriers can be compromised. This can lead to a chronic low-grade inflammation that occurs in the skin. And low levels of ongoing inflammation ultimately result in a breakdown of collagen and accelerated aging.
Learn More: Making the Most Out of Your Moisturizer
16. Avoid Facial Exercises
When researching this article, we found a wide range of natural anti-aging regimes that suggest facial exercises. However, experts disagree and say that facial exercises should never be done to your skin.
That’s because the muscles of the face are the only muscles in the body that are attached to the skin. Meaning that when you "exercise" your facial muscles, you are actually dragging the skin around, causing further wrinkling and stretching.
17. Sleep However You’re Most Comfortable
Many anti-aging guides will suggest that you start to sleep exclusively on your back. This is because sleeping with your face pressed against the pillow can cause sleep lines, which can turn into wrinkles. Satin pillow cases can also help in the anti-wrinkle fight.
However, modern humans, due to smaller than normal jaws, are unable to breathe well during sleep when supine due to the tongue falling back (due to gravity) and especially in a deep sleep when our muscles relax. In fact, the more crowded your mouth is or, the more trouble you have breathing, the more likely you’re going to be a natural side or stomach sleeper.
Anything that prevents you from your normal preferred position will increase the number of obstructions and arousals, leading to less efficient sleep. Less efficient sleep leads to higher levels of stress and cortisol, leading to more wrinkles.
So, if you can’t stand to sleep on your back just to a avoid wrinkles, consider purchasing a satin pillowcase. The slippery fabric allows skin to move across it without creasing, decreasing nightly damage.
18. Try Retin-A or Renova
Add a retinol product—a serum, day cream or night cream—to your daily skincare regimen. These vitamin A derivatives stimulate cell turnover to help plump creases.
The most effective retinoids are prescription; see your doctor for Retin-A, which has been proven to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and thicken thinning skin. If your skin is particularly dry, ask about Renova, a gentler formulation of the anti wrinkle cream.
If you’re unable to purchase prescription Retin-A, alpha hydroxy acids, such as glycolic or lactic acid, help prevent and treat wrinkles by loosening the keratin bonds that keep dry, dead skin cells sticking around your epidermis.
However, be aware that both vitamin A creams such as Retin-A and alpha hydroxy acids are photosensitive, meaning that you’ll need to take extra care with sunscreen as regular use will make you skin more sensitive to UV rays.
19. Add Topical Vitamin C
When incorporated into your daily skincare lineup, well-formulated products containing vitamin C can reduce the appearance of brown spots and other types of sun damage, boost collagen production, reduce inflammation, and even help fade post-breakout red marks.
Can Botox Help Prevent Wrinkles?
Topical lotions that include ingredients such as vitamin C, alpha hydroxy acids, and retinoids help increase cell turnover and stimulate collagen to some extent. But according to some doctors, it’s never too early for Botox as a preventative treatment for aging.
That’s because when we flex the muscles of the face, the skin folds. Over time this will etch the skin surface, causing wrinkles. Botox effectively stops the flexing of certain muscles, therefore preventing wrinkles from forming.
Alternatively, Dr. Dana Goldberg argues that your face is supposed to wrinkle when you talk or make expressions and that it’s only when you start to notice those wrinkles even when you are not making expressions, that it may be time to consider if Botox is right for you.
Final Thoughts: To Be Completely Wrinkle-Free Comes at a Cost
The pursuit of a wrinkle-free face isn’t for the love of smooth skin, itself. Instead, our ongoing quest for preventative steps or fixes that will allow us to look a little younger for a little longer is part of a greater goal of looking—and feeling—attractive.
This is where many articles on the topic of wrinkle prevention turn knowingly to their readers and say something along the lines of “The only way to really guarantee aging gracefully is to accept the changes that passing time brings to your complexion.” Conforming with the cliche, an article by Boots goes a step further and suggests rebranding your wrinkles as ‘laughter lines.’
Since self-acceptance is so much less expensive than cosmetic surgery, why aren’t we all rushing to take the higher road?
Because we want to feel attractive, of course! And ‘attractive’ is strongly tied with appearing youthful in our culture.
But, before you reach for the Botox, know this: Scientists who have long-studied the importance of facial symmetry in perceived attractiveness are learning something new:
“We have found that facial expressions are nearly as important as physical features in determining attractiveness,” Michael Cunningham. Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Louisville in Kentucky reports to Oprah.com. “When people are smiling, others are drawn to them much more than if they look cold.”
Somewhere in the back of our minds, we know that expressiveness is beautiful—it is, after all, one of the first things we pull out of our bag of tricks to attract others.
So, by all means, take steps to preserve the health and youthful glow of your skin. But, when the time comes, as Goldberg suggested, to consider if Botox is right for you, remember that a face in repose will be judged for its wrinkles and architecture.
However, as you get older, your habitual expressions become etched into your face, showing the world what kind of person you are. To quote John Cleese hosting The Human Face, an insightful documentary about beauty:
“If you're beautiful when you get older, it's not a free gift. It's because your face shows qualities that are timeless—strength, kindness, dedication, wisdom, enthusiasm, and humor, intelligence, compassion.”
More on Skincare:
- Under Eye Bags, Acne Scars & Neck Creasing: When Over-the-Counter Treatments Aren’t Cutting It
- Can Regular Spa Facials Help You Look Younger?