Wrinkles range from fine facial lines around the corners of the eyes and in between the nose and upper lip—the so-called laugh lines—to deep furrows that mark the neck, face, and hands. They are basically depressions in the skin, occurring after the skin has lost its elasticity and becomes thinner and drier. When combined with the effect of gravity, the skin can sag.
Symptoms of Wrinkles
- Wrinkles appear as lines, creases, furrows, or folds in the skin, particularly on the face, neck, and hands
What Causes Wrinkles?
A few mild facial wrinkles are a consequence of aging: the fine hairlike depressions around the eyes and mouth probably occur because elastic fibers that keep the skin taut gradually loosen over time, allowing the skin to sag.
But many wrinkles, including the deepest ones, are caused by overexposure to sunlight. Although the process by which skin damage occurs isn’t known, one possibility is that ultraviolet (UV) rays increase the production of certain enzymes that break down proteins in collagen, the connective tissue located underneath the dermis (the layer of skin just beneath the epidermis, or outer layer). You can get a sense of the wrinkling power of ultraviolet rays simply by comparing the skin on your face or hands to skin at a site rarely exposed to the sun, such as the underside of your forearm.
Other factors that contribute to wrinkles include cigarette smoking (which thickens and fragments elastin, the chief constituent of the fibers that give skin its overall resilience) and going on and off crash diets—so-called yo-yo dieting—which causes weight to fluctuate dramatically, thereby stretching and pulling the skin.
What If You Do Nothing?
Wrinkles don’t disappear on their own. They also don’t pose a health problem—although the presence of severe or premature wrinkles may indicate that your skin has been damaged by too much exposure to the sun, which increases your risk of skin cancer.
Home Remedies for Wrinkles
No area is as rich in hype and hokum as the market for “antiaging” and “antiwrinkle” skin-care products. Though the claims made for many of these creams and lotions are without substance, the ingredients in some products described here are being seriously studied by scientists and may hold some promise.
- Retin-A. This vitamin A derivative (generic name tretinoin) is a prescription drug that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only to treat severe acne. Years ago, however, dermatologists began to notice that in some older patients the drug not only cleared up acne but also smoothed out some wrinkles and reduced blotchiness and blemishes. Subsequent research has found that Retin-A can reduce fine wrinkles and brown spots, and produce rosier skin. A small 1991 study concluded that the drug can help clear stretch marks; a 1992 study found that it can help fade age spots.In 1996, tretinoin was first marketed in a wrinkle-erasing preparation called Renova. The drug’s effect is quite subtle—deep or coarse facial wrinkles are little improved. In addition, the immediate effect of Retin-A is skin inflammation lasting two weeks to several months. In other words, for the sake of eventual minor skin improvements, you may have to walk around with a red, swollen, peeling face for a month or more. No one knows what the long-term consequences may be. Finally, since much isn’t known about whether or to what extent Retin-A is absorbed through the skin, and since high doses of vitamin A can cause birth defects, women who are pregnant—or those who may become pregnant—should not use the drug.
- Retinol, retinyl palmitate, and other vitamin A derivatives. Because some doctors are reluctant to prescribe Retin-A for people who don’t have acne, certain skin-care companies are promoting nonprescription skin creams containing vitamin A relatives as if these ingredients worked against wrinkles like Retin-A, but without the side effects.Despite the claims, the evidence that these other forms of vitamin A will reduce wrinkles is not conclusive. For instance, some animal studies have found that retinol may improve the skin’s connective tissue, which weakens with aging and sun damage. But the amounts of retinol and other compounds actually used in these skin-care products may be too low to have any effect on the skin. And if the concentrations were increased, the risk of side effects would rise as well.
- Vitamins C and E. The theory behind using these two antioxidants on the skin is that if they penetrate the outer layer of skin and settle in the dermis, they may scavenge free radicals (created by ultraviolet rays) and retard skin damage. Work by researchers at Duke University suggests that a solution of vitamin C can be absorbed through the skin and seems to protect against sun damage in some people. But other studies, mostly using animals, have had inconsistent results.The research on the antiaging properties of vitamin E has also been inconsistent. The vitamin does have a legitimate use on the skin. Because it’s an oil, it works as a moisturizer—that is, it coats the skin and keeps the natural moisture from evaporating—whether it’s used as a cosmetic ingredient or applied straight from the capsule. But as such, it’s no more effective than mineral oil, petroleum jelly, or other moisturizing ingredients. There have been reports of skin irritation caused by vitamin E and vitamin C.
- Glycolic acid and other alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs). Derived originally from fruit, sugar, or milk, these exfoliants have been used for years by dermatologists in facial peels. They are supposed to make the skin smoother by making it shed. The chemical peels done in dermatologist’ offices contain high concentrations of these acids, which cause inflammation and so may help the skin regenerate. Over-the-counter products contain lower concentrations and usually have no such effect. In fact, many dermatologists believe that the concentrations are generally too low to have anything more than a very modest effect on fine wrinkles, if that.Although the cosmetic industry says over-the-counter products are safe, there have been reports of adverse reactions. Products are not required to list their AHA concentrations, but you can call or write the manufacturer. You should not try anything with a concentration higher than 10 percent because it can cause skin inflammation. (If the “acid” ingredient is listed second or third, it’s probably less than 5 percent.) AHAs may make your skin more vulnerable to sun damage, so even if you have no adverse reactions—and most people don’t—use extra sunscreen when out in the sun.
- Nayad and liposomes. These are found in many antiaging cosmetics. Nayad is a yeast derivative that’s touted as a restorative for the skin’s connective tissue. No published data supports these claims. Liposomes act as fatty envelopes that are supposed to help other ingredients penetrate the skin. Again, the manufacturers supply no data to support any of the claims—it’s wishful thinking, at best.
- Drink plenty of water. Your best defense against wrinkles is to stay well hydrated. It also helps remove toxins from the body.
- Protect yourself from the sun. As much as 70 percent of skin damage comes from the sun. This damage is cumulative, starting in youth, and so much of what is considered an inevitable part of aging is preventable or modifiable. Avoid long periods in the sun; when in the sun, use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, preferably 30 or higher.
- Wear protective clothing. Dark clothes with a tight weave offer good protection from ultraviolet rays. Special UV-protective garments are also available.
- Don’t smoke. Premature aging and wrinkling of the face is the logical consequence of smoking. The nicotine in tobacco is a vasoconstrictor that decreases the amount of blood that reaches the capillaries of the facial skin. Since smoking decreases a woman’s levels of the hormone estrogen—which helps sustain overall skin elasticity—women may be more susceptible to the wrinkling effects of smoking.
- Exercise daily.
Beyond Home Remedies: When To Call Your Doctor
Wrinkles don’t pose any health risk, and cosmetic treatments can minimize mild to moderate lines. If you can’t live with your wrinkles, talk to a dermatologist about the pros and cons of Retin-A. If you have deep facial wrinkles that you want to reduce, you need to consult a plastic surgeon to explore possible treatments. Also see your doctor if you experience itching, burning, pain, redness, or stinging from using an over-the-counter cosmetic containing alpha-hydroxy acids (and stop using the product).
What Your Doctor Will Do
A plastic surgeon may offer antiwrinkle procedures such as dermabrasion, chemical peels, or laser resurfacing. Nearly all treatments can be done in an outpatient clinic or physician’s office. Results will vary from person to person.
The Complete Home Wellness Handbook
John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter
Updated by Remedy Health Media