How to fight signs of ageing becomes a fairly common question once we’re in our late 20s to early 30s - and billion-dollar industries have tried to answer it, with products ranging from anti-aging creams to injectables like botox and fillers.
But understanding why we get wrinkles is the first step to making an informed decision on how to help our skin retain its youthful appearance.
So what are wrinkles and why do we get them?
Wrinkles are a sign of our skin's normal aging process, seen as visible creases or folds on the skin .
They can be caused (and accelerated) by a combination of factors:
As we get older, our skin naturally becomes less elastic and more fragile. Collagen (our skin’s main protein) and elastin are fibers that provide strength to our skin; with age, the rate of production of these fibers reduces, which gradually reduces our skin’s structural integrity and results in wrinkles.
Another factor to consider is the fat that resides in the layer below our skin’s surface, which also contributes to its form and structure. This layer gets thinner with age, which creates more pronounced lines and crevices on the skin [2, 3]
2. UV damage
Being exposed to the sun’s UV light leads to the formation of free radicals within our skin. These exacerbate the breakdown of our skin's collagen and elastin fibers, which as we know, provide structure. Without the supportive connective tissue, our skin loses strength and flexibility [4, 5, 6].
Smoking can damage the repair mechanisms of our skin, reducing its overall production of collagen and elastin [7, 8]. Studies show that smokers have fewer collagen and elastin fibers in their skin, and their skin damage usually starts much earlier (as compared to non-smokers) [9, 10, 11, 12].
High amounts of our stress hormone can also break down our skin's collagen and elastin [13, 14] Research has found that chronic stress can increase inflammation .This tends to slow down our production of collagen, and even amplifies its breakdown and damage, ultimately accelerating the formation of wrinkles [16, 17, 18, 19].
5. Excess refined sugar
Consuming excessive amounts of refined sugar can enable glycation - a process where sugar binds with proteins or fats in our bloodstream and weakens our skin’s protein, i.e., its collagen and elastin [20, 21]. This makes fine lines and wrinkles more pronounced and our skin generally even appears less healthy. Certain methods of cooking food, such as frying, grilling, and roasting, and searing have also been shown to speed up glycation .
Although there are several other factors that can come into play, wrinkle development is partially dependent on your genes (as is the overall condition of your skin). While you can’t change your genetics, you can observe, predict and take action to counteract any effect that you foresee on the condition of your skin .
7. Repeated facial movements
Using our facial muscles makes a groove form beneath the skin’s surface. As our skin ages and loses its elasticity, this makes it harder for it to retain its original shape. These grooves then become permanent, causing fine lines and wrinkles [24, 25].
So, to summarise: wrinkles are a sign of our skin’s normal aging, but external factors like sunlight, smoking, and pollution can accelerate this process of aging.
Side note: Why do some people age better than others?
People with different skin tones have structural and functional differences in their skin. Research indicates that the skin’s inner dermis layer (which contains collagen and elastin) is thicker in Black and Asian people, which likely prevents facial wrinkles for a comparatively longer duration .
Apart from this, our nutrition, skincare, and exercise, all also play a huge part in our skin’s health.
Can we prevent wrinkles?
The short answer is no. However, we can delay their onset by:
1. Protecting our skin from the sun
Exposure to sunlight is responsible for a whole 80% of visible signs of aging which includes wrinkle formation . UVA rays can prematurely age our skin, causing wrinkling and age spots, and UVB rays can burn our skin [28, 29]. Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 is a great way to protect ourselves against both .
2. Eating plenty of antioxidants
Antioxidant-rich foods are also excellent at preventing photoaging . Red and orange coloured fruits and vegetables contain carotenoids (like lycopene), which act as our skin’s inner sunscreen by preventing free radical damage caused by the sun .
Yes, beauty sleep is a thing; our skin produces collagen as we sleep [32, 33]. Chronic poor sleep quality is associated with increased signs of ageing, and even diminishes our skin’s barrier function (the ability of our outermost layer, the epidermis, to prevent moisture loss and protect our skin from external factors like pollutants) . It’s important to get at least seven hours of sleep, not only for the sake of our skin’s health but also for a whole host of health reasons.
4. Following healthy habits
Eating healthy food, drinking plenty of water, not smoking, drinking less alcohol (which dehydrates and, over time, damages our skin), and managing our stress - all of these go a long way in keeping our skin healthy and youthful [35, 36, 37, 38].
5. Taking care of our skin
Using a moisturiser that contains retinol or hyaluronic acid and vitamin C can help prevent the onset of wrinkles [39, 40]. Consuming a collagen peptide supplement also helps rebuild our skin’s collagen fibres, and has been shown to help reduce wrinkles and other signs of damage, while improving our skin’s smoothness, firmness, and elasticity .
While there’s plenty that we can do to look healthy and youthful, it’s also super important to feel comfortable in our own skin. Like we said, wrinkles can’t be prevented forever - so, for now, let’s do what we can to keep ourselves healthy, and prepare to embrace the signs of a life well-lived when they do make their mark on our skin.
Here’s to safely enjoying our time in the sun and keeping our skin looking great for the years to come!