What Causes Wrinkles?

In the quest for youthful, radiant skin, understanding the underlying factors that contribute to wrinkles is crucial. Wrinkles are a natural part of the aging process, but they can also be influenced by various external and lifestyle factors. 

This article aims to dissect the science behind wrinkles, exploring both the natural and external elements that lead to their formation. Additionally, we’ll delve into at-home and professional treatments that can mitigate the appearance of wrinkles, arming you with the information you need to make informed skin care choices. 

The Science Behind Wrinkles

In order to understand what causes wrinkles, it’s important to understand the key players in your skin’s makeup.

Collagen and elastin are two proteins that serve as the backbone of your skin’s structure. They’re housed in the dermis, which is the second layer of skin sitting below the outer layer known as the epidermis. Collagen gives skin its strength and firmness, while elastin provides elasticity, enabling the skin to return to its original position after being stretched.

When the skin loses its collagen and elastin content, it begins to sag and form fine lines, eventually leading to deeper wrinkles. Furthermore, decreased collagen levels affect the connective tissue in the skin, exacerbating the problem by weakening the supportive matrix that keeps your skin firm.

What Causes Wrinkles?

So, why does collagen and elastin loss happen? It can be attributed to both internal factors like natural skin aging, hormonal imbalances and genetic predisposition, as well as external influences such as sun exposure and environmental pollution.

The natural aging process

The skin is a dynamic organ that continually renews itself. However, as you age, the rate at which skin cells turn over slows down significantly. Collagen production declines, and the existing collagen fibers weaken. Additionally, the elastin fibers lose their resilience, leading to decreased skin elasticity. 

In your younger years, skin cell regeneration occurs approximately every 28 days, but this can extend to around 40-45 days in middle age.

When this process slows, older skin cells accumulate on the skin’s surface, leading to a dull and lackluster appearance. These older cells have a rougher texture, and their accumulation can exacerbate the appearance of wrinkles. Additionally, the slower regeneration rate impacts the connective tissue, contributing to the loss of firmness and the formation of fine lines and creases.

Sun exposure and UV rays

The role of sun exposure in skin aging cannot be overstated. When skin is exposed to the sun, it undergoes a process called photoaging, which is different from natural aging. During photoaging, the ultraviolet rays from the sun, particularly UVA and UVB rays, penetrate the skin and break down its collagen and elastin fibers. UVA rays are primarily responsible for premature skin aging, while UVB rays are the leading cause of sunburn and skin cancer.

This breakdown leads to skin becoming less resilient and more susceptible to wrinkling. That’s why dermatologists recommend using sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. The American Academy of Dermatology suggests using sunscreen with at least SPF 30 for effective sun protection.

Facial expressions 

Facial expressions are an integral part of human interaction, but they also have a lasting impact on skin. Repetitive facial movements, such as smiling, frowning, and squinting, create ‘dynamic wrinkles.’ Over time, these repeated muscle contractions cause the skin to lose its ability to bounce back, leading to permanently etched facial wrinkles and lines, particularly around the eyes and forehead.

Alcohol and tobacco

Both alcohol and tobacco have detrimental effects on the skin. Alcohol dehydrates the body, including the skin, which is the body’s largest organ. This dehydration diminishes the skin’s ability to produce natural oils, leading to dry skin that is more prone to wrinkling. Additionally, alcohol can disrupt sleep patterns, and lack of restorative sleep can contribute to premature aging. 

Tobacco smoke contains a myriad of harmful chemicals that not only damage collagen and elastin but also constrict blood vessels, reducing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the skin. This can result in a sallow complexion and exacerbate the appearance of lines and wrinkles. 

Environmental factors and free radicals

Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that are generated by various environmental factors, such as pollution, radiation, and even normal metabolic processes within the body. These unstable molecules wreak havoc on the skin by breaking down collagen and elastin fibers. Additionally, free radicals can inhibit the skin’s natural ability to repair itself, thereby accelerating the aging process.

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Prevention: The Best Cure

Now that you understand the major causes of wrinkles, what can you do about them? While you can’t stop yourself from getting older, you can mitigate the external factors that contribute to premature aging.

1. Protect yourself from the sun

A consistent skin care routine that includes sun protection has been proven to delay the onset of wrinkles. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30, and reapply throughout the day if you’ll be outside. For bonus points, wear a wide-brimmed hat as well. Avoid tanning beds, which produce higher levels of UV radiation than the sun.

2. Incorporate antioxidants

Antioxidant-rich skin care products containing ingredients like vitamin C and vitamin E can neutralize harmful free radicals. The antioxidants serve as a shield, slowing down the deterioration of collagen and elastin. 

Up your antioxidant levels by eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that are high in vitamins and minerals. Foods like berries, oranges, kale, spinach, and nuts are excellent sources of antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium, which can help combat the damaging effects of free radicals on the skin.

3. Use a retinoid

Retinoids, which are derivatives of Vitamin A, are well-known for their ability to accelerate skin cell turnover and boost collagen production. Unlike other topical treatments that work on the surface, retinoids penetrate deeper layers of the skin to promote cellular renewal and improve the structure of the dermis. This leads to an increase in the natural collagen and elastin levels in the skin while also fading existing fine lines.

4. Avoid harmful substances

Reduce or eliminate your use of alcohol and tobacco to avoid premature skin aging. It’s an easy, zero-cost way to ensure your skin stays as healthy as possible.

5. Get enough sleep

Adequate sleep is more than just a luxury; it’s a necessity for maintaining youthful, healthy skin. During the deeper stages of sleep, the body enters a state of repair, producing more collagen and elastin. A consistent lack of sleep disrupts this natural regeneration process and leads to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol, which can break down skin collagen. 

Aiming for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night can be a simple yet effective strategy in your skincare routine to minimize the signs of aging.

Professional Treatments for Wrinkles

While adopting a diligent skin care routine and making lifestyle changes can make a significant difference in your skin’s appearance, professional intervention can also effectively address the root causes of wrinkles. These cosmetic treatments directly target the collagen degradation, repeated facial expressions, and other causes, offering substantial, long-lasting solutions for wrinkles.


Botulinum toxin, popularly known under the brand name Botox Cosmetic, can prevent the repeated facial muscle movements that lead to dynamic wrinkles. It works by blocking the nerve signals to the muscles responsible for these movements. Botox is usually used to treat forehead lines, crow’s feet, and glabellar lines or frown lines between the eyebrows. Other neurotoxin brands include Dysport and Jeuveau.

Dermal fillers 

Dermal fillers are composed of gels injected into the skin to restore lost volume. While traditional hyaluronic acid fillers temporarily add volume to the skin, new types of fillers can encourage the production of new collagen.

Sculptra Aesthetic contains poly-L-lactic acid (PLLA), a biocompatible and biodegradable substance. When PLLA is injected into the skin, it initially fills up the wrinkles, fine lines, or hollow areas that need treatment. Over time, the PLLA particles start to break down, and this process triggers the body’s natural response to produce new collagen in the treated areas. The overall effect can last for up to two years.

Radiesse is an injectable filler containing microspheres of calcium hydroxylapatite (CaHA) suspended in an aqueous gel. When injected into the skin, the gel provides immediate volume and lift to smooth deep wrinkles and folds. Over time, it’s absorbed, and the CaHA particles serve as a scaffold upon which new collagen can grow. 

As the body metabolizes these CaHA particles, they are replaced by the newly formed collagen, leading to improved skin structure and sustained volume. Because of this dual action—immediate filling and long-term collagen stimulation—Radiesse offers both immediate and long-term improvements lasting up to a year or more.


During this procedure, a dermatologist or skilled healthcare provider uses a specialized instrument to scrape away the outermost layer of skin and any fine hairs on the face. This action triggers the body’s natural healing process, encouraging the growth of a new, smoother layer of skin. 

Chemical peels 

Chemical peels utilize acids at various concentrations to dissolve the upper layers of the skin. Once the old layer of skin peels away, it reveals a new layer that is smoother and less wrinkled. Active ingredients such as glycolic acid, salicylic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, and trichloroacetic acid (TCA) all work to stimulate collagen production in the long term. 

Non-ablative laser resurfacing

Non-ablative laser resurfacing stimulates collagen production by creating heat in the skin without injuring the surface. The heat generated by the laser promotes collagen production and stimulates the growth of new skin cells, which causes the skin to tighten and smooth out wrinkles and fine lines.


Understanding the underlying factors that contribute to wrinkles is key for anyone striving for healthier, more youthful skin. While no one can fully escape the natural aging process, you can make informed decisions to manage its effects. 

By protecting your skin from sun damage, incorporating antioxidants into your diet, and using effective skincare products like retinoids, you can mitigate some of the external factors that accelerate aging. 

For those looking to go a step further, a range of professional treatments are available that target the root causes of wrinkles, offering more long-lasting solutions. So whether you opt for at-home remedies or professional interventions, being educated about what causes wrinkles empowers you to take control of your skin’s future.

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