Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/05/2021
Sometimes the most beautiful thing you can wear isn’t something you find in your closet — it’s the smile on your face. As William Arthur Ward said, “a warm smile is the universal language of kindness.”
Nothing lights up your face like a genuine smile, but even after the smile fades it may leave behind the imprint of fine lines and wrinkles.
Smile lines were given that name for a reason — the more you smile, the deeper those lines get.
There’s nothing better than having a reason to smile, but if you’re concerned about the lines a smile leaves behind around your mouth and eyes, you’ve come to the right place.
Below, we’ve covered the basics of what laugh lines are, how they form and what you can do to get rid of them. We’ve also thrown in a few tips to help you prevent smile lines from forming.
To put it simply, smile lines are the fine lines or wrinkles that form in the corners of your mouth when you smile. Sometimes known as laugh lines, these fine lines can also occur around the eyes.
When you smile, you activate the zygomaticus majors — the muscles responsible for drawing the angle of the mouth upward. Each time you use the muscle, it forms a groove beneath the surface of the skin.
When you’re young, your skin bounces back quickly but as the skin ages, it loses flexibility and you may notice the formation of smile lines or laugh lines in the corners of your mouth.
Medically speaking, smile and laugh lines are nasolabial folds. The term “nasolabial” refers to the area of skin below your nose and in the corners of your mouth.
These folds are completely natural, and most people are born with them, though they tend to become deeper and more visible with age.
Repeated facial expressions are one of the biggest contributing factors in the formation of fine lines and wrinkles. The more you smile, the more likely you are to develop smile lines. There are other fine lines and wrinkles that can form around the mouth and eyes as well:
Smoker’s Lips: Those who smoke or vape are likely to develop vertical lines around the upper lip. These lines develop from the orbicularis oris, the facial muscles you use to close your lips.
Marionette Lines: The depressor anguli oris is the muscle you use to frown. When collagen production dwindles and your skin starts to lose elasticity, you may develop marionette lines — lines that pull down the corners of your mouth to create a perpetual pout.
Frown Lines: Also known as glabellar lines, these are vertical lines that form between your brows. These lines affect the procerus muscle which contracts when you’re confused or upset.
Though repeated facial movements can certainly contribute to the formation of smile and laugh lines, what it really comes down to is collagen.
As you get older, your skin starts to lose elasticity as your collagen production starts to dwindle.
This means your skin doesn’t bounce back as well as it used to in your younger years. Genetics can also play a role in your development of wrinkles.
Once you develop fine lines, they’re likely to develop into deeper wrinkles over time. That being said, you may be able to get rid of smile lines or at least reduce their appearance and slow their development by using certain skincare products or undergoing certain treatments.
Exfoliation is simply the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. Your skin is constantly renewing itself, shedding dead cells to make room for new cells about every 30 days.
When those dead cells aren’t fully shed, it can clog your pores and create patches of dry, flaky skin — it can even increase the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, regular exfoliation helps renew the skin’s surface which can alleviate a variety of skin problems.
There are a number of different methods for exfoliation you can consider based on your skin type.
Chemical exfoliators often contain alpha or beta hydroxy acids which gently slough off dead skin cells without the scrubbing involved in mechanical exfoliation.
Talk to your healthcare or dermatology professional about the best exfoliator for your skin type.
One of the best ways to get rid of smile lines is to add an anti-aging product to your skincare regimen.
Over-the-counter eye creams made with hydrating ingredients and ingredients destined to stimulate elastin and collagen production can help your skin look smoother and plumper.
Hyaluronic acid is a powerful moisturizing ingredient. It is classified as a humectant, which means it draws water from its surroundings into the skin.
Though you can find it as an ingredient in dermal fillers like Juvederm® and Restylane®, topical hyaluronic acid treatments are a more affordable and less invasive option.
Other beneficial ingredients to look for in anti-aging skincare products include retinol and antioxidants like vitamin A, vitamin E and vitamin C. A combination antioxidant serum could be beneficial.
Retinol is a vitamin A derivative known for its ability to speed skin cell turnover. You can find over-the-counter retinoids or go for a prescription-strength option like tretinoin. Retinol is also an antioxidant which means it can help protect your skin from damage caused by free radicals as well as sun damage.
If you have deep smile lines or facial wrinkles, you may be considering a treatment that delivers more immediately noticeable results.
A facelift, also known as a rhytidectomy, is a procedure that can reduce smile lines around the eyes and mouth all at once. Keep in mind that a facelift may cost thousands of dollars, and could take several months to heal.
One of the greatest risks that comes with plastic surgery is infection.
In rare cases, patients experience other side effects such as scarring, pain and nerve damage.
Talk to your plastic surgeon about all the treatment options before you choose surgery to make sure it’s the best option for you.
Because cosmetic surgery can be expensive and invasive, you may want to consider a slightly less invasive option.
Injectable fillers can help reduce the appearance of laugh lines and could help with other facial wrinkles as well.
Many dermal fillers are made from hyaluronic acid, injected in the crease that runs between your mouth and nose.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, dermal fillers generally last for up to 12 months, and side effects may include pain at the injection site as well as headache and allergic-like reaction.
Another option in injectable fillers is Botox®.
These treatments work by weakening the facial muscles in a given area to relax them, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles in that area.
Results are usually noticeable within a few days of injection and the recovery time is very short. The results of Botox injections usually last about three to six months
Injectable fillers aren’t the only facial treatments that may help reduce the appearance of laugh lines. Laser resurfacing is a treatment that removes the top layer of skin cells to reveal new skin cells beneath.
This procedure may help reduce wrinkles but comes with a risk for pain and swelling, not to mention a recovery period of one to three weeks.
Another option is collagen induction therapy, also known as microneedling.
This treatment is designed to increase natural collagen production in the skin to fill fine lines and wrinkles.
Often used to treat acne scars, the procedure involves a roller with tiny needles applied to the skin.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the results of microneedling appear gradually — it could take nine months and as many as six treatments to see the results you want.
If you’re not sure which facial treatment is the best option for you, talk to your dermatologist or consult a professional esthetician.
A facial massage may help stimulate elastin and collagen production and, when paired with anti-aging skincare products, could help reduce the appearance of laugh lines.
Though it may seem like the simplest solution to prevent laugh lines is to keep a straight face, that may not be enough and, let’s be honest, who wants to live a life without laughter?
Fortunately, some of the most common causes of smile lines can be prevented through healthy lifestyle habits and routine skincare. The sooner you start taking care of your skin, the better.
If you’re still in your 20s or early 30s, you may be able to make a few changes to your skincare routine that could stave off the formation of smile lines for years to come. For those with mature skin, it’s less about preventing the lines from forming (they’re inevitable, after all) and more about keeping your skin healthy and hydrated to minimize their appearance.
Here are some simple tips for preventing laugh lines:
Wear sunscreen to protect your skin from sun damage. Even if you’re not planning to spend a lot of time outdoors, it’s important to wear broad spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30.
Drink plenty of water and avoid diuretics like alcohol and caffeine. Though drinking water may not directly affect skin hydration, drinking water is important for overall health and wellness.
Wash your face with a gentle cleanser morning and evening, following up with moisturizer appropriate for your skin type. If you have dry skin, look for a slightly heavier product that contains hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid. For oily skin, try a gel moisturizer.
Quit smoking. Numerous studies have suggested that smoking cigarettes is associated with facial wrinkling, so if you’re a smoker consider taking steps to quit.
Exercise and follow a healthy diet. Regular exercise boosts circulation and a balanced diet is the key to providing your skin with the nutrients it needs for good health.
The important thing to remember is that laugh lines are natural — having laugh lines is a sign of a life well lived.
We can’t blame you, however, if you want to reduce their appearance or postpone their formation.
The good news is a little prevention goes a long way and a few simple adjustments to your lifestyle and skincare regimen would help you keep fine lines from turning into deeper wrinkles.
When using anti-aging skincare products, keep in mind that it may take time to see any benefit.
Depending on the product you choose, it could take a few months to sufficiently boost collagen production or to correct issues with moisture loss.
For preventative treatments, you may not even notice the improvements until years down the line when you notice others your age look older than you do.
At that point, you can smile, laugh and play it off as good genetics.