Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/13/2021
Aging is part of life, and with it comes grace, wisdom and personal growth. But aging also brings the appearance of fine lines and signs of the aging process in your skin.
Wrinkles showing up to the party may be inevitable given enough time, but you can keep them waiting in the parking lot until late into the night with a variety of treatments and preventative measures.
Your skin may seem like a thin organ, but like other organs it’s composed of multiple components working together: blood vessels, glands and more.
But an important part of what keeps your skin looking youthful and healthy is actually a combination of proteins — specifically three you may have heard of.
The first is collagen. The most plentiful and largest component of connective tissue. Connective tissue keeps your skin, well, connected. It binds the cells together, which helps your skin stay firm.
The second component, elastin, is also part of your connective tissue, and works alongside collagen to keep things in place. Think of collagen as a sort of foundation, and the elastin as the reinforcement.
The third component, keratin, is sort of like the armor on the outside of everything. Keratin is a harder protein that’s found in your hair, nails and surface of your skin, and it’s pretty much there to keep the more sensitive layers from getting easily damaged.
Wrinkles are caused by a complex assortment of factors, but a lot of them have to do with short- or long-term damage to the structures that make up your skin.
The bad news is that skin damage can come at you from a lot of directions.
Lines form on your face for a variety of reasons, but most of those reasons have to do with stress to the skin, and to the biomechanics that nourish and heal it.
In a way, everything that affects you on a day-to-day basis can be responsible for fine lines and signs of aging, from the sun and air quality to your diet and sleeping position.
It’s common knowledge that long-term sun exposure (specifically ultraviolet light or UV rays) can cause wrinkles, but poor nutrition, smoking, insufficient water intake and sleeping face down on your pillow can all cause significant damage, even if you’re careful to wear sunscreen.
The actual mechanisms of how wrinkles form and fine lines deepen are a little more straightforward, and have to do with a few key biological processes with regards to your skin.
The two major theories of skin aging seek to explain it by focusing on one of the two primary mechanisms for the appearance of wrinkles: intrinsic sources, like the decrease of function over time and reduced cellular lifespan; and extrinsic factors, i.e. the external sources of damage, inflammation and the formation of free radicals.
The Programmatic Theory focuses on intrinsic factors while the Stochastic Theory points to extrinsic sources. Both theories have their merits and should be considered together when looking at ways to prevent and/or deal with wrinkles.
The good news is that, while there are multiple causes of wrinkles, there are also multiple ways to prevent or slow down their formation, and to even reverse some of the early damage with the right treatments.
A variety of preventative measures from lifestyle changes to topical formulations can help you keep your skin looking young and beautiful for years to come.
One of the most important preventative measures you can take to stop skin issues later in life is to be vigilant about protecting your skin from the harmful effects of prolonged sun and UV ray exposure.
UVA and UVB rays can cause skin damage, so use sunscreen with an appropriate SPF, and limit yourself from prolonged sun exposure without protection. As an added benefit, this will also reduce your risk of skin cancer.
Stress and lack of sleep can do more damage to your skin than just creating frown lines and brow furrows: they can actually weaken your skin’s DNA.
In a 2014 paper, the authors document that cortisol, the stress hormone, can damage DNA in the skin, slow its repair and exacerbate conditions like psoriasis.
Oh, and stress also releases chemicals that can also impair blood circulation thus reducing the skin's supply of nutrients by narrowing blood vessels.
In short, it’s bad news for the health and well-being of your skin, and that can contribute to worsening things like photoaging, reduced resiliency to sun damage and yes, increasing the signs of aging.
Cortisol is a hormone that is produced in response to stress, which can be caused by lifestyle, work, relationships, lack of sleep… really just about every part of your life.
Sadly, the study also confirmed what we knew: there’s no magic pill for stress. What you can do, though, is work to manage your stress, and consult with a healthcare professional if you feel frequently overwhelmed.
It may sound obvious, but taking care of your whole body will actually have benefits for your skin and that can slow aging as well.
Diet, water intake and smoking habits all have an effect on your body’s ability to function, and that includes the process of forming healthy new skin cells.
Smoking is terrible for your lungs, but it’s also pretty bad for your skin. Smoking can cause premature aging, slow healing of wounds and can lead to psoriasis, cancers and hair loss.
And smoking can also weaken and slow the normal skin cell growth process, leading to the formation of lines.
If you’re currently a smoker, then the easiest solution, as you might have guessed, is to quit smoking. There are many ways to stop smoking, and we’ve gathered more information if you’re ready to quit.
Water, in comparison, is incredibly important for healthy skin regeneration. Studies have shown correlation between low water intake and poor skin cell growth.
Higher water intake, meanwhile, increased the function and quality of skin.
Hydrating your whole body is as important to skin health as other approaches you may take, but it’s one of the easiest ways to care for your skin. So drink more water.
Dead skin cells can emphasize the appearance of fine lines and make the smallest of aging symptoms look more intense.
One of the ways to prevent wrinkles is simply to exfoliate away dead cells and keep your skin looking and feeling healthy. One of the best ways to do that is with retinoids.
Retinoids are chemicals derived from vitamin A that, among other things, can exfoliate older skin cells and help reinvigorate the production of healthy, new ones.
Retinoids are available as either OTC retinols or by prescription.
Tretinoin has been shown to do a few things beyond stripping off dull, dead skin; it can improve the synthesis of collagen and has shown to be effective in fighting acne, though side effects can include irritation and peeling in certain cases.
Still, it might help you achieve that youthful look and reduce the appearance of fine lines, so learn more about tretinoin here, and see if it’s right for you.
A lot of skin issues come down to the presence of reactive oxygen species, a form of free radical that causes oxidative stress.
Essentially, these free radicals steal electrons from anywhere they can get them, like collagen and elastin, leading to damaged cells and making the skin regeneration process and elasticity less efficient.
Antioxidants (most commonly vitamin C) act as a sort of reservoir of electrons, and donate theirs to the free radicals instead, neutralizing the threat without damaging important tools for regenerating skin.
In addition to a diet rich in vitamin C, you can get more into your skin using a serum or other topical delivery system. Vitamin C has a short half life in the body, and so you need regular intake to consistently fight free radicals.
Maybe this is obvious, but like every part of your body, proper hydration is important for the healthy function of your skin, including producing proteins and clearing away free radicals.
But hydrating your skin requires a little more work than logging all your water consumption for the day — it also requires a proper topical moisturizer, which ideally should contain something called hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid has been shown to help your skin better retain moisture.
As we said earlier, collagen is one of the essential proteins keeping your skin together, youthful and healthy.
And while your body produces its own, many of the other items on this list will help your body produce more.
There are also sources of collagen, including peptides, and we’ve put together a helpful guide explaining how they might be a great addition to your skincare routine.
Though many surgical procedures deal with wrinkles that have already formed, some procedures like Botox® injections can be safely utilized as part of a holistic approach to wrinkle prevention to stave off signs of aging and prevent the formation of deep lines to some extent.
Consult a dermatology practitioner or healthcare professional to see if these procedures are right for you.
While wrinkles are inevitable to some extent, some of the causes can be managed — or even avoided — with regular care and changes to routines.
Your daily skincare routine, diet, and the way you sleep aren’t just elements of your lifestyle: they’re also the most potentially effective and powerful tools in your anti-aging fight.
If you’re ready to fight back against wrinkles, start by taking a deep breath, having a glass of water, and reminding yourself not to lose sleep over the signs of aging. You’ll already be three steps into the fight against them.