What Causes Wrinkles, Anyway? How Wrinkles, Lines and Sagging Skin Form

Brook Flagg

by Brook Flagg | September 21, 2011 @ 03:00PM

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WrinklesWe’re all familiar with the motherly expressions discouraging improper facial movements for the sake of preventing wrinkles and lines:

  • “Your face will freeze like that!”
  • “Don’t make that face! You’ll get wrinkles.”
  • “It takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile.”

As an adult, you’ve no doubt asked yourself if any of those sayings were true. In other words, what causes wrinkles and lines on the face, and how do wrinkles form? Technically termed “rhytides,” facial lines and wrinkles form for a variety of reasons. The major causes of facial lines and wrinkles are addressed here, starting with:

Deep Lines

When it comes to your frown lines and furrowed brows, mom was right. Most deep lines (sometimes called “furrows”) are formed by facial muscle activity over time. These are classified as “dynamic” lines. Other facial lines are “static,” which means they are unchanged by muscle movement and will simply stay the way they have formed. Eventually, dynamic lines become static; so yes, at some point these furrows will become permanent.

If desired, deep lines can be temporarily corrected with facial injectables. Your options include Botox®, which blocks (“paralyzes”) the contraction of the offending facial muscle, smoothing the skin and erasing the lines. Facial fillers on the other hand, such as Restylane® or Juvederm®, fill in the line with a hyaluronic acid formula suspended in a dermatologist-grade gel. Any of these injectable solutions must be repeated over time in order to maintain their results.

Fine Lines

Conversely, when fine lines form they may not necessarily be attributed to facial movement at all. Instead, they often arise because of irregular thickening of the dermis, or because of a decrease in the amount of water held by the epidermis. This effect is often linked to factors such as sun damage and exposure to environmental toxins (most often, cigarette smoke).

Fine lines can form nearly anywhere on the face, but many people find they are concentrated on areas where the skin is naturally delicate, such as the cheeks, curves of the mouth, and corners of the eyes.

Possible treatment options for fine lines include facial injectables designed specifically for fine lines, such as Radiesse®. The product is comprised of calcium hydroxylapatite (CaHA) microspheres, suspended in a dermatologist-grade gel. Doctors may recommend other injectables as well. Of course, you can also reduce the risk of fine lines forming by limiting sun exposure and avoiding smoking. Even if fine lines have already started forming, there’s still time to become proactive about the health of your skin.

Sags and Bags

Unlike deep lines and fine lines, the risk of which can be reduced by a person’s own efforts, skin laxity (technically termed “ptosis”) is primarily linked to the aging process. As people age, there is a gradual reduction of the fat cells under the skin (subcutaneous tissue). Other natural occurrences include a decrease in collagen and elastin fibers in the dermis, which reduce the skin’s strength and elasticity.

Of course, gravity is also a factor; this inevitable component pulls the lax tissue down over time. The accumulation of facial fat, such as jowls, leads to a loss of a defined jaw line/neck line; this causes the lower part of the face to look “baggy.” Excess fat around the eyes can also accumulate, causing bags around the eyes. While sags and bags are not wrinkles, they are a by-product of aging that many people would like to eliminate.

Treatment options for facial sagging do not include facial injectables; these treatments are only appropriate for lines and wrinkles – sagging cannot be “frozen” or “filled in.” However, the visibility of facial sagging can be effectively addressed with facelift surgery. The procedure, “rhytidectomy,” involves removing sagging skin and trimming away excess fat, then lifting the skin to a tighter position to rejuvenate the entire appearance. In many cases, facelift surgery can cause a person to look at least 10 to 15 years younger.

Aging Gracefully: Conclusions and Solutions

Today, we understand a lot more about how wrinkles form, what causes facial lines, and why sagging skin occurs. More importantly, we have more knowledge regarding how to prevent wrinkles or how to delay their onset as much as possible; and, while we know that nothing can prevent gravity from taking its toll on the face, there is a solution for those who want it. If you are interested in any of the treatment options above, please discuss them with a qualified, board certified plastic surgeon.

Photo by tess/

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