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Why do we get wrinkles?

Smiling and frowning are often blamed for the development of wrinkles, but they aren’t the main culprit!

This article was first published in The Skeptical Inquirer.

Even if smiling and frowning causes wrinkles, would you really want to live your entire life not letting your face move freely just to look a bit younger in a few decades? Luckily, you don’t have to make that choice because, despite the names of smile and frown lines afforded to certain wrinkles, facial expressions are not to blame for creasing.

As Dr. Lisa Iannattone, dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at McGill University in Montreal, explained to me, “Smiling and frowning aren’t the reason we get wrinkles as we age. The culprits are age-related changes in our skin and sun exposure. As we age, we produce less collagen and elastin, which decreases our skin’s resiliency. We also lose subdermal fat, and that loss of structural support leads to wrinkling and sagging of the skin.”

So, it’s not so much that we wrinkle as we age, but rather that we wrinkle because we age. Given that we haven’t been able to successfully halt aging yet, protecting our skin from UV rays is the most significant thing within our control that can influence how raisin-like we look as grandparents. Skin wrinkling due to sun exposure is called dermatoheliosis, and Dr. Iannattone sent me an extremely dramatic clinical example: The man pictured below drove a delivery truck for twenty-eight years, exposing the left side of his face to more sun.

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As Dr. Iannattone says, “The key to preventing wrinkles isn’t to avoid smiling or frowning, it’s to protect your skin from the sun.” I hope that puts a smile on your face!


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