What Causes Premature Wrinkling of Skin?

What Causes Premature Wrinkling of Skin?
What Causes Premature Wrinkling of Skin? (Image: Microsoft Office Clips)

The skin is the biggest organ of the body. It provides a waterproof covering to protect the rest of our systems. Wrinkles and age spots are largely caused by aging and environmental damage. Premature wrinkles can be caused by either intrinsic or extrinsic factors. Intrinsic aging comes from the inside of our bodies, mainly our cells, while extrinsic factors come from the environment.

Intrinsic Factors

Much of our appearance is genetically preprogrammed into our cells. Our skin's color and elasticity comes directly from our parents. African-American skin is generally oilier and thicker than Asian or Caucasian skin. Thicker and oilier skin tends to age more slowly while people with dry, thin skin tend to see their first wrinkles in their 20s or early 30s.

Some people's skin tends to age earlier than other peoples', again, due to heredity. If your mother started seeing wrinkles at age 30, chances are you will too. If your grandmother still has petal-soft skin at 74, you might have inherited her peaches-and-cream complexion.

Werner's Syndrome, an inherited disease, causes rapid aging. People with this disease can look elderly by their 30s, with gray, thinning hair appearing in their teens. They generally don't live past their mid-40s.

The Sun

Most causes of premature wrinkles are extrinsic, or environmental. The biggest culprit is the sun.

The sun wreaks havoc on delicate skin cells. The destruction from the sun is called photoaging. Researchers from the Hallym University in the Republic of Korea have found that certain antioxidants can halt the destruction of collagen caused by over-exposure to the sun. When the skin is repeatedly exposed to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays, enzymes cause the breakdown of collagen, the substance that gives skin its taut youthful look. When collagen breaks down, the skin looks loose, saggy and wrinkled.

The best defense is to avoid the sun's harsh rays. UV rays are strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Try to stay indoors or wear protection, such as a hat or sunscreen. Sunscreen is the best protection against the damage caused by the sun. Wearing a sunscreen with at least a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 is the single most effective weapon you have in preventing premature wrinkles.

Repeated Facial Expressions

Repeated smiling or frowning can cause tiny grooves to form under the skin. While it's not practical to stop smiling, if you notice you wrinkle your nose, furrow your brow or make other habitual expressions, try to catch yourself and discontinue. As skin ages, it tends to lose its ability to bounce back after each expression and the repetition may contribute to premature wrinkles. An injection of Botox was developed to specifically reduce lines and wrinkles due to deep furrows created by repeated use of facial muscles.

Sleeping Positions

We spend a lot of time with our faces pressed into a pillow, about one-third of our lives. Repeatedly subjecting the face and chest to the same position locks in lines and wrinkles. Obviously, you can't stop sleeping, but you can change positions.

People who sleep on their sides tend to have the most amount of "sleep wrinkles," especially if a person sleeps in the same position night after night. Sleeping on your face can also cement lines into the face and, as we age, it takes longer and longer for these lines to disappear. Eventually, they don't.

To reduce premature aging due to sleep positions, try sleeping on your back. Even if you only fall asleep on your back, then roll over at some point, you will still have spent less time in the wrinkle-prone position.


Smoking significantly increases your chance of developing premature wrinkles. An article in the May 21, 1991 issue of the Washington Post cites a study conducted by dermatologists from the University of Utah that found that people who smoked just two packs a day for 25 years were five times more likely to develop wrinkles, such as crow's feet, than people who didn't smoke.

Another study, published in the July 2006 issue of Thorax Online, shows the correlation of smoking and facial wrinkles. It states that facial wrinkling increases with the number of pack years smoked. To reduce the severity and amount of premature wrinkles, stop smoking. (http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2104653)

Dry Skin

Dry, dehydrated skin tends to wrinkle easier than fresh, hydrated skin cells. Drinking water helps cells stay plump and moist, as does using a rich humectant moisturizer. Humectants draw moisture from the environment into cells, causing them to plump up and smooth the skin's surface, similar to the way an inflated balloon loses its wrinkles. Long-term use of a moisturizing cream or lotion will help prevent premature wrinkling.

Studies at the Institute of Anti-Aging Research, Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia, show that some chemicals, such as idebenone, a cousin to coenzyme Q10, can help reverse the signs of premature wrinkles.

Best Practices

There are several things you can do to avoid premature wrinkles. Wear sunscreen on exposed skin, especially face, hands, neck and chest, become aware of and discontinue frequent facial expressions, sleep on your back, use a moisturizer and discontinue smoking.

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