What Is A Wrinkle?

wrinkles Questions
What Are Wrinkles?

Techy Term: A wrinkle is medically called a rhytide - it is is a fold, ridge or crease in the skin. A fine line turns into a wrinkle and eventually into a deep fold as we age.

diagram of a wrinkle and fine line

As we age, our skin develops wrinkles. Someone who has spent a lot of time in the sun or using sun beds at tanning salon may have more wrinkles (or develops them sooner) than others. A wrinkle is a furrow in the skin that appears because the skin is losing its natural supply of elastin and collagen. This is how it happens:

• The outer layer of the skin, which you can see, is called the epidermis. But the ‘real skin’, as it is sometimes referred to, lies beneath this and is called the dermis. The dermis contains fibers called elastin that keep the skin looking young and taut. It also contains a protein called collagen that keeps the skin looking plump. As time passes, both of these elements reduce so that the skin gets thinner and less flexible. When the skin loses its elasticity it no longer springs back into position. When you are young, laughter lines around the eyes disappear when you stop laughing (the skin returns to its former position). As you age the skin finds it increasingly difficult to return to its previous position, which is how fine lines eventually turn into deep set wrinkles.
• The fat in the subcutaneous layer of skin (underneath the dermis) also thins as we age. This layer works like scaffolding and keeps the skin structure upright. As it weakens, the epidermis (top layer) starts to sag and wrinkles form.
• If that’s not enough, gravity makes the situation worse by contributing to the formation of droopy eyelids and jowls. The older a person is, the longer their skin has been exposed to gravity, hence the greater the effect.
• The skin’s ability to repair itself declines with age. So it becomes more vulnerable to injuries and damage.

Useful: Skin structure and function, for a detailed explanation on how the skin works.

When Do Wrinkles First Appear?

“I’ve only ever had one wrinkle - and I’m sitting on it”
Jeanne Calment, one of the world’s oldest women, before she died at the age of 122.

Most people will develop fine lines around their eyes (crows feet) by their mid to late 20s but may only start to become aware of them by their early to mid 30s. How fast we age depends on two factors: (1) lifestyle and (2) genes. If your parents aged well, then chances are you will too. But how we live, even where we live, can have a major impact on how soon fine lines and wrinkles appear. For example:

Baking in the sun: Adds 20 years to your skin. Sunlight damages the skin’s collagen and elastin fibers. Further, it induces the elastin proteins to produce large amounts of the enzyme metalloproteinase. These enzymes break down (degrade) collagen resulting in an uneven matrix of collagen fibers called solar scars. Continual repetition of this process contributes to wrinkle formation. There are two types of ultraviolet sunrays - UVA and UVB rays - and both lead to wrinkles (and other nasty conditions like skin cancer). UVB rays are the main cause of sunburn - they are most intense in the middle of the day. UVB cannot penetrate glass windows. UVA penetrates the skin more deeply and is less dependent on the time of day or season. UVA rays do pentrate glass windows.
Regular sun bed use: Adds 20 years. According to dermatologists (skin doctors), sun beds cause even more damage to the skin than direct sunlight because they give out pure UVA rays which penetrate deeper into the skin.
Stress: Adds at least 5 years. A major skin savager, particularly if associated with behavioral symptoms like excessive drinking and bad diet. In fact studies show that the cells of a high-stressed woman are 9 to 17 years older than the cells of a lower-stressed woman. Emotional stress retards cell renewal and breaks down elastin. This leads to sagging and wrinkles. Read about the dangers of stress or take our online stress test quiz.
City living: Adds 5 years. Industrial and car pollution in cities generate nasty free radicals that attack the skin. According to some studies the human skin is particularly sensitive to urban pollution. If you don’t plan on moving to the country soon, one solution is to use a moisturizer rich in antioxidants (such as StriVectin Phase-2 Topical AntiOxidant or Olay Total Effects Range Of Anti-Oxidant Moisturizers). Antioxidants limit the damage caused by free radicals. See also, what ingredients are in skin creams? as well as what is the best treatment for dry skin?
Crash dieting: Adds 10 years. Yo yo dieting deprives the skin of natural nutrients. If you lose weight quickly your skin will stretch and sag.

Related Questions
When does the skin start to age? Signs of early wrinkles.
What is a spot? Find out how a pimple forms.
What are skin moles? Types of moles and pictures.
What is acne? Is it the same as spots?

• Got another question? See: Skin Care Questions

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