By Dr. Loretta Lanphier, ND, CN, HHP, CH

Unless you are after the wise, old sage look, most people nowadays are not happy when they see wrinkles appearing on their skin as they get older. Looking younger and preserving the appearance of the skin is a mega-business all it’s own, and there seem to be an endless number of products designed to cater to the needs of folks who are concerned about such things. Let’s see if we can bring some sense to this whole arena and understand what causes wrinkles and the safest and most affective ways to deal with them.

What Are Wrinkles?

Wrinkles are nothing more than lines and creases that form on your skin as a natural part of the aging process. As we get older, our skin gets less elastic, thinner, and drier. It also progressively loses its ability to protect and rejuvenate itself. Some folks have a genetic tendency to keep younger looking skin longer as they age, while others may run into wrinkles and more wear and tear on their skin as an inherited trait. But next to genetics, the two most important factors that influence skin texture and possible wrinkles are amount of time spent in the sun, and whether or not you are a smoker or exposed to second hand smoke.

There are a slew of products and procedures available to help smooth out, cover over, prevent, minimize, or other wise eliminate wrinkles and other consequences of aging skin, but the truth of the matter is that none of them are permanent because as we continue to age, new wrinkles will appear. Whatever “treatment” one chooses, it will have to be repeated sooner or later, and usually on a regular continuous basis. Some remedies work better than others, and there are some that are actually very good for your skin and can help to protect it from further damage. However, there are also some that have dangerous side effects that you should be aware of if you are considering going the “wrinkle cure” route.

What Causes Wrinkles?

Wrinkles basically come in two main varieties: fine lines and deeper furrow-like crevices. Certain places on the body are more susceptible to wrinkles. Common spots include the eyes, mouth, and neck. Some factors that cause wrinkles are somewhat under our control, others are not. The major causes of wrinkles are:

  • Age:  The skin is our largest organ, and like all other parts of the body, it is susceptible to the aging process. Our skin is quite visible too, so we notice the affects of aging on it much easier. Young skin has a higher natural oil and fat content that gives it a plump, supple look. As we age, the deeper layers of skin produce less of these emollients, and the outermost layers of skin begin to get drier and less flexible. The older we get, the more likely wrinkles are to stay around longer and eventually become permanent features of our skin.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) light:  There are two types of UV light. The first and most common one that we are exposed to is called UVB, which is short-wave UV. This is the type of UV that causes sunburn, and results in most damage to the skin. A certain amount of sunlight is very good for our bodies in many ways, both physically (great source of Vitamin D, helps to regulate the hypothalamus gland) and emotionally. However, too much of it cannot only lead to wrinkles, but to skin cancer as well. There are steps that can be taken to limit our exposure to the right amount and quality of UVB rays. The second type of UV is called UVB, and this should be avoided totally. UVB is what you receive in many tanning booths or salons. It speeds up the aging process of the skin, and is definitely a risk factor for skin cancer. There are sunscreen products out there that claim to protect you from both UV and UVB, but beware! Many of them contain toxic substances that you do not want to rub into your skin. Remember, whatever goes on your skin, ends up in your body.
  • Smoking:  Smoking contributes to wrinkles and aging of the skin in a few ways that you might not be aware of. The obvious one is that the smoke itself is an irritant to the skin that makes it drier and generally less healthy. But as far as causing wrinkles goes, smoking does even more damage. Research has shown that wrinkles may be encouraged to form around the lips because of changes in the amount of blood supply to the area. Repeated expressions that smokers make, such as pursing the lips or squinting the eyes to keep out the smoke, may also encourage the growth of wrinkles. Even the consistent heat from a lit cigarette close to the facial skin can help cause wrinkles.
  • Repeated facial expressions:  Remember what Mom always said: “If you don’t stop making that face, it’s going to freeze like that!” Well, maybe Mom was right to some degree. When we make the same expressions over and over again, such as squinting, frowning, or smiling, the deeper layers of facial skin muscle form a groove. As we age, the outer layers of skin find it harder and harder to “bounce back” out of the groove, and eventually form wrinkles that are permanent. “Crow’s feet” around the eyes are a good example of this. They are usually found on older individuals who had a lifelong habit of smiling or laughing a lot. So you see, wrinkles are not all bad.
  • Some other risk factors that affect wrinkles and aged skin are:
    • Complexion and skin type:  Folks with fair skin and light-colored eyes are more likely to suffer from sun-damaged skin and the resulting wrinkles.
    • Hairstyle:  Certain hairstyles protect the face from the sun better than others.
    • Occupation and recreational choices:  Jobs and hobbies (such as farming or sailing) that expose you to more sun will increase your risk for wrinkles.

What Can Be Done to Protect My Skin From Wrinkles?

  • The first and most obvious is to protect yourself while in the sun. Use common sense and if possible limit your time outside during the peak hours of UV exposure, typically 10am-4pm. Wear clothing such as hats, long sleeve shirts, and sunglasses to cover your body as much as possible. Use a quality sunscreen product that is composed of natural ingredients that are not harmful to your body. Some products will also moisturize and condition your skin as well, and this also helps prevent wrinkles. And remember that the sun can damage your skin on butty days just as much as on sunny days—sometimes even more because you may not be as careful on butty days. Protect yourself year around as well, as sunshine can cause damage in the winter too.
  • Another no-brainer is don’t smoke. If you do, quit. Even if you have smoked for years, stopping now can not only save your life, but help reduce premature skin aging and wrinkles as well.
  • Skin moisturizers:  Using a quality moisturizing product that helps replenish the natural oils in your skin will keep your skin in a state that is less likely to produce wrinkles. This is a classic example of treating the problem, and not the symptom after the fact. Again, you must be careful what products you use. As with sunscreens, many commercial moisturizers contain dangerous chemicals that can enter your body through the skin.

What About Mainstream Wrinkle “Cures?”

The important thing to remember about the many various drugs and surgeries that are available to “restore your youthful appearance” is that most of them just plain aren’t natural, have varying degrees of side effects, and they must be repeated because even if your immediate wrinkles are addressed, continued aging will always bring on new ones. Another factor is that the majority of treatments are very expensive, and are not usually covered by insurance. Let’s do a quick rundown of the most popular options:

  • Vitamin A acid:  This product is usually applied via a cream, and it actually burns off the outermost layer of skin, resulting in less visible fine-line wrinkles. However, peeling and redness can be troublesome side effects for some people.
  • Alpha-hydroxy acids:  These “fruit-acids” are composed of lactic acid and other “natural” products from certain fruits. However, it is debatable just how effective they are at helping wrinkles, and synthetic forms of these acids may have undesirable long-term side effects. If you choose to use a product like this, make sure it is natural and doesn’t include potentially harmful substances that are often included in the formula.
  • Other options include a variety of procedures that are quite questionable as to their safety and effectiveness. Remember too that these expensive treatments need to be repeated. They go by a lot of different names, including “acid peels” (which can be quite painful and cause such side effects as permanent changes in skin pigment color and scarring), “Dermabrasion,” which is actually taking a power tool and sanding the face. Again, these can be painful, may include the risk of general anesthesia, and can produce skin color changes and scarring.

Botox injections are a very popular wrinkle treatment that involves injecting areas of the skin with a muscle poison that is a known highly toxic substance that actually paralyzes muscles in an effort to reduce larger furrow-type wrinkles. There are many horror stories about Botox misadventures. One researcher calls Botox one of the most poisonous substances on Earth, and the fact that it is still legal to inject this stuff into your skin for merely cosmetic purposes is criminal, as far as I am concerned.

I could go on and on with such things as face lifts, filler injections, and laser resurfacing, but let’s mention a couple of less invasive options that many have found helpful:

  • Cucumber:  Slice ‘em up and rub them on your skin, or whip them in a blender and apply as a face cream. It will condition your skin, and may help wrinkles to a degree.
  • Aloe Vera may help wrinkles, but it definitely will soften and moisten your skin. It has been used since Ancient Egyptian times.
  • Olive oil is another alternative favorite for skin care. You might want to try sitting in front of a steamer for a few moments to open your pores for deeper penetration.

Take care of your skin while you are young and live a balanced, whole life that does not base your worth on physical beauty alone. You can then experience that greatest treatment for wrinkles ever invented:  the freedom to grow old gracefully…

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