What really causes wrinkles?

Host: Lyndsey Rodrigues
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The older we get, the more wrinkles we get. It's a fact of life. But how do we get wrinkles in the first place? Is dry skin the main culprit?

The ageing process plays a big part in forming wrinkles. Over time, shrinkage of facial bone structure, loss of collagen, skin elasticity and gravity equal wrinkles. Our genetic make-up also plays a role in how our skin will age.

Studies have shown that people with more melanin in their skin are less likely to wrinkle as the melanin acts as a natural protector from the sun. Smoking also contributes to getting wrinkles.

But what about the myth that dry skin causes wrinkles? Leading dermatologist Dr Natasha Cook says that's simply not true.

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"No, dry skin does not cause wrinkles but what it can do is make the wrinkles look worse," Dr Cook says. "Sun exposure accounts for 90 percent of wrinkles. The way the sun forms a wrinkle is it breaks down the support structures in the endoderm — it's known as collagen or elastin. As these fibres break down we lose support and the skin becomes more easily creased."

For an example of damage caused by sun exposure, we introduced Dr Cook to Jimmy, a former surf lifesaver who'd been regularly working in the sun since 1947.

Dr Cook analysed Jimmy's face. "When you get your sun exposure it actually takes around 20-30 years before we see the damage and the changes," she said.

Considering the degree of sun exposure Jimmy has had, his skin has fared reasonably well. But Dr Cook still pointed out that around Jimmy's eye area the skin is more sallow due to a breakdown in collagen and elastin.

"We also see that he has some deep wrinkles — and that's a big contributor from the sun but also because we tend to smile," Dr Cook says.

Facial expressions such as smiling and frowning also cause the skin to wrinkle as it looses elasticity. Frown lines between the eyebrows and crow's-feet around the corners of the eyes develop as the tiny muscles in those areas permanently contract.

So while we know that staying out of the sun is the key to wrinkle prevention, what about cosmetic procedures like Botox as a means of prevention?

We met 27-year-old Michelle who has been seeing Dr Darryl Hodgkinson from Sydney's Cosmetic and Restorative Surgery Clinic for six months now. Michelle is getting Botox as a way to prevent wrinkles in the future.

"We use our facial muscles to express ourselves and by constant certain types of expression we actually wrinkle the skin," Dr Hodgkinson says. "Botox actually paralyses a muscle temporarily, so that then prevents that muscle from creasing the skin."

Preventing wrinkles

But what about for those of us who are not too keen to use Botox? What are the best ways to prevent getting wrinkles in the first place?

Dr Cook says, "The best way to prevent and treat wrinkles is not to get them by not going out into the sun and also investing in a very good sunscreen that is SPF 30+ and wearing it all the time."

Some moisturising creams can also help slow the ageing process by softening the appearance of fine lines and making the skin look and feel better. But what sort of ingredients should we be looking for in our creams?

"The most important ingredient to look for is the fruit acids or what we also term as AHA or alpha hydroxy acids," Dr Cook says. "The second group are the vitamins and the one individual vitamin that probably does the most work for our skin is vitamin A. The best forms are in prescription otherwise you can get some non-prescription forms which are also okay".


Dry skin is not the cause of wrinkles. Dry skin just makes the wrinkles look worse. It is a good idea to avoid excessive sun exposure, and when we are in the sun we should wear an SPF 30+ sunscreen. It is recommended that we use a good moisturiser because this can help with the appearance of skin.

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