A little girl sits on her grandmother’s lap. She asks, with some concern, why her beloved older relative’s skin is so wrinkly. As adults, we know wrinkling is an effect of aging. But do we know, exactly, what causes it?

The changing of our skin

Our skin’s firmness and elasticity are maintained primarily with proteins called collagen and elastin. As we age, particularly once we hit the age of 20, our body begins producing less of both, decreasing this suppleness. Also, fat deep in the skin diminishes, which can make the skin looser and saggier.

How outside factors affect wrinkling

While aging contributes to wrinkling, it’s by no means the only cause. Exposure to ultraviolet light, such as what the sun produces, can break down the collagen and elastin. Smoking can also cause wrinkling, likely because of changes it causes in your skin’s blood supply. Finally, facial expressions like squinting can lead to wrinkles. Every time you use a facial muscle, you create a small groove below the surface of your skin. As you age, these grooves can’t go back to normal, and the wrinkle is formed.

Why does our skin wrinkle in the water?

Water wrinkling is a bit different than the wrinkling caused by aging. Normally, an oil called sebum moistens and protects the skin. It also makes the skin somewhat waterproof. However, after extended time in the tub or pool, the sebum washes away and your skin absorbs more water. While many people believe it’s this absorption of water than wrinkles the skin of your fingers, some doctors believe it’s a nervous system response that makes it easier for your fingers to pick things up when your skin is wet. Fortunately, this isn’t a permanent condition. As your skin dries and your sebum returns, your skin will go back to normal.

Can we prevent our skin from wrinkling?

While wrinkling is inevitable, there are some things we can do to slow down or mask the process. First, make sure to wear sunscreen, long-sleeved clothing, and other articles that will protect you from the sun. Second, quit smoking. Third, use moisturizers to temporarily hide tiny wrinkles in your skin.

Can we reverse the process?

Wrinkling can’t be permanently reversed, but there are procedures like laser skin resurfacing that can remove some fine lines or wrinkles. While results tend to be gradual, you would notice an immediate difference in skin quality, and the results can last for years. However, laser skin resurfacing doesn’t work on deep wrinkles or sagging skin.

BOTOX injections can soften or remove wrinkles such as frown lines and crow’s feet for several months by temporarily paralyzing a person’s facial muscles. Cosmetic fillers like collagen and hyaluronic acid can be injected into the skin to restore volume and suppleness, too.

Mark Weigel, MD

Chemical peels are also an option. Chemical peels are non-invasive treatments the can address anything from a very fine to a medium-depth wrinkle, CEENTA ENT doctor Mark Weigel, MD, said.

While that little girl can rest assured that nothing is wrong with her grandmother’s skin, both you and grandma now know why it happens, and options are available if you’d like to temporarily smooth out your skin.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. Dr. Weigel practices in our Huntersville office. To make a facial plastic surgery consultation at CEENTA, call 704-295-3000. You can also request an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.


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