Why Do We Get Wrinkles? The Science Behind Aging Skin

Written by Donika Vata | Last updated on August 4, 2023

What comes to your mind when you think about aging? Well, there are many things to start with, but if you ask women, then the answer would be “wrinkles.” 

Just like aging, wrinkles are inevitable, which is a clear indication that one is getting older. And that is what makes people wish to have skin clear of all the sagging, fine lines, pigmentation, and dark spots. 

Read on to learn underlying causes of wrinkles to make informed choices that could avoid them. 

Let's have a look at the anatomy of the skin first. 

Anatomy Of The Skin

The structure of the skin plays a pivotal role in the formation of wrinkles. It consists of three primary layers: epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissues.

Epidermis 

The Epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin, serves as a barrier for the intrinsic layers against all environmental factors.

It is further subdivided into five different layers from the stratum basale consisting of melanocyte cells that help produce melanin pigments to the stratum corneum, where dead skin cells are finally shed. 

The basic cells of the epidermis, most popularly known as keratinocytes, are also responsible for regulating moisture levels, protecting all the underlying layers of the skin [1].

Dermis

The Dermis, which is the middle layer of the skin structure, is responsible for maintaining the skin’s firmness. It consists of various important structural components like blood vessels, nerves, collagen fibers, connective tissues, sweat glands, hair follicles, and elastin fibers. 

Collagen and elastin fibers play a vital role in providing structural support and elasticity to the skin [2].

Subcutaneous Tissue

The innermost layer of the skin, which is the subcutaneous tissue, also known as the hypodermis, is composed of fat cells.

It maintains the overall body temperature and contributes to the appearance of the skin. The fat cells in this layer also serve as a protective insulation layer for the muscles and internal body organs [3]. 

The anatomic change in these layers, specifically in the dermis layer of the skin, causes the premature symptoms of aging to be apparent. However, we can prevent the onslaught of wrinkles by tending to the two different aging processes that are responsible for producing them. 

The Aging Process

Aging is a natural process, but some factors affect the overall process of aging and stimulate the visibility of its signs way earlier than expected. The two major processes that induce such changes are intrinsic and extrinsic aging.

Intrinsic Aging

Intrinsic aging is primarily influenced by genetics, hormones, and internal processes. This chronological aging is inevitable and varies for every other person. 

The major proteins like collagen and elastin, which are the backbone of skin structure and appearance, decrease as we age, leading to the loss of skin formation, wrinkles, and sagging.

Then there come the genetic factors that contribute to early wrinkles and pigmentation. The production of collagen in some individuals is already less, resulting in the sagging and deformation of the skin.

Hormonal changes with age also lead to the development of wrinkles. 

All these changes start taking place as soon as you hit your 20s. At the age of 20, our bodies start producing less collagen every year, losing the overall skin’s elasticity and firmness in the process. 

With the further passing of age, the exfoliation process also starts to recede, followed by the low regulation of moisture between the layers of the skin.

And by the age of 50, even the stored fat in the body starts to reduce, associated with low blood circulation and other major issues, causing the skin to deteriorate and sag [4].

There isn't much that we can do to control intrinsic aging. Moreover, its contribution to wrinkles and pigmentation is very minimal, unlike the extrinsic aging process.

Extrinsic Aging

Extrinsic aging is the result of external environmental factors that affect the skin and accelerate the rate of its aging. Sun exposure, smoking, pollution, and exposure to harmful environmental factors, are the major causes of extrinsic aging.

Excessive exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays is the most common cause of skin aging.

High UV rays, when penetrating the skin, damage collagen and elastin fibers in the process, forming wrinkles, pigments, and dark spots. 

Smoking, on the other hand, is not only harmful to health but also harmful to skin. It restricts the blood flow to the skin, releasing harmful enzymes in the process, resulting in the destruction of collagen and elastin, followed by the deterioration of the skin [4].

Moreover, the pollutants in the environment, coupled with an unhealthy lifestyle, including poor diet, improper sleep schedule, and high-stress levels, can also accelerate skin aging. 

And in case you are habitual of pursing your lips, squinting, or even frowning for that matter, then think again of your repetitive facial expressions because they can also cause serious damage resulting in early pigments, skin sagging, and fine lines.

These factors, if not controlled now, can cause serious damage to the skin in the near future. It's easier to control when you know the source.

Science of Collagen and Elastin

As you must know by now, collagen and elastin play a crucial role in the formation of wrinkles.

The decrease in the production of these vital proteins as we age followed by the various extrinsic aging factors, results in the loss of skin elasticity and firmness, leading to premature wrinkles, dark spots, and sagging. 

Collagen, the structural component of skin, provides firmness, support, elasticity, and structure to the skin. The formation of this essential protein decreases with growing age receding the skin’s collagen levels. 

This natural, inevitable reduction, combined with various other extrinsic factors over time, results in the loss of skin elasticity and structural integrity [5].

Elastin is another potential fiber that plays an essential role in skin resilience. It allows the stretching and recoiling of skin, enabling it to regain its original shape. 

The elastin levels also reduce with growing age, with the skin losing its ability to recoil, resulting in the sagging of skin and the formation of wrinkles [5].

Role of Free Radicals and Oxidative Stress

Free radicals are highly reactive, unstable molecules formed as a result of various cellular functions and extrinsic factors, including inflammation, pollution, metabolism, UV radiation, etc. 

These free radicals can cause severe damage to various essential cellular elements like lipids and proteins. It causes oxidative damage to the lipids, in turn damaging the structural integrity and functionality of the skin. 

Where antioxidants in our body can neutralize these free radicals, the antioxidant defense system in our body can easily get overwhelmed with radicals in case of oxidative stress. This slight imbalance between radicals and antioxidants can accelerate the aging process resulting in the formation of wrinkles [6].

To counteract the attack of radicals and oxidative stress on your skin, try incorporating antioxidants in your diet, and you will have glowing skin.

Wrinkles and Hydration

The importance of hydrated skin is something that no woman can take slightly. Proper hydration not only makes the skin look smooth and supple but also works as a shield against environmental stressors. 

Dehydrated and rough skin is prone to damage. It also lacks the essential moisture to fill in the creases, resulting in more pronounced wrinkles and fine lines [7].

Another essential element of hydrated skin is hyaluronic acid. This naturally occurring substance that plays a major role in hydrated skin decreases as we age, leading to damaged skin full of stretch lines and wrinkles all over it.

The only way to combat hydration is to drink plenty of water daily, and your skin will stay intact and fresh for a very long time.

Mechanics of wrinkle formation

Wrinkles result from a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic processes, having some inevitable aspects that cannot be changed and some preventable aspects that can be regulated with a proper skincare routine, proper diet, and some physical exercise.

Your lifestyle choices and the environment you live in also play a significant role in the formation of early wrinkles, dark spots, and pigments.

Hormonal Influence on Skin Aging

Hormonal change in our body not just brings about physical changes but also plays a significant role in the skin's aging process, especially in females.

Estrogen and testosterone, the most commonly found hormones in males and females, contribute to collagen production, maintaining skin health and elasticity, and enhancing skin hydration.

This production decreases as we age, leading to thinned and wrinkled skin [8].

An imbalance in the thyroid and cortisol stress hormone can also decrease skin elasticity, collagen, and elastin levels in the body, impairing the skin’s ability to stay hydrated.

While there isn't much that can be done to stop such hormonal changes, ensuring a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet can slow down the process of skin aging [8].

Power of antioxidants

The role of antioxidants in neutralizing the free radicals that play a huge part in the skin aging process is phenomenal.

Antioxidants combat harmful radicals by donating an electron to reduce their disastrous effect on the skin. It can also help promote collagen production in the body, resulting in very firm and elastic skin [9].

Not only that, it has the potential to protect the skin from harmful UV radiation and possesses anti-inflammatory properties, resulting in maintaining skin health and reducing the risk of wrinkles. 

Certain antioxidants also promote cellular turnover, protect the skin's DNA and enhance the skin’s self-ability to repair itself [9]. 

Make sure to include Vitamin C & E, based skin care products in your skincare routine, and include green tea, grapes, and berries in your diet to maximize the intake of antioxidants to result in wrinkle-free and clear glass skin. 

Skincare and Wrinkle Prevention

You can reduce the risk of getting wrinkles, but treating them to disappear naturally?

Not possible. 

Wrinkles are unavoidable. With growing age, we are bound to have wrinkles.

But we can do some things to get them less and especially not before the age. Early wrinkles and pigmentations are normal, but we can avoid them with some effective skin care products and treatments.  

1. Topical Treatments

Topical treatments are highly popular for their anti-aging properties and effective results. Starting with retinoids, derivatives of vitamin A, and peptides, building blocks of protein, the most effective treatments to prevent wrinkles.

They have the ability to produce more collagen and ameliorate skin tone and texture. It also reduces wrinkles, and fine lines, improving the overall skin radiance [10].  

Alpha-hydroxy acids, such as glycolic and lactic acid, also work best to improve skin texture. It removes dead cells, prevents wrinkles, and fades hyperpigmentation.

Antioxidants, including Vitamin C & E, green tea, and niacinamide, also reduce the visible signs of aging and help soothe the skin [10].

There are many creams, sunscreens, and serums with all these essential ingredients to help improve the skin. Incorporate them into your skincare routine and get the skin to die for.

Patience and consistency are the only keys to making it work and getting your desired result.

2. Cosmetic Procedures

Apart from topical treatments, there are various cosmetic procedures to prevent wrinkles.

These are costly, so they aren't suggestable because when you can avoid wrinkles with a healthy lifestyle, then why go the extra mile? But again, if you can afford it, then they aren't the bad options as well. 

And also, if you have got wrinkles already, then there isn't much that your healthy lifestyle can do. In that case, you can go for Botox, dermal fillers, chemical peels, or radiofrequency treatments. 

However, it is important to note that cosmetic procedures come with several risks and side effects. It is best if you consult a dermatologist to find what suits best for your needs [11].

3. Lifestyle Changes for Wrinkle Reduction

There are a number of things in our lifestyle that directly impact the aging of our skin. We can change or improve those things to get smooth and glowing skin for the most part of our life. 

Starting with protecting the skin from UV radiations, if there is anything that severely affects our skin, then it is sunlight. Protecting the skin from sunlight can do more good than you can imagine.

Many other things can also result in wrinkle-free skin, including a healthy diet, increased water intake, adequate sleep patterns, less stress, a gentle skincare routine, regular physical exercise, and most importantly, no alcohol and smoking.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I prevent wrinkles?

There are several easy ways to prevent wrinkles, and no, I am not talking about the anti-wrinkle products or the plastic surgery that could cost a fortune.

With a healthy lifestyle, a perfectly balanced diet, an adequate sleep schedule, and some physical exercise, it is easy to prevent wrinkles and age lines.

Can wrinkles go away?

Wrinkles can be reduced but not disappear. That, too, depends on your skin type and your skincare routine. The only way to prevent wrinkles is not to get them with effective pre-measures.

What is the normal age to get wrinkles?

As soon as you hit 25, you will start noticing fine lines on your skin, which get prominent after 60 years of age, depending on your skin type. People aged 40-50 look for wrinkle treatments and measures.

Is 90% of aging caused by the sun?

Extrinsic factors like harmful UV radiation and over-excessive exposure to the sun contribute to premature aging and are the major cause of 90% of skin aging, according to several studies. 

What are the first signs of wrinkles?

Fine lines are the first signs of wrinkles which usually appear in the case of repetitive movements. These fine lines then transform into wrinkles in the later years of life.

Conclusion

Wrinkles like age are impossible to stop. However, there are many intrinsic and extrinsic factors that not just increase the skin aging process but also damage the skin severely, resulting in dry, rough, and inelastic skin way earlier than its anticipated time. 

Wrinkles and age lines can not be removed naturally, but we can make efforts to get wrinkle-free skin or less wrinkled skin. 

And no, not by using overly-expensive skincare products, but with a healthy environment, balanced diet, physical exercise, adequate lifestyle, and proper sleep schedule.

Only a healthy lifestyle now can promise you a clear and glowing future.

References

  1. Anatomy Of The Skin. Retrieved from: https://www.utmb.edu/pedi_ed/CoreV2/Dermatology/page_03.htm

  2. Dermis. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/dermis

  3.  The Layers Of Your Skin. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/layers-of-skin

  4. What Causes Wrinkles? Retrieved from: https://www.colorescience.com/blogs/learn/what-causes-wrinkles

  5. Neocollagenesis and Neoelastinogenesis. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5064677/#:~:text=Collagen%20is%20responsible%20for%20tensile,results%20in%20sagging%20and%20wrinkling.

  6. Understanding Free Radicals and Oxidative Stress. Retrieved from: https://www.herbaldynamicsbeauty.com/blogs/herbal-dynamics-beauty/understanding-free-radicals-and-oxidative-stress

  7. Could The Lines On Your Face Be A Sign of Dehydration? Retrieved from: https://better-notyounger.com/blogs/the-better-blog/could-the-lines-on-your-face-be-a-sign-of-dehydration#:~:text=When%20our%20skin%20is%20dehydrated,of%20elasticity%20in%20the%20skin.

  8. Aging and Hormones. Retrieved from: https://theriegelcenter.com/aging-and-hormones/#:~:text=Estrogen%20decreases%20as%20women%20age,your%20skin%20to%20become%20thinner.

  9. An A To Z Guide on Antioxidants for Skin. Retrieved from: https://asianbeautyessentials.com/blogs/the-idol-beauty-blog/antioxidants-for-skin#:~:text=Antioxidants%20stimulate%20elastin%20and%20collagen,reduces%20the%20appearance%20of%20wrinkles.

  10. Wrinkle Creams: Your Guide To Younger Looking Skin. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/wrinkles/in-depth/wrinkle-creams/art-20047463

  11. Wrinkles. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/wrinkles/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20354931#:~:text=Soft%20tissue%20fillers%2C%20which%20include,bruising%20in%20the%20treated%20area.

About the author 

A Medical Doctor with a rich experience for 5+ years in Medical Writing/Researching along with patient care. Collaborated with more than 10 companies, leveraging my skills to create high-quality content in various formats, including books, blog posts, articles, research papers, and social media medical content.


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