February 24, 2012
Dear Mayo Clinic:
I'm a 42-year-old woman, and lately I've noticed more wrinkles starting to show on my face. Ads for "amazing" anti-wrinkle potions are everywhere. Is there anything that will really work to lessen the wrinkles I have and prevent new ones from appearing?
Wrinkles are a normal part of aging. Although you can't eliminate wrinkles completely, you can take steps to make them less noticeable.
Two big risk factors for developing wrinkles are aging and ultraviolet light. You cannot control the aging process, but you can reduce your exposure to ultraviolent light. The best thing you can do for your skin is to habitually use sunscreen on all exposed body parts. On days you are not out in the sun for long periods, use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 to 30. When you spend time outdoors on a sunny day, use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 to 50.
Smoking is a significant risk factor for developing wrinkles, in addition to being bad for your health in many other dangerous ways. Smoking has by-products that break down the collagen and elastin that help support the tissue in your skin. That can speed up the aging process and make your skin more wrinkled. If you are worried about how your skin looks and you smoke, you should stop.
Another key step to reducing wrinkles is to keep your skin well moisturized. Dry skin creates wrinkles. Use a high-quality moisturizer on your skin twice a day, once in the morning and once at night before you go to bed.
Picking a good moisturizer can be challenging because there are so many choices. Keep it simple. Avoid lotions that contain perfume, dye or glitter, or that have a lot of preservatives, as these can irritate your skin. A higher price is not always a sign of higher quality. Most basic ingredients in moisturizing lotions are the same across brands. If you are buying a moisturizer for your face, get a product designed for that purpose. A body moisturizer usually will not work well on facial skin. Finally, buy one that has SPF included, so you don't have to apply sunscreen in addition to your moisturizer.
Anti-wrinkle creams that are available without a prescription usually have only a modest effect on wrinkles. If you try one, make sure it contains vitamins C and E. These ingredients may help reduce wrinkles somewhat, but they depend on one another to work. If a cream has only one, it won't be as effective.
If you want an anti-wrinkle cream that has been shown to reduce wrinkles and prevent new ones, you will need to see your doctor. Prescription anti-wrinkle creams derived from vitamin A, called retinoids, can reduce fine wrinkles, splotchy pigmentation and skin roughness. This type of cream is applied once a day, just before you go to bed. Although some over-the-counter creams contain another derivative of Vitamin A called retinol, those are different from the prescription form. Over-the-counter retinol-containing creams may moisturize your skin, but they won't reduce or prevent wrinkles the way prescription retinoids can.
In addition to creams and lotions, some procedures may help reduce wrinkles. They include chemical peels, dermabrasion, laser resurfacing, botulinum toxin type A (Botox) and soft tissue fillers. None is a permanent solution for wrinkles, and all have potential side effects. If you're interested in one of these procedures, talk to your primary care doctor or a dermatologist to discuss what is right for you.
Keep in mind that the three most important things all people — old and young, men and women — can do for their skin to decrease the signs of aging are to moisturize frequently, wear sunscreen and, please, don't smoke.
— Dawn Davis, M.D., Dermatology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.