Several wrinkle treatment options are available to help smooth wrinkles or make them less noticeable.
Topical retinoids. Prescription medicine that contains retinoids, which is derived from vitamin A, may reduce fine wrinkles, splotches and roughness when applied to the skin. You may need to use the product for a few weeks or months before you notice improvement. Products include tretinoin (Renova, Retin-A) and tazarotene (Avage, Tazorac), and a synthetic version called adapalene is also an option. Retinoids might cause temporary itching, redness, burning or dryness.
Because retinoids can make your skin burn more easily, you'll need to daily use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and wear protective clothing.
Nonprescription wrinkle creams. The effectiveness of anti-wrinkle creams depends in part on the active ingredients. Retinol, antioxidants and some peptides may result in slight to modest improvements in wrinkles.
With nonprescription wrinkle creams, your results, if any, are limited and usually short-lived because these creams contain less of the active ingredients than do prescription creams.
Surgical procedures and other techniques
A variety of procedures are used to smooth out wrinkles. Some studies indicate that a combination of treatments may yield the most satisfying results. Talk with your doctor about what's important to you and which approach would best meet your needs and expectations as far as recovery time and results.
Laser resurfacing. In ablative (wounding) laser resurfacing, a laser beam destroys the outer layer of skin (epidermis) and heats the underlying skin (dermis). This stimulates the growth of new collagen fibers. As the wound heals, smoother, tighter skin forms. Laser resurfacing can't eliminate excessive or sagging skin.
Laser resurfacing may be done as an outpatient procedure, usually with a local anesthetic. You may be fully sedated for extensive resurfacing. It can take several months to fully heal from ablative laser resurfacing. A newer method using fractional lasers has a shorter recovery time. Risks include scarring and lightening or darkening of skin color.
A technique called nonablative laser fractional resurfacing has a shorter healing time and fewer risks than does the ablative technique. Nonablative lasers are better suited to people with moderate wrinkles because results are subtle. This treatment needs to be repeated more often than does ablative treatment. This method also can be done with a fractional laser.
- Photodynamic rejuvenation. Photodynamic therapy (PDT) can treat fine wrinkles caused by sun exposure. You may need repeat treatments, but recovery for PDT is shorter than it is with laser resurfacing.
- Chemical peel. Your doctor applies a chemical solution to the skin to remove the top layers. The skin that grows back after a chemical peel is smother. Depending on the depth of the peel, you may need several treatments before you see a difference in your skin. Redness lasts up to several weeks. Possible side effects include scarring, infection, and lightening or darkening of skin color.
Dermabrasion. Dermabrasion sands down the surface layer of skin with a rapidly rotating brush. New skin grows in its place. You may need to undergo the procedure more than once.
Possible side effects include temporary redness, scabbing and swelling. It may take several months for pinkness to fade and for you to see results.
Microdermabrasion. Similar to dermabrasion, this technique removes only a fine layer of skin. You'll need a series of treatments over months to produce modest, temporary results. If you have rosacea or tiny red veins on your face, this technique could make the condition worse.
You may notice a slight redness or stinging sensation on the treated areas.
Botulinum toxin type A (Botox). When injected in small doses into specific muscles, Botox keeps the muscles from contracting. When the muscles can't tighten, the skin appears smoother and less wrinkled.
Botox works well on frown lines between the eyebrows and across the forehead and on crow's-feet at the eye corners. It takes one to three days to see results. The effect typically lasts a few months. Repeat injections are needed to maintain results.
- Soft tissue fillers. Soft tissue fillers, which include fat, collagen and hyaluronic acid (Restylane, Juvederm, others), can be injected into wrinkles on your face. They plump and smooth wrinkles and furrows. You may experience temporary swelling, redness and bruising in the treated area. The effect of most products is temporary.
Face-lift. The face-lift procedure involves tightening the underlying muscle and tissues. It may be done in a hospital or an outpatient surgical facility, with a local anesthetic, sedation or general anesthesia. Healing times can be lengthy after a face-lift. Bruising and swelling are usually evident for several weeks after surgery.
Face-lift results are not permanent. You may choose to undergo another face-lift several years later.
Keep in mind that results vary depending on the location and depth of your wrinkles. Nothing stops the aging process of skin, so you'll likely need repeated treatments to maintain benefits.
These procedures aren't usually covered by insurance. Also, any of the procedures can have side effects, so be sure to discuss them with your doctor. Make sure your dermatologist or plastic surgeon is specially trained and experienced in the technique you're considering.
Many over-the-counter wrinkle creams and lotions promise to reduce wrinkles and prevent or reverse damage caused by the sun. But there is limited evidence from clinical studies that these products are likely to make a noticeable difference in your skin.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies these creams and lotions as cosmetics, which are defined as having no medical value. So the FDA regulates them less strictly than it does drugs. This means that products don't need to undergo rigorous testing for safety and effectiveness before approval to go on the market.
Because the FDA doesn't evaluate cosmetic products for effectiveness, there's no guarantee that any over-the-counter product will reduce your wrinkles.
Preparing for your appointment
When you make an appointment with a dermatologist, it's a good idea to prepare for your appointment by making a list of questions you want your doctor to answer. For wrinkles, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What is the best course of action?
- What are my treatment options and the pros and cons of each?
- What will the treatments cost? Does medical insurance usually cover these treatments?
- What results can I expect?
- How often will I need to repeat the treatment?
- What kind of follow-up, if any, will I have?
Don't hesitate to ask any other questions you have.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, including:
- What products, such as cleansers and moisturizers, do you use on your skin?
- Do you use sunscreen?
- Did you expose your skin to sun when you were younger?
- Do you smoke or have you ever smoked?