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What are the common causes of wrinkles and how can you prevent them?

Too young for fine lines and wrinkles? Your lifestyle may be to blame. Sleep deprivation, stress and smoking are major factors that contribute to signs of aging skin. We explore this relationship and how you can protect your skin from premature aging.

What are the common causes of wrinkles and how can you prevent them?

What causes wrinkles?

Wrinkles develop as a result of both internal factors, like the natural aging process, as well as environmental factors, such as:

  • Sun exposure
  • Smoking
  • Pollution
  • Fatigue
  • Stress

Poor quality of sleep has been scientifically shown to affect the appearance of the skin

When skin is dehydrated and/or is lacking the collagen it needs to bounce back into place after movement, fine lines form. Over time this crease develops, leading to the creation of an unwanted wrinkle- a deeper and more permanent fine line.

This is why the areas of our face we move the most - around the eyes, the mouth and forehead - are the most vulnerable and also the first to develop wrinkles(1).

What are sleep wrinkles?

Sleep lines get their name from their source. It is believed(2) that while we are asleep, the constant pressure of the face against the pillow can result in the development of wrinkles. But a fear of sleep wrinkles shouldn’t stop you from getting a good night’s sleep. In fact, the quality of your skin is closely linked to how well-rested you are. Poor quality of sleep has been scientifically shown to affect the appearance of the skin(3), making us look (and not just feel) tired. Studies even point out that women who sleep less than 5 hours per night exhibit more intrinsic signs of aging(1).

It is thought that the reason we develop this 'tired look' is because during sleep there is a strong increase in skin blood flow(4). This blood flow brings needed oxygen and nutrients to the cells, keeping them plump and elastic. So a lack of sleep means this process is interrupted, and our skin isn't getting the elements it needs, resulting in a dull complexion with more apparent wrinkles.

Does stress cause wrinkles?

Indirectly, stress does aggravate wrinkles, and it's not just because of repeated frowning. Cortisol is one of the key hormones that the body releases when you're stressed. Unbalanced cortisol levels are believed to have a negative impact on the immune system, leaving our bodies weak and vulnerable. Studies also show that stress and the resulting hormonal peaks lead to higher moisture loss in the skin and the subsequent formation of wrinkles(5).

How does smoking affect wrinkles?

Scientific research is rarely unanimous, but when it comes to smoking and wrinkles, research concurs: tobacco smoke causes premature skin aging. One study even estimates that 10 years of smoking corresponded to a difference in appearance of roughly 2 1/2 years older than one’s actual age(1). Nicotine has this effect because it interferes with the production of collagen, which keeps our skin elasticated and supple(6). When the skin lacks elasticity, it doesn't bounce back smoothly into position after facial movements, gradually settling into a creased wrinkle.

How can you reduce or prevent wrinkles?

The best way to deal with wrinkles is prevention with daily photo-protection. Other methods include topical treatments for wrinkles like antioxidants, acids (like retinol) and hyaluronic acid. These ingredients have proven(7) to help reduce and prevent skin aging by contributing to an increase in collagen, the protein our skin needs to stay resilient and wrinkle-free. By applying an anti-aging treatment regularly, and combining it with a healthy lifestyle (quality sleep, low stress and no smoking), you can help promote skin regeneration and reduce the risks of developing premature wrinkles.


1. Krutmann, J. et al, 'The skin aging exposome' in Journal of Dermatological Science (2016) 85(3): pp. 152-161. [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27720464]
2. Sarifakioğlu, N. et al, 'A new phenomenon: "sleep lines" on the face' in Scand J Plast Reconstr Surg Hand Surg. (2004) 38(4) pp.244-7.[Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15370809]
3. Oyetakin-White, P. et al, 'Does poor sleep quality affect skin ageing?' in Clin Exp Dermatol. (2015) Jan;40(1): pp.17-22 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25266053]
4. Van Someren, EJ., 'Mechanisms and functions of coupling between sleep and temperature rhythms' in Prog Brain Res. (2006) 153, pp.309-24. [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16876583/]
5. Chen, Y. et al, 'Brain-Skin Connection: Stress, Inflammation and Skin Aging' in Inflammation & Allergy Drug Targets (2014) 13.3: pp. 177–190 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4082169/]
6. Morita, A. et al, 'Tobacco smoke causes premature skin aging' in J Dermatol Sci. (2007) Dec;48(3): pp. 169-75.[Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17951030]
7. Trookman, N. et al, 'Immediate and Long-Term Clinical Benefits of a Topical Treatment for Facial Lines and Wrinkles' in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology (2009) 2.3: pp.38–43.[Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2923951/]

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