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Diseases & Conditions

Wrinkles Overview

(Also Called 'Wrinkles')

Over time, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light damages the fibers in the skin called elastin. The breakdown of these fibers causes the skin to lose its ability to snap back after stretching. As a result, wrinkles form. Gravity also is at work, pulling at the skin and causing it to sag, most noticeably on the face, neck, and upper arms.

Cigarette smoking also contributes to wrinkles. People who smoke tend to have more wrinkles than nonsmokers of the same age, complexion, and history of sun exposure. The reason for this difference is not clear. It may be because smoking also plays a role in damaging elastin. Facial wrinkling increases with the amount of cigarettes and number of years a person has smoked.

Many products currently on the market claim to revitalize aging skin. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, over-the-counter wrinkle creams and lotions may soothe dry skin, but they do little or nothing to reverse wrinkles. At this time, the only products that have been studied for safety and effectiveness and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat signs of sun-damaged or aging skin are tretinoin cream and carbon dioxide (CO2) and erbium (Er:YAG) lasers.

Tretinoin cream (Renova), a vitamin A derivative available by prescription only, is approved for reducing the appearance of fine wrinkles, mottled darkened spots, and roughness in people whose skin doesn’t improve with regular skin care and use of sun protection. However, it doesn’t eliminate wrinkles, repair sun-damaged skin, or restore skin to its healthier, younger structure. It hasn’t been studied in people 50 and older or in people with moderately or darkly pigmented skin.

The CO2 and Er:YAG lasers are approved to treat wrinkles. The doctor uses the laser to remove skin one layer at a time. Laser therapy is performed under anesthesia in an outpatient surgical setting.

The FDA currently is studying the safety of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), which are widely promoted to reduce wrinkles, spots, and other signs of aging, sun-damaged skin. Some studies suggest that they may work, but there is concern about adverse reactions and long-term effects of their use. Because people who use AHA products have greater sensitivity to the sun, the FDA advises consumers to protect themselves from sun exposure by using sunscreen, wearing a hat, or avoiding mid-day sun. If you are interested in treatment for wrinkles, you should discuss treatment options with a dermatologist.