Crow's Feet (Lateral Canthal Lines)

Crow’s feet, also known as lateral canthal lines, are fine lines that form on the outer corners of your eyes. If these lines are bothersome to you, there are treatment options available to reduce their appearance.


Crow’s feet on a woman’s face.
Crow’s feet (also known as laugh lines) are small lines and wrinkles at the outer corner of your eye.

What are crow’s feet?

As you age, you may notice fine lines forming in your skin on the outer corners of your eyes. These are lateral canthal lines, also known as crow’s feet or laugh lines. These small lines and wrinkles form from tiny muscles contracting in the outer corner of your eyes as you experience the many different emotions that influence your facial expressions: laughter, stress, grief and sadness. They usually start out as noticeable lines that form when you smile and your eyes naturally squint. Over time, these fine lines may start to appear on your face when you’re not smiling or even when you’re at rest.

Many other factors play a role in how your skin ages and the development of crow’s feet. Things like sun exposure, whether you use sunscreen, your diet and your genetics are all contributing factors.

Two proteins that help skin retain its plump, youthful appearance — collagen and elastin — naturally decrease as you age. As these proteins wane, you develop fine lines such as frown lines and crow’s feet. Using sunscreen and some facial moisturizers can help prevent crow’s feet from developing. But aging is an inevitable part of life.


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Do crow’s feet affect both men and women equally?

Aging affects everyone differently. Researchers have found that crow’s feet tend to appear earlier and form deeper wrinkles in men or people assigned male at birth (AMAB) than in women or people assigned female at birth (AFAB). Researchers attribute this to several factors, and some are behavioral in nature. For example, researchers theorize that men are less likely to wear sunglasses or use sunscreen than women. But researchers also discovered that men have higher amounts of matrix metalloproteinases, known as MMPs. MMPs are naturally occurring enzymes that break down collagen in your skin. If you have more MMPs, your skin will naturally break down quicker than if you don’t have as many MMPs.

How do crow’s feet affect my body?

The appearance of crow’s feet might not make your day when you look in the mirror, but they don’t have any ill effects on your body. They aren’t painful and shouldn’t affect you physically. But the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles can make some people feel insecure about their appearance.

If you don’t like the appearance of crow’s feet, it may help to remember that they’re a natural part of aging and most everyone will get them eventually. But you can also consult with your dermatologist (a medical doctor who specializes in skin conditions) about various treatment options that can help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.


Symptoms and Causes

When do crow’s feet start to appear?

You may first notice crow’s feet when you’re in your 30s. Depending on your skin care routine and genetics, you may not see them until you’re in your 40s. Prevention is key to slowing the development of crow’s feet and other fine lines.

What causes crow’s feet?

Collagen and other naturally occurring enzymes in your skin help keep it looking supple and youthful. As you age, however, collagen naturally breaks down from skin. But your lifestyle choices also contribute to how young you’ll develop crow’s feet and how deep your wrinkles will be. Things such as:

  • Sun exposure and your use of sunscreen. Wearing SPF 30 or higher can protect your skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun.
  • Wearing sunglasses or a wide-brimmed hat. Doing so will shield your eyes from the sun’s UV rays and help prevent squinting, which can contribute to crow’s feet.
  • Managing stress. It’s not just smiles that cause the fine lines and wrinkles of crow’s feet. Many emotions — anger, anxiety and sadness — cause facial expressions that contribute to crow’s feet. Learning how to handle stress in your life and manage your emotional well-being can help prevent crow’s feet and other facial wrinkles.
  • Eating a healthy diet. Foods high in antioxidants can help fight free radicals and pollution that contribute to lines and wrinkles.

See the section below for further ways to prevent and treat crow’s feet.


Management and Treatment

How do you prevent crow’s feet?

There are several lifestyle choices you can make to help combat fine lines and wrinkles. But there are also topical creams and tools available over the counter (OTC) that you can apply to your skin to help prevent crow’s feet.

Some over-the-counter options to prevent and treat crow’s feet are:

  • Exfoliation. Exfoliation removes dead skin cells from the epidermis or top layer of your skin, leaving only fresh, healthy skin. This can reduce the appearance of fine lines that lead to crow’s feet.
  • Peptide creams. Peptides are amino acids that occur naturally in your skin. Conveniently, they also come in creams and gels that can help fight lines. When applied to your skin, your body interprets the amino acids in peptides as damaged collagen, so it produces collagen to repair the damage. This repair plumps fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Retinol. Retinol is a well-known topical treatment for combating the effects of aging. Made from vitamin A, retinol stimulates the production of collagen and elastin — two key ingredients in your skin that give it a youthful, plump look. It’s available over the counter, but consult your dermatologist if you think you need a higher dose. Retinol treatment does have side effects.

Is there a medication to get rid of crow’s feet?

As you age, your crow’s feet might become deeper and more defined. In this case, you may decide to consult with a dermatologist to reduce the appearance of crow’s feet.

Some options for treating crow’s feet that require the help of your dermatologist are:

  • Chemical peels, such as glycolic acid or alpha hydroxy. There are some over-the-counter alpha hydroxy options available, but your dermatologist can apply peels with a higher percentage of glycolic acid than you can buy over the counter.
  • Botulinum toxin injections, also known as Botox®. During this procedure, your healthcare provider injects a small amount of botulinum toxin known by several brand names. This injection works by blocking muscle contractions (like those that happen when you squint), which can help prevent fine lines and wrinkles from forming.
  • Topical retinol. If over-the-counter retinol treatments aren’t effective, your provider may prescribe a product with higher levels of retinol.

Complications/side effects of the treatment

As with all medications, both over-the-counter treatments and those provided by your healthcare provider come with some risks. You’re more likely to experience side effects from treatments if you have sensitive skin. Some side effects include:

  • Skin irritation from retinol creams. You’re more likely to experience irritation from retinol when you use it for the first time or in high concentrations. Some side effects include itching, peeling, redness, puffiness or scaly patches on your skin. You should also avoid direct sunlight after applying retinol.
  • Botulinum toxin injection side effects. Side effects from botulinum toxin injections include pain, redness or swelling at the site of injection, headache, neck stiffness and drooping eyelids (ptosis).

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider about crow’s feet?

If you find that you’re very troubled by your crow’s feet and they’re affecting your self-esteem, contact your healthcare provider. They can work to find a solution to help minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and thereby help boost your self-confidence.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

As you consider how you’d like to manage your aging skin, you may want to consult with a dermatologist. Here are some questions you might ask:

  • What are the side effects of Botox injections?
  • Are there other options to treat my crow’s feet?
  • Am I a good candidate for Botox injections?
  • Do Botox injections hurt?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

While you may not like the sight of fine lines and wrinkles around your eyes, aging is a natural part of life and eventually, nearly everyone develops a wrinkle or two. Take solace in knowing your crow’s feet are an indication of the many smiles you’ve experienced in your life. If your crow’s feet affect your self-esteem, see your healthcare provider about Botox or other procedures that can help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 01/07/2023.

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