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Last updated: Oct 14, 2021
6 min read

Crow’s feet: what are they, treatment, prevention

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

The aging of your skin takes place gradually over the decades—so slowly that you might not even notice it at first. Your genetics and your lifestyle control how fast your skin ages, but one area of the face often shows the signs of aging quicker than others is the skin around your eyes (Scarano, 2021).

Ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) from the sun, environmental damage, and repeated facial expressions can all speed up aging around the eyes. This causes thinning skin wrinkles around the eyes, known as crow’s feet (Scarano, 2021).

Crow’s feet are harmless and a normal part of getting older, but some people might not like how they look. Fortunately, there are safe and effective ways that you can prevent and treat crow’s feet.

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What are crow’s feet?

Aging is a complex process controlled by both factors you can’t control (genetics, hormones, metabolism) and some that you can (hydration, exposure to pollution, sun exposure). While most signs of aging are internal, your skin provides one of the first external signs that time is passing (Ganceviciene, 2012).

Your face, particularly the delicate skin around your eyes, is the most susceptible to showing signs of age. The skin around the eyes is fragile, and it’s easy for wrinkles to form in this area due to constant muscle use. This creates a type of wrinkle known as crow’s feet.

The medical term for crow’s feet is lateral canthal rhytids. These are the fine lines that extend outward from the corners of your eye. As they grow deeper, they can add to your face’s aging appearance (Dabek, 2021).

There are two different types of skin wrinkles: static and dynamic. Dynamic wrinkles appear when you contract your muscles, such as when you smile or squint. Static wrinkles are visible all the time, even when your muscles are at rest. Crow’s feet can be either static or dynamic. They might also be a combination of both, always visible but more so when you smile or squint.

What causes crow’s feet around the eyes?

During aging, your skin loses elasticity and collagen. The tissues in your facial skin can sag and lose volume, making your skin more susceptible to wrinkles caused by the muscles used for facial expressions (Scarano, 2021).

Much of how crow’s feet form around your eyes is controlled by your genetics, but there are some lifestyle risk factors that you can influence, including (Dabek, 2021):

  • Sun damage and wind exposure
  • Smoking
  • Exaggerated facial expressions
  • Squinting

Women have an additional risk factor for the appearance of crow’s feet. When a woman reaches menopause, her estrogen levels decline. Estrogen helps maintain your skin’s elastin and collagen levels, and menopause can impair this. The lower levels of estrogen can contribute to more wrinkles.

Can you prevent crow’s feet?

Crow’s feet are a natural part of the aging process and can’t entirely be prevented. However, there are some steps you can take to slow down and minimize their appearance. These include:

  • Limit your exposure to the sun: Stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible or wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses even if you’re only out for a short period.
  • Wear sunscreen every day: Make a moisturizer or foundation with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 to 30 a part of your daily skincare routine.
  • Don’t smoke: Smoking causes free radicals, which can damage cells and cause premature aging.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Regularly consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and heart-healthy oils can protect your skin from free radical damage.
  • Skip the tanning bed: Tanning beds damage your skin and accelerate the signs of aging.
  • Moisturize: Use moisturizers and eye creams with collagen and antioxidants (such as vitamin C) in your eye area.
  • Hydrate: Drinking enough water helps to keep your skin plump and improve its elasticity.

How do you treat crow’s feet?

Crow’s feet don’t require any medical treatment, but some people choose to treat them for cosmetic reasons. There are several different types of treatments for crow’s feet available.

Botox

Botulinum toxin, or Botox, is an injectable chemical that prevents muscles from contracting. It’s used for many medical and cosmetic reasons. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves Botox for cosmetic use to treat crow’s feet, creases between your eyebrows, and forehead wrinkles (Carruthers, 2019).

Studies have found that Botox works best for people between the ages of 30 and 50. After that, your skin may have lost too much elasticity to get the best results (although it may still help). It’s essential to only get Botox injections from a trained and experienced provider. Using too much Botox or injecting it in the wrong places can cause cosmetic problems that last for months (Carruthers, 2019).

Injectable fillers

Dermal fillers, such as Juvederm, Radiesse, Restylane, Sculptra, or Belotero, are products injected just beneath the skin to temporarily plump up the skin and improve its appearance. They can be used to treat crow’s feet to the side and above the eyes. They aren’t used to treat wrinkles under the eyes with fillers since this could cause bags.

Injectable fillers can be made from collagen, your own fat cells, hyaluronic acid, or synthetic materials. Each type of product has risks and benefits. Your healthcare provider can help you choose the best filler to treat your crow’s feet (Ganceviciene, 2012).

Laser treatments

Ablative laser resurfacing is a process that uses light energy to remove the topmost layers of your skin. This can reduce the signs of aging on your skin, such as (Verma, 2021):

  • Scarring
  • Actinic keratoses
  • Seborrheic keratoses
  • Facial wrinkles
  • Sunspots

Multiple types of cosmetic lasers have been developed over the years. Your laser technician will choose the most appropriate ablative laser and setting to help you achieve the result you’re looking for while minimizing potential complications such as redness or skin color change (Verma, 2021).

Topicals

Many topical creams help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles such as crow’s feet. Many common prescription-strength creams are highly effective but can be very irritating to the skin. Over-the-counter cosmetic creams are gentler on the skin but may not be as effective (Fu, 2010).

Researchers set out to compare the effectiveness of tretinoin (a prescription cream derived from vitamin A, also known as Retin-A) against a regimen of several over-the-counter cosmetic products. The over-the-counter regimen produced better results in a short amount of time, but the prescription cream had better results in the long run. The tretinoin cream was more irritating to the participant’s skin, and the over-the-counter regimen was more moisturizing (Fu, 2010).

Plasma

Voltaic arc dermabrasion, otherwise known as plasma, is a technique that uses electricity to very superficially burn the top layer of skin. The plasma stimulates the skin’s regeneration response which tightens the skin and reduces the appearance of wrinkles. There is minimal discomfort during the procedure, and it doesn’t require any anesthesia.

Researchers studying the use of plasma dermabrasion for removing crow’s feet found that the procedure was safe, effective, and had a short recovery downtime. There were no complications reported and only minimal recurrence of wrinkles after the treatment. The participants reported being happy with the results of the skin around the eyes (Scarano, 2021).

When to see a healthcare provider

Crow’s feet are considered a natural part of aging. They can’t cause any harm to your health, so there’s no medical reason to see a healthcare provider about your crow’s feet.

Still, some people choose to see a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon to talk about cosmetic options for treating crow’s feet. These professionals can assess your skin, educate you on the treatments available, and help you choose the best option for minimizing your crow’s feet (Verma, 2021).

References

  1. Carruthers, J. (2019). Botulinum toxin for cosmetic indications: Treatment of specific sites. Uptodate. Retrieved from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/botulinum-toxin-for-cosmetic-indications-treatment-of-specific-sites?search=crow%27s+feet&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1
  2. Dabek, R. J., Araim, F., & Bojovic, B. (2021). “Smizing”: COVID-19 is giving us crow’s feet. Plastic And Reconstructive Surgery. Global Open, 9(2), e3458. doi: 10.1097/GOX.0000000000003458. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7929631/
  3. Fu, J. J. J., Hillebrand, G. G., Raleigh, P., Li, J., Marmor, M. J., Bertucci, V., et al. (2010). A randomized, controlled comparative study of the wrinkle reduction benefits of a cosmetic niacinamide/peptide/retinyl propionate product regimen vs. a prescription 0·02% tretinoin product regimen. British Journal of Dermatology, 162(3): 647-654. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2009.09436.x. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2133.2009.09436.x
  4. Ganceviciene, R., Liakou, A., Theodoridis, A., Makrantonaki, E. & Zouboulis, C. (2012). Skin anti-aging strategies. Dermato-Endocrinology, 4(3), 308-319, doi: 10.4161/derm.22804. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.4161/derm.22804 
  5. Scarano, A., Inchingolo, F., Amuso, D., Scogna, G., Amore, R., & Lorusso, F. (2021). Static crow’s feet treated with voltaic arc dermabrasion (atmospheric plasma): post-operative pain assessment by thermal infrared imaging. Journal Of Clinical Medicine, 10(14), 3074. doi: 10.3390/jcm10143074. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8305919/
  6. Verma, N., Yumeen, S., & Raggio, B. S. (2021). Ablative laser resurfacing. [Updated Aug 13, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Oct. 4, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557474/