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Last updated: Oct 13, 2021
8 min read

Fine lines: what are they and how to get rid of them

chimene richalinnea zielinski

Medically Reviewed by Chimene Richa, MD

Written by Linnea Zielinski

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.

They’re named after crows, bunnies, and accordions, but they cause bigger reactions than any of those three things ever could. What are we talking about? The fine lines and wrinkles that form on your face. We’ll save you the concerned look that may deepen those expression lines: Here’s what you need to know about fine lines and the strategies that have proven effective at minimizing them (if that’s your thing).

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What are fine lines?

A fine line forms when the skin creases—generally a natural part of forming a facial expression. Over time, repetitive movements of your facial muscles can make these lines permanent. This inability of your skin to bounce back like it did when you were younger is a natural (if not very welcome) process caused by a breakdown in elastin and collagen production (Strnadova, 2019).

What causes fine lines?

Most of us are spared from fine lines and wrinkles until our late 20s or early 30s. As we age, the underlying structure of our skin—which gives it that supple, firm, elastic look—starts to break down. Under the top layer of our skin (known as the epidermis) is another layer called the dermis (Shanbhag, 2019). 

It’s this layer that contains structures called collagen and elastin fibers that support the epidermis above. Essentially, the dermis is the foundation on which the epidermis is built. As we age, elastin and collagen fibers naturally degrade. And, just like a house with a crumbling foundation, parts of the epidermis start to collapse without their necessary supports, creating the creases we call fine lines and wrinkles.

We may not enjoy the process, but it’s normal. Unfortunately, some factors may accelerate this process, causing fine lines to form even earlier. Environmental factors and habits like smoking may speed skin aging, but sun damage is the biggest external factor. The ultraviolet (UV) part of the sun’s rays causes elastin and collagen fibers to break down, leading to photodamage and premature aging (Shanbhag, 2019).

Fine lines vs. wrinkles

The main difference between fine lines and wrinkles is the depth of the crease. Fine lines are shallower than wrinkles but may progress to wrinkles over time. Wrinkles are easier to spot than fine lines. Both, unfortunately, are a natural part of aging. 

How to get rid of fine lines

While surgical options can offer dramatic results, nothing will permanently erase fine lines and wrinkles or prevent new ones from showing up. But there are several skincare products and dermatological treatments that can help you have smoother skin, at least temporarily. 

People and skin types respond differently, so results may vary. Topical products can be effective, especially if you’re starting to address fine lines early, but it’s worth noting that you only reap the benefits of these skincare products as long as you use them. Their effects will start to wear off as soon as you stop. 

Retinoids

Retinoids are a class of synthetic or naturally occurring substances related to retinol, which is also known as vitamin A. Derivatives of vitamin A, like tretinoin (see Important Safety Information), are also frequently used in the clinical treatment of various skin conditions. Retinoids increase skin cell turnover, or how quickly your body makes new layers of skin and sheds old ones. That means using these products regularly can help reveal younger-looking skin below. But they also boost your skin cells’ ability to replenish their collagen, supporting that structure that keeps skin plump and smooth (Yoham, 2020).

Retinoids combat photodamage, which is one of the major contributors to the formation of fine lines and wrinkles. Tretinoin, specifically, has been shown to improve the elasticity and appearance of sun-damaged skin. And they may be able to help prevent future fine lines from affecting how UV light interacts with the structure of your skin. Retinoids block the breakdown of collagen this kind of light typically causes. It’s still important, though, to apply sunscreen of at least SPF 30 before going out in the sun when using retinoids (Szymański, 2020).

Serums with antioxidants 

Antioxidants can help protect us from damage that comes from within our own bodies. A natural byproduct of our cells is something called reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can be harmful to our bodies. Antioxidants can help protect us from this kind of damage and are, therefore, popular ingredients in skincare products (Petruk, 2018).

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is one example of an antioxidant that may help combat some of the factors that contribute to skin aging. It may help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as improve skin firmness and elasticity (Zasada, 2019).

Moisturizers

It sounds simple, but consistently applying moisturizer really can help diminish the appearance of fine lines. Along with elastin and collagen fibers, our skin is also home to glycosaminoglycans, or GAGs. GAGs are molecules that love water and pull it into the cells. By holding onto water, GAGs help give your skin volume and firmness. One example is hyaluronic acid (Ahmed, 2020). 

The problem is, aging causes a loss of hyaluronic acid (and other GAGs), leading to less moisture in the skin. Moisturizers can help counter the appearance of a loss of structure caused by photoaging, but it may not be enough to smooth out fine lines fully. Many over-the-counter products have hyaluronic acid in an attempt to restore skin moisture (Ahmed, 2020). 

Chemical peels

Chemical peels are dermatological treatments that remove the surface layers of old and dead skin cells in order to reveal younger and tighter-looking skin below. The different types of chemical peels reflect how deeply the treatments penetrate: superficial peels, medium-depth peels, and deep peels. Generally, these treatments can vary in terms of active compounds and concentrations, along with different depths of effects (Pathak, 2020).

Some of the same active ingredients used in chemical peels are available for at-home use—just in much milder formulations. Hydroxy acids, a group of chemicals that include alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), such as glycolic acid and lactic acid, are common ingredients in skincare products available over the counter at typical concentrations of 5–10%. These compounds can help brighten the skin and reduce the look of fine lines. 

Studies show that, when used appropriately, hydroxy acids can increase skin cell turnover. However, alpha-hydroxy acids may increase your sensitivity to the sun’s UV rays, so it’s important to wear sunscreen when using these products (Tang, 2018).

Laser treatments

Many laser treatments may help with several skin concerns, including the look of fine lines. The biggest differences in these laser treatments from a patient’s perspective are healing time and cost. Laser treatments that may help diminish fine lines include:

  • Non-ablative resurfacing lasers (Fraxel Restore)
  • Ablative resurfacing lasers (Fraxel, Sciton Profractional)
  • LLLT (low-level light therapy) lasers

Ablative and non-ablative laser treatments work by causing microscopic damage to the skin. While that might sound counterintuitive, it actually gives the skin a chance to regenerate and replenish itself with new collagen and elastin, improving firmness and alleviating elements that contribute to the development of fine lines (Yumeen, 2021). 

Laser resurfacing treatments typically work best when done in series. However, recovery after each treatment can take weeks, so your dermatologist or skin specialist can offer a personally tailored schedule for just how frequently you should have them done. Just like most anti-aging treatments, the results are not permanent. 

Low-level laser (light) therapy or LLLT can help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by promoting collagen and elastin synthesis, leading to skin rejuvenation. Since LLLT only uses low levels of laser energy, there is less tissue damage and downtime (Glass, 2021). 

Other procedures

Your dermatologist or skin specialist may recommend other procedures to treat your fine lines, including:

  • Microneedling: Many small sterile needles create pricks in the skin to boost elastin and collagen production (Litchman, 2021). 
  • Microdermabrasion: The topmost layers of old and dead skin cells (called the stratum corneum) are removed during a microdermabrasion session to reveal brighter, younger-looking skin below (Shah, 2021). 
  • Injectable fillers: A dermatologist or skincare specialist injects hyaluronic acid directly into fine lines and wrinkles to improve their appearance (Walker, 2021).
  • Botulinum toxin (brand name Botox) injections: This treatment weakens specific facial muscles (namely, the forehead and around the eyes and mouth) to decrease the appearance of fine lines and skin creases that come from repeated facial movement (Padda, 2021).

How to prevent fine lines and wrinkles

The best way to prevent signs of aging is to combat sun damage, the biggest external contributor to fine lines and wrinkles. That means always wearing sunscreen of at least SPF 30 when you know you’ll be exposed to sunlight, no matter your age. The earlier you start consistently applying sunscreen, the more UV damage you can prevent (Gabros, 2021).

Cigarette smoke is also a major culprit in skin aging—just one more reason to avoid it (Krutmann, 2017). Staying healthy by eating a balanced diet, drinking enough water, and exercising may improve your overall health, skin included.

Some people turn to Botox to not only improve the look of fine lines and wrinkles but prevent them from forming—at least for a little while. By weakening muscles and preventing repetitive facial movement, you can reduce and delay the development of some of the natural signs of aging. 

There are several options for treating your fine lines. Talk to your dermatologist or skincare specialist to learn about the various options and discuss which one may be right for you. 

References

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  2. Gabros, S., Nessel, T. A., & Zito, P. M. (2021). Sunscreens and photoprotection. [Updated July 25, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Oct. 8, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537164/
  3. Glass, G. E. (2021). Photobiomodulation: the clinical applications of low-level light therapy. Aesthetic Surgery Journal, 41(6), 723–738. doi: 10.1093/asj/sjab025. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33471046/
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